This company is dead. I didn’t kill it. Don’t blame me. It was dead when I got here. It’s too late for prayers. For even if the prayers were answered, and a miracle occurred, and the yen did this, and the dollar did that, and the infrastructure did the other thing, we would still be dead. You know why? Fiber optics. New technologies. Obsolescence. We’re dead alright. We’re just not broke. And you know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure.
You know, at one time there must’ve been dozens of companies makin’ buggy whips. And I’ll bet the last company around was the one that made the best g**da** buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company? You invested in a business and this business is dead. Let’s have the intelligence, let’s have the decency to sign the death certificate, collect the insurance, and invest in something with a future.
“Other People’s Money” (1991) — Larry “the Liquidator” Garfield (Danny Devito) Addresses the Stockholders of New England Wire & Cable Co.
For the tech giants, valuation is about the future. It also helps that each enjoys a near monopoly in at least one industry: music sales, web search, and book sales, for example. Similarly, for the energy giants, valuation is about the future—a future that too many speculators and investors see as dim.
Ellen R. Wald, Forbes (Feb, 5, 2018), Why Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are more Valuable that Exxon and Chevron
I know…I know…there is no “one secret” to anything. So, when I say there is “one” secret, I automatically set myself up to be rejected out of hand.
But, I am ready to make a statement that is close to absolute: the one secret to failing at a business is to be offering an obsolete product or service. The completely obsolete product will certainly fail to gain customers. The almost obsolete product, or the on-the-path-to-becoming-obsolete product, will also fail; it just may take a bit of time.
I remember sitting is a church board meeting in about 1982, in Long Beach, California. There was a heated discussion; very heated. The issue: where to spend our advertising budget dollars. The two options were: a weekly newspaper ad on the Religion Page of the Saturday newspaper, vs. paying for a larger ad in the yellow pages. I was on the yellow pages side of the argument, by the way.
(Note to younger readers – every house in America used to have, delivered for free to their house, a big thick book called the Yellow Pages, filled with nothing but listings/ads from businesses. I also used to look up telephone numbers for people in the white pages phone book, by the way.
Note to younger readers: there was a time when most homes in America received, delivered to their houses, a physical newspaper, with the news from the previous day).
There must have been a vast army of people selling yellow pages ads in those days. Today, you would be throwing your money away to advertise in the yellow pages. — Is there still a yellow pages? I have not looked at the yellow pages in…years. Many, many years.
And, though I do take a daily newspaper – a physical newspaper delivered to our home daily — I have not looked at the Religion Page on Saturday for years. Do they still have such a page? I need to check.
Have you seen the latest short article and video circulating from Business Insider about the fall of Blockbuster? Same story – obsolete. Obsolete product; obsolete processes.
As I write this at this moment, here is the value of the three most valuable companies:
Apple — $1.385 trillion ($1,385 billion)
Microsoft — $1.290 trillion ($1,287 billion)
Alphabet (Google) – $1.010 trillion ($1,101 billion).
And, for a while a short time ago, Amazon crossed the $1 trillion mark. (At this moment, it is $925 billion).
It seems like only yesterday that people wondered if any company would ever be valued at over $1 trillion. Three now are, and four haver crossed the mark.
I remember a few years ago (a little over a decade ago), Exxon was the most valuable company. Exxon, at this moment, is valued at $289 billion. Apple is $1 trillion, plus nearly another $100 billion, more valuable. Just breathtaking.
So, what’s the deal? Yes, a number of technology-based companies have failed; many of them spectacularly. So, being in the right business is no guarantee of success. But being in the wrong business – one that is obsolete (think yellow pages; buggy whips; video cassette tapes) – is very bad for business indeed; a guaranteed path for failure.
And, though oil is still plenty valuable, it is no longer the most valuable. Today’s cutting edge, done well, becomes more valuable than yesterday’s dominant product or service.
So, whatever else you consider about business success, remember to consider this: is my product of service in danger or becoming obsolete? If so, you’ve got some serious thinking, and shifting to do.