A typical headline from last week read "Microsoft, Yahoo to Begin Joint Assault on Google". After a year of negotiating, the behemoth Microsoft finally came up with an accord to get some Yahoo technology in order to be more effective with its search engine product. "Microsoft to Tap 400 Yahoo Workers in Partnership" is the Marketwatch headline today trumpeting the plan to bring Yahoo engineers to Microsoft.
Will it make a difference? If we look at the trend, it looks doubtful (slide courtesy Silicon Alley Insider):
Of course, lots of folks think this isn't a very good idea. (Cartoon Courtesy DenverPost.com):
As John Dvorak pointed out in his column: "Microsoft and Yahoo Bring Google Good News." After all, the Google's competitors just went from 2 to 1 – a 50% reduction. What's more, the remaining player is not known for expertise in internet technology – merely its money hoard. Moreover, when it used its money hoard in the past it has rarely (never?) resulted in a success. No wonder BusinessWeek headlined "Microsoft and Yahoo: Too Little, Too Late, Too Hyped."
What's more intriguing to me is what this deal says about Microsoft. The company has already missed the market shift in search and ad placement. Search is "yesterday's news". Microsoft is still trying to fight the last war, not the next one. As it has done far too often, Microsoft remained Locked-in to its old Success Formula — all about the desktop and personal computing. It has not been part of the market shift to new applications and new ways of personal automation. That has been going to RIM, Apple, Oracle and other players. Microsoft has sat on its market share in the old market, piled up cash, but not taken the actions to be a winner in the next market – the next battle for growth. Now it's joint venture with Yahoo will strip out engineers, attempt to convert them to Microsoft ways of thinking, and put them into battle with not only the largest player in search and on-line ad placement – but the only one making money. And the one introducing new technologies and products on a regular basis.
Someone asked me last week "Who's the next GM?" I think they meant "who's the next big bankruptcy." But the better question here is "Who's the giant company that everyone thinks is competitively insurmountable, but at great risk of falling from market leadership into the Whirlpool – and eventual bankruptcy?" To that I say keep your eyes on Microsoft.
The comparisons between Microsoft and GM are striking:
- Early market leaders
- Developed near monopolies
- Challenged by the trust busters
- Created very high growth rates and huge cash hoards
- Considered a great place to work, with great longevity
- Bought up competitors
- Bought up technologies, and often never took them to market
- Became arrogant to customers
- Implemented a strong Success Formula that everyone was expected to follow
- Strong leaders that kept the companies "focused"
- Dominated their local geography as employers
- Tended to talk a lot about their past, and how what they've previously accomplished
- Tended to ignore competitors
- Avoided Disruptions – late to market with every product. Tried using marketing and money to succeed rather than being first with great products and solutions
- Never allowed White Space to develop anything new
This joint venture is not White Space. Microsoft may want to be in Search and ad sales, but the company is still relying on its old business to "carry it through." They have ignored Google and other competitors, and are trying to use the old Success Formula to compete with a much nimbler and more market-attuned competitor. They have ignored Disruptive innovations, and not developed any new solutions themselves. They have refused to allow White Space to develop new solutions for shifting market needs – instead trying to push the market to buy their solutions based on old ways of doing business. Don't forget that MSN and it's search engine have been in the market since the beginning – it's not like they just woke up to discover the market existed. Rather, they just started hinting that maybe, after 15 years of failing, they aren't doing the right things.
If you still own Microsoft stock, I predict a really bumpy ride. They won't go bankrupt soon. But GM spent 30 years going sideways for investors before finally going bankrupt. That looks like the future at Microsoft. If you're a vendor, expect poor returns to create a procurement environment intending to suck all profits out of your business. If you're a customer, expect "me too" products that are late, expensive and at best "lowest common denominator" in appearance and performance. If you're an employee, expect increased turnover, lot of infighting, increased internal politics, promotions based on reinforcing the status quo rather than results, and few opportunities for personal growth.
Employees, vendors and investors of Microsoft should read the free ebook "The Fall of GM: What Went Wrong and How To Avoid Its Mistakes." Everyone who has to deal with shifting markets needs to.