Today is a good day to code

Google Should Voluntarily Break Itself Up AT&T Style

Posted: January 21st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: AT&T, Companies, Facebook, Google, Management, Microsoft, Twitter | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

The Bell Telephone system courtesy of thephonebooth.com

When Google added world plus social, at first I didn’t think there was much of a problem. I understood that since Twitter and Facebook limit the ways in which Google interacted with them, it wasn’t really possible for Google to offer truly social search. This cabal between Facebook and Twitter is quite obviously hugely damaging to Google’s future interests as a company. So I also supported the need for Google Plus.

However, as I have been thinking about it, most companies in the past have gotten into trouble, become anti-competitive, or foes of the free market under the banner of simply looking out for their business interests in responding to a threat. Inside most potential monopolies, the issue that crops up after smashing a formidable challenge is when to stop.

Google is promoting G+ as the bulk of its social search, G+ is completely unavoidable as you are using the search engine. This puts Facebook and Twitter at something of a disadvantage. They also promote YouTube in a similar in-your-face manner, putting Vimeo and other web video companies at a disadvantage.

It isn’t hard to imagine a world in which startups don’t even look at web video because YouTube is un-assailable. Similarly one could imagine, though it is more of a stretch, that eventually Facebook and Twitter would whither and die at the hands of Google Plus since there is really only one search engine, and the entire world uses it. That world would be ridiculously anti-competitive, and no one, including Google really wants to see that.

I believe that if Google had had its just desserts, Facebook and twitter would have given it unfettered access to their data, and Google Plus would have been unnecessary. But since they didn’t G+ is more than beneficial for Google’s survival, it is essential. The same thing could be said about YouTube and Google Music in the face of iTunes.

One could argue as well that Google hasn’t been very effective of late at controlling what is going on within the company. Clearly there is a massive amount of resource contention, and a general challenge in keeping everyone on the same page, and playing for the same team. In addition, there is the kind of limited thinking that prevents the company from disrupting its own business units. Microsoft had(has) this problem, so did IBM, and so did AT&T.

AT&T, however operated like a well oiled machine, they had no problem crushing all competition and effectively responding to all challengers. Google is just as innovative as AT&T used to be, they will similarly get through their management issues, in fact I think they are very near this point. Google getting through their effectiveness issues however, is exactly what bothers me; Once they become as effective as AT&T used to be, isn’t that where the government steps in?

So what I propose instead is that Google break itself into separate businesses voluntarily. One of the main rules of business today is never to let a competitor, or government, disrupt you. It is better, and more profitable to disrupt yourself. I would suggest to Google, for this reason, that now is a good time to do it.

I would imagine that Google would become 5 corporations, split along the lines of social, media, search, mobile, and advertising. This would see Google Plus, Reader, Gmail, Google Talk and Google Docs become the Google Social business. Google docs may initially seem like a strange product to call social, but the purpose of Google Docs is to collaborate on work. That is pretty social as far as I’m concerned, in fact, it is probably the most social that people are in general.

The media business would consist of YouTube, Google Music, Google TV, and the nascent Google Games. The search business is self explanatory. Mobile would be Android, but also Motorola with the new purchase. And Google advertising would be their display, print, and television advertising business. Each company could retain a small portion of ownership of the other company that it was dependent upon. For example, Google media might maintain a 5% to 10% stake in Google social such that they can be sure that their requests are heard and honored. All of the business would have a small share of the advertising business, but the total should not add up to more than 40% so that the advertising business could remain autonomous.

The resulting companies would end up becoming far more competitive and profitable than their corresponding business units, due primarily to the need for providing open APIs to the other businesses that need their services. In the process, these businesses would make these APIs available to other startups who could build off of Google’s services as a platform, driving further profitability and end user lock in.

This would in turn surround their competitors, who are still just a simple silo, and who would begin to run into anti-trust concerns themselves. The now ridiculously nimble Google, which could be known as the Googles, would have them surrounded.

As a single entity Google is vulnerable to the same diseases which have, in the past, felled their erstwhile competitors. As multiple independent profitable companies, the Googles could remain dominant for decades. This would be better for the industry as a whole because each Google business with public APIs would provide a platform for numerous job creating profitable startups. C’mon Google, do what is right for the market, and for your business. Don’t wait for the DOJ to hold a gun to your head like AT&T. Even with the government forcing the issue with AT&T, being broken into the baby bells seems to have worked out pretty well for them.


Successfully Scaling an Organization

Posted: July 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Companies, Management | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Startups face a myriad of issues in the beginning.  They must find a way to become successful, they have to find a way to make sure that their product scales to meet the demand, they need to find ways to raise money, they need to be ever-ready to pivot into another aspect of their target market.  There are so many issues to think about that one often seems to get left behind.  The question of how do you scale your startup people wise?  What do you do to make sure that you have the right talent with the right levels of responsibility?  How can you ensure that you are retaining and challenging your best talent?

The above questions are a devil of a problem that creeps in fairly suddenly and often without announcing itself.  The result is clear enough, most of us have seen it before.  Reduced output, fewer, and fewer new product ideas bubbling up, or at least, fewer and fewer product ideas bubbling up to the executives.  No risk taking from anyone in the company, way too much time spent in meetings.  Most of the prevailing wisdom is that you just have to stay small, do not get large.  I completely agree, that it makes sense for companies to stay small if possible, but sometimes you can’t stay small.  I would argue that it simply isn’t possible for a company like Facebook to be small, the demands and requirements from their customers require lots of construction and cohesive solutions.  What should they do?  Should they break themselves into separate companies? Breaking up is typically not a solution that makes sense.

I’m not certain that I have the answers to these questions either, but I have experienced these issues in most of the places I have worked.  In all of these places, the intent is always good, people want to overcommunicate, they want to make sure that everyone is heard and that all ideas are considered.  Being good listeners and accommodating a marketplace of ideas are what all of the management books talk about.  The issue is that when a company gets too large, the sheer time it takes to do that becomes prohibitively expensive.

The solutions that I have seen put forth, and I intend to use is initially to keep teams small and allow those small teams to retain ownership of some critical pieces of the solution.  In addition to that I want to keep people building by allowing time to develop along their own relevant interests and for them to sharpen their pitch skills by presenting to other teams and gathering feedback.  That will hopefully help the teams grow, and will make it clear who the people with leadership skills are, and allow them to try and occasionally fail in a safe way that keeps the company moving forward.

Having small teams and keeping specific responsibility residing within those teams will help maintain accountability, minimize meetings, and reduce communication overhead, but it requires a lot of work from the vision holders.  Not only do they have to have a stellar and clear vision, they have to have communicated that clearly to each and every person working in the company.  That works fine for a very small company, but when you get larger it is harder and harder to make sure that every understands the goals and dreams of the company.

Funny enough, most of the scaling techniques that are applied to large application servers works well in scaling engineering organizations.  Shared nothing, separation of concerns, etc…  The issues begin to crop up in organizations that are not engineering organizations, and among groups who are not highly intelligent, skilled and motivated like engineers.  I still believe that a company can successfully scale with lower skilled staff, but it requires a concerted effort to decentralize the operations to the point where each small group operates in a largely independent fashion and the company still achieves its goals.

I believe that the answer lies * of course * with technology.  Were senior management to embrace some of the social communication techniques that most teenagers employ, managing large groups of independent teams wouldn’t prove to be so daunting and they could directly provide leadership to a wider group.  It would require for them to work non standard hours, and work longer ones where they are more accessible, but I believe that it should be possible to run a highly efficient and decentralized organization where everyone is actively contributing.

* Update *

Ben Horowitz wrote a great post on how to scale a company.