Bridge Technologies

When the tech landscape changes; from web browsers to mobile browswers, from flash to HTML5, from laptops to tablets, from typing on keyboards to typing on screens, from local storage to cloud storage, there are always companies that are started to solve the pain points that crop up from that technology change.

I call these "bridge technologies" because they bridge from one technology to another. I don't like to invest in companies built upon these bridge technologies. Most of the time they do really well while the transition pain is high but once most individuals and enterprises have made the change, their business slowly disappears.

There is a chance that they can use that brief period of time to pivot into something with a lasting differentiation and value prop, or that they can build a large enough user base and figure out how to provide additional value to that user base before the initial bridge technology loses its luster.

But from my experience very few bridge technology compaies successfully make those kinds of moves that lead to lasting sustainable value. More often than not, these bridge businesses are not successful investments and very seldom are they the top performing investments in a venture fund.

Bridges are rarely good things in the venture business.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. LIAD

    analogy works perfectly.people only need to use the bridge when they’re crossing from one side to the other.once they’ve all crossed – bridge is redundant.

    1. Rick Bullotta

      Very well said! There are some segments where not everyone ever “crosses the bridge”, and those can become lifestyle businesses, but not megahits.

  2. kimsia

    Give us some examples of a) bridging technologyb) companies that rely on a) as a selling point.Thank you.

    1. fredwilson

      let’s see if the community can do thathomework assignment for the AVC crowd!

      1. ErikSchwartz

        I think Foneshow qualifies (ed).We leveraged voice on mobile to do a job that we knew down the road data would do. We got particularly nailed because the smartphone happened faster than we predicted.The way around this is to not get married to your particular technology solution at a given time, instead be a company focused on solving a problem and let the solution be fluid as technology changes.IBM is a business machine company not a typewriter companyATT is a communications company not a phone company

        1. fredwilson

          thanks for sharing that example

          1. ErikSchwartz

            It was one mistake of several.Mostly mine. A few poor choices. Some bad timing and luck.

          2. Avi Deitcher

            I like that. We wanted to do something similar back in 2000 to leverage transition of existing Web sites into mobile. We *knew* it was a bridge – eventually 2.5G EDGE and 3G (and so on) would provide high bandwidth with relatively low latency, and better processing and screens would provide proper interface and rendering – but we figured we could solve the pain point, leverage it to pivot. A lot easier to pivot with happy customers and revenues (and cash in the bank) than start from scratch… if you are willing to be open-minded.We made lots of mistakes, mostly mine, but trying to start in late 2000 didn’t help. ๐Ÿ™‚

      2. Rick Bullotta

        Here are a few examples of bridging technologies:1) Almost all 3rd party Twitter or Facebook mobile Apps2) Web-based Mainframe Terminal Emulation3) Mono (ability to run .NET on non-Windows platforms)4) Flash <-> Anything converters5) The WebM video format6) Location-aware social network services (will be featurized)General patterns:- Cooler front ends for someone else’s content- Legacy access for niche stuff- Converters between technologies- Something interesting but that is a “feature” of something bigger- Interim solutions while “standards” battles are being fought

        1. fredwilson

          Social nets are not bridges. That is if they have scale and users haveinvested meaningfully in building a graph and a meaningful amount of theirown content there

          1. Rick Bullotta

            Agree, with a couple clarifications. Sometimes what appears to be a “bridge” (adding functionality that the “big boys” should have but don’t yet) can take on a life of its own, but still may ultimately end up likely being acquired/absorbed – or as I say, “featurized”. Acid test to determine intrinsic vs transient value may be, as you say, “scale” and “meaningful content”.BTW, thanks again for the time you spent with us a few weeks ago – happy to report we just closed on our Series B round!

          2. fredwilson

            Congrats on your financing

          3. markslater

            Social nets are bridges to interest or action nets. there are means where as my interest or my action graph is the end.

          4. raycote

            Social Graph Assemblers, for the rest of us, cannot be that far off? The lack of standardized cloud services API’s not withstanding.Mix in Eben Moglen’s, freedom in the cloud, plug server ideas. Then mix in a looming privacy/data-ownership backlash against ad financed free cloud services. A backlash that will be triggered by the ruthless political and economic times ahead and your assumption may not hold for long?

          5. vruz

            I think a backlash to the backlash is undergoing right now.

          6. raycote

            @vruzThe privacy/data-ownership backlash has not even begun. It is, in fact, far over the event horizon for most internet users. Political and economic pain will soon bring it into sharper focus for all of us.

          7. vruz

            everything is a bridge to somewhere else.even Facebook.all those Android mobile tsunamis? they’ve got social graph in them.

          8. Alex Murphy

            Sometimes things are bridges to nowhereSometimes things are the destinationThe point of the post is pretty clear … applications and companies that are simply a short term gap filler are not exciting businesses.The big difference in the debate is how each person dimensions “short term” in relation to their personal time horizon.Dial up could have been considered a bridge to broadband or wireless … or it could have been considered a great first generation step to the societal change we have experienced in the last 20 years. There are still companies from that era driving the web.

