AT&T IS Disruptive Technology

24 Feb

Clayton M. Christensen, one of my professors at HBS, “wrote the book” on the Innovator’s Dilemna.  I agree with Jeff’s post, mostly.  But it’s too easy just to bash carriers.  It’s like complaining about our parents; they have given us so much yet we youthful entrepreneurs just don’t appreciate it.  Companies like Jeff’s Twilio (Voice APIs) or my Locaid (Location APIs) listen to different music, go to different parties and build different stuff than our stodgy old “parents” the carriers.  But I submit that our parents (AT&T, Verizon et al) are cooler than we give them credit for.  AT&T is an innovator; it just innovates at a speed (slower) and scale (monstrous) and wavelength (formal) very different then us developer-friendly “as-a-Service” types.

Carriers like AT&T are the reasons companies like Twilio and Locaid exist.  We are the “Walmarts of network APIs” to hundreds of thousands of developers.  It’s hard to work directly with a carrier, all that national infrastructure stuff transporting billions of transactions per minute needs process, controls and protections to keep the lights on.  But AT&T is smart, it knows it needs to innovate and be developer friendly.  John Donovan, AT&T CTO, wants to deliver tens of billions of API calls to developers on his network this year. Bravo.  And he is innovating by asking developer-friendly, one API platforms like Locaid (for location) and Twilio (for communications) to help bridge the innovation-perception between “Ma Bell” and “those upstart developers.”  It’s working.  Locaid is now the largest network location transaction platform for hundreds of these developers who want safe, privacy-protected access to the carrier location goodies.

So while Jeff and I agree on many fronts, I still give a shout out to AT&T as an innovator.  They continue to offer a disruptive technology.  According to Clayton, AT&T is creating new markets and value by exposing their APIs through companies like Locaid and Twilio.  This innovation replaces their existing value in the network (closed APIs) that Jeff properly explains.  John Donovan is disrupting his own legacy innovation.  That is impressive.

Clayton would say that, in fact, Locaid and Twilio aren’t disruptive innovators at all (boo hoo).  His thesis is that we are actually “sustaining innovators,” that is, we are not creating new markets, but we are evolving existing ones with better value.  While our investors might not find that as sexy, there is huge opportunity in creating value in between the wireless operators and the mobile application developer market.  Based on our respective successes as API storefronts for developers, Clayton would also label Locaid and Twilio as “Transformational Sustaining Innovators.”

Because no developer is going to go back to the old way. Do you miss ordering a CD from a carrier, getting it in the mail, downloading it on your PC and syncing it through a cradle to your phone?  Didn’t think so.

Thank you, Ma Bell.  For innovating with and for us.

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