I am regularly amazed at how difficult some companies make it to business with them, or simply get a taste of their product or service. Traditional businesses are terrified a potential customer/client will find a way to take advantage of them; a way to skirt their beloved system and get something for free. They setup rules and policies to prevent any circumvention – making sure no one uses their product or service in a way they didn’t intend. This is a problem.
Who operates differently?
While no longer a start-up, consider how Google operates. Is Google afraid you’re going to get something for free or take advantage of their work without paying anything? Of course not. They want you to take it for free. Outside of advertising, most of the products they sell are upgraded versions of a free product – after millions of users have provided them with feedback about what they’d be willing to pay for.
Does Facebook care that I’ve never clicked on an ad? Maybe they want me to click, but they’re not going to kick me out if I don’t. They’re not going make it harder for me to use their platform until I start clicking. They recognize that they need to fit their revenue model to my behavior, not attempt to twist my behavior to fit their revenue model.
Does Twitter try and stop people from using their service in unconventional ways? The founders of Twitter admit that they never realized the service would end up supporting so many uses. When these new users took advantage of the Twitter system and benefited for free, did Twitter try and squash this use? Absolutely not. It watched and learned how people were using what they built. They didn’t care how, but they wanted people to use their service.
Start-up’s are about identifying new revenue models. Traditional businesses are about clinging to the ones they already have.
Start-up’s don’t care how customers use their product, they just want them to use it. Those users help define the value of the service and identify the revenue model.
What can you do?
Clearly a currently operating business cannot start giving away its product just to learn about its users, but it can let down its guard a bit. Instead of directing is customers and stifling creative uses with regulation, it can see what happens with less system. You could learn a lot. Enough to see new opportunities.
There are businesses clinging to old models that are simply unsustainable in the long term – too rigid, too closed, too cold. Take the risk and let people take advantage of you. Let those people help you determine what your next revenue stream should be.
Instead of an environment of defensiveness, create an atmosphere of welcome. Otherwise, some start-up may do it for you.