          9. vruz

            in reply to Alex Murphy below(apologies, replies are disabled for the next level of the thread)there’s no such thing as “bridges to nowhere”.where did I hear that political nonsense before?there’s bridges to places you want to go, or bridges to places you do want to go to.or bridges which don’t carry the capacity you need for your business purposes.what’s an “exciting business” according to you?also, your example doesn’t make much sense to me.

        2. kimsia

          Hi,I have experience in web programming and based in Singapore, not USA.Hence Foneshow drew a blank in my mind.But I get the following examples:1) Almost all 3rd party Twitter or Facebook mobile Apps3) Mono (ability to run .NET on non-Windows platforms)4) Flash <-> Anything convertersThank you Rick. Thank you Fred for encouraging so many varied responses. ๐Ÿ™‚

      3. Alex Murphy

        Here is one that comes to mind … Dial Up.Dial up was a bridge to the Internet, businesses were built upon it, but the core product at the end of the day has (or better stated ‘is’) going away. The real product evolution was the invention of the world wide web and the Internet.AOL as an example was explosive, and in their prime they were a major content platform, which tried to maintain a walled garden that ultimately couldn’t support the overhead of the business. They are still trying to figure out where to go, seems like they are trying very hard right now to get content right.Interested to hear others thoughts on this.

        1. sigmaalgebra

          Long walk on short pier.Draw from “The Music Man”: “I wouldn’t last long in the shoe business if I tried to sell one size fits all shoes.” Old media’s one size fits millions with a “great wastland” was just from “the medium is the message”, and since the Internet has changed the medium so must the message. Rule: Any single Web page (with mostly static content) designed to appeal to millions is a fool’s errand.Yes, AOL is working hard on ‘content’, but it’s old media content with each page designed to appeal to millions.They didn’t ‘get it’ the last time and they don’t, and for the same reason, this time: They can’t complete with the rest of the Internet on content. Yes, the Internet has changed, but the result is the same — they still can’t compete on content. They must be smoking funny stuff.Their leaked memo, with irony, described one of the nails in their coffin: They want cheap content from ‘writers’.Exercise: How can the Internet content beat that, say, on the expertise of the contributors, the cost, and the demographics of the audience? Hint: Look at the blog you are reading now.More can be said. Exercise: Extrapolate to the next step in media, problems getting there, and how to solve the problems. No more hints!

    2. leigh

      I would think proprietary content management systems back in the day are a good example (and we are seeing the same thing with proprietary social media tracking/delivery systems). Large tech companies are slow to integrate features that Corporations start to need so smallish players emerge. Eventually big co’s just integrate functionality in the systems they already have thus making the smaller players obsolete (except the small companies make a crap load of money for short period of time and can sometimes innovate themselves into a great ‘other’ business).Systems rarely get bought bc the architecture of the two r too difficult to integrate – easier to just build it themselves.

  3. RichardF

    unless you want to get Sand Hill or visit a portfolio company in the Bay. Not sure how long it will be until the personal jet pack is commercialised.

  4. kagilandam

    Yes . sometimes they are even burnt down after use (war).Off the topic Q: what about bridge-funding? We have got a bridge fund to fuel our manufacturing for the next 6-9 months (to show initial sale and demand for the product). The guys always tell they may want to leave in the next round. I find it bad. If they leave that leaves us with not-so-promising company.

    1. fredwilson

      I purposefully used that double entendre. Bridge fundings are a red flagand are to be avoided if possible

      1. kagilandam

        Really.But the company I worked before had a 0..5m bridge and went on to grab 3.5m and then 7.3m. I thought bridge funders are people with less money in their portfolio (in fact these guys are) and would invest on promising companies until they find the big investor and sell-off quickly and run.

        1. fredwilson

          That sounds like a seed round

          1. kagilandam

            I believe you are talking about previous company. Yes. It boiled down to a seed only. But when the discussion started it was called bridge until the bigger firm came. Now all three are in the board.Coming to our present investment these guys also are calling it bridge. Ultimately it will become seed only.I think i should write privately and not disturbing the intended blog post (is it [email protected]?).

          2. FAKE GRIMLOCK


  5. Tom Labus

    AOL for the first wave of the Internet. They got everybody online but after that…Facebook for the current wave. I think that the consumer’s social needs will evolve into new technologies not available in the current market.

    1. fredwilson

      I agree with that last sentiment but do not agree that Facebook is a bridge.Social nets are not bridges

      1. markslater

        I believe they are. Someones Social graph will evolve in to the interest graph, where actioned gestures provide far more powerful social connections, and generate commercial social activity in a meaningful way.

      2. Dave W Baldwin

        Fred, do you think some have become too focused on Facebook? To me, a true vertical path doesn’t have to depend on whether Facebook allegedly has 1.5 billion users or not, for it does not do everything.



  6. Dan Ramsden

    Where does one draw the line though? Is there such a thing as permanence in technology, and in the absence of that is there any technology that is not a bridge if you wait long enough? Maybe the issue is more one of timing to liquidity event in the near term? And in the longer term an opportunity for the eventual owner to transform the asset into something else? I’m thinking out loud, but maybe a bridge technology is one that is rigid and can’t ever be transformed, or at least not within the reasonable forecast timeframe.

