Think Bigger. Aim Higher. Go Further.

Month: June 2011

When The Customer, Supplier, And Competitor Are The Same

NPR ran a story today about how drug companies are not the only ones making money inventing new medicines for the market. A man in Massachusetts has brought three drugs to market almost on his own.

His process is the same as the big drug makers, but he farms out each aspect of the process to independent labs and specialists. When the drug starts to succeed in trials, he sells it to one of the big companies.

Who competes with whom?

This is an example of how human infrastructure can replace physical infrastructure.  The standard process for creating a new drug is to build a large building and fill it with smart people and expensive equipment and surround it with parking lots.  The cost can easily exceed 60 million just to bring a drug to trials – the man in Massachusetts can do it of less than 6 million.

Mitigation of risk, waste, and social burden

Not only are market victories less expensive, but so are market failures.  Hundreds of thousands of hours are saved in commute times and millions of miles stay off the freeways. “Independent Lab Specialists” are in fact, independent and don’t need to migrate from company to company chasing the next project.

As the article states, every step in the process for approving a drug is the same – without the unnecessary physical infrastructure. Sure, virtual work has been around a long time, the difference is when the corporate structure itself shifts to a series of small integrated corporations.

If virtualization can revolutionize the medical industry – it can revolutionize all industries.

Social Flights is attempting to revolutionize the Aviation industry in a similar way.  Large Hub Airports represent physical infrastructure through which people and airplanes are sorted and matched.  The majority of US commercial traffic passes through Hub Airports. Yet, the majority of passengers are forced to drive a substantial distance to reach a hub departure.  Then they fly to a place that they have no intention of going only to transfer to another plane that also is not going where they intend to go. Finally, they drive a substantial distance to get where they really want to go.

The congestion and physical footprint supporting large airports is substantial. The burden on both the local and distant communities served by the hub airport is severe.  Thousands of people and vast resources are deployed to support the infrastructure, not necessarily the value proposition to the passengers or the communities.

The Airlines need to understand that their customer is the community, their supplier is the community, and their competitor is the community.  If they lose track of any one of these pillars, the system will become ripe for disruption.

The Human Infrastructure Game

Social media is emerging as a tool that may replace corporate and physical infrastructure of market capitalism.  Social Flights is attempting to sort and match people, airplanes, and destinations with community organization and interaction rather than the massive infrastructure of Hub airports.

Social flight introduces a Community Leader to the “last mile of social media” who can interpret and manage Value Game data to drive social and financial revenue.  In order to articulate this real-life gaming system we need to specify a baseline game scenario such that all future “real-life” scenarios will simply be some unique variation on the baseline game.

The Baseline Scenario

Consider a condition where 4 persons (group A1) from a metropolitan area (point A) self-organize to initiate a flight plan to another metropolitan area (point B). An 8 passenger jet is available at the local airport near point A. The group seeks to return 3 days later. Price sensitivity is high.

The responsibility of the Community Leader at Point A is to:

1. Deploy social media strategies to find 4 more people to fill the remaining seats.

2. Contact Community Leader at point B to notify them of the empty leg that will originate there (when aircraft returns to base).

3. Coordinate with Community Leader B to promote vendor attractions that influence 8 new travelers to fly the jet back from Point B to Point A.

Three days pass and Group A1 needs to return home from point B:

1. Coordinate with Community Leader at Point B to determine who will originate the flight plan and who will own the resulting empty leg (the passengers are agnostic as to where the plane originates).

2. In either case, Community Leader B will deploy social media tools to fill remaining empty seats if any.

3. In either case, Community Leader A will use social media tools to fill the empty seats if any.

Variables:

In this scenario; 32 seats must be filled to support a flight plan for two round trips in an 8 person aircraft AND the 3 steps outlined for each and every flight remain relatively constant – only their order may change.  Most of the variables to the baseline scenario are factors of social influence and may therefore respond to game mechanics and rewards, i.e.; the number of initial passengers, social draw in each community, 3rd party vendor incentives, social influence of passengers, price sensitivity, traveler schedule, etc.

Re-introducing Human Infrastructure

Social Flights needs game data from which to match supply and demand of corporate resources.  The Community Leaders need game data to match supply and demand of social influence.  Finally, the passengers and support vendors need game data to match supply and demand of social value, etc.

By structuring the game around a baseline scenario and introducing “Human Infrastructure” responding to game data, we hope to increase our likelihood of  replacing physical infrastructure in the operation of point-to-point air transportation.

The Gamification of Air Travel

Commercial airlines continue to astonish the traveling public with an ever-increasing array of new ways to charge extra fees.  The newest scheme is to charge 5 dollars to have a customer service agent print your boarding pass.  You can get around this by using your own printer, or using a free kiosk – which undoubtedly will not be free for long.

