The Challenge is the Opportunity: Mutual Mobile CEO, John Arrow, on Bits & Atoms

In 2009, our CEO, Chairman of the Board, and Co-Founder, John Arrow set out to establish a company that would discover, design, and develop emerging technology experiences. Having re-joined Mutual Mobile as CEO, he’s piloting an essential movement to align with shifting tech focus areas and the resultant business needs. 

When done right, he explains how a Bits & Atoms approach unites the physical and digital worlds, communicates the promise of emerging tech, and delivers business results that hit KPIs. It anticipates and provides a platform for “the next mobile.”   

How do you define “Bits & Atoms” as a concept, and why is it a viable lens through which Mutual Mobile is seen as an emerging technology company?

I remember when I first saw Mark Andreessen’s article, Software is eating the world, and I realized that’s exactly what Mutual Mobile does. We unite the digital world with the physical world, and that intersection is where the most interesting developments in technology and business happen.

There are a lot of companies that are siloed either on the bits (tech) side or the atoms (production) side. Strictly on the bits side, you have software, IT consulting, and other similar companies. On the atoms side, there are hardware companies or legacy firms producing something off a manufacturing line. There aren’t many companies that can bring them together–we fill that gap.

Does this ability factor into how we distinguish our people/teams at Mutual Mobile?

It’s easy to throw technology at things, but if there’s no objective, it never comes together. It requires a type of employee and team that can think with both sides of the brain. Those are the people we hire–people who embrace this way of thinking to drive results.

We take pride in having people and building teams who can think about the digital and physical worlds together. When we bring these two pieces together, that’s when we are able to achieve order of magnitude returns for our partners.

Order of magnitude returns. What exactly does that mean?

It implies that a return on investment will be non-linear. We aren’t looking to help our partners produce a marginal business outcome improvement. Instead we focus on the scenarios where a $1 investment can produce a $100 outcome.

What is the best, most clear way to communicate the ability to unite physical and digital worlds as a unique value proposition?

Communicating this is the challenge and the opportunity–just like the work itself. It’s being able to show how we fundamentally change a business model. The best way is to provide super rich case studies that tell this story. But it’s also important to take a proactive stance–asking the right questions and also anticipating the right questions. It’s important to clearly demonstrate how we approach the work and that we have the means to deliver on the business objective, as well as the end user experience.

What is a good example of a successful Bits & Atoms story?

Agco immediately comes to mind because there was a fundamental business change precipitated by tech. We helped them with software that allowed them to purchase more horsepower by the hour or by the day, depending on their immediate needs. In order to achieve their goals, multiple versions of a tractor were necessary. The cost involved was extremely high, and they needed a solution. After implementing our solution, their tractors could update like Teslas, with real-time upgrades available to them through IoT.

The Bits & Atoms approach can transform existing products, that aren’t right out of the box or off the lot, with upgrades and connectivity that improve them over time. New models become less of a necessity when the iterative process is applied to product. It blurs the line between product and service–but more importantly, bringing digital capabilities to these vehicles provided the coveted benefits of quicker, faster, stronger, better, etc.

Back in 2016, Uber presented a Bits & Atoms brand message and was criticized for overstating and over-complicating their brand. Why do you think that happened?

There are many well-known brands who have Bits & Atoms foundations–Amazon is a perfect example. But these foundations aren’t always communicated or used as brand messages. Amazon just kept on showing rather than telling.

For Uber, their model was not new. Starting back in 2009/2010, there were several attempts to make this new auto model work. Uber made a name for itself because it was able to actually deliver on this philosophy. Leading with a Bits & Atoms brand message put a different kind of emphasis on the concept, more hype, when really it should be all about smart execution of the process.

How does Bits & Atoms relate to Digital Transformation?

They are both means to an end. Bits & Atoms is a much broader concept that goes further to into creating new experiences, and bridging physical and technology worlds. You don’t sell digital transformation.

An example of this distinction is Flexdrive. A digital transformation approach would have provided a new portal to allow for a subscription product experience. When it came to building a platform and the actual subscription model, a Bits & Atoms approach re-imagined the car/owner relationship and process more holistically. The cars were the atoms and the software was the bits. Our design and development brought it all together.

In the context of Mutual Mobile, Bits & Atoms is a functional/tactical business approach. How will we continue to iterate and get better?

It’s a capability-driven focus. The HOW is more important than the WHY, and this is how Mutual Mobile operates and evolves. It’s about shared expertise with our partners that results in a turnkey solution where hardware and software successfully talk to one another.

Bits & Atoms, or uniting the physical and digital worlds, this isn’t a new concept. We’ve already iterated on it, as a business, multiple times. Just like “buy low, sell high”–it sounds easy enough, but how a company actually makes it happen, providing actual solutions as a service, and the people who make it happen–that’s what will continue to drive differentiation.  

 

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