In Call for startup: Easy domain editing, the first in a series of blog posts in which Dave lays out opportunities for startups, he says this:
In all cases, these startups will have a business model that revolves around an old-fashioned idea that will, imho, once again become fashionable — the customer. People pay the company for a service they provide. This has all kinds of good side-effects. We’ll see customer-driven products, ones designed to serve users, instead of some vague idea of a marketer that can sell things to the users. It will foster competition to serve users. It will help the economy straighten itself out and start creating products with obvious utility.
The italics and boldface are mine. I emphasize them because this is what VRM has been about for the duration. And it isn’t coincidental, because Dave’s work and thinking have been an influence on mine since I first ran into Dave in the Think Tank booth at Comdex in Atlanta, circa 1982 (when Think Tank ran on the Apple II, as I recall).
I think at least some of the start-ups Dave’s talking about here fall into a category we’ve been calling fourth parties. Put simply, fourth parties relate to customers the way third parties relate to larger parties on the vendors’ side. They are assistants, aligned with the the intentions of the customer. Money coming from the customer helps with that alignment. One problem we have right now, especially in the advertising-funded collection of companies on the Web, is that the customer — you and me — pay nothing directly for the services offered. Instead we (or assumptions about us) are what’s sold to the advertisers.
In this respect much of the commercial Web shares a problem that commercial broadcasing has had since the beginning: their customers and their consumers are different populations. For most of its services (search, Gmail, etc.) Google has no more of a direct economic (i.e. paid) relationship with you than does a commercial radio station. But rather than go down the rat-hole of what’s wrong (or not yet right) about the commercial Web, let’s look at what kinds of businesses might operate in the space Dave is laying out: the one where customers do the driving.
First, let’s go back three years to The VRM Vector, by Joe Andrieu (who is sitting next to me here at Kynetx Impact). The pull quote:
VRM… is about starting with the user and creating value on their behalf, first. We do that specifically by focusing on commercial transactions and by enabling mutually beneficial relationships. It isn’t about moving the power from Vendors to Individuals, it is about creating new efficiencies and new value points across the ecosystem and marketplace that improve the situation for everyone.
With VRM, the value begins with the individual. The rest is implementation.
By focusing directly on the point of value for the user, I believe we can create more value, more quickly than trying a forensics approach on deeper, larger, data sets. The user is the natural point of integration for any number of services.
Right now there are more new companies and development groups in this space than I can begin to count, and many more have showed up in the past two weeks, at SXSW in Austin, at GDI in Zurich and now at Kynetx Impact in Salt Lake City. In fact I’m in a room full of them here. Some of us are talking about the stir that one VRM developer, Connect.Me, made at SXSW, getting more than 60 thousand new users in a matter of hours. All Things Digital has a good write-up and video on the whole thing, featuring an interview with Drummond Reed, who has been doing VRM development since before the beginning. My own case for Connect.Me is simple: it’s safe single sign-on, or SSSO. Think Facebook Connect without Facebook. No personal data spillage. No hidden games. No bait for advertisers. (For more on how all that works, see Joe Andrieu’s ISharedWhat.com.)
So, in no particular order (or, in the order of the business cards I’ve saved and browser tabs I’ve kept open), here are just some of the outfits I’ve encountered recently:
- The Direct Project (“…develops specifications for a secure, scalable, standards-based way to establish universal health addressing and transport for participants (including providers, laboratories, hospitals, pharmacies and patients) to send encrypted health information directly to known, trusted recipients over the Internet”)
- Umbel (“Benefit from the digital data you create every day.”)
- Svpply (“your collection of the products you love”)
- Gluu.org (“A New Dawn for Federated Identity… Achieve SSO with internal and external websites”)
- AboutOne (“More than a digital filing cabinet, it’s ONE place to store family memories and householdl information…”)
- MyCube (“The Social Exchange where you Own, Control and Monetize your Digital Life”)
- SWIFT (“The global provider of secure financial messaging services”)
- Podio (“It’s almost here. We’ll be ready to lift the covers in 20110325040000. “We’re talking a full work platform with messaging, calendars…”)
- Zaarly (“Where everything has a price.”)
- Target (The store. You’ve been there.)
And that’s on top of all the other VRM projects and companies listed here.
We’re not talking here about pure VRM efforts, but about organizations with (or about) which I’ve had VRM conversations, and are interested either in participating in VRM development or seeing where it goes.
What they all understand is that power is growing on the customer side, and that this growing power is native. That is, personal. It’s natural to talk about “shifts” in power, as if power is always balanced and zero sum. But this is different. What we have is new work on tools that make customers independent and better able to interact in the networked world.
Here at Kynetx Impact I’m going to give a brief keynote tonight (right ahead of Scoble himself), in which I’ll bring up three more companies that are front-burner for me right now, because I’ll be meeting with them and talking seriously about VRM in the next few weeks.
The first is SugarCRM. I’ll be at SugarCon for the whole show and will speak there too. A lot of what we talked about at VRM+CRM 2010 will be on the table there, plus much more.
The second is Best Buy, and the third is General Mills. I’ll be meeting with both in Minneapolis right after SugarCon.
We are now at the point in history when development and zeitgeist converge. The Social era is ending and the Personal era is beginning. The Live Web makes it possible. This is the Web that is both real-time and interactive at the human level: where the supply follows and responds to personal demand and other economic signals, in secure and safe ways, outside the old client-server-based system of submissive and dominant parties, of cookies for clients and guesswork by servers, that has dominated e-commerce for 1.5 decades.
In the personal era, on the Live Web, individuals will be in charge of the contexts and conditions in which their personal data — their intentions especially — are shared with sellers, either directly or with the help of fourth parties.
This is where an enormous amount of development will bloom, and economic activity will follow.
Our job in the VRM community is to do that development, and to help each other make our cases to all those who are interested. My specific request is for help with the three parties named above. Others will step up, but those three at the front of my own queue, right now.