A couple days ago, I posted a blog on Google’s moat. Today, I am posting a blog post written by venture capitalist Bill Gurley. Gurley explains how Android, Chrome and Chrome OS are being used by Google to strengthen its moat. According to Gurley, “They are not just building a moat; Google is also scorching the earth for 250 miles around the outside of the castle to ensure no one can approach it. And best I can tell, they are doing a damn good job of it.”
Google realizes that a major factor is which search engine you use is what’s available to you in the application you’re using. If you were to use Firefox and the default search engine was Bing (Firefox comes with Google as its default search engine), there is a reasonable chance you would stay with it. That is why Microsoft has worked hard to make Bing available in different channels.
With Andriod, Chrome and Chrome OS, the endgame is to aggressively frustrate any attempt to put a layer between Google and its users. This would be like Coke aggressively expanding into retail to insure that the its products were available. The conundrum for Google’s rivals is that Google does not expect to profit directly from this effort. It simply wants to keep the Huns at bay from its search castle.
Yesterday, after the market closed, Research in Motion, the makers of the Blackberry device, announced that they would be lowering their current quarter earnings due to lower average sales prices. In a separate announcement, the company proffered that their new tablet will support Android apps, yet the CEO also made it clear that he believes the world is overly focused on the criticality of having a large numbers of applications on your platform. They also suggested that the guidance issue is temporary, and relates mainly to a product cycle not a systematic change in the industry.
Despite all that has been written about Android, as well as its unquestionable early success, the world at large still doesn’t fully appreciate the raw power of this juggernaut. I have written about this in the past in Android or iPhone? Wrong Question, and Google Redefines Disruption: The “Less Than Free” Business Model. But even so, the more I see, the more I wonder if I too may have underestimated the unprecedented market disruption that is Android.
One of Warren Buffet’s most famous quotes is that “In business, I look for economic castles protected by unbreachable ‘moats’.” An “economic castle” is a great business, and the “unbreachable moat” is the strategy or market dynamic that heightens the barriers-to-entry and makes it difficult or ideally impossible to compete with, or gain access to, the economic castle. Here is a great post from the 37signals blog a few years back that walks through several different examples of potential moats.
For Google, the economic castle is clearly the search business, augmented by its amazing AdWords monetization framework. Because of its clear network effect, and amazing price optimization (though the customer bidding process), this machine is a monster. Also, because of its far-reaching usage both on and off of Google,AdWords has a volume advantage as well. Perhaps the most telling map with regards to the location of the castle can be found in Jonathan Rosenberg’s “Meaning of Open” blog post. In this open manifesto, Jonathan opines over and over again that open systems unquestionably result in the very best solutions for end customers. That is with one exception. “In many cases, most notably our search and ads products, opening up the code would not contribute to these goals and would actually hurt users.” As Rodney Dangerfield said in Caddyshack, “It looks good on you, though.”