By Kris Tuttle
For the last three years we have been working on leveraging new technologies and methods to create a much more effective model for research and investments in emerging technology investments. As one of our colleagues pointed out, we have an opportunity to stand on the shoulders of giants.
Internet technologies and companies like Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), PayPal and Skype are clearly shifting the strength to weight ratio of online business. Companies like FaceBook and YouTube can go from zero to $billions very quickly. But moving from the established methods to the new platform isn’t as simple as pushing a button.
There are several reasons why it’s tricky to do it in a real business context. Here are the ones we have run into:
1. Some of the new things are just not ready to scale. We’re using Google Apps and it’s had very mixed results when we try and push it beyond the basic use cases. It will certainly come along but it’s going to take time.
2. Many clients and business partners are slow movers. Even if we were ready to move entirely to new technologies many of our customers are not. At the same time many of the new technologies do a poor job of integrating with the old. There are some gap-filling technologies that help. For example Feedburner and Feedblitz can turn blog posts into email, IM messages or even Twitter posts. However many wouldn’t be able to navigate the simple set up process.
3. A few of the things we thought were core values may not be. We’ve always believed that high production values in terms of published research were important. The downside is that it takes a substantial amount of time and cost to produce output of this caliber. I’m beginning to think that the written report may be of far less value than I realized. So we will be revamping our delivery methods to reflect this.
4. There are a few things we thought would go away that are really core. It turns out that the old fashioned phone conversation or meeting is less replaceable than we thought. In fact this may be the only real high value service left in an increasingly noisy and information crowded online space. Email is getting less and less effective as a medium of distribution.
5. Sometimes you forget to pay attention to Internet effects. We tend to start with an approach of what is "best" when we look at a new technology choice. However any choice that doesn’t keep us 100% on the Internet curve starts to conflict with our business model very quickly. There have been many cases where we have had to back off from a decision to use a piece of software, a service or even a whole approach when it became clear that the choice was not on the Internet productivity and cost curve.
6. Simple things get hard, then you learn. Even a task as easy as keeping your online CV up to date starts easy and then gets complicated. So we first wrote a great one for our own site. But then one needs to keep LinkedIn up to date if you are going to use it (which we do). But then there is FaceBook, Xing and so on. At first it’s all extra work and then conditions become right so you can just use a link to your public profile in LinkedIn and take the brave step of removing it from your website. Then it’s back to easy street. Hopefully we’ll get more of this.
Each one of these may seem easy to avoid but taken together it’s hard to do. It’s easy to forget Internet effects when some of your highest paying clients depend on a phone and a secretary for all their interaction. We’ve not done a count but as we start to plot our "core" technology suppliers, the list is much longer than we realized. Considering that we’ve cycled through several in most categories, that’s quite a bit of churn.
Of course some of the providers have changed quite a bit over the years. We started out with Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) on Day One for many services and their platform is now years behind what is generally available. So we’ve migrated nearly everything from them over time. Google has a way to go but at least they are moving *forward* to deliver more.
The implications for our business, research and investments in emerging technology are easy to see and already happening. The first is that we are increasingly making more from the direct investment side of our business than from the published research and advisory side. The second is that there will be less (<100) clients who will really be on the inside and close to what we do. Even the ability to achieve this number depends on the successful deployment of some new technology and dynamic delivery methods we are still developing.