Twenty years ago this month, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates looked into the future and predicted how the Internet would function today — and most importantly what that would mean for small businesses.
In a paper entitled “Content is King,” Gates predicted much of the “real money” would be made on the Internet and no business would be too small to participate. How right he was!
Never in the history of the United States has there existed so much opportunity for anyone with a marketable business idea to become an entrepreneur as a result of technological advancements of the past two decades.
Compared to the technological advances of even just the past two years, 1996 looks like a modern-day stone age.
The crawling World Wide Web was just learning to walk. Landline phones, fax and courier services served as our main modes of communication. The Yellow Pages were used to seek services and the White Pages to find friends.
CompuServe and AOL were the big names in connecting people online through the lure of chat rooms. Websites were few, and less than 1 percent of the world was connected to the Internet through the painfully “fast” 56K-speed modem.
Today, email and cloud-based services such as Dropbox have taken a huge slice out of jockeying important documents. Used creatively, Salesforce.com empowers a sales team of one to be as effective as a team of seasoned business developers.
Google has pretty much replaced phone books and has given us access to every research venue imaginable, enabling small and midsized businesses to acquire vast amounts of data that were once unaffordable.
Facebook has quieted chat rooms and message boards and has become an extremely powerful tool for retail and business-to-consumer companies.
Now, much of the world is connected to the Internet at lightning speed — all accessible from smartphones, which, by the way, replaced the highly innovative and panache flip-phone of the ’90s.
Apps downloaded to today’s smartphones can empower an entrepreneur to run a profitable business anywhere from a small apartment to a coffee shop to an office complex.
Flash back to 1996, when the word “entrepreneur” was mentioned, great business leaders such as Gates, Ted Turner and Warren Buffet came to mind. Competing against corporate giants was typically not an option for small and midsized business.
That is no longer the case. Today, anyone with a Mac and something to sell can become a successful entrepreneur and create new jobs.
What a difference two decades can make. Or, these days, two years, two months and even two weeks.
Never before has there existed so vast an opportunity to become an overnight success.
Internet of Things (IoT)
So what does this small slice of history teach us?
Now, there’s a storm on the edge of the sky. It’s called the Internet of Things, or IoT. What we consider progress since the birth of the Internet will be miniscule in just four years as we celebrate the new decade.
Today, IoT is most evident on the consumer side, such as smart watches and other wearable devices.
However, great opportunity exists in the business community — just like the Internet “Gold Rush” of 20 years ago. IoT will enable businesses to automate in ways once unimaginable, reduce labor costs and compete globally like never before.
Most importantly, IoT will open a floodgate of possibilities for small and midsized businesses.
Seize the Opportunity
There is a huge advantage businesses now have that most did not in 1996: We know the Gold Rush is coming. In fact, it is here. Now is the time to seize the opportunity, because, on the flip side, never before has there been a time where so many can easily become “here today, gone later today.”
IoT will be both a blessing and a curse. Many will prosper, but seating is limited.
It will be a blessing to entrepreneurs who are now determining how IoT can benefit their business, developing a strong online marketing strategy in response to their findings, while fully establishing their online presence through consistently producing meaningful content.
Conversely, IoT will be a curse to those who will become obsolete by trying to get in too little, too late.
Ken Kilpatrick is president of Sylvia Marketing & Public Relations, a Philadelphia area-based agency specializing in getting clients in the news, or out of the news. He can be reached at 610-323-3500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.