Tag: google

Jul 5 2015

What Acquihire Really Means

I hope you had a nice 4th of July yesterday. Amy and I hid out all day in Longmont, playing with the dogs, napping, and reading. As a result yesterday was a three book day.

One of them was Semi-Organic Growth: Tactics and Strategies Behind Google’s Success by George T. Geis. If you are a Google watcher, aspire to have you company acquired by Google some day, or just want to understand Google’s approach to acquisitions (which Geis calls “semi-organic growth”) this is a must read book that is well worth the money.

Geis covers a detailed history of Google’s acquisitions along with a framework for how to think about them. It’s comprehensive and well done. We were investors in several of the companies mentioned and Geis gets the details, and the general context, correct. While I knew most of the history from just paying attention over the years, I learned a few things.

There was one construct that bothered me – Geis’ use of the phrase “acqui-hire” and his effort to categorize acquisitions as acquihires, ACQUI-hires, acqui-HIRES, and ACQUI-HIRES. His goal was to use “acquihire” as a substitute for acquisition, while emphasizing the relative importance of the product/technology or people in decision to make an acquisition.

I don’t like the use of the dash in the phrase, so I stubbornly don’t use it, just like I don’t like the dash in the word startup. I also don’t really like the word, as it has morphed to mean too many different things. I regularly hear people talk about any type of acquisition as an acquihire, rendering the nuance of the word meaningless.

While I appreciate Geis trying to use it as a framework for categorizing each acquisition, I wish he’d just come up with something simpler, like a set of things Google was searching for when they made an acquisition. The four that are most relevant in my mind are product, technology, customers, and people.

Acquihire only really refers to one of these things, which is people. The earliest use of the phrase I could find was in 2005 in Rex Hammock’s post Google acquires(?) Dodgeball.com.

Google acquires(?) Dodgeball.com: But really…When a public company with a market cap of $64.1 billion “acquires” a two-person company, isn’t that more like a “hire” with a signing bonus?

Hammock called it an “Acq-hire” and defined it as:

Acqhire – When a large company “purchases” a small company with no employees other than its founders, typically to obtain some special talent or a cool concept. (See, also: NFL first round draft signing bonus; book publishing “advance” after publisher bidding-war.)

Acquihires quickly expanded to cover deals that were more than just the founders, but clearly only talent acquisitions. In acquihires, the products were quickly abandoned as the team that was acquired went to work on the acquirers products. Often this was built on top of the concept that the acquiree brought to the table, but the core product was rarely used.

We went through a phase where acquihires were positive ways for large companies to pick up talented teams to work on a specific thing that was important to the acquirer. Then we went through a phase where acquihire often referred to the acquisition of a failing startup, just as a way to give the team a soft landing. Then acquires started using the concept of acquihire to try to shift consideration away from the cap table and instead increase the amount of “retention consideration” going to the remaining employees, independent of the capitalization of the company. If you take it to its logical conclusion, acquihire starts to be a substitute for acquisition.

I’m not a fan of this as I think it’s confusing. I like Hammond’s definition with the extension that it can include more than just the founders. But it’s clearly an acquisition of the people, not of the product, technology, and customers of the company being acquired.

I pains me as an investor when entrepreneurs talk about their goal of being acquihired by a large company. I think your goal should be to build something a lot more important and valuable than simply the team being acquired.

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Jun 29 2015

Oracle’s Java API Suit Against Google – Five Years Later

Five years ago, in August 2010, I asked the question Have We Reached The Software Patent Tipping Point?

Oracle sued Google over a series of Java-related patents they got when they acquired Sun.

My favorite line from the whole thing was James Gosling’s (who was one of the authors of one of the original patents and a key creator of Java) when he wrote The shit finally hits the fan.

“The shit finally hits the fan…. Thursday August 12, 2010
Oracle finally filed a patent lawsuit against Google. Not a big surprise. During the integration meetings between Sun and Oracle where we were being grilled about the patent situation between Sun and Google, we could see the Oracle lawyer’s eyes sparkle. Filing patent suits was never in Sun’s genetic code. Alas…. 

I hope to avoid getting dragged into the fray: they only picked one of my patents (RE38,104) to sue over.”

Oracle also got copyrights to the Java APIs. Remember, Java was theoretically Open Source, but like so many things in our world when lawyers get involved “it’s complicated.” Stack Exchange regularly has commentary about this. See Is Java free/open source or not? and Is java an open source programming language?

