• Gwilym Davies

Fallen Empires

Updated: Feb 16

If you’re in tax, chances are you won’t go a day without hearing, reading or watching someone harp on about how critical innovation is in the industry.

Yeah, sure, you’re tired of it all and just want to get on with filing tax returns, but there’s something in it. Firms that don’t adapt to incorporate a new advisory model, or make use of new tech to improve their services, are in danger of dying, or at the very least, struggling to survive.

Don’t believe us?

Below we’ve listed some of the well-publicised failings in other sectors that might give you food for thought.

Blockbuster

Youngsters with less than 10 years on the clock will never get to experience a Saturday night, legging it down to Blockbuster, only to get stuck watching a rerun of Jumanji. Nor will they remember the ever-mounting late fees on a lost Shrek VHS, the remortgaging your parent’s house required to pay off the charges.

So, what happened to the video store behemoth?

Netflix happened, is what.

Netflix sent videos straight to your door. No return dates. No late penalties. The funny thing about this story is that Netflix offered Blockbuster the chance to buy them out for $50 million in 2000. Instead, Blockbuster decided to stick to business as usual whilst Netflix grew like a bear on steroids, even before the latter adopted its familiar streaming service. Blockbuster eventually tried its own online offering, but the writing was on the wall and it nosedived.

They filed for bankruptcy on September 23, 2010. If you look in most attics, you’ll probably find a couple of old tapes in the familiar blue and yellow case, a reminder of the fallen rental empire that refused to adapt.

Blackberry BBM was once the slickest means of communication on the market, where most first meetings ended with the other party asking for your pin. In the era where the iPhone was still a fancy idea in Steve Jobs’ head, Blackberry were dominating the market, offering solid business email security and a means to connect easily with multiple users.

Of course, like many companies riding the wave of glory, they overlooked a couple of things. Like touchscreen technology. Yeah, that thing that means you can tappy-tap your way to a grocery delivery on your mobile phone. Instead, they presumed users would stick to trying to type on a tiny little keyboard that took up half of the device and required a microscope to see what the hell you were keying.

Then, on June 29, 2007, the iPhone was released.

The rest, ladies and gentlemen, is history.

Blackberry’s initial failure to evolve turned into a long succession of attempts to innovate. None of them have, so far, been successful. The company did try to build an AI feature called Blackberry Assistant which, given how (not so) helpful it is, would be better off known as Cletus, Alexa’s dumb, inbred cousin.

The result is a measly 0.8% of the smartphone market share.

Yahoo

In 2005, Yahoo was numero uno.

The big cojones.

It owned 21% of the online advertising market. That’s huge. Especially considering the fact that Facebook currently have a 17% share. So, why, you may ask, are Yahoo now struggling in 4th position behind Google, FaceyB and Microsoft?

Well, the truth is, Yahoo could’ve done just about anything differently and there’s a chance they’d still be number 1. Firstly, they chose to focus on media and outsourced their search engine to Microsoft Bing. That reluctance to concentrate on search was probably half the reason they decided not to buy Google for $5bn in 2002. Then, in 2006, they screwed up another deal by lowering their original $1bn offering to Mark Zuckerberg for his social network. That same network is now worth 150x that amount.

It’s probably too late for Yahoo to get in on the search party. The fact that we ‘Google’ something rather than ‘Yahoo’ it is the reason the early 00’s giant makes it on to this list.

Kodak & Polaroid

Kodak’s stock had plummeted from over 80 dollars a share to less than a dollar by 2010, but, in truth, the company had been failing to adapt for at least 50 years, so it’s astonishing they lasted that long. In fact, it’s astonishing they’re still around today.

The original business model was smart; give the camera’s away for nothing and get people hooked on the lucrative photo development process. Then came along instant photography, with firms like Polaroid chipping away at the giant’s huge market share.

Like many of those on this list, Kodak was slow to respond to the growing trend, which can be shown by the Polaroid knock-off that they fudged together and brought to market. In 1990 Polaroid sued, and won close to a billion dollars in damages. Whilst busy being dragged through the courts, competition like Fuji popped up, offering cheaper alternatives through massive distributors like Walmart, and in 1999, Kodak reported losses of $1.2bn and laid off close to 20,000 employees. By all accounts, Kodak are now launching a cryptocurrency that has seen their shares rocket, although whether this new move will be a success is yet to be seen.

There are still Polaroids knocking about, and you’ll often see a Fujifilm Instax Mini dragged out at parties. (You can pay us later for the cheeky plug, Fujifilm.)

But has anyone ever really taken instant cameras seriously?

Polaroid began life as an innovative brand that brought photography on demand to the masses. But, that’s the thing about innovation. Just like shaving your legs, you can’t do it once and then sit back thinking you’ll never have to bother with it again. Polaroid didn’t spot that digital cameras were going to be the next big thing, and the market was taken from them quicker than it takes to develop a Polaroid picture. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2001.

MySpace

You’d be forgiven for thinking MySpace was the original social network; Facebook’s older, clunkier brother. But, actually, MySpace was just a copy of another networking site called Friendster, built by a marketing company in the hopes that they could plug crappy products to a mass market of junk consumers. It’s probably the reason the site was described by their VC of Marketing, Sean Percival, as a ‘massive spaghetti-ball mess’, and the reason why Facebook strolled in, snatched the ball, and shoved MySpace in a puddle.

Their acquisition by News Corp for $580 million was, surprisingly, a huge nail in their coffin. The introduction of corporate rules and policies slowed the company, which is a spear in the leg for a tech company that relies on constant innovation.

Facebook moved much faster, and saw what they didn’t: user experience was critical, and people wanted to connect on multiple levels, not just through grunge bands looking to get signed. Ironically, they do have over a million likes on Facebook, mostly from people who can’t get their head around the fact that the company still exists.

If you enjoyed this, check out my article, ‘8 lessons from those that turned failure into success‘.

0 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All