Posts from network effects

What If Web And Mobile Apps Are Like TV Shows?

I was having lunch with a veteran of the entertainment and the video game business this past week. It was an interesting and wide ranging chat. One of the things we discussed that stuck in my mind was the thought that web and mobile apps might behave more like TV shows than traditional software applications.

I've watched my kids go from myspace to facebook to instagram over the past seven years. And who knows what social app will be their "go to app" in five years. This has always been the case in videogames. Farmville to Cityville to something else. Words With Friends to Draw Something to something else.

This round trip from nothing to everything to nothing again is also true at some level with many tech companies. Digtal Equipment Corporation was founded in 1957 and shuttered in 1998. RIM was founded in 1984 and in all liklihood will be gone before the end of this decade. Same with Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, and many more iconic tech companies.

This concern or observation depending on where you sit has wide ranging implications for valuations, returns, and many other aspects of the startup economy. Companies are worth the net present value of their future cash flows. Said another way, if you knew that a company was going to earn $1mm a year for the next ten years and then be shut down, there is no way you'd pay more than $10mm for that company and certainly you'd pay something a bit less than that.

There are web and mobile applications that seem more immune to the "here today gone tomorrow" concern. Utilities like search, email, calendar, document store, etc feel less likely to be subject to this issue. YouTube also feels fairly secure. But purely social apps, the ones that depend on having your friends on them, seem quite vulnerable to a mass exodus. RIM's demise among my kids' generation had more to do wtih everyone leaving BBM than anything else. For as long as all of their friends were on BBM, they all wanted to be on it too.

Network effects are powerful in both directions. They can help you grow exponentially. But when they are going against you, they work just as fast. Myspace's decline was mind blowingly quick. RIM's has been as well. Who is next?

I am not writing this post to pour cold water on the internet sector. There are so many amazing things happenning right now. We are investing actively and agressively and are not the least bit bearish.

But it is important to understand the entire life cycle of what you are investing in. If you are playing a game of musical chairs, you have to know that's what you are playing. Or you will be the one left standing with nowhere to sit. And that sucks.

#VC & Technology#Web/Tech

Do Network Effects Span Geographies?

Three years ago most western european countries had a local social network that was the most popular social net in the country. Today Facebook is dominant in most of western europe and those local social nets have largely been bypassed.

It would seem that Facebook leveraged the size of its network (approaching 500mm people worldwide) to beat its competition in social networking. But what's interesting to me about that is that it also means that it leveraged a network that was larger out of country to beat an incumbent who initially was larger in country.

For the sake of this argument, I am assuming network size and network effects was the cause of Facebook's success internationally against local competitors. It could be that it was not network, but instead features that won the market for Facebook. Certainly it was some of both.

I come to this "argument" with a deep respect for the power of networks, particularly online, and so I believe that in fact Facebook was able to leverage the size of its out of market network to compete in market against a local incumbent who had a stronger in market network.

And why exactly would that work? Well first of all, many people have social networks that span geographies. And those people tend to be influencers who are important in the value of an overall social graph. I think it is also true that in many parts of the world, big american brands are powerful in local markets. And so its probably also true that there is an allure of being part of a big american social network. I've been told that there are only four countries that are mostly impenetrable for a US internet company; russia, china, japan, and korea. We will see if that is true in Facebook's case.

I was thinking about this yesterday as I was making my way around Paris, checking in on Foursquare. In every place I went to in Paris, there was an existing mayor and plenty of tips. But it was rare to check into a place and find someone else checked in as well. By contrast in NYC, I rarely check in these days without finding at least one other person checked in.

In talking to some local parisian web entrepreneurs, I heard about a local Parisian company called Tellmewhere that has 500,000 users, mostly french. Read Write Web has a good post up about Tellmewhere right now. So maybe the reason I found the usage of Foursquare in Paris to be light compared to NYC is the presence of a strong local competitor.

And thus my question that started this post. Do network effects span geographies? Does the fact that Foursquare is approaching 1mm users worldwide make a difference in Paris or will Tellmewhere, with 500k users who are mostly here, continue to dominate locally?

If we can use Facebook as a guide, it seems eventually the largest network wins. But can we use Facebook as a guide and is that universally true on the web? Let the discussion begin.

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#Blogging On The Road#VC & Technology#Web/Tech