Some Things Don’t Change
I was thinking about the Dotcom era of the late 90s and the euphoria that gripped the markets for those few years as stocks climbed to record breaking levels.
The news of the day was engaged in a fevered debate - were we in a new era, one where the old models had become hopelessly outdated? Or was this simply another fad, not unlike Dutch Tulips, a bubble that would burst in due course, once we all came to our senses?
The truth, as it turned out, was somewhere in between.
Many of the business and operating models had indeed been turned on their heads.
The internet gave us a new means of access, especially with music and the arts. Retailers had to begin to reckon with a new front for distribution, one that they weren’t operationally geared to take advantage of. And most of us weren’t even aware of the emerging potential for disruption that would eventually emerge (think AirBnB or Uber amongst many many others). Indeed, the internet changed everything, forcing us to rethink much that we took for granted.
But not everything changed - in fact, at least one thing stayed exactly the same: the underlying economic model of any business.
There was much talk at the time that profits were overrated and that businesses simply had to grow and not worry about making ends meet. That’s all well and good when funds are limitless and the ability to raise capital was a relative cakewalk as investors queued up to throw cash at entrepreneurs in the hopes of backing the next Netscape or Ariba or whoever else.
But you can’t bank on that environment to continue forever. When the euphoria dies down, the fundamentals suddenly appear to be back in vogue. Executing a committed long term strategy. Delivering a quality product. Ensuring money coming in was more than money going out. You know, the simple stuff.
Sure, there were quick buck artists - folks who got in and out quickly, taking advantage of investors and markets in a short enough time frame, such that they made their millions before the shit hit the fan.
But not everyone was so lucky. Many ran out of cash, saw their funding dry up as investors began to get cold feet.
And the ones that survived were, for the most part, those who stuck to first principles, who had a real strategy founded in delivering value to their customer. Those who understood that solid cash flow and profits would never go out of fashion. (Ultimately, anyway, once you had to stand on your own two feet.)
The point is, we’re always going to be faced with debates about new models, new eras, who’s in touch and who’s out of touch. Some of these will seem enticing, particularly given the realities on the ground at that point in time. The filter we need to apply - especially at these times - is the same. Does this align with first principles? Does this align with the fundamentals? Does this make good, long term business sense?
Because those things never change.