On the valley's perception that Yahoo is no longer a cutting-edge engineering company:This is something that is increasingly central as I teach technology strategy to Silicon Valley engineers. Last semester, Exhibit A was the transformation of HP from innovation leader to the Fiorina-Hurd penny pinching era.
"We did lose that. . . . The comparison we get a lot, for instance, is Google. They've got a $4 billion engineering budget, and we've got a $1 billion engineering budget. We're not going to play with phones and broadband; we've got to play in our own space."
With my MBA students tonight, it was a much smaller story, that of JibJab the online greeting card company.
Two years ago, JibJab parlayed its clever political satire and ability to milk PR on the Tonight Show to create a viral hit during the Xmas 2007 season.
Since then, I’ve used JibJab with students to illustrate business models and the freemium idea. It’s a simple company to understand, unlike enterprise software, B2C/B2B social networking plays, and other more complex stories.
Today, JibJab has acquired many traits of a company in a mature industry, starting with the fad nature of its original business. The bouncing heads were novel then but now are old hat. (It also once claimed a pending patent would protect it from rivals, but now has non-exclusive rights to a third party patent.)
The company faces the challenges of any other entertainment studio of producing compelling original content on an ongoing basis. And if it’s not differentiated, its goal may be to create loyalty to the brand and the service to keep the customers it’s already won.
None of these are bad things. But it’s yet another example that success for many tech companies is less about innovation, and more about sales/marketing (ads, PR, distribution) as well as the ongoing challenge of execution.