Remember Todd Rundgren? Besides giving everyone weary of the daily work grind that great anti-work anthem, "Bang on the Drum All Day," Rundgren was also early on the Web, in the forefront of multimedia concerts and quick on using technology to further his artistic efforts. After a week of talking to company execs trying to come up with the magic formula to get the tech economy moving again, it was refreshing to talk to Rundgren following a concert in Boston.
The meeting came about via Context Media, a Providence, R.I., digital media management company made up largely of Netscape refugees hoping to build the next digital empire on the East, rather than the West, Coast. Rundgren is on the companys advisory board. Rather than discussing whatever happened to all those Nazz players, he was much more lively talking about his difficulties with his ISPs and marveling at a friends ability to cram a whole sound studio in a crate about the size of a steamer trunk.
What impressed me was his ability to stay on the road show after show where he could gauge how his fans were responding, his thinking about Web-based methods to continue the fan connection after the show leaves town and a willingness to keep trying new technologies to find the right connection.
It seems like a decent methodology for execs who are not part of show biz to attempt. In a week when Webvan goes belly up after burning through a billion dollars, youd think there would be some lesson to learn from all that time, money and effort—something beyond a shrug of the shoulders and a general idea that Webvan was but the grandest example of too much dumb money chasing a dumb idea. Youd think that ex-Webvan President George Shaheen owes some bit of explanation over what went wrong with the grand plan.
The companies that are doing the best in this troubled economy are the ones willing to change and come up with a strategy simply beyond laying off a bunch of workers. Microsoft is the biggest example of a company that has been able to respond to a changed world. Certainly it had lots of money, but it has shown an ability to keep taking turns at bat until it learns how to hit the ball. While much attention is focused on the upcoming XP operating system, .Net and the legal travails, it is worth paying attention to such projects as Microsofts Great Plains software division. Last week, the division hooked up with Clarus to develop an end-to-end e-business procurement product, this at a time when digital procurement companies have been disappearing.
Building a successful business requires hard work, a willingness to anticipate your customers needs and a strategy that leverages technology to meet those needs. That is true whether you are an entrepreneur trying to build an e-business supply chain company or a rock star trying to fill the concert hall. That is true whether you are Rundgren or Bill Gates, and it is a lesson a lot of technology executives have yet to learn.