TWO-SIDED PLATFORMS AND MIS-POSITIONING

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Every time I hear the word “platform” I reach for my gun. Lately, two thirds of business ideas (or, at least, wannabe entrepreneurs who claim to have one) are about a platform. What do they exactly mean? Why and when do most of them stop? What is a platform at all?

Well spotted: it is also a personal story. In 2014 I started developing a “platform”. The idea was to connect private aircraft pilots with leisure passengers, willing to share the emotion of flight on a small Cessna or Piper for a fraction of the costs. There were clear advantages for both groups, especially for the pilots, who could finally mitigate the financial impact of their expensive passion. However, something didn’t quite work the way I pictured it.

A two-sided platform is a virtual place where two groups of people meet, to exchange something, whose transaction would be very difficult or impossible to accomplish anywhere else. In above definition we can already find 2 common misinterpretations:

1) Who wants to create a platform should first of all answer the question: why are the target groups I want to connect separated? Perhaps they don’t need to be connected so badly as we imagine, or there are other eminent substitutes to fulfil their needs, or…nobody came up yet with such a solution, bingo! Whatever the reason is, it is worth investigating, to constructively criticise the idea and to get better known with the potential users. In other words, the common mistake is to think solution before even thinking problem statement!

2) People tend to directly think platform, while platform is not necessarily the simplest way to solve the problem stated above. Positioning between the two groups is the half-science and half-art of the successful strategy. You can solve the painters’ need for paints and brushes by creating an e-commerce of painting tools or even opening a shop, before you try to connect painters with paint producers on an unrealistic online platform!

Moreover, ask yourself why nobody has thought about it already. The fact that it doesn’t exist should not discourage you. On the otherhand, the fact that such a solution already exists should not prevent you to try, to diversify it, to specialise it and to do it better.

I still believe a platform connecting private pilots can be successful. There are some examples out there of brave entrepreneurs who are trying to make it real, e.g. Wingly, Skyüber, WeFlyMate. Much respect for those guys, as they will need to find the way around stringent civil aviation rules, on top of matching the exact positioning of the platform as well as a verified business model.

Daniele Calzolari has an MBA at IE Business School (Madrid, Spain), 10+ years experience in corporates and startups, lived in 4 countries, speaks 4 languages, and is 1 time father and husband. Read more