It’s not as messy as the Greek debt crisis but directionally similar. And it’s far from over. I was hoping the Supreme Court would take this on and help put an important issue around copyright to bed. But the Supremes passed, deferring to the need for a lower court to rule on the appeal.

“The justices, without comment, declined to disturb a May 2014 appeals court ruling in Oracle’s favor that reinvigorated the company’s case against Google. The appeals court, overruling a trial judge, said 37 packages of prewritten Java programs, known as application programming interfaces, were entitled to copyright protection.

Oracle has sought more than $1 billion in damages. A jury originally held that Google infringed the Oracle copyrights, but it deadlocked on Google’s defense that its copying amounted to fair use. That issue will have to be retried in a lower court.”

Patents and copyrights are different. And the courts know that. Unfortunately, it’s getting even more tangled up, especially around the critical concept of fair use. This continues to be a very important case, especially as interoperability between software has become a fundamental tenant of how software systems function, and I’m glad Google is fighting it.

At least we got the right to marry anyone we want from the Supremes.

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Apr 2 2015

Desperately Seeking a Solution to Google Hangouts Errors 212, 213, 214, 215, 216

Google Hangouts ErrorI’m a huge Google Hangouts user. It’s typically a multi-day occurrence that I’m on a hangout and one of the devices connected to the mega-video-conferencing setup in my office is a Chromebox.

A few months ago I got Google Hangouts errors intermittently for a few weeks but it magically cleared up. I noticed it again on Sunday and it has been constant on all my computers in multiple locations on different networks.

I’ve tried clearing the cache, logging out, and resetting the browser / computer, which seems to be the only constructive solutions I can find on the web. The other solutions, that are not so constructive, are “wait for a while for it to clear up” and “use something different.”

Strangely, this problem only exists in Chrome. My iOS Hangouts works fine as does my Chromebox.

Does anyone have a clue how to solve this nagging problem? The screen shot I’m getting in Chrome when Gmail is open is on the left.

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Jan 16 2015

Discovering Ingress

Ingres at SeatacYesterday at the end of the day I was sitting in Greg Gottesman‘s office at Madrona catching up on email before dinner. Greg walked in with Ben Gilbert from Madrona Labs.

We started talking about sci-fi and Greg said “Are you into Ingress?” I responded “Is that the Google real-world / augmented reality / GPS game?” Greg said yes and I explained that I’d played with it a little when it first came out several years ago since a few friends in Boulder were into it but I lost track of it since there wasn’t an iOS app.

Greg pulled out his iPhone 6+ giant thing and started showing me. Probably not surprising to anyone, I grabbed my phone, downloaded it, created an account using the name the AIs have given me (“spikemachine”), and started doing random things.

Greg went down the hall and grabbed Brendan Ribera, also from Madrona Labs, who is a Level 8 superstar Ingres master-amazing-player. Within a few minutes we were on the Ingress Map looking at stuff that was going on around the world.

By this point my mind was blown and all I wanted to do was get from basic-beginner-newbie-no-clue-Ingre player to Level 2. With Brendan as my guide I quickly started to get the hang of it. A few hacks and XMPs later I was Level 2.

I asked Greg, Ben, and Branden if they had read Daemon by Daniel Suarez. None of them had heard of it so I went on a rant about Rick Klau’s discovery of the book and Leinad Zeraus, the evolution of this crazy thing into Daniel Suarez’s bestseller and the rest of my own wonderful romp through the writings of Daniel Suarez, William Herting, and Ramez Naam. It wasn’t merely my love of near-term sci-fi, but my discovery of what I believe is the core of the next generation of amazing near-term sci-fi writers. And, as a bonus to them having to listen to me, I bought each of them a Kindle version of Daemon.

Ingres completely feels like Daemon to me. There is plenty of chatter on the web about speculation of similarities and inspirations of Daemon on Ingress. I have no idea what the real story is, but since we are all suspending disbelief in both near-term sci-fi as well as Ingress, I’m going with the notion that they are linked even more than us puny humans realize.

This morning as I was walking through Sea-Tac on my way to my plane, I hacked a few portals, got a bunch of new stuff, and XMPed away whenever a resistance portal came into range. I’m still a total newbie, but I’m getting the hang of it. And yes, I’m part of the enlightenment as it offends me to the core of my soul that people would resist the future, although it seems to be more about smurfs vs. frogs.

