"A tech giant rises – another falls," said the front-page headline on the Financial Times. It juxtaposed Twitter's initial public offering (IPO), which is set to raise more from the market than
Is that how it goes? Is the technology business a sort of one-in, one-out game? It's certainly hard to find a company with more enthusiastic investors ahead of the bell than Twitter – though let's see how things go once the shares are traded – nor one that has been more heftily dumped than BlackBerry, which in
Or did BlackBerry just get too old? Is that it?
Actually, no. The difference between technology companies (and companies generally) that survive and those that don't is much simpler. As with biological species, it's all about adaptability. If you can't adapt, then you will be erased by history.
The obvious example is Apple, which in 1997 was just 90 days from bankruptcy.
But by 2005, Jobs recognised that making iPods wouldn't be enough: modern phones would soon be able to store just as much music as a cheap iPod, and make phone calls too. So he set Apple's designers and engineers to making a phone.
If Apple hadn't shifted from making iPods to iPhones – what startup companies call a "pivot", meaning a shift in business focus – then it would have been erased: the Mac and iPod business together generated about
The iPhone seems obvious and its success assured now – but as recounted in
Ditto for the iPad: even internal testers were unsure what it was "for", Vogelstein records. (In that, they sound much like the collective "huh?" that emanated from many who first saw it.) Now the iPad generates more money than
So success isn't foretold in the technology business. Nor was BlackBerry's demise. True, it had a lead, but a detailed analysis by
You can see this happening elsewhere.
So while it might seem as though BlackBerry's time simply came and went, the truth is – if we only had time machines, and a desire to save it – that there were always times when it could have been saved from this agonising swirl around the black hole of irrelevance. And Twitter, too, will meet some point when it abruptly faces a choice that will either kill it, or make it stronger. Every company does; and many choose wrongly. That's why most companies go bust in their first five years. Surviving beyond that (as Twitter,
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