The Ultimate Alignment

In Align the interests of: 1. Users and 2. Investors., make a radical yet sensible case for users becoming investors. It’s very consistent with what we’re learning from Scoble plus FriendFeed turning into Friendfeed minus Scoble, which Dave wrote about in Scoble, your blog still loves you, and to which I added a comment that included this:

  The only publication on Earth that’s all Robert’s is his blog. That’s where his soul is, because he can’t sell it.

  …We’re back to first principles now. Users and developers, diggin’ together. Working on stuff that will survive the deaths of companies — and of bright ideas that can’t live anywhere but inside companies that own roach-motel environments that can be sold or shut down tomorrow.

The problem with living in most VC-funded company environments isn’t just that they keep us from living elsewhere (which is bad enough to begin with). It’s that the environments are like houses built to flip. The main idea isn’t to build a great house, but to sell it. It was a lesson I unpacked here in 2001:

  When the “internet economy” was still a high-speed traffic jam somewhere back in 1999, I was at a party in San Francisco. Most of the folks there were young, hip “entrepreneurs”. Lots of all-black outfits, spiky haircuts, goatees and face jewelry. I fell into conversation with one of these guys–a smart, eager young chap I’d met at other gatherings. He was on his second or third startup and eagerly evangelizing his new company’s “mission” with a stream of buzzwords.

  “What does your company do, exactly?” I asked.

  “We’re an arms merchant to the portals industry”, he replied.

  When I pressed him for more details (How are portals an industry? What kind of arms are you selling?), I got more buzzwords back. Finally, I asked a rude question. “How are sales?”

  “They’re great. We just closed our second round of financing.”

  Thus I was delivered an epiphany: every company has two markets–one for its goods and services, and one for itself–and the latter had overcome the former. We actually thought selling companies to investors was a real business model.

Dave take this another step by suggesting that any company whose first loyalty is not to its customers or users is a risky prospect. And that user ownership is a good fix. I agree.

It’s not that we have to blow up everything that came before. It’s that we need to build a new kind of enterprise: founding a People’s Software Company whose first act is to IPO and pool the financial resources of users who believe there is a gap in what Silicon Valley is providing using their old models for corporate structure.

This is definitely in alignment with what we’ve been thinking about and working on with ProjectVRM. And, as with the project Dave wants us to think about here, it’s hard to see the need if you’re looking at the world from the vendor’s side of the demand/supply relationship.

Yesterday Jim Sinur posted Escaping the Zombie Zoo with Better Customer Facing Processes, in which he writes,

  Why can’t I have my own portal that understands me and all the companies I work with and the processes that I use on some frequency? I do like online banking and my bank’s website is somewhat intuitive. Paypal is not too bad either, but why can’t I create a menu of processes I want in stead of organizing favorites? This menu remembers me and all my passwords. I can give it instructions like calculate my net worth as of a certain date and it does it for me. I can tell it to pay certain bills that coordinate with my 15th of the month income check instead of having to rely on credit cards that expire and banks that you can’t control well.

  I want a “Process of Me” where companies can allow me to customize my processes and interface.

What Jim wants is VRM — a way he can manage vendors, rather than just have them managing him. Vendors should adapt to his needs and processes, rather than the reverse, which is what he complains about earlier in his post, and that we all live through every time we have to whip out a loyalty card to interact with some vendor in a lame, exclusive and non-user-driven way.

After Jon Garfunkel replied with a pointer to ProjectVRM, Jim asked, “Which vendors are supporting this or is it a grass roots movement?”

What Dave proposes is one way to remove that distinction.

12 comments

  1. francine hardaway’s avatar

    I loved Dave’s blog, because it articulated what I felt about Scoble when Friendfeed sold. He put his heart and soul into evangelizing it, studying it, explaining and interpreting it, and now it has gone away from him and he has no recompense, not even an attaboy.

    I’m prejudiced, because he’s my friend, but VRM was the first thing I thought about after this happened. How do we, as customers, get control of the things we buy, adopt, and use?
    Come on, Doc, get us a solution:-)

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Stay tuned, Francine. Stay tuned. :-)

  3. MikeRiddell62’s avatar

    I like the sound of the idea of aligning investors and users interests.

    Could this ever work for a city centre with it’s own VRM platform as a Social Enterprise- a business for the people, owned by the people?

    It would re-build community life faster than Goldman Sach’s bonus scheme???

    Please, please, please – can we pilot something in Manchester, UK Doc? It’s the home of the Co-op and the industrial revolution after all….

    all the players are in place – please?

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Mike, I’d be glad to help, but I’m not sure “VRM platform as a social enterprise” isn’t oxymornic. VRM can be social (for the same reason all of us are social), but it starts with the individual. It’s about equipping individuals with tools for both independence and engagement. So, if VRM-enabled individuals want to do something social, that’s cool. But the “platform” needs to be individual independence and empowerment, not a social (or any other kind of) enterprise by which VRM is supplied in some way. (This, by the way is what The Mine! Project is about. It’s UK-based. Have you checked it out?)