    1. LIAD

      that’s a great point.if you take the long-term view everything in technology is transitory. so maybe “bridge technologies” can only be defined by longevity.

      1. Fernando Gutierrez

        You could say then that, in many cases, being a bridge is an attitude. If you don’t think about what’s happening around you and react, you will eventually become a bridge.

        1. raycote

          Great point, with the right attitude one can consciously focus on building transformers instead of bridges.But that requires both vision and organic process literacy(a lexicon for modeling the reusable dynamics of emergent systems).The skill with which Apple implements it’s new social-data-hub server farm, will tell us wether they are transformative eco-system Jedi Masters or just another apprentice grass hopper lucky enough to have gotten a first mover leg up on the rest of the Jedi Rookies.

      2. Dave W Baldwin


      3. ShanaC

        So how long is long enough to be bridge rather than company which is innovative



    3. Sekou Murphy

      Seems like bridge tech focused in this post is techology that bridges existing technology to identifiable technology that is likely to be available in a relatively short period of time.

  7. andyswan

    Keep any mention of current technologies or brands OUT of your mission statement!It should be one sentence, carved in stone today, and ready for display above the entrance to your company headquarters—-100 years from now.

    1. fredwilson

      I’m particularly fond of Twitter’s which seems to have arrived in the pastfew monthsTwitter instantly connects you to the things that are important to you

      1. andyswan

        Totally agree. When I saw that I said “looks like Twitter finally has their feet underneath them.”

      2. Alex Murphy

        Do you consider this to be a pivot from their very earliest days where they were essentially an SMS service that evolved into so much more?

      3. Douglas Crets

        So, Twitter is kind of a bridge technology… in a manner of speaking? And a bridge company, too? Connecting people to the information on the other side of where they stand, sit or work?

    2. LIAD

      Came across a presentation earlier this week from Masayoshi Son on the 30 year vision for Softbank – humbling.All about leveraging, piggybacking, perhaps even exploiting base human needs and emotions – no overt mention of technology or brands – but you know they underpin everything they’re doing….Gotta love Maslow.

    3. Steve Poland

      Andy- Thx for that comment, good stuff.Fred- your commenter clan is the richest source of education. Thanks for keeping up with daily blogging all these years. (I do wish there was an emailing listserv to discuss other stuff that comes up, with your clan. Or Disqus to enable a bulletin board for your audience. I am sure that others participating here have other topics that would spur amazing discussion/insight from others here. I like that we all chime in on your one topic a day, but I would love to read 5 topics a day with the comments/insight these brains would provide. F traditional news sites/blogs- the priceless insight is from your cartel. Everyday I feel like i’m invited to an old italian mafia meetup where all the heads of the different families are present and each are bringing their knowledge to the table– their knowledge which comes from their region and their experiences, which collectively betters us all.)

  8. awaldstein

    Really cogent post.When we did Creative in the early 90s, sound cards were a bridge. A huge one but one that fizzled on itself over a 6 year period. Massive spike, endless flatline over time.Often the size of the bridge creates the drive to leverage the brand into a larger platform. Hard to do and usually not able to sustain itself.

    1. fredwilson

      Great example

    2. Alberto Brizio

      Good one. While reading the post I thought about iomega’s zip drives. Similar fate.

      1. awaldstein

        Similar fate but Creative’s brand had the chutzpah to cross over…just couldn’t muster it.I should write up this story from a marketing and brand and de facto standard perspective some time. Fascinating and a lot of fun.

    3. sigmaalgebra

      Pattern: For each adapter card, soon there’s a chip that can do the same and be on nearly every motherboard.Even for big adapter cards,, e.g., the GPUs, might just put it all on the CPU chip. Intel says they can put 1000 cores on a chip. So, they can also put 500 cores on a chip and 500 other functions that used to take adapter cards.In about 1995 IEEE 1394 was a hot, new thing, and could get a very expensive adapter card for the very early users, device driver writers, etc. Now 1394 is just a tiny socket on the back of my case!Now, how’d like to start up an adapter card business?Motherboards with 100 GbE optical right at the CPU chip?Heck, I just recently got out the documentation of the SoundScape that came with my motherboard. Turns out, it’s some Analog Devices chip. I just use it to drive the speakers I got with my PC of 1995, but the thing will do much more, maybe even let me copy vinyl records to digital! Yup, even have an old Soundblaster adapter card somewhere.

      1. awaldstein

        A fun flight of fancy ;)Even though SoundBlaster was certainly a bridge technology, owning the DOS window for games for that period of time, it was a unique marketing paradigm.Creative went public on the strength of its developer community. We inherited a huge mailbag full of BRCs for develioper SDKS and turned that into (with a lot of help) the SB Developer organization that had over 35oo software developers (mostly games) as the community. That drove the public offering, informed the brand and was the impetus to selling some 85 million cards over the first 4-6 years of the public company.Quite a ride. Quite a exercise is technology crossover to the consumer consciousness. Quite an experiment in enthusiast community and power. Quite a learning experience.

        1. sigmaalgebra

          Wow!Guess still need someone behind you in the chariot continually whispering, “All fame is fleeting”!

