This is part 2 of a series on Google. For the alternate take, read Part 1 – Why Google Wins
Since its Launch in 1998, Google’s path to success has been seemingly uninterrupted and spectacular. When many companies were crushed or pushed aside under the .com bubble Google figured out a revenue model (Content-specific Advertising) and growth strategy (20% time + acquisitions). But this is a new decade, faced with fresh challenges. There are people walking the streets today, that can not remember life without Google. Literally.
In addition, our expectations as users are growing exponentially. We want things to be better, faster and cheaper. Plus, we want it last week. Will Google be able to keep pace? Here are three reasons I say no:
1. Apple Wins At Mobile
At this point, the Mobile Battle seems a foregone conclusion. Android has clearly been placed below the premium standard of the iPhone. For those of you already handing Apple the mobile crown and the keys to the portable kingdom, I say “Halt!”. Not so fast…
There is no question that Apple can still lose this battle if any one of the following things happens:
- Steve Jobs has to leave the company. His health issues are real, and although he has surrounded himself with talent, there are real concerns about who would take over from him. Cupertino does not have the most solidified succession plan. In fact the compartmentalization of the company goes against some of the key components of Good to Great, suggesting Apple’s stay at the top could be potentially short lived (or at least less than 15 years)
- Public backlash to Apple’s OCD Controlling nature drives customers away. There are really no alternatives to Apple products right now (have you tried to use a PC recently?) however, if someone finds a way to have an incredible user experience while also allowing people control over what their devices are capable of accomplishing, that could really hurt Apple. Right now Apple is basically a MicroSoft with a big User Experience advantage.
- Lose its hold on providing elite level, sexy and intuitive UI
How Google can shift this battle in their favor:
- Better UI. Right now they are getting shit-kicked like the Washington Generals to Apple’s Harlem Globetrotters. Top developers often want to work on the top platforms, so this has a self-reinforcing effect as well.
- Give away phones. Google has built out its infrastructure by providing free applications and software for in-demand use cases. For example, Google bought Urchin Analytics, a top analytics solution that was charging hundreds of dollars per user and then rebranded it Google Analytics and gave it away for free. Why? Because analytics helped people build better webpages, which built a better Internet and 60-70% of people on the internet use Google products. Perhaps they need to consider doing the same thing with hardware to earn market share in the key mobile battle?
2. Too big for their own good
How many employees does Google have? About this many. For those of you that didn’t take the time to count them all, the number is over 20,000. For Google, the question becomes: “how can we maintain a start-up culture that encourages growth and innovation without becoming restricted by the bureaucracy of a large corporation?”. Certainly, the bus-rides to work and on-site cafeteria help. Maintaining a “Grad School” type learning environment is a boost also. But eventually as technologies and scalabilities continue to improve, it will be possible for smaller organizations to nimbly and spryly take advantage of the cracks in Google’s product offerings. These cracks could become wedges, that are driven into by other start-ups. Eventually, Google’s own internal “Start-ups” could have difficulty keeping pace with the rate of change. If they are no longer setting the trends as an innovator, do they block the competition out with proprietary technologies? Or have they learned from MicroSoft’s mistakes?
3. Somebody does it better
Google has become part of our vocabulary/diction/culture/lives. But many forget, Google is only 12 years old. A decade ago Altavista was the hotness (they are now all but gone). Yahoo seemed invincible with a multi billion dollar valuation (The market has forced them to merge with Bing to retain some share of search). Remember Microsoft through the 90′s? Cute (little) educational Apple with their funny “mouse” has passed them in Market Valuation. The mighty in every industry eventually fall and Google will be no exception. In fact, do to the rate of change in the technology industry, you could argue that any given company’s stay at the top of the technology mountain has been reduced. In an established industry like automobiles or shipping a Ford or APM-Maersk could enjoy 100 years at the top of the heap. For technology companies, the stay maybe 10-20 years, and dropping. Look at 2009′s darling, Twitter. I doubt we will hold Twitter in the same light even 2 years from now.
So the question becomes… who takes down Google? To which I present:
Anatomy of a Google Killer:
1 Part Apple UI
Talent. If you have read Founders At Work a collection of interviews with founders of some of the brightest start-ups, you would be well aware of the importance of the first hires. But it goes beyond that. I remember reading about a hiring freeze at Microsoft early in the last decade. It was the first chink in the armor. The first indication that indefinite growth is not possible. Its funny how we tend to forget these mistakes (Dutch Tulip Bulb Rush, .com Bubble and Last Year’s Market Collapse) and continually forecast eternal growth. This is just not a reality, all growth has an end. The first signal of a growth downturn is the inability to attract top talent because of lack of funds or lack of talent. Google is already losing talent to other companies. In many ways, the talent decides which companies are successful by voting with their employment? Could this recent trend foreshadow a general decline in Google itself?
Well, that is my opinion anyway! Now its your turn, do you see the imminent fall of today’s most powerful internet company? What are your reasons? Join the conversation in the comments below.