Windows 8 is about a month from a full launch (Oct 26th). The new OS represents brand new thinking and also a bold new bet
on Microsoft's part. It is still uncertain how successful it will be or how much traction it will get in the phone/tablet/desktop space, but one thing is clear: Windows 8 represents the best opportunity for a startup to break into the big league right now.The reason I say this is that for the Windows 8 launch, lots of factors have fortuitously come together, creating a sort of "perfect storm" of opportunity for a startup, the kind of which you would not see otherwise. These factors each represent a way for a startup with a killer app to break into the big leagues and become an overnight success.
A brand new marketplace
Most of the existing windows-powered phones (running Windows Phone 7.x) will not be upgraded to Windows 8. This means that the existing Windows phone marketplace is not strictly substitutable on the new Windows 8 platform, which in turn means that it is a brand new marketplace running on a set of brand new phones. This is an extremely rare occurrence, where the play field is even, and everyone gets to start from the starting line, at the same time.
I've previously complained about the disproportionate influence that top developers wield on the iOS and Android marketplaces. But on the Windows marketplace, no existing developers have an advantage, and the playing field is going to be as level as it gets. This is exactly the right time for startups to peddle their wares and try to grab that early-mover advantage on a new platform.
Huge marketing push
Startups, by their very nature, are very frugal, and don't usually have out sized marketing budgets. The best-case scenario, then, is when someone else is doing the marketing for you. With Windows 8, Microsoft (and to large extent Nokia as well) are making a huge marketing push. Of course, the marketing spend of these big companies is in their self-interest, but a startup can hitch on to that bandwagon, and get a ride. For example, just after Windows 8 launches, Microsoft and Nokia are likely to promote the platform and use some of the interesting apps on the platform to showcase how Windows 8 is "better" or "different". If you can be that app, you're getting tons of world-class publicity, for free!
And if you can use this initial wave to get into the top-25 apps on the Windows 8 marketplace, more people will download your app, resulting in better rankings, which in turn result in more downloads. The awesome virtuous cycle of app downloads.
New devices, new UI
The Windows 8 UI (formerly known as "Metro") is a bold deviation from the existing for Microsoft. Not just the design of existing Windows, but also from the other competing OSes out there. A new UI is a double-edged sword, but, if used correctly, it can be a huge advantage.
A new UI is a way for Apps to "train" users to do things in a new way. For example, when GMail originally launched, it was a radical departure from how people used email back then (mostly on Outlook), and the new interface allowed GMail to "train" users to see emails as threads, rather than individual emails. This new paradigm was possible because of an entirely new interface, and users soon became used to, and came to love the threaded view.
A similar opportunity exists on Windows 8 right now. The UI, interactions, experience are all so new, that there are several places for a new app to insert itself into the experience and "train" users to do something in a brand new way, which becomes the default for that platform.
Get on board early
There's a common idiom that goes "It is good to get in on the ground floor as this building is constructed". The implication being that if you get into a building that is just being constructed and establish yourself on the ground floor, you will automatically go to the top as the building grows and more floors are added.
It remains to be seen how the Windows 8 "building" will be constructed and how fast it will grow, but if you can get in on the growth right now, you can potentially rise to the top as the building goes up. As I described earlier, the creation of a brand new platform in technology is a rare occurrence, and startups need to be as nimble as they can and need to grab such opportunities with both hands. Getting on board a new platform in it's early days is a very smart move
Change is hard
If you are a startup focused on enterprise, all this should be especially interesting because change in the enterprise is hard to come by. Enterprises get used to doing things in a certain way, and they continue to do it that way for as long as they possibly can, until someone changes the rules.
With Windows 8, enterprises are at least gearing up to do things differently. Of course, even this process will be slow by consumer standards, but it is a change nevertheless, and these points of inflection represent a way for startups to get a foot in the door. Enterprises are going to be re-evaluating their software, platforms and providers in light of the new OS, and if your enterprise startup is ready and willing to be a part of the conversation, you might just get noticed. It is notoriously hard to crack the Enterprise market, and startups need to do lots of things to make a sale happen in the enterprise world, but exploiting a chance like this can be a very smart move for an enterprise startup.
To be quite honest, I'm pretty excited about the Windows 8 launch. I don't really have a view on how successful it will be and how it will compete with iOS and Android, but if Windows 8 ends up being at least partially successful, then I'm sure we'll be seeing a new breed of app developers and killer apps on the new platform. And being that app can be a lasting advantage, and it will allow you to leverage existing success to launch better and newer apps in the future.
I'm sure some clever startups are going to exploit this opportunity and ride the wave of success on a new platform as it happens.
Have you registered for the Windows 8 App challenge yet? If not, register here