Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Virtual Companies

Powerful computing tools, an ease in the transfer of information and a burgeoning contract manufacturing infrastructure are bringing us closer to the world of personalized manufacturing, in essence a virtual company. It is within reach today, for one person to harness together different sources to create a virtual company. Imagine a manufacturer without a factory. This is the money quote from Kevin Maney of USA Today, "Before long, "user-generated content" won't refer only to media, but to just about anything: user-generated jeans, user-generated sports cars, user-generated breakfast meats. This is because setting up a company that designs, makes and globally sells physical products could become almost as easy as starting a blog..." Hat Tip: Instapundit

This idea sounds very intriguing. In fact, downright revolutionary.... but typical of Web 2.0 hubris, it is also highly unlikely, and not for the reasons you think. It is quite possible and happening now, in a variety of service industries. A friend of mine, is enhancing his website with, and creating a property database via a service called E-Lance (www.elance.com). Guys from Ohio to India bid on his project, and he selects the best bid. Truly, globalization at its core. Distributed interactions of individuals, making free, unencumbered economic decisions. When we economists talk about free trade, that is what we are talking about. It is simply the unencumbered trade of individuals.

Ok, back to the main point. Distributed manufacturing from virtual companies will not catch fire for the most part, and it mainly has to do with you... the consumer. Successful companies find it essential to control the consumer experience, because that is how you judge them. Everything from the first point of contact through the product experience is essential to defining the brand and your experience. If a product is delivered without the end brand controlling the experience, flaws, and bad experiences will creep in. Quality and experiential uncertainty will lead many companies to keep at least some aspects, if not final assembly of manufactured materials in-house for the foreseeable future. Web 2.0 and Amazon are a bridge too far, except for niche products or products where quality of manufacture is not an important aspect.

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