By Ryan Skinner (email)
For all the wrath that the .com bubble created, it also created something else - something called serial entrepreneurs. These are people who develop new business after new business, or, better yet, a dozen at the same time. Shipping's had its entrepreneurs, mind you, but none that could operate at the speed of web.
For those in shipping who aren't there already, it's time to understand that we're now beginning to see the full import of the information age. It's no longer just the coders who dominate the big IT ideas.
Now anyone can build a business idea around information flows and package it for consumers on the web. The technology for data management and web interfaces have been simplified and simplified until they're more or less now within the range of any businessman or woman with a little bit of determination.
With that said, starting a viable business has gotten no easier. If anything, it's harder. Because of the ease of use, the bar of entry is low and competition fierce. For these kinds of services, there's best-of-breed in very small niches, and that's it. Who knows the name, for example, of Twitter's closest competitor in microblogging?
So it's like a global romper room, with the entrepreneurs as toddlers. It's .com all over again, except now, those businesses that don't create real value and fast, fail, hard and fast.
Which all means that we're seeing some spectacular events unfold in just about every field of business, including shipping. I recently stumbled over just one of these entrepreneurs in the shipping business, and want to share his works.
His name is Stefan Avivson and he's bundling a number of information services under the umbrella of Copenhagen Shipping Exchange (CPHSE). Among his first darlings: a simple online directory that he hopes will compete with shipping's bible - the Lloyd's Register Shipping Directory. He sees it as a waste for so many companies to pump money into a book, when they could do it better and cheaper online. So far?
His next effort is a simple tool for shipowners and brokers. After hearing that all parties are drowning in a flood of emails, he proposes a way to organize the process. By collecting vessel openings and cargoes in one online exchange, buyers and sellers of shipping space can act more efficiently, rationally.
Lastly, and perhaps most hazardously, Avivson and CPHSE offer something they call Deal Exchange - a service that aims to automate the process of matching cargoes and tonnages. Will shipowners' commercial staffs and brokers turn over what they see as business critical processes to a web service? Unless that service can guarantee a pretty radical improvement on transactions' speed and value, I have my doubts.
Right now, Avivson's pushing a number of these concepts into a beta test phase, in which users get to try them out. Whether these ideas succeed depends a lot on the crucial litmus test Seth Godin has established: Is what you're doing about a need, or a demand?