Recently, your humble correspondent looked at vertically integrated companies. But if you’re just starting a business, the chances are you will – at least initially – be focused on a single stage of production, dealing with companies that are far more vertically integrated than you are. Well, as Old Taskmaster says, business is war. The dark side of vertical integration comes when someone else tries to take your businesses out of the supply chain. It happens. Just think about all the small businesses that supplied specialty foods to Coles and Woolies, only to find their lines deleted and a generic product taking their shelf space at $1 per litre. Or, for that matter, the local servo owners who used their local supermarket as a supplier of their convenience store, only to find a shiny new Coles Express or Woolworths Plus Petrol opening down the road. In theory, the ACCC should do something about it when it happens. In practice, Australia’s competition watchdog is more of a chihuahua. On the other hand, Apple seems to be doing just fine, despite the fact its vertically integrated arch-rival (Samsung) also supplies a number of key iPhone components, including the processor and display. And it’s not the first time Apple has found itself in such a predicament. Way back when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were in their parent’s garage, guess who the supplier was for the main processor in the original Apple I and Apple II computers? It wasn’t Intel. Nor was it Motorola. And ARM didn’t exist yet. No, Apple’s first computers from the late 1970s were built around an MOS 6502 chip. From Commodore. As in, Jack Tramiel’s Commodore. A number of their competitors did likewise, including Atari (including the 2600), the original Nintendo NES and Acorn (who built the BBC Micro B). All used a variation of the processor in the Commodore 64. When Tramiel started a price war by dropping the retail price of the Commodore 64, all of those companies were left buying processors at retail price while Commodore was effectively buying them at cost price. Jobs actually referenced the industry shakeout that resulted while unveiling the Macintosh: “Nineteen eighty three… The shakeout is in full swing. The first major firm goes bankrupt, with others teetering on the brink. Total industry losses for ’83 outshadow the combined profits for Apple and IBM, for personal computers.” So what can you do when a key supplier or customer decides to compete against you? Apple survived by marketing premium, value-added products. Premium products command premium prices, and are less susceptible to a price war. After all, you might build your own computer, but it won’t be an Apple. In the long run, Jobs also built his own vertical integration. That’s why you can buy Apple’s Final Cut Pro for your Apple Mac from an Apple store. Perhaps the best response is to avoid getting locked into a single supplier in the first place. Look for products where you can get a second source – that is, a second company that can competitively supply you a similar product. Likewise, avoid getting yourself in a position where your entire business is locked into supplying a single customer or outlet. After all, there’s no use crying over spilled, non-generic milk. Finally, the next time you revise your long-term strategy, evaluate what would happen if your largest supplier, business partner or customer decided to compete with you. Is there a risk? If so, what would you do? Old Taskmaster says it’s time to evaluate the risks facing your business from potential rivals – and reduce them! Get it done – today!
There is a myth that there is an inevitable path of technological advance where new, superior technologies inevitably knock off their older predecessors. It’s a myth many tech tart-ups are prone to. Build a better mouse trap and they’ll sell by the truckload. Well, to any of you holding these myths to be self-evident, Old Taskmaster has just three words to say: Amiga Video Toaster. See, back in the day when people asked “Mac or PC”, (well, Mac or IBM compatible as it was back then), there was a third option many opted for: The Amiga. Now in 1990, on the Mac side of the fence, Apple was still charging over $6,000 for a black and white Macintosh (like the SE/30). Before 1987, they couldn’t run more than one program at a time. When they finally did do multitasking, it was with a crash-prone method called co-operative multitasking. Contrary to popular myth, the first true pre-emptive 32-bit multitasking colour Mac didn’t arrive until the release of OS-X in 1999. The PC side of the fence was far worse. For those who have never experienced the "joy" of a PC running MS-DOS refusing to boot because the AUTOEXEC.BAT or CONFIG.SYS file isn’t configured correctly, just imagine the computer equivalent of root canal surgery. It didn’t get a colour pre-emptive multitasking operating system until Windows 95. In contrast, first released in 1985, the Amiga was a useful colour video editing tool. By 1990, you could hook up to four video cameras up to one and switch between