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Business Execution

For the last couple of days, since the September 2015 Apple product announcement, my Facebook feed has been full of polarized views from folks at opposite ends of the spectrum.

The Apple fan boys and girls were all giddy with excitement, and the Microsoft camp were all “huh, no big deal”. It was like listening to people squabble about which was the better band; The Beatles or The Beach Boys.

People, get over it.

Yes, you will soon be able to buy an (expensive) optional keyboard for the iPad Pro. But, Microsoft fans, making fun of Apple and saying that you invented this first is a little childish (and missing the point).

When you added a keyboard to your Surface tablet all you did is re-invent the laptop. Did anyone make fun of you for that? (Albeit the other way around. Take a laptop and move the processor from under the keyboard and put it behind the screen instead, and voila, there you have it!). Yes, the current Surface is a great ultra-light weight Windows laptop, but was adding a keyboard back onto a tablet any more revolutionary than taking the keyboard off a laptop (to make a tablet) was a decade earlier?

Stylus, fingers, who cares (I remember having a Toshiba Windows XP Tablet with a stylus at one time, and that product never went anywhere; though I never had an Apple Newton), and arguing about who had it first is pointless; it’s whatever best fits the device and use scenarios that matters (some people may use the upcoming Apple Pencil, some people will not).

Microsoft fans, just don’t go around flinging mud (otherwise someone will dig up the 2007 video of Steve Ballmer prophesizing that nobody will buy a mobile phone without a keyboard (and that it’s too expensive) and here we are a few years later and 700 million iPhones have been sold (none with a keyboard). I guess he was wrong big time about that; how many Windows phones are built with keyboards these days?)

And what about the mouse? Whose idea was that, and does it really matter?

The proof of any pudding is in the sales. People vote with their wallets. If it’s a product they want, they will buy it, if it is not, they will not.

And here’s the secret: It’s all about execution. Ideas are cheap.

Microsoft, here’s the honest truth; Apple have out executed you in business. It’s no use crying that their customers are simply people who will buy any product just because it has an Apple logo on it. That’s missing the point! That could have been you. Apple out executed you in design, and implementation, and marketing to make a product that people desire. You can’t argue with this. The sales data doesn’t lie.

The comment I most often hear from Microsoft fans is “Apple customers are sheep, they just buy anything with an Apple logo on”. You know what? I’d call that success!

It’s like saying at the Olympics “Yeah, I’m the best runner, but I didn’t win a medal because my competitor trained harder”.

If that really is your excuse then it’s a triple shame. Firstly because you know what the problem is; secondly that you did nothing about it (even though you knew the issue); and thirdly it’s a waste if you really do believe you have a better product. You have nobody else to blame; you even know the reasons.

Success in business is measured in sales. It does not matter if your product is technologically better or not (though it helps), ergonomically better (ditto), or better designed. Some hybrid combination of these factors, and marketing, and support, and performance, and content, generate sales. This is all about business execution.

The simple fact is that hundreds of millions of iPads and iPhones have been sold. The total number of Surface and Window phone units sold is a small fraction of this. Replying to these stats with “Yeah, but people are just wrong”, is not a valid defense. It’s the tastes of the fish, not the tastes of the fisherman. The key to progress is admitting there is a problem.

Give up on the sour grapes.

When I was back in school there was always one kid in my class who never did his homework. There was always some excuse, “Yeah, but …” and “I was going to, but …” or “The reason I didn’t turn it in was …” or “But you said we didn’t need to do it if …” Business is challenging; it’s full of roadblocks. Nothing is smooth. Things don’t always go your way. However, winners don’t make excuses. Winners don’t blame others or say events were out of their control or external influences perturbed them. Winners dodge, they adapt, they double down, they evangelize, they fight, they pivot. They execute.

I’ve been in the industry for a few decades now. When I first started, WordStar was the word processor of choice (followed later by WordPerfect). Lotus 1-2-3 and SuperCalc were the spreadsheet programs to have, and dBase III was the database of choice. Microsoft Word, Excel, and Access were nowhere to be seen. Microsoft, what did you do? Ruthlessly executed. Ruthlessly. You worked and worked. Market share was gained point-by-point, first gradually, then with momentum. Microsoft Office is now the lingua-franca of productivity apps on the PC. Well done. That’s how it’s done.

However, look what happens when you take your eye off the ball. Remember Internet Explorer? Once upon a time, it had the luxury of 95% market share on PCs. When I worked at Microsoft we had meetings to decide if was even worth the effort to bother testing and supporting our website on any other browser. Then, new browsers came along. These other browsers out executed Internet Explorer (it’s academic as to the ratio of how much they were technically better, or marketed better, or designed better). These other browser were desired more, and they were download and used.

Point by point market share was lost. Now, according to the stats on my blog, IE is down to single digits of market share. From a practical “Monopoly” to single digit market share in less than a decade. All the anti-trust Investigations at the start of the century (complaining that Microsoft had an unfair advantage in that they were able to bundle the browser in with the OS) seem a little ironic now as, even without sanctions, external companies were able to out execute, and render the issue moot.

Google didn’t invent the Internet search market. They did, however, out execute all other players in the industry. Similarly, Amazon didn’t invent cloud services. WhatsApp elected to enter what was an incredibly congested market place; the personal messaging market, a market dominated by entrenched large players. Conventional wisdom might suggest this was a crazy thing to do. They made progress against a gale-force headwind, and are now close to a billion users (Dancing on the carcasses of MSN Messenger, and AOL Messenger).

If you execute well, you can win asymmetrical match-ups. Just ask Goliath’s family.

Execute Ruthlessly

These days, building a better mouse trap is not the key to business success; it’s just the entry fee to get into the game. After you get in, you need to ruthlessly execute just to tread water. Success is a hybrid combination of a product, design, support, and marketing. Crying that you have a ‘better product’ (whether it is true or not), if you get no sales, is a waste of time.

For the record, I’m not a Microsoft hater (I have a Windows laptop and love it). I also have an iPad, and an Android phone.


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