We're all holding our breath & waiting for the day a challenger usurps Facebook, the King of Social Media.
But while those of us invested in Facebook -- professionally & personally -- worry about "The Next Big Thing" threatening our beloved social network, here's a reality check:
For now, it's pretty much impossible.
In fact, it's inconceivable.
And yet, if Facebook is to survive (and thrive), it needs innovative start-ups capable of threatening it.
The Unstoppable Juggernaut...
Facebook's earliest acquisitions were all about talent -- but going forward, we can expect to see Facebook buying companies for their products & technologies.
~Dan Rose, Facebook VP of partnerships
You can almost see Mark Zuckerberg smirking with pleasure as he signs his name to giant check after giant check -- because he realizes something important:
You don't need to rig the rules to gain a monopoly.
You just need a big enough pile of money.
When you can buy every up-and-coming competitors with a billion-dollar check, you don't really need to worry about them competing with you.
And fortunately for Facebook, no steely-eyed entrepreneur has been able to say no in the last couple years.
Because they know it's probably more profitable to be bought by Facebook than to be independently successful.
In other words, like the 9 Rings of Power, that shit's just too good to pass up.
... Has a Weakness.
But Facebook isn't buying technologies left & right because they want to.
They're doing it because they have to. They're doing it because start-ups are doing certain things better than Facebook can do them.
But wait a sec... isn't Facebook wickedly successful because they innovated?
Yes, Facebook became profitable because it innovated. But now it has to acquire innovation to remain profitable.
So they need challengers & aspiring competitors to do this.
Oh Mojo, Where Art Thou?
You might be surprised to hear that the best writing advice I ever got had nothing to do with writing:
Avoid living with your parents -- or any situation where you don't absolutely have to make money to survive. You'll do better work & you'll do it more consistently if every paycheck means the difference between eating & going hungry -- or between shelter & eviction.
There's a kernel of gold here: Stress is paramount!
Comfort & complacency are death.
For example, in the human story, the continuous fight against starvation & death led to big brains, tools & agriculture.
But then -- when food was plentiful beyond belief -- we created Jersey Shore.
Stress, however uncomfortable, is a necessary component of progress & success.
It is from the wild-eyed, "tomorrow could be the end" uncertainty of start-up life that passion & innovation flow.
For example, compare the following:
- the number of brilliant "Next Things" that came from garages, college dorms, basements or the brink of bankruptcy
- the number of brilliant innovations that came from a Corporate Headquarters with a fiduciary duty to shareholders
Or in terms of music, compare:
- the number of bands who produced their best work before they made it
- the number of bands who produced their best work after getting a fat record deal
The most brilliant ideas come to fruition in the crucible of stress, anxiety & ambition.
It is the anxious hope to still exist in a month, 6 months, a year that drives businesses to create truly brilliant & useful products.
For example, which imperative do you think produces more brilliant innovations:
- Make hundreds of millions again this quarter by working harder & innovating more
- Avoid bankruptcy by working harder & innovating more
I'm going to go with the latter.
The Shackles of Success
Consider this question:
At what point do you think a writer has the most freedom to create compelling & brilliant work?
Yep, just before the first words are written.
At that moment, the writer isn't beholden to any expectations or constraints.
Facebook -- born in a dormitory, now a public corporation -- is in the opposite position. It's as much a prisoner of its own success as a writer writing the 11th book of an established series.
While the start-up wonders:
What can we do that's exciting & new?
What can we do that won't upset our users?
These 1.2 billion users -- like any gilded cage -- grant safety in leu of freedom.
And there's no going back.
The Tools, not the Man
For years, Facebook has sought to drive innovation by acquiring talent from successful start-ups. But as Dan Rose's words above indicate, they're moving toward a different tactic.
My guess is they've realized that nothing hampers innovation in talented individuals like a fat paycheck & job security.
The will to survive, thrive & carve one's own destiny -- this is creativity's most compelling driver!
So for Facebook, it's just smarter to buy innovations that already exist than to buy the people who created them.
For now, Silicon Valley start-ups are sprouts in Zuckerberg's garden.
And their products are becoming ever more essential to the nourishment & growth of Facebook.
And as long as it's vastly more profitable to be bought by Facebook than to gradually master one's own niche, Facebook will be secure.
The juggernaut won't be stopping any time soon.
In fact, the more formidable threat each challenger poses, the more unstoppable Facebook becomes by buying them.
The true test of Facebook will come only when it encounters an innovator who can't be bought.
And that's when we'll all be watching.