Monday, June 10, 2019

The Investment Kill Zone

Is the Investment Kill Zone real? A theory that the Big 3 tech companies, Google, Facebook, and Amazon, are killing innovation and start-ups as they become monopolistic.  Noah Smith opined in Bloomberg:


Back in the early days of digital photography, I used a website called Picasa to organize and share my photos. It was like a whole new world opened up to me — suddenly I could get feedback from much more experienced and skilled photographers halfway around the world, discover their work and find visual inspiration. But by the time I started using it, Google had already acquired the company. During the next few years, the app seemed to stagnate — there were rumors that Google was starving it of resources, and users drifted away. In 2016 Picasa was killed off for good, and anyone who still had photos there had them moved to Google Photos — a site I have never heard of anyone using....

And Picasa’s acquisition, and subsequent decline, was a powerful demonstration of big tech companies’ ability to devour and destroy promising young startups. Similar things have happened to some other companies in the social-media space.

People in the industry are starting to worry about this phenomenon. O’Reilly Media founder Tim O’Reilly talks of big tech companies “eating the ecosystem.” Others are talking about a “kill zone,” where new and innovative upstarts are throttled. For some startup founders, acquisition by a big company is the dream — they’re happy to walk away with a small fortune and move on to the next stage of their careers. But there’s a danger that big companies, being less emotionally invested in the companies they acquire, will leave them to wither on the vine.

And even more importantly, a kill zone can result not from acquisition, but from the threat of overwhelming competition. If founders believe that big companies will copy their innovations cheaply and compete them out of the market, they’ll never spend the time and effort to create those innovations in the first place.

A third way big tech can kill startups is by hiring all the best engineers. Technology ecosystems thrive on talent, and when Google and Facebook and Amazon are offering unbeatable compensation packages with strong job security and plenty of perks and benefits, startups might have to scrounge for the scraps.

Do kill zones really exist? Researchers have been trying to answer that question. Facebook commissioned a study by consultant Oliver Wyman that concluded that venture investment in the technology sector wasn’t lower than in other sectors, which led Wyman to conclude that there was no kill zone. (KF: Does anyone trust Facebook?)

But economist Ian Hathaway noted that looking at the overall technology industry was too broad. Examining three specific industry categories — internet retail, internet software and social/platform software, corresponding to the industries dominated by Amazon, Google and Facebook, respectively — Hathaway found that initial venture-capital financings have declined by much more in the past few years than in comparable industries. That suggests the kill zone is real.

A recent paper by economists Wen Wen and Feng Zhu reaches a similar conclusion. Observing that Google has tended to follow Apple in deciding which mobile-app markets to enter, they assessed whether the threat of potential entry by Google (as measured by Apple’s actions) deters innovation by startups making apps for Google’s Android platform. They conclude that when the threat of the platform owner’s entry is higher, fewer app makers will be interested in offering a product for that particular niche. A 2014 paper by the same authors found similar results for Amazon and third-party merchants using its platform.....  Rest of column.
Remember Mapquest?

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

If you arent paying for a product then you are the product

Walled gardens are inevitable. Decades ago computers and technology were the realm of high IQ indivuduals. Users online were people with problem solving and critical thinking skills. You had to be to figure out how to set up your email, IRC, and navigate usenet groups, etc. The point when this all changed was in the 1990's when AOL became widespread, known as Eternal September
Today the majority of users are not only lacking in these skills, but now expect to be protected from every possible danger that they might encounter in the digital world. This comes at significant cost and restriction.

Innovation isn't stifled whatsoever. It is your average internet user today who is the real problem.
So that means that easy to use, consumer level walled garden playgrounds for the simple users are the future of that demographic of user.

Anonymous said...

Mankind has known since the 14th century that monopolies are economically disastrous over time and stifled competition and innovation.

That we need buzz words like "kill zones" to get the attention of our politicians and the general public is very sad. 2008 and the euphemism " too big to fail" should have been enough warning.

By the way, we've known for centuries that those who control the flow of information control power. There are now media monopolies being created as well.

But, keep on believing that everything is just fine. Keep fighting over religious beliefs, race and gun while China and Russia ( who can look beyond the next 5 minutes) continue to bond and insure we are too busy arguing among ourselves to notice.

anonymous said...

This is really nothing new. Look at all the small and local retailers Wal Mart killed off starting in the late 70's. Same with Home Depot and the local lumber and hardware stores. Large department stores like Saks and Dillards essentially killed the small clothing stores. There are exceptions but for the most part it's the reality. Now Amazon is putting the large department stores out of business. The circle of life I guess.

