Subject: Re: Ben and Jerry's or Amazon?
From: Frank Hecker <frank@collab.net>
Date: Sat, 13 May 2000 14:29:52 -0400

Tim O'Reilly wrote:
> I was delighted to read this article by Joel Brodsky
> (http://joel.editthispage.com/stories/storyReader$113).  It had some
> great stuff about what kind of business you want to be in.
> 
> It definitely captured a lot of things that have been true of O'Reilly.

It also captured a lot of things that were true of Netscape as well
(which was definitely a company on the Amazon.com model):

"When you are growing faster than about 100% per year, it is simply
impossible for mentors to transmit corporate values to new hires. ...
Netscape is the most egregious example of this, growing from 5 to about
2000 programmers in one year. As a result, their culture was a mishmash
of different people with different values about the company, all tugging
in different directions."

Absolutely true. We tried to do a values and culture initiative at
Netscape in early 1998 and it basically failed for lack of any consensus
as to what "core Netscape values" actually were. I suspect Netscape lost
any chance for consensus on values past the end of 1994/beginning of
1995, when the decision was made to charge for Navigator and go all out
on getting browser license revenue. (I don't work there anymore, so I
can't say for sure, but it's quite possible that what remains of
Netscape may actually have more internal consensus on values now than it
did in its go-go years.)

Another point I found interesting: The author points out that Microsoft
was actually more in the "Ben and Jerry's" model, in that it started out
small and grew steadily over several years before it "hit it big"; thus
it had a chance to build a vibrant and enduring corporate culture that
played a large part in its success (whatever you might happen to think
of that culture or success :-)  Arguably this is the case for AOL as
well, which started in the early 1980s and also had the chance to grow
organically to some degree well before "Internet fever" hit. (Based on
my brief experience as part of AOL I can testify that there is still a
coherent AOL culture, even now; it's worth noting that a lot of it
resides in the parts of AOL you don't hear so much about, namely the
operations and customer support groups.) I don't have any in-depth
knowledge of Cisco, but I wouldn't be surprised to find it to be another
case of this happening as well.

I'm a firm believer in the importance of corporate culture as promoted
in books like "Built to Last" (which is why I was one of the instigators
of the values stuff at Netscape), so it's interesting to speculate how
this dynamic would play out in the current era. At first glance it seems
as if no one has any time anymore to wait around for a business to grow
organically, so it's difficult to see how any "dot-com" today could in
fact build a coherent and enduring culture. Perhaps FSBs have a
potential long-term advantage here, in that they can draw from an
existing culture and set of values that existed prior to the FSBs being
founded, and will likely continue to exist independently of the fate of
any given FSB.

Frank
-- 
Frank Hecker            work: http://www.collab.net/
frank@collab.net        home: http://www.hecker.org/