them in real time: Why the name video toaster? Because it was designed to make high-end video editing something you could do on an everyday appliance. Aside from video editing, it also did 3D animation, was in full colour, had four-channel stereo sound, pre-emptive multitasking, mouse control, windows, icons and menus. It also ran many of the regular PC productivity apps, including WordPerfect. From the computer animation on television series like Seaquest DSV, to tracking NASA satellites, to running the displays at Brisbane’s Central station, to the Israeli Air Force, to – by some accounts – powering the graphics at some of the early Macworld shows and in the video production department at Microsoft, there was an Amiga behind the scenes. Even though it used the same series of processors (the Motorola 68k) as the early Macintoshes, because it had a series of separate graphics and sound processors, it was a magnitude faster and more powerful than its rivals. Yet it still cost less. However, despite all this, it failed to gain sufficient traction in the marketplace. It's time for some guru meditation on why this happened. Poor management and poor marketing shoulder a lot of the responsibility. Just like BlackBerry 10, while it was ridiculously more advanced than any of its competitors, this was never effectively communicated to the public. As a result, its demise ended up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Dealers and sales reps in stores explained to customers that while indeed the Amiga was more advanced, it didn’t have enough traction in the marketplace. In turn, because those customers failed to buy it, it failed to get traction in the marketplace. Other salespeople, mostly out of ignorance, stressed the importance of getting a “serious” computer (ie an IBM PC) that could run WordPerfect (badly) but not have enough horsepower to do high-end video over one that could do both (the Amiga). The moral of the story for anyone with a tech start-up is clear. It’s just not good enough to arrogantly assume your technology or product will succeed on merit, even if it is clearly ahead of everything else in the marketplace. You need to do the hard yards in selling and marketing your product, or else it will flounder. Get it done – today!
Google hasn't been having a very good day.
The amount of online activity conducted by small businesses took a surprising fall last month, despite steady growth in the number of SME websites, according to new research.
Sydney-born entrepreneur John van den Nieuwenhuizen has big plans for his Apple-inspired start-up Hidden, which is on the cusp of raising $1 million on crowdfunding website Kickstarter.
Mining billionaire Gina Rinehart has threatened to sell her shares in Fairfax if she is not offered director positions at the business “without unsuitable conditions”.
Pressure is mounting on the federal government to call an early election following its decision to ask embattled Labor MP Craig Thomson to move to the crossbenches.
Retail giant Amazon has scheduled a press conference for Wednesday night in the US (Thursday AEST) where many analysts believe it will debut its long-awaited tablet device, which many believe could pose the first biggest threat to Apple’s iPad.
Google has purchased American restaurant review group Zagat, in a move that highlights the search engine giant's interest in user testimonials, as well as its considerable war chest for investing in small businesses.
Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility will “supercharge” the Android ecosystem, according to the company, but an industry expert claims the deal will have no major impact on developers.
Tablet computing, the continued improvement and penetration of 3D technology and the widespread integration of social networking are just some of the trends revealed at the annual E3 gaming conference.
Internet search giant Google has unveiled an application that will enable consumers to use their Android smartphones to pay for products in-store, potentially boosting sales for retail businesses.
The number of Android phones sold in Australia in the first three months of the year rose by 45%, according to new figures, suggesting that many entrepreneurs are looking beyond Apple when choosing smartphones.
One of the major features of the iPad 2 that got tech heads salivating at its launch was the impressive cover/stand combo.
For seasoned tech observers, the greatest surprise at last week’s iPad 2 unveiling was the appearance of black roll-neck aficionado Apple CEO Steve Jobs to do his customary presentation.
The Consumer Electronics Show is gadget heaven. Every year major manufacturers pull out some of the most powerful (and wacky), pieces of technology for attendees and have the chance to show off some of the most impressive and futuristic pieces of hardware ever seen; it's the biggest tech event of the year.
Start-ups have been urged to take note of the hottest trends at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, which showcases the latest innovations in gadgets and technology.