Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Free'er than Freemium, "hmm....BUT...."

I've written about Freemium several times before, discussing it's impact on existing markets and incumbent companies in several industries. Brian Gurley (Partner, Benchmark Capital) does an excellent job explaining how Google is further leveraging their mobile services like StreetView to further move into Mobile Advertising.

As an MBA student, Google is an interesting company to study and analyze. On one hand, so many of their projects are difficult to apply typical MBA skills to (NPV, Cash Flow analysis, etc.) because they are fundamentally experiments, and they make not drive direct revenues. On the other hand, their ability to expand upon their core strategy of "organize all the world's information" is incredibly interesting to follow. It is a massive concept that has so many possibilities, but I suspect it only works within a culture that allows large amounts of freedom to explore "crazy" ideas.

Having a cash cow like AdSense or AdWords obviously makes it a little easier to fund and maintain the Google culture, but it still requires employees and managers to take huge risks. Personal risks, technology risks, strategy risks.

I'm trying to imagine what a conversation at Google a few years ago might have gone like:

Employee: Mobile devices are going to take off and people will consume huge amounts of data on them someday.
Manager: Agreed. We should figure out ways to accelerate this, as we could drive ads to their mobile devices.
Employee: My kid was reading about Lewis & Clark the other day. We should try and be the world's source for mapping information.
Manager: But what can we do interesting with maps?
Employee: Eliminate paper maps. Make maps that move with the touch of a finger. Show live traffic overlaid on a map. Street-level views. Open it up to any location-based service (voting, gatherings, flu outbreaks, restaurant listing, etc..)
Manager: How might we do that, besides buying mapping data?
Employee: What if we had a fleet of cars that drove around the country with a camera on the back? We could pay high-school kids, college kids, starving artists, or anyone willing to drive around?

What would your manager have said at that point in the conversation? Would it have started with something like, "Hmm, interesting.....BUT....". I suspect that in most companies it would. At Google, I doubt there are many "hmm....BUT...." moments when ideas are being formulated.
Imagine the possibilities at your company if you had the ability to hire really smart people and not feel like you had to "hmm..BUT..." them all day long.
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