Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Business and passion

It has been some time since Paul Buchcheit, the developer of Gmail and Google adsense and also the co-conceiver of their mantra "Don't be evil" left Google. But that is not the only reason Google seem to have shunned the motto. Perhaps its not just Google. The whole corporate/capitalist world seems to have embraced a hypocritical approach to the way they do business. Its not just Google or Apple, it is also the story of Goldman Sachs or Bank Of America as that of UBS. And a lot more. But it is not the point of this writeup to harp on the scandals and profess the impending doom. I feel that these very so called leaders are at a loss. A loss of sensibility, a loss of inspiration to keep the pace up with the elevated expectations of the world around them. A loss when they find themselves in the midst of the bad bad world of business. Let us talk about Google. I saw/read some time back (a few yrs maybe) an interview with Page or Brin I dont remember who of the cofounders about the culture at Google - work and general. They spoke among other things, a culture around work and simplicity. They said how they did not encourage a show-pony culture and discouraged employees flaunting their top of the draw cars and things like that. I mean he did not need to say that and the fact that he did say it, I thought they actually were pretty keen on instilling a clean work ethic like focussing on the work and coming out with great ideas and stuff and thus dint want any distractions. Also the motto professing "Dont be evil" was afterall seeped into the psyche of the emploee then. Brin and Page look like sensible guys and afterall their empire was built from a hard written algorithm and not any kind of plagiarism. But still today we read stories about how Google has usurped Microsoft from the throne of the "" as they call it. The only contention from some circles is that its actually Apple which is the true - another larger than life success story. And I have much less confidence in Apple personally, I like Google better. But the point is that there is always professed an.
They said so about Microsoft in the ninties and early noughties what with all those antitrust laws and big lawsuits. And perhaps they were true. Perhaps MS was doing everything in its capacity to monopolise the market. They made sure Netscape went out and since 1997 IE has held the crown of the most preferred browser in the world, a position which has only recently been threatened seriously by Chrome. The antitrust lawsuits were filed and MS did loose those disputes. Movies were made and MS was rubbished the world over. But there looked nobody would be able to dethrone them from the position of undisputed kings of the technology world, whatever that means. Keeping up with the natural law of change however, Internet arrived on the scene like nothing earlier had. And suddenly MS was beaten not by any competition but seemingly by the vicissitudes of nature and natural law. Around time companies like Google blossomed. They were perfectly positioned to reap the benefits of the internet revolution. There were other internet success stories like Yahoo, Amazon, ebay, craigslist (now little out of favor, but the credit is due to Mr Craig for being his own man) and a few more internet behemoths. The scene sprawled with tech startups as there was little investment needed to build a success story. A brilliant and viral idea would suffice. It felt like the advent of a truly efficient marketplace had begun and there was hope for the masses. So over the span of the last decade and more we have a more balanced market cap. scenario as far as the tech. giants (not hardware) are concerned - MS, Google, FB, Amazon, also Yahoo and ofcourse Apple.
So the numero uno position was snatched from MS. And a lot of water has flown since then even under the Old Delhi rickety British-raj railway bridge despite the drying volumes of the Yamuna river. And meanwhile Mr Gates has completely changed his ways of living. He now travels the worldover and tries to solve the more human problems in the world he inhabits. Well, atleast it looks like that. But scandal still looms large on the tech. space or to be fair for that matter any industry vertical. The spate of Patent suits unleashed at Motorola by Apple and now even by MS (Funny in a way if you think how Apple themselves have enriched the "i" experience by taking cues from few Android features), the privacy issues circling the internet space which have now really gained momentum, the Apple Foxconn saga, the spying stories between these big corporations, not to forget the delusional marketing and branding of Apple (a personal subjective take agreed), the closed ecosystem and locking tactics of Apple and many more such stories doing the rounds everyday do not feel like the act of these sensible brainiacs, although I always felt S Jobs was a bit too arrogant and egomaniacal for my taste and MZ'berg felt like he was guilty of his success. It looks more of a a case that to be at the top you got to bend a few rules and find your ways through the maze to deliver the best results to your shareholders. So the shareholders and the bankers come into the fray. The starry eyed tech geek actually metamorphosises(m sure its a spello) into the shrewd businessman. And to survive in the dog eat dog world of frontline business, changes his ways. More so if he happens to represent the top notch firm with the highest market cap or active users. There is pressure from the investor community, shareholders and there is a reputation at stake and the egos have blown up a little bit as well. And worse still, if you dont do it, the competition would implement it and then wipe you off the slate, such volatilily pervades this sector. For every FB, there were a couple Myspaces and Friendsters and there is no guarantee the same fate would not befall that particular company with such a fickle and volatile userbase. So how do you survive. Where do you bring the dollar to spend on the research and development, essential spendings in this technology intensive space.
And how do you create the hype if you plan to go public (IPO) in near future. Else how do you stop the paper wealth of your stock from plummeting if you are already listed. And what if there is widespread lobbying - political and business - to grab the next big opportunity. I have a feeling the average tech geek turned businessman does not understand why he landed in such a place. I mean Page and Brin would have certainly known that their idea was big and useful and would earn them the big moolah and they would lead comfortable lives when the Google algorithm would have started to find widespread acceptance and usage initially. But would they have thought it would turn into the juggernaught it is today or of the zillion ramifications of their every strategy or move they make today. I doubt even they make those strategic calls today. They would like to think that they have the opportunity to change the world for the better and they certainly have, but still they are not born businessmen. I cant bring myself to believe that they enjoy making the shrewd business calls or playing the mean businessman.

No comments: