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Who were we?

Two weeks before Christmas, our owner decides to close our site. I have written about it in an earlier post called End of a chapter. This post is about my reflections after that.

I had a feeling of emptiness when I left the office just before Christmas. I thought it would be a well-deserved rest after a very intense few weeks but it was not. The questions started to close in. What went wrong? What could we have done differently? There were several theories at the office as I left. If only Korea could make up their minds. It was too many interruptions from other projects. If our manufacturer had not caused such delay on our current product we would have been in a different situation. I am quick to accept the answers but when it all gets quiet there is a much bigger question that emerges. Who were we? Who were we really?

We were making WiFi and Bluetooth combo chips. The unique features were both impressive and tuned for the so promising IoT market. Our software was getting increasingly modular with a layered structure so that it would be easy to create IoT products based on our chips. We had two teams working with our software platform so that it would have any possible feature an IoT product might need and we had one team creating products for others to put their logo on and package.

It is with this as background that I start asking myself: Who were we? Were we a platform company or were we a product company? The more I think about it the more I realise, we were both but neither; none but a little bit of both.

The two types of companies are different from each other, both in what they do and how they relate to other companies in their ecosystem. A platform company must be very good at finding partners that can do end products, finding partners that use the platform but write their own applications and make end products. The more partners the better possibility to make several different products, thus paying for the platform development. A product company needs to have a reliable platform that they can use. They would focus more on usability, user interaction and product design.

We were trying to be both and in doing so we spread our efforts thin. If we were a platform company, we needed simplified applications to demonstrate the power of the platform (which we indeed did) and then put far more energy on finding partners that created the end product. If we were a product company, we should have spent more effort on the features that the product team was working on and less time on building a generic IoT platform.

I do not think we could really articulate who we were. Not to our owners, not to our customers and certainly not to our people. If not everyone in the organisation is absolutely sure of who we are and what we are doing, we prepare for disaster. I am not suggesting that we would still have our jobs if we have had managed to articulate who we were. I simply can not know that. But I do believe we would have a fighting chance if we would have. And our company would probably have looked different, whatever the answer would have been.