Google vs. Facebook – Part I Who will win?

CEO Succession, early stage, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup CEO

Long Term Stable Growth

There is much fascinating debate these days about Google(GOOG) vs. Facebook, reminiscent of some of the greatest battles in Silicon Valley over the past 40 years. In these two we have a classic Silicon Valley clash of the titans, meaning we can’t predict a winner, or even if there will be one. This battle has very high stakes for both. Googles current valuation is $200 billion; Facebook is estimated at $50 billion – both big numbers that have continuously soared since their early days. History says the eventually one or both of those numbers will go down, based on which of these two has the leadership to maneuver through the battlefield into more stable, balance long term growth.

First, Google

Google is the older, more mature of the 2, with a much wider footprint, domination of the Internet users life, a new way of thinking by maximizing freemium and claiming karmic high ground. The New Silicon Valley. They have also sustained growth for a decade, distinguishing them from 99% of Silicon Valley startups.

Of course, google has all the inherent problems of many years of success – bloat, too many products, too many markets, too many layers of management, too many employees, too much employee turnover, major fixed expenses, bureaucracy, fading of their “hipness factor”, aging architecture and growing insecurities about their position as King of the Hill. Classic. As long as net income continues to grow, they can overlook or rationalize these problems, but the negative effect of the above issues will eventually hit them; it hits everybody. The magic trick is to come out the other side better. Swapping out their CEO could be a good or bad thing, but that’s often a nervous reaction on both sides of the boardroom table. Google is also too dependent on one source of revenue, ads, taxing one of the oldest rules in the book “Don’t get too much revenue from one place”.

So I believe Google will hit a wall and wobble over the next 3 years. They will make changes, restructure, sell some toys, start looking at numbers very carefully. The first phase will no longer work.

Now baby brother Facebook

Facebook, on the other hand, is the classic up and comer, the position Google was once in. Not just a lucky little brother, but an extremely competent, precocious adolescent that has invented something totally new from what existed. They have thus far methodically monetized and structured their revolution for long term growth better  than pioneers like Netscape did in the 1990s. they discovered something that everybody wants, and Mark Zuckermann is proving to be a true long term leader.

But they are a revolution currently, and revolutions eventually end, settle back into normal life. Facebook’s challenge will be to make that transition without stumbling. How will they diversify past their main product once it gets a little tired and some day surpassed? Can they? Facebook’s success has come from a multi-year rollout of membership to their club, one product. Brilliant product. Nothing has grown around the world like this since Coca Cola. There is still plenty of territory to roll out to, but the clock is ticking. What is the follow-on act? This is a tough one to pull off. They may do it, I don’t underestimate Zuckerberg and his team, but it will be very difficult not to become another MySpace or Yahoo.

Google vs. Facebook = Expansion vs. Rollout

So who will win the growth war here? Even if they’re smart enough not to harpoon each other these two companies will be very busy over the next 2-3 years surviving and continuing to grow.

They both have a strong chance, but if I had to pick one it would Google.

Here’s why: Google has a diversified platform with many market leading products (because they are better products) in very competitive markets – Search, Mail, Mobile, App Dev Tools, Image, Storage, Video, Statistics, and Advertising. Google had to overcome existing leaders in every one of these markets.

Facebook, on the other hand, invented their own product and market, and nobody has been able to catch up, not even Google. But in many forms their piece of the pie chart will decrease over time as different services reinvent their market for them. They must shift from rollout to diversification, or face the bell curve.

Like Google, Facebook also is overly dependent on ad revenue, breaking the same rule of growth and stability, and we don’t actually know how stable their revenue/profit curves are. Whatever the numbers, Facebook will have to reinvent itself and break some molds soon without hiccups in their revenue growth. I’m rooting for them, but this seldom happens. Unless you’re Google.

