Lately there has been a bit of chatter that computers (machines) are getting better and better at serving relevant content and advertisement to us (consumers) based on the context of what we are doing/reading.

Some pundits say their ability to track our history and habits create privacy concerns. Others say the more data we can gather about consumers, the better we can stimulate the economy.

No matter what side of the fence you sit on, it’s hard not to appreciate the beauty of the business system that today’s search engines have built for themselves.

Google Built the Pond

If you want a fighting shot at running a successful business today, you need to fish where the fish are.

Search engines gained an incredible advantage during the early days of the Internet when they centralized the web’s content and became THE starting point for nearly all web actions.

But creating a hub for web transactions was only one component of the system that enabled these companies to flourish.

Companies like Lycos, Yahoo, and Excite had an early advantage because of three important elements:

  1. a nearly infinite audience (reach),
  2. context behind what the audience wants/needs (intent), and
  3. a frictionless, instantaneous way to deliver solutions (scale).


In a way, search engines stumbled upon success. They were in the right place at the right time in history. “You can find anything on the web” translated into “use a search engine to find whatever you’re looking for.” And just like that, they built the ponds where their customers would swim for years to come.

The more fish that came to swim, the larger the pond got – and vice versa. Today, Google facilitates over 5 billion individual searches per day.


If having an endless supply of customers was step one in creating a successful system, being able to see exactly what they wanted was a great second step.

Every time an Internet user searches for something, Google gathers a little more intelligence about your intent. On the macro level, they can see trends and predict movements. On the micro level, they analyze what you search for, what you click on, and what you (probably) want to see more of in the future.


It would be one thing to know what your customers want and need to manufacture the end product yourself. But Google is able to deliver results even faster by acting as a “connector,” serving up millions of websites that others have created.

By replicating the needs of its users millions of times a day with almost zero friction, their machines are able to produce exactly what we want – precisely when we want it.

How Do You Stack Up?

Now think about your business for a second. More specifically, think about the following interaction with a customer. Someone walks up to the counter and says, “I’ll take one, please.”

How long does it take your business to produce a widget?

  • Is there a wait?
  • Do you have one in stock that you can grab from the back room?
  • Do you need to place an order and have one shipped in?
  • Do you have have to order raw materials to make it yourself?

If you’re a small business or solopreneur, chances are good that when business comes in, marketing and sales slow (because it’s time to produce your widget). The longer it takes to produce your widget, the longer the gap until you find your next customer.

The other scenario is equally as frustrating for small businesses. You’re working diligently on your first customer’s widget and someone places another order. Now they have to wait for you to finish the first widget before you even get started on theirs.

You Don’t Need a Machine, You Need a System

I’m not suggesting you get a computer science degree and build the next Google. But I am suggesting there are ways to think about your current process and identify opportunities to reduce the amount of time and friction it takes serve your customers.

What can your business do to a.) predict what your customers want, b.) predict when they’ll want it, and c.) speed up your build process?
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x