My goal is to write one 'Pattern Recognition' a week. Just the top 3-4 stories that stayed under my skin. Here's what stuck this week:
- Microsoft's Lost Decade: Once upon a time, Microsoft dominated the computing industry like no other. They were absolutely terrifying if they viewed you as the competition, as Borland, WordPerfect, Netscape, Lotus, Apple and many others can attest. Yet, Microsoft under Steve Ballmer has become a decidedly different company; one that has repeatedly gotten outflanked by Apple and Google. In fact, just ONE Apple product, the iPhone, now generates more revenue than the entirety of Microsoft's offerings. How did this happen, and why did I suggest back in 2007 that a decay was coming. Read this engaging Vanity Fair article to find out.
- Differentiate or Die: We see it in the PC space, a market so commoditized that the only hardware OEM that is making any money is Apple. And of course, we are seeing how totally Apple is killing it in the post-PC market with a completely integrated and differentiated set of offerings that the competition can't touch. As John Gruber of Daring Fireball notes, "It’s a testimony to just how remarkable Apple’s last few years have been that 23 percent year-over-year growth (this past quarter) looks so bad on a chart." Meanwhile, this week we saw it in the grocery space, where Whole Foods (aka 'Whole Paycheck'), who StockTwits founder Howard Lindzon calls a 'platform business for new unique food brands,' is crushing it. Meanwhile, it's undifferentiated competitor, Safeway, is majorly struggling. I have a general thesis on this one. The conventional wisdom the past 20 years has been dominated by the loosely-coupled, 'horizontal' model that made Microsoft a lethal killer (upon the release of Windows 3.1 in 1992). That model was so effective that it made Bill Gates the richest man in the world, and industry after industry embraced horizontal as the 'one right way.' With the advent of the Internet, however, the downside of horizontal - a vicious cycle of commoditization - played out. Now, we are at the end-game, a point where few companies can make money under this model, unless they are the core supplier of the secret sauce. Thus, I believe that the next 20 years will look less like Microsoft and more like Apple; namely, tightly integrated, and vertically focused businesses where bricks to clicks are logistically worked out in a more than the sum of the parts fashion. Bet on the companies that figure this one out.
- Building the Whole Enchilada: Speaking of the vertically integrated trend, BuzzFeed is a social news organization founded by Jonah Peretti, co-founder of Huffington Post, and they are killing it. This letter from Peretti to his BuzzFeed cohorts provides a great window into how a startup (in publishing, no less) is embracing a vertically integrated product strategy to breakout success. Here is an excerpt: "Most publishers build their site by stapling together products made by other companies. They get their CMS from one company, their analytics package from another, their ad tech from another, their related content widgets are powered by another, sometimes even their writers are contractors who don’t work for the company. This is why so many publisher sites look the same and also why they can be so amazingly complex and hard to navigate. They are Frankenstein products bolted together by a tech team that integrates other people’s products instead of building their own. At BuzzFeed we take the exact opposite approach." Read the whole piece HERE.