I ended last year with a post entitled Hi-tech hi-touch – a concept that’s at the heart of the world’s most successful brands and promised to explore it further in 2012 – by looking at a few companies that are using this approach to great effect.  So here goes.

Yeah, right, whatever…

I’ve enthusiastically shared this concept with quite a few colleagues and clients over the past decade and in most cases I’ve seen their eyes glaze over.  I think the problem is that the concept is rather nebulous and abstract.  People struggle to see how it could be applied, in a practical sense, to a business – and therefore dismiss it as nothing more than an “interesting way of looking at things”.

Let’s knock this misconception on the head right now.

What’s been the most remarkable business success story on the planet over the last few years?  There are a few contenders, obviously, from Google to Apple.  But the one that sticks out like the dog’s bollocks is Facebook.

Worth as much as McDonalds – in a fraction of the time

The film “The social network” gives you the general story (and it’s compelling viewing), but if you want the numbers check out this timeline charting Facebook’s meteroric success.  It includes these milestones:

  • February 2004 19 year old Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg launches his first version of facebook
  • May 2005 The social-networking company obtains $12.7 million in funding, led by venture-capital firm Accel Partners, which values the company at $100 million
  • September 2006 Facebook considers selling itself to Yahoo for $1 billion.
  • October 2007 Microsoft invests $240 million in Facebook at a $15 billion valuation
  • May 2009 Russian Internet firm Digital Sky Technologies offers to invest $200 million in Facebook at a $10 billion valuation
  • January 2011 Goldman Sachs Group leads a $1.5 billion funding round in Facebook at a $50 billion valuation
  • September 2011 Facebook announces that it has more than 800 million monthly visitors

Fourth largest floatation in US history

As I write this (on 28th Jan 2012) today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal reports that “Facebook Inc. could file papers for its initial public offering as early as next week…as anticipation mounts for what is likely to be one of the biggest debuts for a U.S. company.”

Today’s article continues “The deal, seen as a defining moment for the latest Web investing boom, could raise as much as $10 billion and value the social network between $75 billion to $100 billion, said people familiar with the matter. A valuation of $75 billion would be below earlier expectations.”

“The website, which in less than eight years has attracted more than 800 million members, has changed the way people across the globe communicate, from organizing political protests to sharing baby pictures.”

$100 billion – picture it

800 million people is about 1 in every 7 people on the planet, and close to the entire population of the Indian subcontinent.

Just how big a stash is $100 billion?  If you put it in $1 dollar bills, and neatly stacked them one above the other, it would reach 6300 miles into space.  That’s a long way when you consider that the space shuttle only used to fly about 200 miles above the earth’s surface.  Not bad for less than eight years work.

But we digress…

What’s this got to do with hi-tech hi-touch?

There’s a clue in the courses Mark Zuckerberg enrolled on at Harvard – psychology and computer science.  So, early signs of an interest in people and computers.  Which is very much what hi-tech hi-touch is all about – the way that humans relate to technology.

And where did this interest lead?  To a computer programme that enables people to connect and stay in touch.  The entire business, its sole raison d’etre, is hi-tech hi-touch.  Don’t tell me that the concept isn’t a powerful one in the real world!