With the attention commanded by the IPOs of sexy consumer Internet startups like Facebook, Yelp, and Twitter it sometimes surprises people that the most consistent performers among new Internet startups are those providing services for the B2B, not the B2C space. Many entrepreneurial advice columns recommend that new innovators focus on enterprise applications because the business case is easier to create, the payoff is usually more assured, and venture funding is more available.
But most of the really cool ideas are in the consumer space (“online Lego rentals for a monthly fee!”) so where do you come up with the great enterprise application? Here’s an idea. Why not just re-purpose some of the consumer apps? For example
Throwback is a consumer photo-sharing app with a twist of nostalgia. Users can take photos and then tag contacts with whom to share them. The nostalgia part comes in the fact that users can pick anytime between one month and 5 years in the future to share them, effectively sending the photo to your future self (and your friends) along with a comment. Had a great trip to Hawaii? Remind yourself and your tripmates in exactly one year later by sending a future photo message. That selfie with your college girlfriend on graduation day? Send it to both of you in five years and see where you are, whether you found a job and whether that girl is still speaking to you. You get the idea.
There is even a function called “Surprise Me” in which the app itself decides at what random future date you will receive the photo. One day, clear out of the blue, your study for the bar exam might be interrupted by a photo of that trip to Las Vegas three years, two months and eight days ago.
But to my idea…what if this same functionality could send not just photos, but business case templates to your future self? I call this app Blowback. That project you fought so hard for and won approval because of the surefire 12 month payback? Blowback could trigger an email in exactly 12 months reminding your boss, your colleagues, even your board of directors of your personal commitment to be achieving $5 million in sales in the first year. Imagine your excitement as everyone in senior management receives a reminder containing your promised achievement. Nostalgia in Throwback becomes accountability in Blowback.
We could rename the “Surprise Me!” function something like “I Promised What??”
Upgrades of the app might allow templates breaking down business cases into separate deliverables for sales, marketing, product development, finance, etc. and staggering their future delivery as appropriate. For example, six months before release of a new product Blowback can send out message to the product team with their template and the message “You guys better be in beta tests by now!” Or marketing two weeks before launch with “How’s the $3M advertising campaign you promised going?” Tag the rest of the senior management team and the board of directors and watch the interdepartmental fun.
One of Throwback’s catchphrases is “Wait for the past to catch up to the present”. We don’t even have to change it. We can use the very same catchphrase for Blowback; of course it becomes less a promise and more of a threat.
Blowback could be tied into the company’s technology so that when the specified future date arrived the app could automatically query the financial reporting software and if the actual results missed the promise, the Blowback notifications could come in a bright red color; when promises are achieved notifications are green. The mobile version could use ring tones, achieved forecasts get delivered with a few bars of Pharrell Williams; missed ones come with Chopin’s Funeral March.
I haven’t decided whether Blowback should be fee based or advertising based. Fee based gives revenue stability, but between outplacement firms and Maserati dealerships, an entire consequences industry might grow up around advertising on the app, regardless of which way the results go. Tracking the aggregate national number of red versus green Blowback future messages might even become a leading US economic indicator (“the Blowback Ratio”) which the company could then sell to analysts at a tidy profit.
Blowback could introduce disciplined accountability back into routine business decisions. Then again, it might simply make already skittish executives even less likely to take important risks if they knew they would be held up to unavoidable, specific, future public scrutiny. Not to worry. There’s an app for that too. It is my yet-to-be created Snapchat derivative: Trapstat. All the statistics associated with your original business case commitments are trapped and made to disappear within ten seconds of receipt. No one can prove you really said any of it.
It’s available for commercialization. Just remember me with some stock options when you make it big.