          1. awaldstein


  9. LIAD

    technology is constantly advancing.bridges which arise to span the gap between structural changes in the landscape are by definition transitory.they are always the means and NEVER the destination.have no idea about the generic business viability of bridge technologies – but I do know from an entrepreneurial perspective, my desire to create and contribute is better tickled by trying to build and shape an end destination rather than just helping to scaffold a path to get there.

  10. William Mougayar

    This is a loaded post with a loaded idea. Whoever figures this out will avoid the dead-ends, but it is certain to generate disagreements regarding what might be a bridge offering vs. a lasting one. Yes, real examples will help to illustrate this.I was having a conversation yesterday with a cloud company that enabled private cloud environments, only to recently see interest fading away in favor of open source technology that could do the same. So, I might argue that if your offering can become ‘open-sourced’, that’s another threat not to invest in, unless you’re building a ton of value around it.We could go on a limb and ask- are Twitter readers a bridge (e.g. TweetDeck, Seesmic)? They solved handling the Twitter firehose, but in the long term, Twitter the Co. is going to get better at it, and everybody else is getting better at slicing/dicing the firehose to surface the relevant stuff, so Twitter readers might become usurped within other modalities. E.g TweetDeck got sold, and Seesmic is getting closer to, so their future may not be in the hands of their creators.I think it boils down to answering this question: Are you taking advantage of a temporary mess in the system, or are you solving a long-lasting problem (or new market opportunity) that will always exist, even if the temporary mess was resolved?

    1. awaldstein

      WilliamTwitter readers are a great example.I’m not sure but I know from personal experience that sometimes the span of the ‘bridge’ is so broad that its not clear whether its simply a connector or a launching pad to something else.

      1. William Mougayar

        Yes, I agree. That’s why I think this is a “loaded” question, and Fred mentioned the pivot factor. So, it depends if the bridge can be leveraged for a long enough time to allow it to turn into a real building. If someone has 6 million users, it’s up to them to leverage it into the future.

    2. fredwilson

      I said my piece on the twitter question with my filling holes post lastyear.

    3. RichardF

      Twitter are getting better and they are also starting to put the fence up to outsiders. Didn’t I read they have just killed the whitelist?

      1. William Mougayar

        Yup, I think they want developers to use the Twitter streaming API (within its limits) or go pay Gnip for it. I’m not sure I like that approach either.

      2. William Mougayar

        On 2nd thoughts, it probably signals that Twitter is acknowledging it wants to relegate the monetization of the stream to 3rd party developers. Kind of confusing…I thought they were supposed to have the most wisdom on analyzing that stream? Or perhaps we need an API on top of their raw API, i.e. API Curation.

    4. ShanaC

      The day of death for tweetdeck isn’t soon. Twitter consumer version is great. Enterprise level marketing it is not there yet

  11. Harry DeMott

    check out this graph (yes I know it is from SAI which I generally don’t like to send any traffic to – but it makes the point)http://www.businessinsider….Looks like CD’s were the mother of all bridges – spanning the chasm from bands to their fans. More and more are crossing the bridge and sooner or later we won’t need it.So the guys who make the physical media – the Cinram’s, the Technicolor’s, etc… are doomed to low multiples – and ultimately a slow fade into oblivion.The EMI’s, WMG’s etc… are on a different bridging and fade pattern.

    1. Dave W Baldwin

      Or it is simply a matter of those in CD’s being stubborn and believe CD’s are forever. Those that were invested in the wheel for the stage coach proved wise when they also invested in the wheel suitable for a more automated ride.

  12. Fernando Gutierrez

    There goes a controversial one… iTunes.I know they are a product, not a company, but given their size I think it’s worth mentioning. Apple risks iTunes becoming a bridge if they don’t change it fast and do it more cloud friendly. It has helped most of us to jump from phisical music to digital music. But pure digital can’t depend on local files and installations, syncing with cables… They have a huge advantage with their ecosystem and all the iPhones out there, but I know I’m not the only one who hasn’t updated my library in months.

    1. ErikSchwartz

      iTunes is a hideous piece of bloatware. Its problems are far more fundamental than a reliance on cables and local files.iTunes is not a bridge, bridges go somewhere. iTunes is metastasizing software.

      1. Avi Deitcher

        iTunes was never intended as a bridge. The interesting part is that bridge or not, they have made a bucket load of money and driven fundamental change in the audio, then video, and now even app businesses through it.Yes, iTunes as a technology is a pain – as if that really matters, market matters, customers matter, technology is just a way to get there – but they have pretty much dominated the 2000s. The interesting question is if they will get bypassed in the 2010s, or if they are smart enough to adapt. Problem for most companies is that the brilliant business idea of one era is often the albatross around their neck for the next. Nokia anyone?

        1. ErikSchwartz

          ITMS and the app store run at basically break even for Apple. So as the client of ITMS iTunes supports itself, little more. The margins start thin and the expenses are non negligible (especially for the app store). Then roll the share of the iOS marketing budget dedicated to apps and media into the iTunes P&L… I think this is one of the reasons iTunes has not been rethought and won’t be until its poor performance starts hurting device sales.Apple makes a bucketload of money by selling hardware.

