Focus On What Will Be, Not On What Should Be

Well, that was fast. Much like a summer storm that comes roaring in from nowhere and leaves just as quickly as it hits, the high-tech market upheaval seems to be abating. Of course, thats brave talk as I sit in my office typing these words. Who knows what Wall Street will do between now and the time these lines hit print?

Still, there are encouraging signs. And for those who have survived the shakeout, now is the time to take steps to strengthen your position, so that the next round of tsuris doesnt hit so hard. Trust me, Ive been down this road before.

I first got into technology back in the mid-80s, at a startup called Trintex, the precursor to the Prodigy service. Back then, an online service was a "Jetsons"-like concept, where you could do various things from the comfort of your home, just by pushing a few buttons. We idealistic newcomers bought into the notion, having been weaned on the vision of the future for years. But the reality soon turned into a far cry from the fantasy.

First off, it was a business, run by people from corporations— IBM and Sears Roebuck, specifically. (CBS had been an early partner, but it bailed.) The conflict arose between what an online service could be, and what those in charge thought it should be. They wanted to make money—a fair objective, seeing as how they were investing so much into it. They thought the best way to do so would be to sell stuff online and take a cut of each sale. Not a bad idea, but the thinking was years ahead of the technology.

Most of the computers in the office where I worked had 2,400-baud modems. Two of the workstations had the more expensive—and screamingly faster—9,600 bauds, but the managers claimed those for themselves. Its fair to say that most of our subscribers had the same technology.

Think for a moment about your online connection speed and all you can do with it today, and then try to imagine doing anything at 9,600bps. After the novelty wore off, folks buying things online via Prodigy fell off, too. But we did notice one area where interest got high and stayed there: chat. Folks loved to go into chat rooms and spend hours there. The online community got huge, and Prodigy soon surpassed two million members, at $19.95 a month. But when word got out that some folks were using less than "civil language" in their dialogs, the company cracked down and forbade such talk. Members bristled and started abandoning the service in droves. Prodigys loss was AOLs gain.

Whats this got to do with todays market? Plenty. The explosive growth of the Internet and technology means more choice and more options for everyone. Youre only as good as your last sale or your most recent project. If you do well and deliver whats promised, old customers will return and new customers will hear about you. But if you take folks for granted and keep doing things the "same old way," someone with a newer, faster idea is going to go flying past you.

There is opportunity out there. Despite what some in the media say, a lot of people are embracing this technology and incorporating more and more of it into their lives. But they need—and want—help. You can be the one to provide that help, provided you can deliver what people want, and not what you think they should have. Those who can discern the difference are the ones who will survive … and thrive.