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Dec 28 2014

The Endless Struggle That Boulder Has With Itself

I’ve now lived in Boulder for 19 years. It was an amazing place when I moved here and has evolved into an even more stupendous place over the past 19 years, notwithstanding the irrational and self-limiting struggle that the Boulder City Council seems to have with change.

Over the past decade, the Boulder Startup Community has had significant success and impact on the culture and dynamics of the city. I wrote about some of the history and impact in my book Startup Communities and the Boulder Thesis that I came up with has now been used as a template for creating startup communities all over the world.

Since being inclusive of anyone who wants to engage in the startup community” is the third principle of the Boulder Thesis, I get sad when I see phrases like the following in articles in the NY Times about Boulder such as:

“The locals say they don’t like the tech folks pouring into town to work at places like Google. They’re insular. They’re driving up housing prices. And they fear those newcomers are more like invaders than people trying to fit into their new community.”

Earlier this year, Macon Cowles, a member of our city council asserted that Boulder’s startup economy brought a lot of very highly paid white men to the city, and they were pricing out families and others. He then followed up with the statement “I don’t think that’s what people want.” If you know the Boulder Startup Community, you know that it’s actually bringing diversity to what is historically a very ethnically white town. A group of Boulder Startup Community leaders, including Nicole Glaros, Rajat Bhargava, and my partner Jason Mendelson wrote an OpEd titled A necessary education on Boulder’s startup community where they challenged Macon Cowles’ perspective.

“We are women and men. We are parents. We are veterans of the military. We are ultra marathoners. We are musicians and artists. We are foodies. We are sportspeople and environmentalists. We are philanthropists. We are educators. We are graduating students with entry-level jobs gaining valuable experience. We are techie nerds. We are clean energy inventors. We are natural food creators. We are of all races and ethnicities. We are young. We are old. We are straight. We are LBGTQ. We come from every religious background. We are the cross-section of our entire community. We are risk takers who have decided to create our own jobs and jobs for others.”

Cowles eventually apologized but couldn’t help but include a link to an article about Google’s diversity record in his tweet.

I fear Cowles doesn’t realize that the National Center for Women & Information Technology, led by long time Boulderite Lucy Sanders, is on the front edge of the tech / diversity issue. I’ve been immersed in the gender side of the diversity issue as chair of NCWIT since 2006 and Google is a strong, positive participant in this. Ethnic diversity in tech, especially in the US, is a big struggle, but it’s a big struggle in Boulder as well, since the population here is over 90% white.

Boulder ethnicity per US Census

I wish the NY Times article titled A Google Gentrification Fight That Doesn’t Involve San Francisco had a broader, and more than one-sided perspective. It stood out in stark contrast to several other articles I read this morning, including From startup to $7 billion, Zayo encourages ideas, entrepreneurs and Nancy Phillips followed her passion to go ViaWest. These Denver Post articles do a great job of highlighting the positive impact Dan Caruso and his team at Zayo and Nancy Phillips and her team at Viawest have had on the Boulder (and Denver) Startup Communities. And, as a bonus, Nancy has been an incredible leader and advocate for NCWIT.

At this point, the Boulder Startup Community is deeply woven into the fabric of Boulder. There is an incredible positive feedback loop between everything going on here. For those who have so quickly forgotten the global financial crisis of 2008 – 2010, one of the main reasons Boulder was so minimally impacted was the strength of the startup community – not just for employment, but for discretionary spending as well.

But ultimately this isn’t really about economics. Or innovation. Or ethnicity. Or gender.

It’s about change. And evolution. The Boulder of 2015 is not the Boulder of 1970. It’s also not the Boulder of 1995. It’s the Boulder of 2015. And we need to keep being inclusive and working together to keep it great, and make it better.

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Dec 25 2014

Bora Bora Biographies

I read over 40 books in my month off the grid in Bora Bora recently. I’ve had many requests to blog about my reading list but rather than do one big long post I thought I’d break it up into several “longish” different posts over time. If all you are interested in is my reading list, my Goodreads Brad Feld account has everything I’ve read in reverse chronological order.

