The Shoe as a Platform ( The End of Shoes as Usual )
On our way home, my daughter told me that I must see the new collection of Crocs' boots. She then took my hand and pulled me over to the local store, where the display windows have been completely redecorated with piles on piles of unbelievably bulky, ugly and tasteless Crocs' boots.
georgie, by CrocsA couple of hours later, as if by pure coincidence, I stumbled upon the following newsbit:
CROCS, INC. ENTERS INTO DEFINITIVE AGREEMENT TO ACQUIRE JIBBITZ, LLC.
The article gave some more details about Jibbitz, a family owned business based in Boulder, Colorado, that had the idea of manufacturing decorative add-ons that can be plugged onto the Crocs' moon-like surface. The Jibbitz decorations tipped so fast, that one year in business (if I'm not wrong) had sufficed for an impressive 20M$ exit.
While reading the Crocs-Jibbitz story a tune kept playing in my head; it was Jason Fried, the CEO of 37Signals, explaining why Basecamp (the Crocs of the Project Management software... well, at least from a look & feel standpoint) has been deliberately "crippled". As Fried put it, "it wasn't about competing with other products on a feature by feature by feature basis, it was about competing with less features".
Crocs, like Basecamp, competes with less features. As strange as it may sounds - this is a critical success factor (and I'll elaborate on that later on). Nevertheless, "just" less features is not enough: great products are designed in such a way that an eco-system, which serves as a viral distribution mechanism, can be easily evolved around them. The members of the eco-system are the salesmen and the connectors that distribute the buzz and make the product tip. The phenomenal success of the Crocs-Jibbitz mashup should be therefore attributed to the fact that Crocs is not only a shoe, but also a platform, that inherently communicates an invitation for participation.
And now back to the "less features" principle: a platform that wants to succeed in its invitation for participation can have neither a rich set of features nor a dominant "character" (personality), as participation and innovation can occur only in a leveled playing field. You cannot tell the following to your customers: "We have a wonderful and well-thought product that we are proud of; it consists of dozens of exciting features, gathered through our close work with fortune 100 companies; our top notch engineers, who are ex-professors from the most acclaimed universities, thoroughly designed it to meet the most demanding conditions. And now, dear customer, we invitie you to innovate; you are welcomed to participate". With such a story, most of the customers would feel initmidation, rather than invitation.
The End of Shoes as Usual
I recommend visiting both the Crocs and the Jibbitz web sites. It's a fascinating demonstration of web1.0 vs. web2.0. While Crocs communicates business as usual with a traditional site layout (products, company, shop...), the Jibbitz site provides an excellent example of a straight (add to cart & checkout placed right on the home page), simple, personal ("Jibbitz - Personalize Your Crocs"), DIY [Do it Yourself] and social [blog, Flickr] commerce site. It is refreshing to the point that you start considering joining the party. But, hey, for that I should first buy a pair of ugly and bulky Crocs. Hmm... I'll leave it to my daughter.
Jason Fried's lecture, Basecamp, can be found here