          1. Avi Deitcher

            Haven’t looked at Apple’s 10K in a while. Do they break down iTunes P&L separately? One of the parts that always frustrated me about Amazon AWS is that they never broke it out, so I could not see where they were……. Of course not, just looked. They did $1.4BN in the last quarter of “Other music related products and services,” which is everything on the iTunes store and iPod accessories, but not clear how much is their own stuff, how much is percentages, what the breakdown is, and what the profitability is. They only give that for the whole.So much regulation, so much obfuscation!

          2. ErikSchwartz

            “The iPod makes money. The iTunes Music Store doesn’t,””Just trying to have a business around downloadable music would be tough,”-Phil SchillerIf you think about it for a moment the gross margins on music are slim, the retail price of music is low. Add in some expenses and you’re breaking even.The margins on apps are better but the expenses are much higher. Even then the app store royalty is below AAPL’s target margins. Every app, even the free ones, accepted or not, needs to get reviewed for each release. That is not cheap.In contrast go look at the retail prices here…$20 usb cable. $30 earbuds. That stuff is at least 75% margin.

        2. Dan Epstein

          iTunes is a bridge to Apple. You start with the content (apps, mp3s, shows), then purchase a device (iPod/ iPhone), and then if you like it, you buy a Mac. My house has gone from 0 mac devices to 5 in 2 years: ipod -> 2 iPhones -> 2 macbooks.Apple’s big opportunity is converting iTunes into a payment service–getting consumers to start paying with iTunes instead of PayPal, Google Checkout, or actual credit cards.

          1. Avi Deitcher

            Don’t know about that. iTunes as a music store came after iPod; as an app store after the iPhone. Originally, iTunes *was* only available on the Mac, which indicated they were going after their existing users. To be fair, one could argue that they were simply trying out in a market that was already loyal and thus willing to tolerate the kinks as they perfected it.Your point about converting to a payment service is interesting. They are definitely trying to move that way with their new media-in-app rules (although I liked the WSJ’s phrasing that they are so restrictive, they are “risking an applash”).Question: could they get iTunes off the desktop app enough into the Web to make it a payment service? I think Fred has a post here a while back about apps being an interim, and HTML5 with offline being the real futureDo you see them coming up against PayPal eventually?

          2. Dan Epstein

            You’re probably right on the iTunes/iPod timing. But I do think iPods and iPhones are a great way for people to try Mac products, and then move into bigger ticket items like Macbooks, whether that was the original idea or not.As for “iTunes” as a payment service, I think it’s bigger than just subscription billing for media. Every time you use a credit card somewhere, whether that’s the Internet or in a store, somebody takes a cut. For smaller online transactions, Ebay and Google Checkout can take 4+% (closer to 6% on a sub $10 transaction). Apple’s got (estimating) 100 million users’ credit card info saved from iTunes accounts. If they think they can execute it, why not offer a service let users pay “with” their iTunes account info. This would require a robust payments API, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they’ve already built it. That’s payments on the web.An equally big, if not bigger, opportunity is paying with your mobile phone (iPhone or Android) using NFC. I think the big question is whether Apple lets 3rd parties develop their own payment apps, or if there’s only 1 payment app, built by Apple, and included on every iPhone like the “Clock” or “Messages” apps. Or it could be both. I thought I read that Google is building their own payment platform for Android NFC payments. I’d guess Apple is too.

  13. Neil Braithwaite

    By definition, a bridge is something that gets you from point A to point B.Once built, the problem is solved and the bridge builder must move on and search for the next bridge building opportunity.Conventional bridges we cross every day have a sustained purpose and must be maintained and up-fitted as needed. In some cases, the bridge builder may be needed again for their knowledge and expertise regarding a particular bridge they built.But one fact remains – there will always be a need for bridge builders.And the ones worthy of investment are the successful ones who consistently prove they can design, build and maintain many types of bridges.Find a technology bridge builder like that and maybe you’ve found a sound investment.

    1. Dave W Baldwin

      Great observation. It is like Stephen Wolfram writing an opinion regarding the difference between IBM’s WATSON and his WOLFRAM/ALPHA. Both developments are to bridge users over to the next realm of gaining information (though truly extended Trivial Pursuit), but use different engines.IBM is after the medical community (money to afford the beast) and Wolfram is after a broader market… who will win? Those without common sense will pump mega dollars into something that offers excitement, yet can be holding the bag when those same professionals realize they can have a better tool for a whole lot less.Now, I’ll get back to sending the link from Drudge regarding Japanese Robots in space to someone explaining the reality of their positioning in AI according to their statements to someone.So in the end, it becomes a matter of the expense of the bridge and its true ability regarding multiple terrains, the latter which can become the seed to something everyone will be talking about in a forum like this down the road.

