Brad, thank you for taking up the challenge of analyzing a TOM loser. I learned a lot from your post.
Naturally, it is easier to analyze in retrospect why a certain business failed, than predicting the unfavorable outcome before it actually happens. But your post got me thinking – how can I see that a business is going in the wrong direction, and how can I correct it in real time?
This brings me to This Week in Startups’ interview with Jeff Weiner, Linkedin’s CEO, on ‘The 5 Markers of Great Product’ (http://thisweekinstartups.com/jeff-weiner-launch-festival/). According to Weiner, great companies are those who do at least 1 thing REALLY well. Think about how Google started: one search box over a clean-white background. There was only 1 feature, and they did it REALLY well. Another example: Microsoft and Windows in its early days. Quirky, to the contrary, was all over the place. They made 50 products each year, and none of them was that great. And the reason was, that instead of implementing feedback and iterating until they became REALLY great, they simply moved on to the next product. So they never became great at anything. As a result – they did not have core customers, no market expertise was developed, and there was no brand loyalty.
So my key takeaway is that as managers and entrepreneurs, we need to ask ourselves – what do we do REALLY well? and once we find that thing, we need to build our operating, marketing, finance and business model around that thing, so we can continue to deliver on our promise to do that thing REALLY well.
Charles, this is a fascinating analysis.
I found two points particularly striking: first, how KONE uses outsourcing not only as a mechanism to cut costs and focus on its core competencies, but also as a method to move fast, adapt to market trends and continually innovate – all of which give it a sustained competitive edge. The second is how tightly aligned are its installation business, and its maintenance and monitoring business. A good analogy is luxury car companies – the cars’ complex and innovative systems require expertise that very few external technicians have, so when you buy one of these cars – you would almost always prefer to have them serviced at a company-owned garage, which in turn creates a significant revenue stream to the manufacturer (either directly, or through royalty from its licensee garage operators).
Thanks for a great post!
Kyla, what a great analysis. You convinced me that Patagonia is a clear TOM Winner.
I remember running into an article a few months ago about Chouinard and his employee-friendly management approach (The Way I Work: Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia – http://www.inc.com/magazine/201303/liz-welch/the-way-i-work-yvon-chouinard-patagonia.html) where he talks about ‘let my people surf.”
What is particularly fascinating is that not only Patagonia’s business and operating models align, but also its marketing strategy. Consumers reward authenticity, and authenticity means communicating the true self of the company. Clearly, Patagonia has found the sweet spot: for any other company, the anti-consumption message could have been perceived by the environmentally conscious consumers as a mere cynical attempt for positive PR. But in Patagonia’s case, it was perceived as a true expression of core values and demonstration of superior value over competition. And this is only possible when the marketing strategy, the business model and the operating model all perfectly align.
Thanks again for a great post!
This is a FASCINATING point!
Yes, I was thinking about the same thing – how long can this model go on without generating any profit? how long would investors support the stock if they can never extract any tangible value from it?
But you can also think about it another way: how is this model different than companies that do generate profit, and then – as a policy – re-invest everything in the business? you could argue that Amazon is doing the exact same thing, and the only difference is that their profits do not show in the financials’ bottom line but rather in increased PP&E, R&D or increased sales volume (meaning – the company has reinvested profits before they were even generated).
Not all companies pay dividends to their investors, and yet many of these companies are traded for high market cap. So why do investors hold them? to be honest, I don’t know. Would be super-interesting to discuss this offline, and hopefully in FIN 2.
Thanks for a great comment!
Kyla, this is such a good point! I completely missed it in my analysis.
You are absolutely right that value to employees is no less important than to any other ‘player’.
In economic theory, with emphasis on ‘theory’, Amazon is competing both in the consumer market and the employee market. And if it wants attract and retain good employees, it must offer better value than its competitors (value meaning salary, feeling of empowerment, feeling of community, future job opportunities etc). And if Amazon is treating its employees badly, they would eventually leave, or not join at the first place, because they have a choice.
And that’s exactly what I’m struggling with: do employees – specifically blue-collar employees – have a real choice? can they leave an employer and incur the price of looking for a new job while not earning money for whatever it takes to find that new job? Or – if they live in a small town where unemployment rate is high – will they be able to find an alternative employer AT ALL? I am not so sure what the answer is, but my general outlook is that employees always have a choice, they can always leave. And if they decide to stay despite everything – perhaps there’s some good value in it for them as well.
Thanks for your important comment, would love to continue discussing this offline.