I was recently reading Playing to Win by A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin and realized that acquisitions and new initiatives only work when they build on your company’s existing skills. This insight sheds light on why some many acquisitions or extensions in the game industry fail. In order to win (to use the authors’ language), or what I would describe as building sustainable competitive advantage, the book shows you need to build systems that support winning. If an acquisition or new initiative requires different systems, however, being part of a company that wins in its space a different way can doom your efforts. This insight is crucial when considering an acquisition (either as a buyer or seller) or pursuing a new business unit.
You need competitive advantage
One of the themes of this blog, and my conversations with almost everyone, is that you need to have unique, sustainable competitive advantages if you are going to succeed. There are a lot of smart people, there are a lot of people who have raised investment, and if you think factors like these are going to make your company a success you probably need to start thinking about the next company you want to start because you will fail. Very rarely does a strategy of trying to be smarter than your competitor actually work. It is an arrogance that I have seen lead to the waste of millions of dollars of investment and years of sweat equity. Instead, great businesses are built by creating processes, technologies and other unique and non-replicable systems that make your product or services more valuable to customers (or cheaper) than your competitors. Continue reading
A recent response to a question on Quora about whether Quora was generating revenue showed a mistaken philosophy in many young companies, that not having revenue is a good thing. For those who are not familiar with it, Quora is a question and answer site where users post questions, people respond and questions are up/down voted based on their quality, so the best answers flow to the top. The company has raised about $61 million in two rounds of financing.
A couple of months ago, A Quora user posted the question: Is Quora Profitable?. Marc Bodnick, who leads Quora’s business and community teams, responded: “No, Quora the company is not profitable. We don’t have any revenues!”. Continue reading
Presentation I recently gave at Groundwork Labs on LTV and data quality:
I get many questions on how to raise money, and in the current business environment the best strategy is growing your business through cash flow. Institutional investors who are open to the game industry are primarily looking for companies that are at a later stage, have significant cash flows and customer bases and are already close to an exit. In fact, the venture capital environment has shifted for almost all enterprises, with a typical A-round (the first round of institutional investment) now primarily going to more advanced companies that already have traction. A few months ago, I wrote about Turning Your Customers into Venture Capital and the importance of that practice has been magnified in recent months.
You do not need investment to create a billion dollar company
I recently read Hamdi Ulukaya’s article in Harvard Business Review on how he grew Chobani (the Greek yogurt maker) into a $1 billion business without any external capital. This article drove home that financing from cash flow could not only be a way to create a nice, profitable lifestyle business but also create a billion dollar business that could IPO if it wanted to go that route. If you are not going to rely on a huge investment to build your company, though, you need to do everything the right way since you cannot just fall back on a big pile of cash. As Ulukaya wrote, “Too many entrepreneurs believe it’s impossible to scale a business without relying on VCs or other equity investors. That view is wrong. If I could grow a company from zero to $1 billion in less than a decade in a capital-intensive industry, many other businesses can too.”
One of the biggest problems I see in the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area is the fallacy that fast following is a way to build a successful business. For those not familiar with this concept, it is identifying a successful business model or product, replicating it quickly and bringing the new company or product to market. There are some successful examples, none probably worth more than Microsoft’s fast following of WordPerfect with Word, Lotus 1-2-3 with Excel and Freelance Graphics with Powerpoint. This strategy generated hundreds of billions of dollars for Microsoft and its shareholders. This example is the exception rather than the rule, as fast following is more likely to sub-optimize or fail.
A strategy built on arrogance
A key indicator that fast following is a flawed strategy is that it is built on arrogance. Fast followers are saying they can take an idea or product and do it better than the original company or anyone else. The question then arises, “Why are you going to be better?” Continue reading