      1. ShanaC

        in the long term, both approaches will make it, in the short term, my guess is watson since there is money to spend there

        1. Dave W Baldwin

          True. You may want to go to Stephen Wolfram’s blog and see the comparison. You see, the Wolfram/Alpha is designed with the foundation of accepting incoming data as it happens. Watson is more of a stored data platform.This is not a critique on Watson for I’m happy IBM got the Jeopardy project completed. But for an analogy, if we had a Watson the size of a box on a shelf, you would be buying stored data, meaning it is finite.The architecture enabling the box to have the stored plus gain knowledge as you use it… you get the picture.The cost factor does matter. It is truly our choice as a society to say we will spend fortunes on something that is limited and shun those that can do more with less. Trust me, it is humorous how you can drop something on a different level (new tech/better cost) into someone’s lap, but they’ll not appreciate it due to obsession with the overpriced choice.Once again, this is not a slam on IBM…they are a great bunch.Have a good weekend!

    2. Nick Grossman

      Interesting. I guess that implies that there is a horizontal skill in bridge building, which may be true. My gut feeling is that it’s a bit more vertical than that — the ability to see a certain opportunity in a certain place at a certain time.Also, I don’t think this post is to say that bridges are not valuable — clearly they are enormously valuable and needed. But just not in the long term, since in the world of technology, they are one-way: once everyone has crossed over, we don’t need it anymore. But I do, actually, like the idea of bridge building as a general skill.You might argue that many open source companies are long-term bridge builders, providing the “last mile” for products to be useful to the enterprise and elsewhere. is one such company that has been in business for nearly 10 years doing just that. Maybe not VC-grade growth, but strong and stable for sure (or so it seems from an outsider’s perspective).

      1. Neil Braithwaite

        In the physical realm of travel, one can easily predict where a bridge will be needed.Terrain, weather, resources, traffic and aesthetics will all play a part in the design and construction of the bridge.In technology, predicting when and where a bridge is needed is clearly more difficult – more a matter of anticipation than perceived reality.What makes technology bridge building difficult is that often times you not only can’t see the river you need to span, but you can’t always see what’s on the other side either.I like the idea of “last mile” bridge building products and services.With the speed tech is moving, an anticipatory technology bridge building sector may be evolving – and not even know it.

  14. Evan

    Fred, your meetup widget somehow got farked. Instead of AVC, it shows Beat the GMAT meetups.We have an AVC meetup in Buenos Aires today — I think this isn’t going to help turnout. Or maybe you’re trying to tell me something about my GMAT score.

    1. vruz

      hey I’m just across the river in Punta. do you guys ever visit here?cheers!

  15. Sandy Atkinson

    If you find the right bridge business niche the profit per employee can be reasonably high and the competition fairly low – because Fred and his compatriots have less interest in these businesses. You just have to recognize that it won’t grow forever. However, particularly in the enterprise space, these pieces of software often take a lot longer to go away than one would think and the maintenance and support can be lucrative.Reminds me of the analogy of picking up dimes in front of the steamroller. The steamroller doesn’t move incredibly fast, but will run you over if you stop picking up too many of the dimes in one spot.

    1. Pedro Moore

      thanks for your perspective Sandy, but do you mind or someone else providing examples of possible bridge companies? Are companies like, etc are examples?

  16. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

    Netflix is the perfect counterexample — but then again the reason why people are so gaga over it is precisely because it’s one of the very few counterexamples.And there’s bridges and bridges. I would argue the PC was a bridge on the way to ubiquitous computing but Microsoft had a good run. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Antonio Tedesco

      Standard Oil is a bridge to electric cars. If you can argue everything is a bridge, we’re back where we started. We should consider the span of the bridge or that it even leads to somewhere.The real concern are piers. No one wants to take a long walk on a short pier.

      1. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

        Yeah, I was being facetious with my MSFT point.

        1. Antonio Tedesco

          Right, me too. I don’t think Rockefeller and Gates clip coupons.

    2. paramendra

      Netflix is not a bridge technology company. Microsoft definitely not was one. It was an iconic company that defined an era.

    3. andyswan

      Actually I think that’s a really bad counterexample. Netflix delivers entertainment. They’ve done so through various formats and will move with the best technology underneath of them. It’s not a bridge company.A bridge company would be one that says “Send us all your DVDs and we’ll send you back digital files”

      1. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

        Eh, good point.

    4. ShanaC

      Microsoft still may have magic up its sleeve. I feel like it is a watch and wait

  17. Antonio Tedesco

    Can you always recognize a bridge when you see it or is it only with the benefit of hindsight?Netflix seemed like a bridge from Blockbuster to Video On Demand and then they morphed into the end game.What are the odds a good team will transform the bridging platform in this manner?

  18. JLM

    Fabulous thoughtful comment and very insightful comments. Where should I send the tuition check?When one steps back from the fray and looks over the horizon, it is incredible to see the maelstrom of technology growing, linking, complementing, evolving, penetrating and converging in our lives and in the myriad applications to our lives.We live in an iterative world in which we and everything in our world is learning and living the mantra of “crawl, walk, run, run faster, converge, explode.”We literally have armed revolutions around the world that are being driven by social media.The bridge — where is it really going? To the future.

    1. andyswan

      Depends on who is driving.

      1. JLM

        Damn, I thought you were driving! I’m sleeping in the back seat.

  19. JLM

    Wow, what a great reference. That is some deep thinking.I am a huge fan of thinking while maintaining a junk yard dog cynicism and skepticism.Mankind has really been on one hell of a journey.Fabulous link.

