The Sharking Point

Spire Digital
Spire Digital
Jul 17, 2017

In The Tipping Point , the Dot-Com Era’s most quoted tome, Malcolm Gladwell exhaustively explored the moment when ideas, products, and behaviors reach critical mass. The concepts he outlined still ring true today…

Snapchat suddenly went from a mysterious app teenagers used to share dirty pictures to the de facto tool for middle-aged moms to edit their selfies to look like dogs. Out of nowhere, AR went from a technology most people couldn’t even spell to the driving force behind the now ubiquitous PokemonGo.

Instantly, AirBnB turned crashing at somebody’s house into an acceptable form of lodging, Amazon made it OK to scream out, “Alexa!” from your bed without getting into trouble with your significant other, and Beats kept us from forgetting about Dre.

I wouldn’t say VR or AI or blockchain are there yet, but there will be breakouts soon, I assure you.

In business, tipping points are so exciting and inspirational. All that time and effort pays off in a flash. Success! But, in many cases, that success is fleeting. Yes, sometimes companies reach what I call the sharking point.

It’s the opposite of the tipping point. It’s that moment when the world realizes that something is past its peak in quality or relevance, sending it deep into the depths of obscurity.

The sharking point is based on the concept of jumping the shark, coined by the great scholar John Hein (of Howard Stern’s “Hit ’em with the Hein!” fame). He opined that the fifth season three-part premiere of Happy Days, when Fonzie jumped over a shark while on water skis, was the point when one of America’s most beloved TV shows lost any semblance of greatness.

Interesting side note – Hein eventually created a website that listed when other TV shows jumped the shark and sold that site to TV Guide for an estimated $5-$10 million, just before it hit the sharking point.

There are endless examples of this phenomenon. Quintessentially, Facebook’s tipping point was MySpace’s sharking point. I remember it vividly – it was the day Facebook allowed non-college students to set up accounts. Pretty much, by that night, MySpace was done.

AOL, Netscape, Napster, Yahoo, Blackberry, Palm, Mapquest, Groupon, Vine, and Pebble all suffered similar fates in their own, very different ways. Just hearing those names should make any entrepreneur shudder. They represent endless potential tragically squandered. It’s certainly not an outcome anybody wants to actualize.

How does a company avoid hitting the sharking point? Well, above all, follow the cardinal rule: DDWUD – don’t do what Uber’s doing. Don’t engage in questionable business practices, don’t do things that would make large groups want to boycott you, don’t alienate the people that made you a success in the first place, and don’t be douches.

Aside from that, focus on your users. Talk to them and find out what they want. If you’re not going to give it to them, somebody else will. And delight your users, like Amazon and Netflix, making it impossible for them to imagine life without you.

Always be innovating. See the future. Release new products and new iterations constantly. Don’t let a competitor gain an advantage in the marketplace because you weren’t forward-thinking enough. Google, Facebook, and Apple (especially during the Jobs days) do this masterfully.

Etsy, Fitbit, and Twitter are all struggling right now. Are they headed to a sharking point? Maybe, if they don’t refresh, revitalize, and reinvent, like Vice and IBM. It’s essential for companies to consistently burrow back into the collective consciousness. Great companies can become new no matter where they are in their evolution.

Will Slack and Venmo remain the leaders in their markets? Not if they don’t do like Salesforce and build strong partnerships, enable others to integrate with their products, and support sales channels and developer communities. Playing well with others is key.

The sharking point is always circling and lurking like, well, a shark. Something that once tipped the right way, could easily tip in a very wrong way. As fast as something goes viral, it could end up on death’s door. The few companies that last in perpetuity are vigilant and relentless about keeping quality, customer satisfaction, and innovation at the extreme forefront. And, they never put on water skis.

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