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FIRST REVENUES – THAT CRITICAL STEP

CEO Succession, early stage, founder, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, venture
First revenue are a major validation milestone for a startup after much sweat and tears. You’ve gone through initial idea, sat at coffee shops or peoples houses brainstorming, discussed and executed the company formation, started building a product, are going through your launch, interacting with first users and maybe even have gotten some press, but none of that compares to people paying for something you’ve created from nothing. It also is the first “organic” fuel for the building process for your company.

Recent developments in web business models have made this hurdle much lower. For example Googles AdSense, Facebooks virtual economy, micro-payments and wide use of the Freemium web model. But it’s still quite a nice feeling to see revenues coming into your enterprise, and makes you want to figure out how to build upon it.

Revenue can change many things for you and your company – valuation, respect, confidence, negotiating position, attraction of other revenue and cash, retention of your equity, and the ability to attract key people and partners. If the revenue is significant, as in a major partnership that pays six figures or more, it can set in motion the next phase of your strategic planning.

Preparation, a Chief Revenue Officer

Also, you must be tactically ready for this step before it happens – know exactly how you want to accept revenue, prepare all required forms, build template legal agreements that may be required, seek help from experts where needed, have your banking in order.

But how to get these first revenues? Aside from the low hurdle examples above, there are many other ways. These days almost everything involves the web and automation, but there is an all important factor  – human to human contact. Call it sales or marketing or bus dev, but the important piece is dedicating yourself to spending some time face to face with those you hope will be your highest consistent paying customers. Not “unpaying” users or beta testers, but strategic customers, partners, influencers, those who will take you to your first levels of success beyond investors. This is how you “get it going”, how you start the revenue ramp upwards.

For many startups this face-to-face part of revenue development is where they spend the least amount of their time, for hundreds of reasons, but mostly because they aren’t comfortable with this part of the process. If you can overcome that issue, you’ve overcome a major hurdle to growing revenues. The impact of hearing live from another human about your product is immeasurable, proven over generations of business.

One way to vastly increase your company face-to-face hours per week is to early on have a dedicated partner/co-founder who does only this – “Chief Revenue Officer” – talks to people, gets out there, constantly hunts for new money for the company and articulates the vision. In the beginning the rainmaker is usually the founder/de-facto CEO, but not always. Some startups bring in someone pre-revenue to take responsibility solely for getting the first revenues. I’ve actually been that person at a few startups; it’s a great job for the right person, whether you call it sales, business development or even CEO. The key is getting the right person/people, indoctrinate and empower. And get that first revenue.

Are you a Decisive Leader?

CEO Succession, early stage, founder, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup, startup CEO, venture

The last blog entry I wrote [Who’s the Boss? What is a CEO?] made me think about overall business decisiveness and it’s critical role in growing a startup properly. There are many synonyms and attributes of decisiveness – certainty, determination, finality, resolve, authority. But there’s no single formula or magic combination for this quality.

Decisiveness is one of the key skills for the leader of a startup to succeed; not everyone involved, but definitely the leader/CEO. It’s fine if you’re not that type, just be honest about it and find someone to take role. An indecisive leader will get run over by the crowd quickly and lose the respect of those around him/her; better to let someone else run the show and focus on another task.

A strong CEO in an active startup should be making and implementing several decisions every day. The job of CEO of a real operating company includes many lonely times, no matter how many people surround you. But no matter what, the bullseye in on your head. For most strong leaders decisiveness is an innate quality, a feeling of empowerment and confidence that comes from somewhere within as well as the support of those around you. Some people are just born with it, or into it.

You thrive on the pressure of making decisions. Inspiration comes from beating obstacles in your past, overcoming a hardship or two, intense desire to succeed, past (or current) poverty, or some other experience in life where correct decision making took you from bad to good. Also, a startup CEO is usually much more decisive in his/her 2nd or 3rd startup than the first. They’ve “been there before”, understand the forks in the road, have been hardened and/or humbled a little by mistakes.