Your schedule or theirs?

Meanwhile, the different prices that people pay for the same trip continues to fluctuate wildly. There are very few products whose price defies supply and demand or actually increases as it approaches it’s expiration date.

People who book 4-6 weeks in advance have the highest probability of getting the lowest fair – as long as the don’t buy the ticket on a weekend.  Buying a ticket on a Tuesday morning 4 weeks in advance can yield a 50% discount of the person who bought their ticket 2 weeks in advance on a Saturday afternoon.

Obviously, there must be some net average cost for a seat, per mile traveled with all services restored, so why can’t we save the drama and loss of productivity and use the average price? An “average revenue per seat mile” price is good enough for Wall Street Annual Report – why not the rest of us?. Another nagging question: why can’t I use frequent flier miles to buy lunch on the plane or carry extra suitcase?  What, they don’t accept their own currency…?!?!

Are You Gamed by FlyVille?

The airline industry has been gamified and people are hard wired to play along – of course they complain, but they also learn to behave in a manner that they perceive to be in their own best interest, but actually is in the Airline’s best interest.  Tacit collusion among airlines can now play out using frequent flier miles, copycat fares, and lowered customer expectations.  How much time do people spend playing this game?

This is also the environment where a competitor can emerge with a  “counter-game”.

Social Flights was launched a few months ago with a very simple data landscape; a means and manner in which people can meet to ride share on private aircraft.  Currently, the amount of time required for a social flights customer to execute a flight plan – that is, organize people in their community with shared flight intentions – may still be greater than the time and harassment of just going through the flow of the commercial airline abyss.   Over time, however, this will change.

Frequent Influence Miles

Suppose that Social Flights deployed frequent flier miles?  Suppose these could be awarded for organizing a social flight plan to a social network?  Suppose miles could be redeemed for discounts on hotels, car rentals, and ground services (think AAA)? Restaurants, entertainment and events routinely pay commissions to concierge referrals, why wouldn’t they also redeem Social Flights Flier Miles in the same manner?

What if Social Flights frequent flier miles could be earned and redeemed without actually flying, but by simply organizing communities until your perfect trip comes along?  What if a person with high Social Flights Frequent Flier Miles represented a better social influence predictor than say, a Klout score or Twitter follower count?  Would vendors want to know who these magical people are?  Will vendors compensate them for their influence in a community?  Wouldn’t the community then define the ads that get pitched?

What’s the end game? Let’s transform the industry together.  Seeking game designers to build the next generation of air travel

The Art and Science of Social Sudoku

It’s been a few months since Social Flights entered the market with our February 28th Soft Launch.  Since then we have grown at an amazing rate after getting picked up by a series of important news publications.  But for this article, I would like to talk about what we learned.

He who hesitates, iterates

Learning is a critical element in any organization.  The iterative process is a series of intentional steps that a group of innovators must invariably endure.  The iteration process requires a strategy for introducing new variables to a product or process in such a way that the experimenter can isolate the effects of each change.

Social Flights was very much launched with this in mind. We prioritized the rollout of game features in order to form a player priority profile that will drive this Value Game.  Nobody can simply invent such a thing, it must be observed empirically.  This means that the right conditions must be in place to reveal the right data without bias.  The data can then be used to improve the incentives that drive the game.

Resistance is futile

One of the most daunting challenges has been to identify the skill set for what makes an effective community leader.  The Value Game is a value-based economy that is modeled after the mirror image of a dollar-based economy.  It’s like driving on the left hand side of the road for the first time.  Of course, you need someone who can drive a car – but in a very significant way, you need someone who has never driven a car.  In either case, resistance is fatal (figuratively) and futile (literally). The willingness and ability to iterate is essential.

We do expect the results to surprise us.  We went through many candidates for our social media distribution and engagement office before we found the right skill set; not in a marketer, or in an MBA, or in social media guru – we found the skill set in a Linguist.  This makes perfect sense now – but we did not know that before we started the iterative process.

Easier Said Than Done

A travel community leader needs to solve a simple equation.  Find 18 people to share an 9 – passenger jet (9 flying in each direction) within a certain span of time.  This is much easier said than done – in fact, it’s like trying to solve a big Sudoku puzzle where all the rows, columns, and regions need to add up to the same number with no duplication.  Of course the puzzle gets easier as more people join the community because the probability of finding 9 people that want to go to the same place improves.  But still, someone needs to be on the ground to solve the puzzle.

Help us find the gamers

With that, I invite our readers to help us imagine what skill set would be the starting condition for an iterative process of finding hundreds of entrepreneurial community leaders that can solve this puzzle in diverse communities. I am leaning more and more toward the Gaming community on sites like http://gamification.org to find this skill set.  Any thoughts?  Thank you.

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