Open innovation and venture capital advice from Android co-founder Rich Miner

“Beautiful products really matter,” Miner says at MIT Platform Strategy Summit

August 1, 2014

Google Ventures general partner Rich Miner

Google Ventures general partner Rich Miner

Gathered for a day-long conference exploring technology platforms—business models, launches, successes, and failures—attendees of the July 25 MIT Platform Strategy Summit at the MIT Media Lab bantered via Twitter and face to face about whether open innovation in platforms is necessary for success.

One of the featured speakers, Android co-founder Rich Miner, believes the answer is a clear “yes,” but only if you put a hefty asterisk next to the word “open.” Moderator Marshall Van Alstyne, SM ’91, PhD ’98, a research associate at the MIT Center for Digital Business, asked Miner if more open always means better and whether a platform could be “too open.”

“The word ‘open’ is obfuscated sometimes,” Miner said. “It depends on the goals. Certain things get harder to do when it’s very open. I think the way Google has managed it, where each release is controlled by Google and the development team as a complete release—not that they don’t get feedback—but the features are driven by Google and then when they get the bits completed they open it and release a new branch. To me, that’s a very good balance, allowing them to continue to be innovative and build a best-in-class product and hit time schedules synchronized the market in a predictable way.”

“It’s harder to do that with an open repository,” he said. “Too open comes down to ‘How do you product manage effectively?’ with an open-sourced product.”

For Android, he said, cultivating the open source community was a goal requiring strategy and investment. Acquired by Google in 2005, the Android mobile operating system boasts more than one million apps and 50 billion app downloads. Devices running Android account for a reported 85 percent of global smartphone shipments.

“We offered hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes for people to build apps, and that was some incentive in getting people familiar to the platform,” Miner said. “And choosing Java was not by mistake. We wanted to build a platform that was familiar to developers who didn’t need a specific programming manual. You could walk into a bookstore and start programming.”

Miner leads Google Ventures’ east coast investment team, and Van Alstyne asked about lessons from the venture field. The team matters most, Miner said, but visceral responses to products are still important.

“The biggest lessons are the ones you already knew but maybe forget a bit,” Miner said. “Beautiful products really matter, and enterprise customers are consumers too so those products have to be beautiful also.”

“For me, the lesson I always come back to is that the consumer experience, the experience in usage, those first minutes of picking up an app, device, or product and the experience they walk away with often times shapes your ability to capture that person and monetize them going forward,” he said.