You can't help but be dazzled by the growth of digital industries these days, whether it's the stunning success of Amazon.com or eBay or the innovations of a company such as Priceline.com.
Those very noticeable home runs have been beacons for people starting businesses in the new economy -- the Netrepreneurs -- who make or deliver products and services for and over digital networks. There are more than 1,000 in the Greater Washington, D.C., region alone, many of them off the radar screen. But they are hoping to be the Amazons and eBays of tomorrow.
As the founder of a software development company in the 1970s, I was quite used to chaotic and fast-paced environments. But talking with Netrepreneurs and observing the way they work have convinced me that the speed and networking capabilities of the Internet are far different from anything I saw during my time in the software industry.
Attributes of the New Economy
Lest Netrepreneurs get caught up in the gold rush mentality of this faster environment and proceed blindly, it's important to understand the attributes of the new economy and the competencies it requires.
What are the attributes of this new economy?
Boundaries of all kinds collapse -- between companies, suppliers, customers, and competitors.
New markets expand with greater competition, increased choice, and lower prices. The time it takes to fill a need or satisfy a desire collapses.
"Infomediaries" -- which provide information about products and locate the best choice or price -- replace intermediaries, the traditional middlemen.
Intellectual assets -- information, objects, images, movies, stories -- take on increasing value in digital form.
Consumers' expectations rise, and their tolerance for poor service and quality lessens. The greater choice of vendors and the ease of switching among them make brand loyalty more difficult.
People become the most valuable business assets. With changing markets and new technologies, visionary leaders become paramount.
Succeeding as a Netrepreneur
So if you want to succeed as a Netrepreneur in this economic environment, what will it take?
Speed. With advances in computing, globalization, the changing expectations of stakeholders, and the emergence of the Internet, the pace of change is faster than ever. You have to be able to react quickly.
Adaptability. The pace of change around the Net requires that a business be much more flexible and adaptive than ever before. You must be adept at reading and interpreting, and rapidly respond to changes wherever they occur -- in technology and competition as well as in shifts in markets and buyer patterns.
Experimentation. The Netrepreneur must be willing to try out new ideas in the marketplace. You don't have the time or the empirical base to do traditional market research to evaluate an action. Experiment and be ready to move quickly to adapt to what the market tells you.
Constant innovation. Today, getting the product to market is only the start of the journey. The competition's unrelenting force and the market's demand for improvement make it imperative that businesses focus on innovation.
Multiple disciplines. Companies are creating successful solutions in the new economy by integrating diverse disciplines such as technology, content, graphics, services, and relationships. The traditional business world called these models hybrids, but they may well represent the norm for the new economy.
Collaboration. Netrepreneurs are inherently collaborative. You can't work alone in a medium moving at this speed. The Net enables you to engage and involve stakeholders every step of the way, from product conception through research and development, packaging, delivery, support, and the ongoing improvement process.
Distribution. The real challenge in today's business world is distribution -- the dissemination of your brand and identity and of your products and services. In one sense, the Net lowers barriers to entry. Yet to sustain success, businesses must build their brand and distribution channels, which is more involved and costly than many Netrepreneurs assume at the outset.
Niches. The Net's reach and distribution open up new market opportunities. Netpreneurs must focus on well-defined market sectors -- niches -- where they can achieve a dominant position or discover unserved or underserved markets. In fact, the really exciting opportunities lie in creating new ones.
These skills and attributes are always in flux in the fast-changing business environment. Each may play a role in a conventional start-up business, but all of them must be present to run a successful start-up in the new economy.
Are You a Netrepreneur?
One way to decide is to ask yourself, "If the Internet disappeared tomorrow, would my business be significantly affected?" If the answer is yes, chances are that you are a Netrepreneur.
As a Netrepreneur, if you fail to anticipate, stand still too long, or miss the chance to alter your approach in response to a new factor, the odds against success increase.
The new economy may have made it easier than ever to start a business, but the challenges you encounter as you move ahead will be more difficult, complex, and unpredictable than in the past -- which makes the eventual reward even sweeter.
Mario Morino founded the nonprofit Morino Institute to help people and communities make positive social change through the use of the Internet.