Under the right circumstances, companies of any size can grow to become platform leaders. And particular business and technology decisions can help platform-leader wannabes achieve their goals.
An industry platform involves not only one company’s technology or service but also an ecosystem of complements to it that are usually produced by a variety of businesses. As a result, becoming a platform leader requires different business and technology strategies than those needed to launch a successful stand-alone product. Companies should decide early on whether they want to pursue a platform or a product strategy.
The authors describe two fundamental approaches to building platform leadership, which they call “coring” and “tipping.” “Coring” is using a set of techniques to create a platform by making a technology “core” to a particular technological system and market. When pursuing a coring strategy, would-be platform leaders should think about issues such as how to make it easy for third parties to provide add-ons to the technology and how to encourage third-party companies to create complementary innovations. Examples of successful coring include Google Inc. in Internet search and Qualcomm Inc. in wireless technology. However, the authors note, Qualcomm faces opposition from some companies in its business ecosystem. The authors cite EMC Corp.’s WideSky initiative in the early 2000s as an attempt at coring that did not succeed. EMC’s competitors were not eager to adopt WideSky as a platform and instead supported an open-standards one managed through an industry group.
“Tipping” is the set of activities that helps a company “tip” a market toward its platform rather than some other potential one. Examples of tipping include Linux’s growth in the market for Web server operating systems; the Linux case study, the authors point out, demonstrates the power of a coalition of service providers and users to tip a market by supporting a particular platform. Another tipping strategy is for a company to bundle features from an adjacent market into its existing platform; the authors call this “tipping across markets.”