Excellent posting by Hank Williams today on Silicon Alley Insider, which is one of my favorite sources. See full text of his original post below, and definitely check out the discussion that erupted within minutes on SAI...back and forth brings out the angst that many of us have been dealing with over the past few years.
With the success of Google, who weave billions of dollars of profit from millions of "keywords", convincing the world that a "click" has inherent value, there has been a run on the bank. Literally. Everything is now supposed to be supported by "advertising." But remember, as I have often said, in the end someone needs to buy something. That's how advertising works. Otherwise its a massive ponzi scheme.
Traditional media companies have always had (and will have) advertising as a dominant (and sometimes sole) source of revenues. But advertising was never 100% of the revenues, think of movies, video games, even most daily newspapers. There is a price. It is not free.
And now think of services that are not media companies -- there is no historical justification for free. Salesforce.com, a pioneer of using Web X.0, charges. And many gladly pay. Is Gmail free? For now. I doubt it will last, and if it does will mean a re-shuffling, but not complete revolution.
Advertising has its place, but I for one am tired of very smart entrepreneurs acting like deer in the headlights, who have been brainwashed by VCs with too much money that usage/users are all that's important. We will be facing a capital crunch in the days, months, and years ahead -- those who have developed real revenue generating businesses will survive.
I agree with Hank, that VCs are killing many businesses, but there will be a revival of the dead. Make sure you are prepared!
Free" is Killing Us--Blame The VCs
April 4, 2008 9:20 AM
I believe it should be possible to start a small business and to have a small number of profitable customers, and to earn a living. From there, it should be possible to work hard, and to grow your business into something substantial. Until recently, this was the American way, and it applied to technology as much as to any other business. But no more.
In today’s “free” world, in most online business categories, it is inherently impossible to start a small self-sustaining business and to grow it. This is because in the digital world, advertising, the only real revenue stream, cannot support a small digital business. If businesses were based on the idea that people paid for services then small companies could succeed at a small scale and grow. But it is very hard to charge when your competition is free.
The economic problem with advertising businesses is that advertising businesses do not work without really significant scale. In the past, a good product or service could address a niche and succeed without being a home run. Today, a home run is required because if you do not reach a massive scale, advertisers are uninterested. And even if advertisers could be attracted, CPMs are so low that the revenue would be inconsequential. Small Internet businesses don’t work.
So how did we get here? In a word, VC.
Venture capital has totally distorted the market. VCs are investing billions of dollars in companies with instructions to get big fast and to worry about advertising revenue later. As a result the competition is for users and not for paying customers.
Unfortunately, to fix this, many more companies need to die.
With less “free” floating around, a more regular supply and demand dynamic can take hold, customers will have to pay for the things that are important to them and non-quantized growth dynamics can return. In the meantime, why should consumers pay for products and services that VCs and their pension fund investors are willing to give away for free?
The good news is at some point VCs will indeed realize how dumb all of this is and stop giving away everything of value on the Internet. This will all stop when the average VC can’t get any of his/her companies to scale because there is just too much VC sponsored free stuff out there. Then and only then will this crazy eyeballs business model redux finally be put to bed.
I cant wait.
SAI Contributor Hank Williams is a New York-based entrepreneur. He recently launched a new blog: Why Does Everything Suck? Exploring the tech marketplace from 10,000 feet.