12 Sep 2016

The 180° Pivot: How a supplier became a customer

This was a 180° pivot – not just a jump to the left or a step to the right, but an about-turn in the less than mature Saas/Mobile environment of 2010, when an intimate knowledge of a strategic customer provided an ideal basis to drive a transformational opportunity.

As I described in my article Who will you turn to when you face your existential crisis, Strategic Business Development is an investment in systematically mapping and networking your ecosystem to drive transformational opportunities. The ecosystem includes  “adjacent companies” such as existing and potential suppliers, customers, competitors and partners.

A pivot can be choreographed through the M&A of such an adjacent company, acquiring a new product, business model, customer base etc. or, as in this case – it can be organic, redefining the product and business model, but leveraging an existing customer relationship.

Our initial business model at Lotaris was to provide mobile security software to mobile phone users through mobile operators on a subscription basis (in a Saas model), with vendors such as Symantec, S-Mobile and others. We built a platform to deliver the Symbian and Windows Phone payloads to phones and to integrate with the subscription or payment systems of mobile operators.

This was well received by the mobile operators, and after initial success with Virgin Mobile and Bharti Airtel, we started building a global distribution network. However, the user experience was clunky and we had to rebuild the apps every time we wanted to change the business model (which was often), due to the technology used by the vendors.

Also we realized that some of our vendors, like Symantec, already had dozen of active channels globally for their PC products, such as mobile operators, OEMs, retail outlets and their own e-store. If we could expand our platform to mobile-enable the vendor channels to provide a great user experience, then the vendor would sell a lot more.

Our timing was good as Symantec was building new products from the ground up for the recently launched Android operating system. We understood the problems that they were going to have, as we were out there selling. They were not convinced at this stage, so we decided to take a risk and build it anyway.

We added a digital content management layer, a business model layer (the ability to specify and change business models such as try/buy, freemium, fixed period/renew, vouchers & subscription “on the fly”), and a payments layer.

Fortunately, once Symantec had built their flagship Android product, they realized that they needed us to get the product to market and to monetize it, and they signed an agreement making them our first customer on our “in-app commerce” platform. We ended up enabling in excess of 30 channels globally for them, including household names such as Docomo, T-Mobile, Lenovo, Samsung, Toshiba, Staples and Yodobashi Camera.

This was a strategic partnership rather than a customer relationship, where we took risk alongside Symantec, and also enjoyed the upside in this multi-year contract. It was an event that truly transformed our mission and our business.

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