Saturday, 5 May 2012

Studying Apple is useless for business

Apple's share price has increased from $3 in the '80s to nearly $600
AAPL:Apple is one of the most valuable companies in the world.  It is now valued at $528 billion. Its products are loved by millions. Steve Jobs is revered as one of the great visionaries of our time,  So why is Apple irrelevant for business study?

Precisely because it has been so successful.

Apple is a fluke

When I wrote The Complete Guide to Australian Gambling in 1991 I told a story of how if Moses and Jesus had both been playing Lotto since they were born that by now Moses would have been likely to have won Division 1, but Jesus would not (he is younger!).  Winning the major prize in Lotto is a fluke.

What's that got to do with Apple? Let's consider how many InfoTech start ups there have been in the USA since 1970.  According to the US statistics bureau, there have been a bit over 500,000.

Now consider how many spectacularly successful InfoTech companies there have been since that time.  Microsoft, Apple, Google, Cisco, Intel, Oracle.  So, that's SIX.  We can argue the toss over a few others that have stood the test of time, but in terms of massively successful InfoTech enterprises that have launched since around 1970 in the US, there are about SIX.

So, ladies and gentlemen, there are your odds of being an Apple - 6 out of 500,000!

So why not shoot for the stars?

I hear you.  OK, even if you have only got a 1 in 80,000 or so chance you still want to try.  Fine.

I think there is a better way than trying to be an Apple.

Let's go back to the US census bureau data,  The most recent data shows that there were 34,543 Information companies that have survived since 1993 or earlier.  And there are only 117,000 in total (so about 400,000 of our start ups have closed down).

Take a look at the 34,543 success stories.  Now you have about a 1 in 15 chance of being one of those.  The odds still aren't great, but they are realistic.  Study these companies.  Rather than hitting it big with iTunes, these companies have developed and maintained solid businesses through the ups and downs of business cycles.  Some are quite large, and others are mom and pop operations, but they have all stood the test of time.

Smaller, resilient businesses didn't have the incredible luck of Gates, Jobs and Co. to be born at the right time and fall over the next big thing.  That's why their lessons are meaningful to you.

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