Don't Only Invest in Your Core

Adam analyzes Microsoft’s strategy of investing in its core business, and how that’s proved catastrophic:

Everyone knows that Microsoft has returned almost nothing to shareholders the last decade. Simultaneously, all the “partner” companies that were in the “PC” (the Windows + Intel, or Wintel, platform) “ecosystem” have done poorly. Look beyond Microsoft at returns to shareholders for Intel, Dell (which recently blew its earings) and Hewlett Packard (HP – which says it will need 5 years to turn around the company.) All have been forced to trim headcount and undertake deep cost cutting as revenues have stagnated since 2000, at times falling, and margins have been decimated.

This happened despite deep investments in their “core” PC business. In 2009 Microsoft spent almost $9B on PC R&D; over 14% of revenues. In the last few years Microsoft launched Vista, Windows 7, Office 2009 and Office 2010 all in its effort to defend and extend PC sales. Likewise all the PC manufacturers have spent considerably on new, smaller, more powerful and even cheaper PC laptop and desktop models.

Unfortunately, these investments in their core expertise and markets have not excited users, nor created much growth.

On the other hand, Apple spent all of the last decade investing in what it didn’t know much about in 2000. Rather than investing in its “core” Macintosh business, Apple invested in the trend toward mobility, being an early leader with 3 platforms – the iPod, iPhone and iPad. All product categories far removed from its “core” and what it new well, but all targeted at the trend toward enhanced mobility.

This was the paragraph that jumped out to me though – investing in the trend, not an extension of your core:

People didn’t want a PC to be mobile, they wanted mobility. Apple invested in the trend, making the MP3 player a winner with its iPod ease of use and iTunes market. Then it made smartphones, which were largely an email device, incredibly popular by innovating the app marketplace which gave people the mobility they really desired. Recognizing that people didn’t really want a PC, they wanted mobility, Apple pioneered the tablet marketplace with its iPad and large app market. The result was an explosion in revenue by investing outside its core, in technologies and markets about which it initially knew nothing.

Read more: Microsoft’s Crazy Windows 8 Bet – Invest smarter than Steve Ballmer

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