Lack of decisiveness at the top impedes growth. Lack of decisiveness running a startup usually is related to lack of experience, a different personality, or lack of desire to be that person. Can decisiveness be developed or taught? I think so. Self-confidence? Probably not so easily acquired. I was quite lucky early in my career to have several great role models (and a few bad ones). Examples and proactive mentoring came from several places for me, some quite early in my career. I’m now trying to give back by advising others and mentoring startups.

So be decisive as the overall leader of your startup and surround yourself with support to make better decisions. Find mentors, delegate, let go of details. Or be honest with yourself if this isn’t you and find find someone qualified whom you trust to take that role and let them run with it.

Your startup will be the winner.

 

Who’s The Boss? What is a CEO?

CEO Succession, early stage, founder, Revenue Growth, Scalability, startup, venture

I had dinner recently with a former colleague and good friend, let’s call him Al, who has recently transitioned from CTO to CEO of an early stage company he founded; he’s struggling with every aspect of his new job. Al was originally the de-facto leader through his first funding round, then at the urging of many around him recruited an experienced CEO to “take it to the next level”. Potential investors, former bosses, and current shareholders felt this was a critical step in for them to invest more time or money. The common line was “You’re not a CEO”. The new CEO was performing well, hitting milestones, preparing new funding and building the business, but he and Al couldn’t get along.

So now Al is now back in charge. This happens often in the early stages, sometimes because the new CEO is a bad match, but that’s usually just an excuse. Usually the CEO leaves for good or bad reasons, or the founder can’t let go of control of the company. In this case it was the latter. Als investors and employees are quite unhappy and he’s not sleeping much.

In hearing his frustrations I figured out his main problem –  he’s having serious problems making decisions and sticking with them, which is why he brought in a professional CEO in the first place. He has no reference point for many key decisions so lacks the confidence to execute decisions. His frustration is that this doesn’t happen to him in technical matters – he’s brilliant at those decisions. Technical leaders frequently underestimate the job of the CEO or business leader in a fledgling startup. They use the logic – hey, I’m extremely smart, so marketing, sales, and business development can’t be as hard as developing an entire software platform. This is a big mistake, and a common reason why startups never get out of the gate.

I’ve been the incoming CEO several times in early stage startups, taking over for the founder. This transition is difficult to pull off, but necessary for many companies to scale. Emotionally it’s very hard for a founder to “let go” and trust an outsider to care as much as he/she does about their baby. There are also others around the founder that can feel ownership and impede the new CEO – a spouse, other early employees, a displaced senior manager who thought he/she had a shot at the job. I’ve experienced all of these situations, but I’ve also had many good experiences where I did have sponsorship and support, and succeeded.

In Al’s case, he never really committed himself to stepping aside, even though he said the words. He admits that now. In his actions he inadvertently sabotaged his new partner, changing the CEOs decisions without discussion, etc. He felt that the new CEO was making “too many” decisions. He obviously wasn’t ready. I realize that he still isn’t ready.

The reason for our meeting was to see if I was interested in the job – he feels that our long term relationship would provide the foundation for a successful transition, but I know it wouldn’t work. I explained to him what CEO means to me – the final decision maker in a company, answerable to a real Board of Directors, of which the founder is a member but not the only member. The E in CEO stands for execution, making things happen, responsible for the results. The CEO must communicate clearly to everyone involved what he/she is doing, especially if taking over the reins from a founder, but should be supported by all as the final major decision maker. If that process works, the company works. Without that authority they become ineffective quickly and are only doing portions of the job, and can’t take full responsibility; then they leave and you have to start all over.

I explained to Al two reasons why I wouldn’t join his company: 1) With all due respect, I don’t feel that he’s any more ready to let go than he was a year ago, even though he respects my abilities and has comfortably worked for me before, and 2) the company is distressed now, unhappy employees, unhappy investors, delays in both the business and technical initiatives, messy equity stakes and a decrease in trust all around. Like I said, a Big Mistake. I told him his best chance is to try to learn how to be a CEO or merge his company as fast as possible. But this one is most likely kaput.