  20. S. Pandya

    Bridge technologies can be a good thing in that they can provide a ready source of capital and contacts for your business as long as you pivot on time.I can think of at least 2 leading IT, Consulting and BPO companies that are now at multibillion dollar valuations that had humble beginnings as Y2K chop-shops.

  21. Mordy Kaplinsky

    True but on the flip side If you are creating next gen technology and you don’t have a bridging capability, chances are the new technology will never make it to market successfully.

  22. Ashwinashwin

    yeah, this is why I didn’t buy any Netflix (no sarcasm, actually my thinking)

    1. Mordy Kaplinsky

      Well Netflix’s own name tells you that they used CD delivery by mail as a bridge for a period where the market conditions are ready for streaming. That is the perfect approach to actually get it out there and get the customer base.

      1. Ashwinashwin

        yeah, didnt think it could/would work, thought the overhang of inventory would just be too brutal and that someone (anyone!) would move into pure streaming firstin any case im a value oriented money manager so i tend not to try and pick winners of tech battles, you often overpay for that privilege. but netflix was clearly, in retrospect, a value pick.when you say “That is the perfect approach to actually get it out there and get the customer base” I think this is a bit at odds with what @fredwilson is saying in the article. the idea of doing something you know is going to die out as temporary activity, in the hopes of being able to pivot, is kinda crazy

        1. Mordy Kaplinsky

          I agree that the intent of @fredwilson was that as a standalone business it will die but if it is part of the strategy that leads to the sustainable model, it is imperative to do it or you will never make it to the final scenario.NetFlix being the example most discussed here. If they did not get the customer base and market position nobody would have allowed them to come in as a starry eyed startup and allow them to stream their content.

        2. PeterisP

          If you have both the bridge and the destination, then you’re not really a ‘bridge company’, are you? Netflix didn’t start with mail delivery focus and a hope to someday pivot somewhere – as far as I see, they had the plan from the beginning, just a postponed launch of the streaming.

      2. Dave Pinsen

        This comment didn’t take the first time, for some reason. Trying again:DVD delivery by mail has the advantage of low costs for content, thanks to first sale doctrine. I think most Netflix bears were aware of the company’s plans to move toward streaming but they focused on the negatives of that, such as the inevitable higher content costs associated with it.

        1. Mordy Kaplinsky

          True but as a cost to market entry with the end goal in sight, that overhead is essentially part of marketing or startup costs. Granted its a whole lotta cost.

        2. ShanaC

          Are we sure that First Sale will last for as long as we think?

  23. paramendra

    Dropio was a bridge technology company and I worried for it.

  24. paramendra

    There is a bridge on the East River I’d like to …..

  25. msuster

    I always thought similar, which is why I so bearish on Netflix for years and now I’m convinced they’re the best positioned. But Reed Hastings is clearly an exception and I guess as they say, “the exception does not prove the rule.”

    1. Ashwinashwin

      happy to see someone else thought the same (or is willing to admit it)to paraphrase myslf above” yeah, didnt think it could/would work, thought the overhang of inventory would just be too brutal and that someone (anyone!) would move into pure streaming firstin any case im a value oriented money manager so i tend not to try and pick winners of tech battles, you often overpay for that privilege. but netflix was clearly, in retrospect, a value pick.when you say “That is the perfect approach to actually get it out there and get the customer base” I think this is a bit at odds with what @fredwilson is saying in the article. the idea of doing something you know is going to die out as temporary activity, in the hopes of being able to pivot, is kinda crazy “

    2. Mordy Kaplinsky

      Like I said in another post in this conversation, NetFlix used the mail as a cost of market entry but their name always belied their intent to move to streaming. What NetFlix really did was take over where Blockbuster left off and dropped the ball on the natural progression of video rental.

  26. baba12

    “Bridge technologies”, almost every technology is a bridge to the next thing. If you look at storage and cloud computing, the vision was always there back from the days when you had mainframes and network terminals. Intel is all about bridge technologies. Every few years they move to the next iteration of sub micron lithography. If you don’t invest in the platform to begin with you are not going to bridge anything.Bridging is part of nature as we evolve, yes I agree that you have to be able to pivot or find ways to move incrementally else you stagnate and for that is fine but if you are stagnant then you don’t need to bridge anything you stay put where you are.Bridging technologies are necessary and required, it is not zero sum game.

  27. Mark Essel

    Time determines what is a bridge business versus a destination. We’re all building bridges to the future, reshaping the market and social landscape as we go. No technology company built today will survive the winds of obsolescence in just a few hundred years with a rare exception.In the course of a startup’s early life it will go through several iterations of “bridges” as it finally figures out precisely what it will provide it’s customers better than anyone else. I’ve read and heard plenty of one line mission statements that sound great, but don’t define the business’ current products and services. The proof is in the product.