This post is about biographies. I’ve always loved to read biography and expect that my 2015 reading diet will include a lot more biography and history than normal as it has caught my interest lately. I’m including company biographies in this post. I didn’t read many, but had a little Google obsession on this trip which you’ll see in a moment.

The order is in the order I read them (even though the Goodreads list is in reverse-chron order).

Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard: I finished this just before we took off. I’m not much of a hockey fan – my childhood team was the Dallas Blackhawks – but I was entranced by this book. I learned a lot about how hockey works, much of it distressing to me. The enforcer role was one I didn’t really understand and Boogaard’s story is a powerfully tragic one. The book is well-written and moves quickly, while painting a powerful picture of how hockey can really damage people.

How Google Works: Eric Schmidt (Google chairman, prior CEO), Jonathan Rosenberg (long time Google exec) wrote the trendy book of the year about Google. I knew many of the approaches and anecdotes of the book – and how Google works – from the many other things I’ve read about Google over the years. But having it in one place, organized conceptually, was worth taking another pass through it all.

Memos from the Chairman: I had high hopes for Ace Greenberg’s compendium of memos from his time as chairman of Bear Stearns, which coincided with massive growth and success for the company. While there was some cuteness in here along with a few things to reflect on, I was disappointed in how dull the majority of the book was. Maybe it was awesome in 1996 when it came out, but it felt slow and dated in 2015.

Einstein: His Life and Universe: Einstein is one of my heroic figures and Walter Isaacson  just nails it. If you are an Einstein fan or just want to really learn the full story, this is the book for you.

The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution: If I hadn’t read the Einstein book, I probably wouldn’t have read The Innovators, but Isaacson had pleased me so much that I devoured this one also. This is Isaacson’s 2014 tome an a follow-up to his Steve Jobs book. It was good, but not epic.

Two Miserable Presidents: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the Civil War: I originally saw this at my partner Ryan McIntyre’s house a few months ago when we were over for dinner. I Kindled it and dove in. I loved it – super easy to consume and a very playful way to learn, or relearn, some history. I’m planning at least one serious Lincoln biography in 2015 so this was a good way to get a taste of it.

The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership: Everyone knows that Richard Branson is cool, and iconoclast, a massive risk taker, and amazing successful. But he’s also extremely introspective and articulate. I’ve never met him or been to Necker Island, but plenty of my colleagues have. When I started reading this one, I felt like I was doing something obligatory to read the autobiography of one of our contemporary business legends, but I really enjoyed it and by the end was glad Branson had put the energy into writing this.

In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives: As with Walter Isaacson, I eventually get around to reading all of Steven Levy’s books (I read his epic Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution in 1984 as a freshman at MIT and it has stayed with me ever since.) His Google book was awesome – much better than How Google Works. I learned a ton I didn’t know, especially about history that had either been ignored, glossed over, or repurposed. If you have any interest, relationship with, or curiosity about Google, this is the book for you.

Ada’s Algorithm: How Lord Byron’s Daughter Ada Lovelace Launched the Digital Age: I’ve read lots of articles on Ada Lovelace, but I’ve never read a comprehensive biography. The story was fascinating, especially when pondering what life much have been like in Victorian-era England and how much of any uphill cultural battle Ada Lovelace had. While we’ve got lots of challenges around gender still in our society, we’ve definitely made read progress in the last 150 years. This linkages to Lord Byron, Lady Byron, and Charles Babbage were fascinating and, in many ways, disheartening. Ada Lovelace was clearly a genius – I can’t even begin to imagine the amazing stuff she could have done if she was born in 1990 instead of 1815.

As a bonus, Amy and I have been watching the HBO Series John Adams and I’ve decided to start tackling biographies of American presidents and other American heroes of mine, like Ben Franklin. Look for some of this in 2015.

Happy reading.

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Dec 24 2014

My Recently Erratic World of the Gmail Spam Filter

Let’s start with a brief history of my investment-led fight against the perils of spam and my never-ending love of SMTP.

We were investors in Postini and my partner Ryan sat on the board. It transformed my life – with one minor change of an MX record some time in 2002 all the spam in my inbox disappeared. Well – it disappeared before it got to my inbox. Or even my server. The awesomeness of Postini was that it was the first cloud-based email anti-spam solution. And it was a beautiful thing that Google acquired in 2007 for $625m.

One of the benefits of our investment in Postini is a life-long friendship with Scott Petry. Scott is the co-founder of Authentic8, which we are also investors in. Scott also sits on the board of Return Path, which is run by another life-long friend Matt Blumberg.

