Since I am Canadian, I have to quote the greatest hockey player of all time, Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky was incredibly successful not because he skated to where the puck is. Rather, he skated to where the puck is going to be. Companies that have incredible foresight into a market that will have an enormous total addressable market (T.A.M.) are essentially subscribing to Gretzky’s forward thinking strategy. This is what Bill Gates and Paul Allen did in the 1970s when they read the cover story of Popular Mechanics and knew in their hearts that there would be a day in the not too distant future that we would all have computers on our desks.
The right idea at the right time is a major driver of success. Yahoo’s purchase of Broadcast.com for $5.7bn in 1999 could have had YouTube-like returns for investors. Similarly, Yahoo’s purchase of social media pioneer GeoCities for $3.6bn in 1999 could have produced Facebook-like returns for investors. Unfortunately the timing of the two aforementioned acquisitions by Yahoo was way too early.
The same can be said for Apple’s Newton product, which was several years too early or Microsoft’s early tablet computer strategy or even Oracle’s brilliant but failed Network Computer strategy in the 1990s. There are also so many amazing environmentally friendly clean tech companies out there that might be decades too early to succeed; I am certainly hopeful that they do. Timing is everything.
I had the privilege of speaking with Silicon Valley legend Andy Bechtolsheim about the drivers for success. Many people, myself included, believe Andy is the most successful technology entrepreneur in Silicon Valley history. Andy was not only the very first investor in Google, but he was also the first employee at Sun Microsystems and a founder of so many unbelievable companies that are public or have been acquired, including Arista, Granite, Dssd etc. As I always do when I meet incredibly successful entrepreneurs, I ask for reasons for their success. Andy has never had a failed startup and he very humbly told me that timing is one of the most important drivers of success.
Timing also matters when it comes to venture capital investment opportunities in cyclical economic downturns. During the recession of 2001 there was 1 notable company that venture investors felt safe investing in, which was Google, which went public in 2004. The same can be said in 2008 when we were within 24 hours of bank machines not working! Venture capital investors then wanted to back a sure thing, which of course was Facebook. Of course we know that Google and Facebook succeeded for many reasons, including brilliant management teams and execution, but timing helped them as well.
So how do we know if our timing is good enough to succeed? It comes down to several factors, including a huge consumer or enterprise appetite for a product or service which can be quantified through an enormous T.A.M. Component or input prices for products needs to be low enough as well, which is a reason why Android and Apple smartphones have been so incredibly successful. Years ago I read an incredible McKinsey study about how all component prices in computers, phones and TVs drop in price close to 1% every single week! The hard part is assessing through focus groups when prices for consumer or enterprise products or services will be low enough to entice them to buy the products or services.
Timing might be a bit less relevant in technology today for a reason aside from the price of purchasing the product or service. What I mean by this is that many technology companies are copying the magazine subscription business model and renting or allowing consumers or enterprises to effectively subscribe to use their products, which is superb from a revenue visibility perspective. A two year subscription to a smart phone might cost close to $1,000. By having consumers subscribe to products on a monthly basis, the sticker shock risk is mitigated. As a result of subscription business models from companies like Apple or Salesforce, timing is a big less of an issue today.
Timing has a lot to do with success; we need to skate to where the puck is going to be in the not too distant future.