  28. Sebastian Wain

    I agree, but mostly with opportunistic technologies to solve something in a short timeframe.In some way all technologies are bridge technologies but they don’t realize it, our current technologies will be blurry in twenty years.In the positive side [buzzword]pivoting[/buzzword] on bridge technologies can be very helpful: there are programming language translators that were used as a bridge like translating from Cobol to C/C++, when there are not much room to sell more of this stuff it can be converted to move from Visual Basic to C#. (this indeed is not so easy when frameworks are built for a specific programming language, but is an example).I have another positive example that’s related to my business, we have a specific virtualization technology that is used by Symantec to run legacy windows applications under new windows versions. One obvious method to achieve it is using something like VMWare, VirtualBox, etc but in this case only the application is virtualized. This is used to build a bridge technology but the market is huge.



    1. ShanaC

      You do realize there are women who never lose the training bra? For some people the bridge is the end goal



        1. ShanaC

          Yes. Size matters to both. As odd as this sounds, dialup may be a betterfit for some populations who want to limit the kind of content they get intheir houses for cultural reasons. They never grew into a need forbroadband

          1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


  30. Peter Yared


  31. Nir Zion Pengas

    maybe companies like phoneGap and appcelerator who’re trying to patch the fragmented market of mobile development. these companies offer a lukewarm solution for a real problem.though i’m relatively young, if i think of past fragmented markets (like OS), at the end of the day there will be a couple of dominant players and software companies will need to develop their solutions to both.will companies like phoneGap survive the hype and be relevant in 5 years or will the talent pool for developing for both iOS and android grow to a point where they become obsolete?hope to see you guys at the 4square hackathon tomorrow.

  32. William Mougayar

    Off-topic, but thanks for the AVC community (where 75% of my Disqus comments are published), I’ve just hit 500 Likes on 1010 Comments, so that’s close to batting 500 in the commentsphere.I know Charlie C, ErikSchwartz, JLM and LIAD are way better than 500 !

    1. Dave Pinsen

      Congrats.Worth noting though: if you started commenting on Disqus before you had a profile, and then agreed to add those comments to your profile after you created one, that lowers your like-to-comment ratio, because apparently likes on the old comments don’t transfer over.

  33. vruz

    You could say Apple have made a great business out of building a monumental bridge called iTunes. I think it sucks and it has no future, same thing for trafficking old world content to the iPad, that sort of business model has the same fatal flaw: it won’t last forever.But I find it difficult to argue that they haven’t made a great business out of it.Now of course, it’s probably something only Apple can afford to do in their privileged position.(not even Amazon, Microsoft nor Yahoo were able to take advantage of their respective privileged positions to make a dent in Apple’s pie)The rest of us probably have a better bet in creating sustainable, agnostic systems that reach the biggest share of the public.(that’s the actual reason why Flash has been a good tool for 10 years, and the same reason why HTML5 is becoming a good choice for many apps today)Platform-wise, right now Android seems to have a fair shot at becoming the heir of Windows’ dominance of yesteryear, but you don’t have to be a fundamentalist and not acknowledge that this is a constantly changing reality. 5 or 10 years down the road it could be something else.It’s an 80-20% thing.

  34. sigmaalgebra

    Sure, Fred doesn’t want to invest in ‘bridge’ technologies. But that is a special case of he doesn’t want to invest in ‘technologies’. It is as if, if one could suspect such a thing, that he has doubts about the lasting power of any specific technology! :-)!!Instead he wants to invest in exploitations of current technology to solve problems people have. He is betting that the people won’t go away, and he wants to invest in solutions to their problems that won’t go away. If the technology changes, fine: Then exploit the new technology to solve the same problem faster, cheaper, etc.Betting that people won’t go away! Would you believe? :-)!!It used to be, use technology to get a barrier to entry. Well, for some broad categories of technology (but not all), that’s a foolish bet.Still, want a barrier to entry: How about the user is locked in because of things about themselves and/or their ‘social graph’ instead of things unique to the technology? Again, how could anyone believe such a thing? :-)!!Ah, to think of such outrageous things I must be up too late! No such things could possibly be true! :-)!!

  35. Hatice Nur Koรง

    “The author has no obligation to include every single fact about the country.” Actually what the author decides to include/not include has to do with what type of writer he is. When writing fiction, one could include anything, for example ๐Ÿ™‚ … sikiลŸ “A better idea is to create lots of new positive stories, to push the porno izle negative one down the page.” Sliding it under the rug adult izle has never been the right thing to do. Addressing the matter with everyone’s interest taken into account is the solution to this one ๐Ÿ˜‰

  36. Josslossboss

    So who funds them?If they solve transitional pain points, are they not needed and necessary?

    1. Guest

      “So who funds them?”… someone who is not Fred.

  37. Tim Lind

    I see your point but it seems like you are saying that new technologies (HTML5 for example) don’t provide a gigantic opportunity for creating a new company that can replace previous market leaders. Going from local storage to cloud storage for example isn’t just a bridge from one tech to another, it’s an opportunity to revolutionize a whole industry.

  38. Carl Hunter Roach

    I guess one upside is that one could start a ‘bridge’ company knowing there wouldn’t be competition from VC-funded ventures.Cable adapters is an example of what has been a long-term bridge industry. From RS232 to USB adapters to forthcoming Firewire to Thunderbolt adapters.Data migration is one area that hasn’t yet been commoditized and so offers plenty of opportunities to ‘bridging’ companies. The commoditizers are nibbling at the edges though as they offer to migrate your local email databases to the cloud.