Scott worked at Google for three years after the transaction for Dave Girouard (who used to run all of enterprise for Google and now is CEO of Upstart and on the board of Yesware with me) integrating Postini into all of Gmail’s infrastructure. We continued to use Postini as our spam filter (in front of Gmail) until Google transitioned all of Postini into the Google apps service.

You get the picture. There’s a nice thread through all of this SMTP, email deliverability, and anti-spam stuff in my world, both in investment and relationships. So I generally don’t think much about spam since in the past it just disappeared, or well, never appeared in the first place.

When I came home from my one month sabbatical in Bora Bora, I archived all the 3200+ emails in my inbox. If you missed my vacation reminder during that time, it said:

I’m on sabbatical and completely off the grid until 12/8/14.

I will not be reading this email. When I return, I’m archiving everything and starting with an empty inbox.

If this is urgent and needs to be dealt with by someone before 12/8, please send it to my assistant Mary (mary@foundrygroup.com). She’ll make sure it gets to the right person.

If you want me to see it, please send it again after 12/8.

On Thursday, 12/4, Amy decided to scan through her email so I went to the business center at the St. Regis in Bora Bora with her and did the same. I simply started at the top and “read / archived” each of the around 3,300 emails (using the “[” shortcut). I’m a fast reader so I skimmed the emails I cared about. Mostly I just played a video game with the [ key.I might have had a tropical drink while I was doing this.

I didn’t respond to anything and just ran this drill again early Monday morning to finish up. I then turned off my vacation reminder, had Inbox Zero, and got started again.

Yesterday, I had a weird feeling that I’d missed something that I heard about in another email thread. I was procrastinating from working on the final edits to my new book Startup Opportunities (yes – I’m doing that some more right now, but I’ve got a nice empty day in front of me) so I randomly checked my Spam folder in Gmail. I never, never, never do this so I was suprised when on the first page I saw a legitimate email. I opened it, clicked on Not Spam, and scrolled to the next page, where I saw another one. And another one.

I had 5,500 messages in my spam folder since I got back on 12/8. I went through all off them – it only took about 10 minutes. I found 39 legitimate emails. Not notifications, not email newsletters – but real emails sent to me by people I often get emails from. Here’s a screenshot of the legit ones.

Valid emails in gmail spam folder

I did my dutiful work and hit “Not Spam” on all of them. I was perplexed and talked to my friends at Return Path who gave me some feedback.

This morning, I had 433 messages in my Spam folder. This time, they all looked like they should.

Screen Shot 2014-12-24 at 7.36.51 AM

I’m hoping that this was only a temporary glitch in the matrix. However, I’ll be checking my Gmail spam folder on a daily basis for a while. Boo.

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Dec 21 2014

The Interview, Censorship, Terrorism, Dr. Evil, and Lots of Other Stuff

I’m gearing up for a long series of posts about the various books I read on my month off on Bora Bora. In the mean time, I read a bunch of stuff online this morning (from Friday through today) and thought I’d give you a taste of some of it in case you feel like digging in.

I started with How Reading Transforms Us. It’s a good frame setting piece about some new research on the impact of reading – both fiction and non-fiction – on humans. There is a pleasant surprise in there about how non-fiction influences us.

As with many of you, I’m deeply intrigued by what’s going on around the movie The Interview. Fred Wilson wrote a post titled The Interview Mess in which he expresses some opinions. I’m not in opinion mode yet as each day reveals more information, including some true stupidity on the part of various participants. Instead, I’m still enjoying The Meta Interview, which is how the real world is reacting to The Interview.

Let’s start with the FBI’s Update on Sony Investigation followed by Obama Vow[ing] a Response to Cyberattack on Sony. 2600 weighs in with a deliciously ironic offer to help Sony get distribution for The Interview. Sony’s lawyers unmuffle their CEO Michael Lynton who fires back at President Obama.

Now it starts getting really interesting. North Korea says huh, what, wait, it wasn’t us and seeks a joint probe with US on Sony hack (yeah – like that is going to happen.) After everyone worrying about not being able to see The Interview (which might now be the most interesting movie of 2014 before we’ve even seen it), Sony says Nope, we didn’t chicken out – you will get to see The Interview.

