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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