    That said, if you and your friends in Manchester want to start a fourth party — i.e. user driven outfit, whether publicly owned or private, I’m all for it. I’d just like it if that outfit were driven by individuals already empowered with VRM abilities, rather than getting their VRM abilities from one outfit alone, or only through aggregation.

    Hope that makes sense.

  5. Mikeriddell62’s avatar

    Hey Doc, thanks for the comments – so sorry for the delay – i need to track back better!

    It does make sense thanks. And i agree entirely with empowering the individual – that’s the only way to truly emancipate their souls from the system that subjugates them.

    But what i’m thinking, is that the VRM ideology, can be used to a more powerful effect if your fourth party thinking is employed. The man in the street needs protection from big business – take financial services as an example which have drained pensioners of their savings and are making us all pay now for their bail-out. Government can’t be trusted (expenses scandal has seen to that) so who do people turn to – the church’s brand isn’t great right now, and charities are seen as a bit inefficient?

    Well my view is that there’s room in the market for a customer champion to emerge – to look after and protect the individual’s interest.

    And i see it evolving into a new operating system that uses rewards to influence behaviour. The current political/business construct WASTES so much natural resource by rewarding the wrong behaviours – oil based transport for example. How about aggregating a load of users together, creating a platform, then saying to businesses and other organsiations – “hey, if you want to know what we all want, we’ll tell you on the one condition that whatever you do or sell to us, must make us (me/my community/my planet) healthier wealthier or happier”.

    My issue about VRM is that whilst it puts the user more in control, it misses the educational opportunity to teach people how to them look after themselves, their families, or their communities. It’s too self-serving and this is the one thing we DON’T need more of. Don’t get me wrong, i love VRM, but for me it could go much further in teaching vendors and customers to behave more responsibly – to be WE centric, not me-centric. To be mindful consumers, not mindless consumers.

    So let’s assume we have a customer champion platform in Manchester which only allows those businesses that are corporately socially responsible to access the customer base. The good cause brand helps customers know it’s safe to exchange (behaviour for reward) and so creates a relationship of trust with the customer – developing real and meaningful loyalty. This adds value to their corporate brand because they’re associated with such a GOOD CAUSE.

    For customers, they become consumers of ethical goods and services, thus adding value, as well as convenience, to their lives. It’s the values that are the important thing Doc. Value + Values is good business these days. Businesses that align their interests with those of the community and society are sure to succeed. And if we can build a values-led platform for businesses to do just that, then we can begin to change behaviours and eliminate waste. Prevention is cheaper than cure – obesity, smoking, alcohol to kids, recycling and so on. People will do something if there’s something in it for them. We just need to find a way to make sure that the “something” is good, and not bad.

    My view is that this fourth party should be community owned and have some very simple rules to protect people. This is what we’re hoping to do over here in England. We simply believe that the only natural resource we now have left as a nation, is human. Our humanistic values have stood the test of time: one could argue you as a nation (that kind of caused these financial woes) are a sort of errant child of ours that needs reminding of it’s need to show more respect for things. (Not being offensive i hope!).

    If Great Britain can use its virtues and ethics to lead by example once again – just like it did when it gave birth to the industrial revolution and the co-op- at a time when the world is in need of true leadership, then the world might be a better place for it – economically, socially and environmentally. Building this platform into a values-led operating system that can be exported to other countries will give people the choice of the current system with the wrong values, or an alternative system with the right values. It’s a little bit of Ying and Yang.

    Just think of it like a Tesco Clubcard for a town, but one which puts users interests before shareholder interests.

    Democratising health wealth and happiness (thx Graham Sadd) is a good thing – inequality is simply too wasteful in the end. Time to make saving more valued – I think time to get a values-led reward system in place to do just that.

    Now Doc, i hope that makes sense too?

    Cheers, Mike.

  6. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Mike, that all makes complete sense to me.

    I also think it’s important within any project, to have a singular focus.

    VRM covers a lot of ground, and even though it’s actually a subset a larger category of RM (GRM for Government Relationship Management, ORM for Organization Relationship management…)

    We need tools to empower individuals. We also need fourth parties. I’d rather start with individuals, because I believe group efforts will have more to work with if the individuals using those services are empowered to start with.

    I also don’t want to start with the belief (even if it’s unintentionally inferred) that individual empowerment can’t happen without institutional help — and therefore we need to start with institutions. There are certainly cases where that’s true (we’ll probably always need unions); but not for the core VRM scenarios that have been my focus for the last several years..

    That said, if you (or anybody) want to create a fourth party service, please go for it. I’ll be glad to help any way I can — respecting the fact that I’m already stretched way too thin just doing what I’m already doing.

  7. Mike Riddell’s avatar

    Doc, a massive thanks for all of that.

    I’m with you all the way.

    Best, Mike.

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