Apparently, Obama isn’t finished. Instead, he’s just getting started. He’s decided that the North Korea hack on Sony Pictures was not an act of war but is now trying to decide if it’s terrorism so he can put North Korea on the terrorism sponsors list to join Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria. No wait, maybe it’s to replace Cuba which Obama has decided to restore full relations with.

Thankfully, Dr. Evil weighs in on this whole thing and makes sense of it (starting at 0:40).

At the same time we are struggling over North Korean’s cyber attack terrorism censorship thing, we are struggling with our own internal efforts by some very powerful companies to figure out how the Internet should work in the US. Hmmm – irony?

Let’s start with the cable industry’s darkest fears if the Internet becomes a utility. According to the Washington Post, Congress now wants to legislate net neutrality. And Verizon tells the FCC that what they do doesn’t really matter to them.

The FCC situation is so fucked up at this point that I don’t think anyone knows which way is up. Fortunately, we have the Silicon Flatirons Digital Broadband Migration Conference happening in February which I’m speaking at to clear this all up. Well, or at least watch some entertaining, very bifurcated arguments about First Principles for a Twenty First Century Innovation Policy.

If you are a little bummed by now about how humans behave, check out this article where MIT Computer Scientists Demonstrate the Hard Way That Gender Still Matters. For a taste:

The interactions in the AMA itself showed that gender does still matter. Many of the comments and questions illustrated how women are often treated in male-dominated STEM fields. Commenters interacted with us in a way they would not have interacted with men, asking us about our bra sizes, how often we “copy male classmates’ answers,” and even demanding we show our contributions “or GTFO [Get The **** Out]”. One redditor helpfully called out the double standard, saying, “Don’t worry guys – when the male dog groomer did his AMA (where he specifically identified as male), there were also dozens of comments asking why his sex mattered. Oh no, wait, there weren’t.”

But the fun doesn’t end with cyberterrorism, censorship, incumbent control, or gender bias. Our good friends at Google are expanding their presence in our lovely little town of Boulder from 300 employees to over 1,500 employees. I think this is awesome, but not everyone in Boulder agrees that more Googlers are a good thing. I wonder if they still use Lycos or Ask Jeeves as their search engine. And for those in Boulder hoping we municipalize our Internet net, consider FERC’s smackdown of the City of Boulder’s Municipalization position.

Oh, and did you realize the US government actually made a $15 billion profit on TARP?

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Jul 29 2014

Amazon’s Scorpion Problem

I expect most of you know the fable of the scorpion and the frog, but if you don’t, it goes like this (quoted from Wikipedia):

“A scorpion asks a frog to carry him over a river. The frog is afraid of being stung during the trip, but the scorpion argues that if it stung the frog, both would sink and the scorpion would drown. The frog agrees and begins carrying the scorpion, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion points out that this is its nature. The fable is used to illustrate the position that no change can be made in the behaviour of the fundamentally vicious.”

Over the weekend, there was some commentary on AWS in fight of its life as customers like Dropbox ponder hybrid clouds and Google pricing. Amazon turned in slightly declining quarter-over-quarter revenue on AWS, although significant year-over-year quarterly growth, as explained in Sign of stress or just business as usual? AWS sales are off slightly.

“Could Amazon Web Services be feeling the heat from new public cloud competitors? Maybe. Maybe not. Second quarter net sales of AWS — or at least the category in which it is embedded– were off about 3 percent sequentially to $1.168 billion from $1.204 billion for the first quarter. But they were up 38 percent from $844 million for the second quarter last year. In the first quarter, growth in this category year over year was 60 percent. So make of that what you will.”

Could Amazon’s nature be catching up with it, or is it just operating in a more competitive market? A set of emails went around from some of the CEOs of our companies talking about this followed by a broader discussion on our Foundry Group EXEC email list. It contained, among other comments:

  1. AWS is not the low price provider.
  2. AWS is not the best product at anything – most of their features are mediocre knock offs of other products.
  3. AWS is unbelievably lousy at support.
  4. Once you are at $200k / month of spend, it’s cheaper and much more effective to build your own infrastructure.

While we are in the middle of a massive secular shift from owned data centers to outsourced data centers and hardware, anyone who remembers the emergence of outsourced data centers, shared web hosting, dedicated web hosting, co-location, and application service providers will recognize many of the dynamics going on. Predictably in the tech industry, what’s old is new again as all the infrastructure players roll out their public clouds and all the scaled companies start exploring ways to move off of AWS (and other cloud services) into much more cost effective configurations.

