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Palm: Stop Missing Obvious Opportunities

Posted on Tuesday, Jun 12th 2007

I spent a chunk of my professional career working on turnarounds. Thus, I always find it interesting to look at companies which are in turnaround situations. Palm, obviously, is.

What’s incredible to me is how Palm keeps missing opportunities to provide real value to its customers.

Take the example of 2 services that have become popular in the last 3-4 years : LinkedIn and Plaxo. The latter provides address book master backup and related services, while the former is a professional networking tool. Both services are rooted in the user’s address book, an application that Palm has had a long history with.

Ideally, I would love to have my Treo come with a Plaxo-like address back-up service, so that I can automatically have my database synched up with all Palm users around the world. I would also like Palm to provide the same professional networking hub service that today LinkedIn offers. I assumed, at least 2-3 years back, that one of these days, Palm would figure these applications out.

But no, it hasn’t. Today, perhaps it even would make sense for Palm to buy Plaxo and LinkedIn, and offer their functions for free, as a differentiation mechanism, rather than an independent business with a revenue stream, which both companies have struggled to establish.

In their turn, both Plaxo and LinkedIn have serious deficiencies themselves. Plaxo, even after charging fees for a premium subscription, is unable to offer what they promise, indicating execution illness. LinkedIn has not yet figured out the obvious insight that its younger cousin, Facebook, is leveraging wonderfully: the notion of Special Interest Groups. Thus, groups that normally would have belonged inside LinkedIn (Web 2.0, Web 3.0, iPhone, Entrepreneurship, Alumni Clubs), are thriving on Facebook, while LinkedIn struggles to provide a compelling reason for its users to come back to the site more than once every 3 months. Heck, even Yahoo knew the power of Groups!

But all this can be fixed if the leadership in those companies (Palm, Plaxo, LinkedIn) is changed somewhat.

Almost in every turnaround (except one) that I have worked on, major people re-engineering was called for. Palm’s leadership team re-engineering has begun, with Rubinstein joining as Executive Chairman.

Next, they really need a very sophisticated software executive.

If Palm wants to be a compelling Prosumer offering, they better figure out what the Prosumer needs beyond the table stakes of email, web browsing, MS Office, and such. Otherwise, the iPhone will be a formidable competitor to deal with.

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