Unbundling Ice Cream
An article in Entrepreneur.com chronicled how a couple ladies who ran a gourmet ice cream shop in Seattle closed up their unsuccessful storefront and had phenomenal success selling out of a ice cream truck instead.
I was immediately reminded of the lecture Albert Wenger gave at the Entrepreneurial Design class on unbundling at USV two weeks ago. Albert talked about the nature of the internet - its fundamental traits of being global, instant, free, connected and ubiquitous. Without going into too much detail, Albert argued that the Internet as a new form of information technology disrupts and tears apart previous business models built upon older forms of information technology.
The most discussed example in class was the well known unbundling of the newspapers. Functions that used to be bundled (e.g. classifieds and the news), under the previous logic of distribution and manufacturing of information no longer make sense with cheap ubiquitous connectivity. The old business model of newspapers was unbundled by the logic of the internet.
The ice cream shop in Seattle, however, isn’t really in the information business. How have they unbundled? They unbundled themselves from their lease, from their located-ness, from having to staff their store during off-peak hours.
Why is that important? Because operating out of an ice cream truck allows them to go to where their customers are, when their customers desire ice cream. Without a store to maintain, new strategic options open up. They can now show up at community events, festivals, parties - any event that have a high concentration of people in festive moods. Their product is the same, but now their sales-per-hour is through the roof because they are not waiting for foot traffic at the mall, they are pursuing foot traffic on the road.
Operating a food truck is not a new business model. It has been possible ever since they can put refrigerators on trucks. What changed? The arrival of ubiquitous connectivity solved the findability problem selling out of trucks. Pre-internet, marketing and establishing a consistent brand was difficult for ice cream trucks, because they are not reliably in one place, and they had no reliable way of reaching their customers.
Remember how the internet is global, instant and ubiquitous? Food trucks today simply post their current location on a website. Plaster your website and twitter handle on the side of the truck - next time a customer craves your gourmet ice cream, they can just look you up.
In the Entrepreneurial Design lecture Albert called on us to look around in our world, and to identify business model not as natural, but as constructs built upon technological constraints. Once we start seeing business models as constructs, we can start looking for the seams and joins to understand how these models are put together. As interaction designers, if we understand our new toolsets, we can start to see how we might pull them apart, and put them back together in new ways.
Unbundling is about recognizing new strategic options as the societal landscape is reshaped by internet infrastructure and internet culture. Whether this is online, or offline, our opportunities are where the technologies have changed, and the business models haven’t caught up.
This might be fun.