Let’s pick apart the four points above a little bit.

1. AWS is not the low price provider. When AWS came out, it was amazing, partly because you didn’t need to buy any hardware to get going, partly because it had a very fine grade variable pricing approach, and mostly because these two things added up to an extremely low cost for a startup relative to all other options. This is no longer the case as AWS, Microsoft, and Google bash each other over the head on pricing, with Microsoft and Google willing to charge extremely low prices to gain market share. And, more importantly, see point #4 below in a moment. Being low priced is in Amazon’s nature so this will be intensely challenging to them.

2. AWS is not the best product at anything – most of their features are mediocre knock offs of other products. We’ve watched as AWS has aggressively talked to every company we know doing things in the cloud infrastructure and application stack, and then rather than partner eventually roll out low-end versions of competitive products. We used to think of Amazon as a potential acquirer for these companies, or at least a powerful strategic partner. Now we know they are just using the bait of “we want to work more closely with you” as market and product intelligence. Ultimately, when they come out with what they view of as a feature, it’s a low-end, mediocre, and limited version of what these companies do. So, they commoditize elements of the low end of the market, but don’t impact anything that actually scales. In addition, they always end up competing on every front possible, hence the chatter about Dropbox moving away from AWS since AWS has now come out with a competitive product. It appears that it’s just not in Amazon’s nature to collaborate with others.

3. AWS is unbelievably lousy at support. While they’ve gotten better at paid support, including their premium offerings, these support contracts are expensive. Approaches to get around support issues and/or lower long term prices like reserved instances are stop gaps and often a negative benefit for a fast growing company. I’ve had several conversations over the years with friends at Amazon about this and I’ve given up. Support is just not in Amazon’s nature (as anyone who has ever tried to figure out why a package didn’t show up when expected) and when a company running production systems on AWS is having mission critical issues that are linked to AWS, it’s just painful. At low volumes, it doesn’t matter, but at high scale, it matters a huge amount.

4. Once you are at $200k / month of spend, it’s cheaper and much more effective to build your own infrastructure. I’ve now seen this over and over and over again. Once a company hits $200k / month of spend on AWS, the discussion starts about building out your own infrastructure on bare metal in a data center. This ultimately is a cost of capital discussion and I’ve found massive cost of capital leverage to move away from AWS onto bare metal. When you fully load the costs at scale, I’ve seen gross margin moves of over 20 points (or 2000 basis points – say from 65% to 85%). It’s just nuts when you factor in the extremely low cost of capital for hardware today against a fully loaded cost model at scale. Sure, the price declines from point #1 will impact this, but the operational effectiveness, especially given #3, is remarkable.

There are a number of things Amazon, and AWS, could do to address this if they wanted to. While not easy, I think they could do a massive turnaround on #2 and #3, which combined with intelligent pricing and better account management for the companies in #4, could result in meaningful change.

I love Amazon and think they have had amazing impact on our world. Whenever I’ve given them blunt feedback like this, I’ve always intended it to be constructive. I’m doubt it matters at all to their long term strategy whether they agree with, or even listen to, me. But given the chatter over the weekend, it felt like it was time to say this in the hope that it generated a conversation somewhere.

But I worry some of the things they need to be doing to maintain their dominance is just not in their nature. In a lot of ways, it’s suddenly a good time to be Microsoft or Google in the cloud computing wars.

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Jun 2 2014

Help – I’m in Email Group Hell

Lately, I’ve been struggling to figure out the best way to have expanding email groups. I’ve tried all the obvious stuff and nothing is satisfying to me.

Historically, I’ve just used Google Groups. That’s great for things like the Foundry Group CEO list, where we control the list, but then we have to host it at a @foundrygroup.com domain.

For the Colorado CEO Jobs list, we were using Yahoo Groups for a while. Even with the new upgrade last year I find the UX to be terrible so I recently moved it over the Google+. Now I’m hearing complaints about not getting the emails which usually results from notifications being turned off, but you wouldn’t know that unless you were paying attention. And, if you don’t have a Google+ account, you can’t be on the list.

I tried Facebook Groups for another group – it had zero engagement.

What do you use? Any suggestions for me getting out of hell?

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