The New Business: RIP, Product and Inventory

RIP Inventory and Product

This shit may blow your mind. Consider:

  • Uber is the world’s largest taxi company. It doesn’t own any vehicles.
  • Facebook is the world’s largest media company. It doesn’t produce any of its own content.
  • Alibaba is the world’s most valuable retailer. It doesn’t have any of its own inventory.
  • Airbnb is the world’s largest accommodation provider. It doesn’t own any real estate.

You could easily throw something about Google in above too — Google has never really produced its own content in the conventional journalism/marketing sense either, and it’s one of the biggest companies on the planet.

So obviously “the sharing economy” is a fairly big thing nowadays. (And obviously, as a result, we should be rethinking work. Larry Page, a smarter dude than me by leaps and bounds, has said the same thing.) But maybe at the same time, conventional ideas like “product” and “inventory” are dying.

This all comes back to a relatively basic idea, of course — what you really need to focus on is a smooth, easy-to-use interface. The interface, in many ways, is where the money is. It’s basically a thin layer on top of the layers of a supply chain (where you get hit with costs) that allows you to interact directly with consumers (where you make money). You can essentially reduce costs and increase profits. That’s a very simplistic look at it, but it’s the essential idea. What company wouldn’t want to do that?

There’s an episode of It’s Always Sunny (great show, BTW) where Charlie and Frank go into business together (episode title is “Frank’s Back In Business”) and at one point, Charlie asks Frank “Hey, what do we make?”


“No, but like … what product do we make?”

“Product? Money.”

That’s a surreal comic interpretation of it all, but in a way that’s how business is heading these days. All these things — Uber, Facebook, Airbnb, Google, et al — are technically “products” in some right, and I’m sure they all have teams of people who are “product marketers” or “product team managers” or whatever. (Layers of bureaucracy is the main problem companies start to encounter as they scale, I’d reckon.)

I’ve worked with so many different “product” people in different jobs I’ve had. They’re usually (obviously what comes next will be a generalization) smart but also very focused on their own silos of “making the product good.” This means they sometimes have a hard time interacting with DEV, marketing, sales, etc … other divisions that need to understand the product and its use cases for it to be successful. (Again, generalization.)

It would be interesting to see ideas like product/inventory/owning the supply chain just start to wash away, and the whole thing — business as a general concept — would come back to, essentially, your interface and your use case. Also kinda interesting to think that way because it means companies have to really move towards design and content and digital and user experience, as opposed to paying it lip service while they chase the outdated shit they assume will make them more revenue.

Ted Bauer