Virtual1 (en-GB)

There isn’t anything there


James Hickman - CTO at Virtual1

I drive a car that isn’t the easiest thing to park. At least I don’t find iteasy. It is old and rusty and has none of those new fangled parking sensors orcameras. It has mirrors and my rough knowledge of where each corner is. And itis also too tall to fit under most multi-storey car parks. But I kind of loveit and like anybody with a passion for something impractical, I makeallowances.

So itwas with a certain delight that I installed a new car parking app that I hadbeen recommended by Joel, our Customer Experience & Ops Director. I can nowfind driveways or surface carparks that the owners want to rent out for a fewhours, rather than rely on finding a meter that isn’t going to bankrupt me or acar park with a roof I can squeeze under. And something occurred to me. The appdevelopers don’t actually own the end product.

Likea lot of successful Internet businesses, the customer interface for acquiring,configuring and paying for the service is provided by somebody detached fromthe actual service provider. They never touch it, see it and may not even useit. They are simply an agent, acting as a go-between. The thing you pick ontheir website is an intangible collection of ideas that only get realised muchlater. By somebody else. Other example are Uber, who don’t drive taxis, JustEatwho don’t cook food and AirBnb, who don’t own any holiday homes. Ebay probablydoesn’t own all that second-hand stuff on its site either. It was the art ofthe ”dotcom” companies that they could do that. Make money out of nothing. Butit all fell apart in the 1990s because when it all came down to brass tacks,there was nothing there but a lot of lines of code.

Sothe real “bricks and mortar” businesses started to embrace the web and websiteswere used to help sell stuff that was a pain to get hold of but themselves weremore of a concept that a physical thing. Tickets and the like. It took a littlewhile but soon pretty much any serious business had a website and most of themhad a retail mechanism through it.

Amazon,is a prime example of an organisation bucking this trend but ultimately theystarted as an online bookshop and had trouble as they grew until they investedin actual bricks and mortar to store all those books and then all the otherstuff they started to sell. Amazon though now sells other people’s stuff,because they realise that the general public is actually quite happy forsomebody to sit between them and the person providing the stuff they want solong as they actually make it easier. And the people wanting to sell stuffdon’t want to have to advertise and lure customers to their own, probablypoorly implemented site when they can sit on the coat tails of all theexperience Amazon has built up over the years.

Andthat’s where we are now. The new wave of techno illuminati are craftingbeautiful websites to deliver wonderfully simple ideas that make a range ofservices available from people that can’t or simply never thought to sell them.Each one a business with not a huge amount of capital investment. Instead justsome smart people thinking a little bit differently. And each time I find a newone, I say what a lot of people probably say “I wish I had thought of that”.

I just need to think of the next big thing. And I don’t mean a new car…