Facebook investor Peter Thiel won’t be happy if he reads the sub-headline in a February Fast Company magazine piece on Facebook and Twitter. Under the headline “Twitter’s Facebook envy,” the sub-headline continues “… and vice versa. As the companies battle for social media dominance, they are studying each other’s every move.”
In his new book, “Zero to One,“ Mr. Thiel writes that it’s a mistake for companies to focus on what their rivals are doing and “go to war” to outdo each other. This approach, he says, for example, cost Microsoft and Google their dominance, as focusing on each other comes at the expense of focusing on what’s next. Apple came along and instead focused on what was next.
As Mr. Thiel puts it:
Just as war cost the Montagues and Capulets their children, it cost Microsoft and Google their dominance: Apple came along and overtook them all. In January 2013, Apple’s market capitalization was $500 billion, while Google and Microsoft combined were worth $467 billion. Just three years before, Microsoft and Google were each more valuable than Apple. War is costly business. Rivalry causes us to overemphasize old opportunities and slavishly copy what has worked in the past.
The companies that will maintain their dominance in the future are those that are not looking at what others are doing or thinking, but at what they’re not doing or thinking. Along similar lines, Henry Ford once famously said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
At Apploi we try to think in this way. (We just completed our Series A, raising $7 million.) While other jobs companies were focused on what each other were doing – making the traditional job application mobile accessible – we’ve been focused on rethinking the entire application (putting personality, passion, and potential at the forefront) and reaching the tens of millions of Americans right now who don’t have access (with partnerships with cities, states, community groups, and colleges).
We know that as we continue to grow the challenge for us is to not focus on who is in our rearview mirror, but what’s around the corner.
As for the Facebook and Twitter question, who is that company that will beat them? Is it Pinterest? Slack? Wish? Yik Yak? I’m not sure. It’s probably someone few people have heard of (another piece of advice from Mr. Thiel: successful networks start with small markets first – Facebook, for example, initially was just for Harvard students).
What do you think?