Anonymous said...

@1:11 PM
But you still have a lot of innovation and competition in online retail. You can buy things cheaper than Amazon on Wish. You have dozens of apps to let you sell your crap.

The real problem is that so many apps go years without turning a profit. And they all want to either be bought buy a Google or drop a ridiculous IPO and cash out some stock.

People are creating a bubble of speculation on apps and services that people dont really need.
The real kill zone is knowing this is all late stage capitalism at hand.

I feel bad for the baby boomers and other retirees listening to Jim Kramer and buying up this bullshit when DotCom Crash 2.2 is right around the corner.

PittPanther said...

Yawn. This is nothing new. Microsoft used to absorb small tech companies that developed enhancements to Windows, all through the 90s. If Google, Facebook, and Amazon stagnate, subtribe what will come along and make sonething better.

Burke said...

I agree with 12:25 and to some degree with 10:51. Two different perspectives. What's clear generally is that we are back in a type of "Gilded Age," with Vanderbilts and Rockefellers, et al. Obscene wealth and corporate power.

TR and his team took on the corporations with a good bit of success, but things have been changed by economic globalization. Does anyone think that we can "America First" ourselves into a regenerated competitive U. S. business world? Hell, maybe we can, but that's about as realistic as the "Green New Deal."

One thing we can do: Disassemble Facebook and Google. As for Amazon, I would note that they do have competition in Walmart, and I have benefited from it. As for obscene wealth and power? Go back to a more "progressive" income tax structure. The big Paul Ryan tax cut had some good features, but it did nothing to insure that the rich pay a fair share. Less debt, more money to spend on infrastructure, more benefit for the masses of serfs and vassals.

How many more times will we be told the ratio of a CEO's salary to the average for one of their workers before we take action? "Money doesn't talk, it swears."

Anonymous said...

If the entire world figured out that you could get 90% of the applications you will ever need by typing sudo apt-get install then we could move past merely profiting from laziness and ignorance and into a glorious egalitarian technological future.

Anonymous said...

Burke, you are arguing that two monopolies are ok.
You are missing the point that multiple monopolies are actually worse as you should have seen in 2008.
You are missing that if your economy is dependent on just a few economic systems, should they fail, the economy fails. And failure can come in unexpected ways. Think of a cyber attack by our enemies that just has a few targets.
Essential goods and services need multiple back up systems in operation.
In the 1400's only one monopoly had to fail, that was grain. It wasn't that grain didn't exist anymore. It was that grain couldn't be distributed anymore by the monopoly.

You've bought into the political propaganda that began in the mid '80's . That many economists and academics have sold their expertise and ethics for cash is a factor as well.

Our capitalistic system is being corrupted and has been for decades a little at a time and you've been duped. Capitalism is the best economic system but it requires regulation to keep it from becoming a criminal enterprise run by oligarchs.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that our current view of capitalism was sold to us by a Russian atheist who studied social pedagogy, came here and slept her way into a position to sell her pedagogy in Hollywood disguised in fiction and to position herself to move on and influence the most nerdy economic students whom she also took to her bed. Which succeeded in legitimizing her pedagogy so that she was seen as an economist despite never studying economics except from below the beltline.

We are cursed by our inability to take the long view of history. Russians and Chinese aren't cursed with short-sightedness.

Anonymous said...

Those who care might want to consider the effects of basically free money to corporations for the last ten years. If I told you that you were going to get a 2% raise, you'd be moderately happy but no one would consider it a huge, life-altering economic windfall. Similarly, if you were told that grocery prices were going up 2%, most wouldn't celebrate that but they wouldn't go into a panic about not being able to survive such a huge financial disaster. But companies and the equities market have lost its collective minds over a 25 basis point increase by the FOMC and/or a similar move in the bond market (which dwarfs the equities market by an order of magnitude). The "why" is particularly instructive. If (or really, when) that situation, with its interrelated huge consumer debt spurred by that cheap corporate money, hits the fan and then add to it all the mindless "investing" done by individuals and pension funds that will get steamrolled, it will make 2008 and possibly 1929 look like, well, the last few years. It will not be pretty.

Burke said...

I got a little shoddy, 8:51 A. M. I am also much in favor of regulated capitalism. The Chicken Littles will cry "Socialism," but that ignores that there is a large difference in degree between regulated capitalism and Marxist-Leninist socialism. In this case, a difference of degree is more important that a difference of kind.

And 9:13, I wish we could have taken all writing instruments away from Ayn Rand before she found the secret to fooling so many otherwise decent folk into thinking that "Objectism" belonged in the same room with serious economic or political theories.

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