Sadia Khuram is the Chief Customer Experience Officer at Jazz. A seasoned professional with over twenty years of work experience and exposure of the Telecom and Tech space in Pakistan, her impressive credentials include working at Careem, where she was driving the organization’s growth strategy as General Manager – North. Prior to joining Careem, Sadia completed her MBA in Innovation and Global Leadership from the MIT Sloan School of Management where she took specific interest in courses centered around Enterprise Transformation in Digital Age, Product and Service Design in the Internet Age, Global Business of AI & Robotics, and Internet of Things, to name a few.

The oober obsessed go something like this: “Our app will bring the haves and the have-nots, the buyers and the sellers of medical services/homes/animals/whatever-you-can-think-of together – and their needs will be eternally fulfilled. And thus will we make a lasting impact on the lives of the people of Pakistan and even the globe, why not? Oh, and in order to make a profit, we’ll just charge a small fee on every transaction, which is quite straightforward as far as business models go, right? Oh, and in the end, we’ll all hold hands and sing Kumbayah.”

The above sums up the majority of the start-up pitches one gets to hear these days. This oversimplified framework of ‘get successful fast; develop a platform business’, has been favorable amongst quite a few experienced professionals, who feel this is the most compelling route to achieve prominence in a digital world.

The dizzying growth and unprecedented expectations the world has of Uber, which is somewhat hard to rationalize after reviewing its S-1 filing, has made terms like ‘the network effects’, ‘multisided platforms’, and ‘the gig economy’ the language of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the last few years.

While there is no denying the powerful flywheel that well-conceived and properly curated platforms set in motion, it is prudent to remind oneself that for every Uber or AirBnb, there are many Groupons that started with lofty ambitions and took off quite spectacularly before hitting the ground.

Here are some of the questions I ask whenever I hear fascinating platform businesses being pitched:

  • How were people buying and selling these products/services before the clever minds conceived the idea of moving the business to the online platform?
  • Is the online platform going to add significant value to the buyers and sellers in terms of making the search super simple or lowering the cost and increasing the convenience of transactions?
  • Has the product’s market fit been established? And is there even a plan to do so? Often exponential growth is the only motivation driving the minds conditioned to never question ‘the winner takes all’ thinking.
  • Have they thought about the possibility of disintermediation? Sometimes the business model might have cracks that can easily be used to bypass the platform after one or two transactions. For example, if A is happy with a plumber who came once via the platform, what is preventing A from calling her directly the next time she needs her services, saving both of us the anxiety of a new match and some commission money?
  • Is the proposed platform a pure market place, or would it be more of a service provider? Would it actively play the role of arbitrator and hence espouse trust or would it leave pure market forces to figure such esoteric matters out?

It is the questions that define the success. Clarity allows one to course correct before faltering. I always ask start-ups these questions and hear that in finding the responses they became better leaders.

What are some of the questions you would ask of the creators and experts of platform businesses?

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