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Peter Yared is the CTO/CIO of CBS Interactive, a top ten Internet destination, and was previously the founder and CEO of four enterprise infrastructure companies that were acquired by Sun, VMware, Webtrends and TigerLogic. Peter's software has powered brands from Fidelity to Home Depot to Lady Gaga. At Sun, Peter was the CTO of the Application Server Division and the CTO of the Liberty federated identity consortium. Peter is the inventor of several patents on core Internet infrastructure including federated single sign on and dynamic data requests. Peter began programming games and utilities at age 10, and started his career developing systems for government agencies. Peter regularly writes about technology trends and has written for CNET, the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, AdWeek, VentureBeat and TechCrunch.

Many thanks to Bob Pulgino, Dave Prue, Steve Zocchi and Jean-Louis Gassée for mentoring me over the years.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Googlology - Avoiding the Steamroller


This post was also published in VentureBeat.


It used to be de rigueur in Silicon Valley to stay out of the way of Microsoft’s product road map – even areas Microsoft hinted they might pursue. Nowadays, venture folks more commonly ask, “What are you going to do about Google?”

The reality of the marketplace is that unless a startup builds a huge community, Google pays only around $50 million for a company (if you’re lucky) and then only if they want to jumpstart a feature by buying a startup.

At this point, Google has trounced Yahoo with consumers. Google expanded its offerings by acquiring several YAW2 (Yet Another Web 2.0) companies with no viable business models, such as wiki software producer JotSpot, Upstartle (maker of the online word-processing program Writely) and of course YouTube. As a result, almost no gaps are left in Google’s consumer portfolio… and no $50+ million opportunities remain for startups other than in “Social Networking,” where Google might buy an existing community such as Facebook (estimates vary between $1 billion and $2 billion).

Google has clearly figured out that the advertising market is not big enough to justify its stock market valuation. The entire U.S. advertising market is $140 billion a year – that’s less than Google’s current market cap of $151 billion.

Which takes us to the Small-to-Medium Business (SMB) market. To grow, Google clearly is going after Microsoft’s SMB business. The chart below describes Google’s current product offerings, many of which have been filled by small acquisitions, with an educated guess as to where they are going in both the consumer and SMB markets.



Why is Microsoft vulnerable in SMB? Late to the Internet, Microsoft never really caught up. Its proprietary technology is archaic in a Web 2.0 world where systems can be easily “mashed up,” or tied together with lightweight integration techniques, using open technologies. Microsoft’s Windows Live is a nonstarter.

Within a year or two, companies with fewer than 100 employees will have no need to buy anything from Redmond other than perhaps Windows XP Home; within five years, the same will go for firms with under 1,000 employees.

The critical play for Google, in my opinion, is to acquire Intuit (current market cap of $12 billion). That would give Google a channel to a hosted accounting and inventory system and a majority of small businesses. In particular, the inventory functionality can tie directly into the local business search and mapping engine, Google Local. Also affordable to Google would be Salesforce.com (current market cap of $5 billion), though that’s more of a stretch due to the personalities involved.

Web 2.0 consumer and SMB startups that do not have large communities will be valued at a build vs. buy (i.e. an acquisition that doesn’t cost much) and have a maximum upside of $50 million. After Google’s failed Enterprise Search product, the consumer search giant will leave the enterprise alone for quite a while as it target its guns on the SMB market.

The clearest short-term opportunity for startups to avoid the steamroller is in the enterprise space, which commands relatively high valuations (e.g., 25 times annual revenues for open source companies like JBoss).

Although some may be happy with $50 million paydays after a seed and A round, if you want a shot at making some real money, best to stay out of Google’s way.

3 comments:

RichB said...

Jotsport!

Elizabeth Coker said...

Peter -

I agree with your assessment when you look at the market from a single dimension, but you are forgetting the other Google purchases in the radio, TV, and print channels. I do not believe you can only compare Google to Microsoft They have a different business model based on advertising and services. Companies such as News Corp. and Time-Warner must also be considered when looking at what Google is after.

There are several other green fields beyond SMB that relate to media distribution, content development and editing and advertising infrastructure that you've not even addressed in your analysis. I think there is still plenty of grass to grow. Anyway, something to think about...

Peter Yared said...

Hi Elizabeth, I agree with you completely, which is why I am evaluating Google's valuation to the _entire_ advertising market which includes everything from billboards to spots on local radio. There is just not enough money or growth in the entire market to justify Google's valuation, which is why I think they are executing on the "next thing" which clearly is SMB. Which coincidentally feeds into the advertising strategy as well. :)