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Netpreneurs: A New Breed of Entrepreneur

Mario Morino

You can't help but be dazzled by the growth of digital industries these days, whether it's the stunning success of Amazon.com or eBay.com or the innovations of a company like Priceline.com.

Those very noticeable home runs have been beacons for people starting businesses in the new economy--the netpreneurs--the people who make or deliver products and services for and over digital networks. There are more than 1,000 in the greater Washington D.C. region alone, many of them off the radar screen. But they will be the Amazons and eBays of tomorrow.

As the founder of a software development company in the 1970s, I was quite used to chaotic and fast-paced environments. But talking with netpreneurs and observing the way they work has convinced me that the speed and networking capabilities of the Internet are far different from anything that I saw during my time in the software industry.

Attributes of the New Economy

Lest netpreneurs get caught up in the "gold rush" mentality in this faster environment and proceed blindly, it's important to understand the attributes of the new economy and the competencies it requires.

What are the attributes of this new economy?

  • Boundaries of all kinds collapse--between companies, suppliers, customers, and competitors.
  • New markets expand with greater competition, increased choice, and lower prices. The time it takes to fill a need or satisfy a desire collapses.
  • "Infomediaries," who provide information about products and who locate the best choice or price, replace intermediaries, the traditional middlemen.
  • Intellectual assets--information, objects, images, movies, stories--take on ever-increasing value in digital form.
  • Consumer expectations rise and a buyer's tolerance for poor service and quality lessens. Virtual loyalty--driven by greater choice of vendors and the ease of switching among them--makes brand loyalty more difficult.
  • People become the most valuable business assets. With changing markets and new technologies, visionary leaders become paramount.

Succeeding as a Netpreneur

So if you want to succeed as a netpreneur in this economic environment, what will it take?

Speed. With advances in computing, globalization, the changing expectations of stakeholders, and the emergence of the Internet, the pace of change is faster than ever. You have to be able to react quickly.

Adaptability . The pace of change around the Net requires that a business be much more flexible and adaptive than ever before. You must be adept at reading and interpreting, and rapidly responding to changes wherever they occur--in technology and competition as well as in shifts in markets and buyer patterns.

Experimentation . The netpreneur must be willing to try out new ideas in the marketplace. You don't have the time or the empirical base for traditional "market research" to evaluate an action. Experiment and be ready to move quickly to adapt to what the market tells you.

Constant Innovation . Today, getting the product to market is only the start of the journey. The competition's unrelenting force and the market's demand for improvement makes it imperative that businesses focus on innovation.

Multi-disciplinary . Companies are creating successful solutions in the New Economy by integrating diverse disciplines like technology, content, graphics, services, and relationships. The traditional business world calls these models hybrids, but they may well represent the norm for the New Economy.

Collaboration . Netpreneurs are inherently collaborative. You can't work alone in a medium moving at this speed. The Net enables you to engage and involve stakeholders every step of the way, from product conception through research and development, packaging, delivery, support, and the ongoing improvement process.

Distribution Driven . The real challenge in today's business world is distribution--the dissemination of your brand and identity and of your products and services. In one sense, the Net lowers barriers to entry. Yet to sustain success, businesses must build their brand and distribution channels, which is more involved and costly than many netpreneurs assume at the outset.

Niche Focused . The Net's reach and distribution open up new market opportunities. Netpreneurs must focus on well-defined market sectors--niches --where they can achieve a dominant position or discover unserved or under-served markets. In fact, the really exciting opportunities lie in creating new ones.

These are an incredible set of skills and attributes that are always in flux in the fast-changing business environment. Each might play a role in a conventional start-up business, but all of them must be present to run a successful startup in the New Economy.

Are You a Netpreneur?

One way to decide is to ask yourself, "If the Internet disappeared tomorrow, would my business be significantly affected?" If the answer is yes, chances are that you are.

As a netpreneur, if you fail to anticipate, stand still too long, or miss the chance to alter your approach in response to a new factor, the odds against success increase.

The New Economy may have made it easier to start a business than ever before, but the challenges you encounter as you move ahead will be more difficult, complex, and unpredictable than in the past--which makes the eventual reward even sweeter.

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