Behemoths & Mammoths

November 01, 2016

So far, I have seen how small companies work up close, and the more time I spend in the industry, the more respect I have for the behemoths who are able to continuously innovate and move forward while keeping their old stuff running and improving it.

It is a two-fold issue.

When I used to read the stories of Apple, Xerox PARC, HP, I used to wonder how the super smart people coupled with the best information and analysts couldn't compete with a couple of kids in a garage. It is not as if the companies with their gargantuan resources can't make or replicate a couple of days (especially in software) what the kids in a garage built over time.

In theory, that sounds plausible till you realize that the behemoths have accumulated an amount of baggage (technical debt, cultural, and otherwise) that leads to an environment that rewards stability over innovation and experimentation. Which is not a bad thing in itself. After all, no customer would like to wake up and have to figure out the new UI of your product every week. They have more important things to do with their time.

In the world with millions of apps and billions of websites, user time/mindshare is what all companies are competing with each other for. There is only a certain few categories of apps which are regularly used (once a day or more):

  • Messaging
  • Email
  • Navigation

Inbox is the endgame. - Unknown

The need to provide stability and yet staying exciting and relevant is a major challenge amongst the products today.

Coca-Cola is apparently the #1 recognized brand in the world and #2 identified word. I used to wonder why did they have to come up with gimmicks liked named cans, or needed to spend millions of dollars on marketing budgets every year, when it is extremely likely that everyone in the market has heard of them. And since they own thousands of other drink brands, customers are essentially giving their money to Coke even when they are buying another drink.

I now realize that they continue to be #1 because of all these campaigns and expenses. They need to stay relevant and cool in a world where every company is working hard to get the attention of customers. After all, they are not manufacturing a product that solves a problem or helps someone. We can all survive without sugar water.

Ideas are viral.

Emulating Startups

Many mega corps have started running new/experimental products in startup mode – take a small team of people and let them execute with minimal interference from the rest of the company.

Macintosh was build this way. I hear so was Google Inbox. A lot of new ideas and products come out of Hackathons for similar reasons (ex. Dropbox).

The freedom and weightlessness helps the small teams execute faster and without being tied down by legacy (almost like a startup) while also providing them with the stability and financial comfort of the backing of the mother company. It can be the best of both worlds, if executed well.

Although prioritization of resources is another topic in and of itself. which is currently driven by money - which is how sales and marketing guys often become decision makers in product companies. But this thought process eschews the original reason they became successful to begin with. Stability and innovation should not be at odds with each other, but they usually seem to be.

Maybe the culture needs to be thought over or maybe it is an inevitable result of growth. Either way, some behemoths seem to have acknowledged that they need to be more nimble in the way they operate, or else another group of kids from down the block might render them irrelevant.