Have the clocks changed?

The clocks change twice a year and these days your computer and your phone automatically make the switch. Well, most of the time they do. My Apple iMac at home and my IBM notebook at the office both seemed to know that this year in the US the clocks don’t change ’till next weekend. For some reason however, my cell phone and my work phone have already decided to turn the hands back an hour. This is truly annoying when it comes to my cell phone as it happens to be a Treo on the ATandT network (for some reason btw Blogger won’t let me use the ‘and’ symbol). This means it also carries my calendar. So when I check my calendar on my phone most of my meetings are all in the wrong place. When my phone made the switch on Sunday I assumed it was a Treo problem but my wife’s Blackberry, which is also on ATandT, did the same. My assumption is therefore that ATandT goofed up. You would think that by now someone at ATandT would have noticed and corrected it. Unfortunately what seems to have happened is that when they did notice they had a meeting that presumably went like this: “we messed up on the clocks going back Carl.” “I know Bob but only by a week.” “Oh well, let’s just leave it then, most people have watches anyway.”

How things change…


My guess is these VCs look super smart right now…

The PE tech stock chasm

Tech has been back for a while now. Tech IPOs and M&A activity has been back at boom levels but contrary to the theory that a high tide rises all boats, it would seem that the improved attitude of Wall Street to the tech industry has benefited some more than others. Of course you would expect that given each company is different but there appears to be a chasm that some tech stocks can’t cross in terms of the PE ratios. If you look at the major tech firms such as Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, HP, Intel and Cisco they all have PE ratios that go from 16 to 27. Indeed you can find a LOT of firms in the tech sector with this kind of rating. However, there is another large group that seems to have broken from the pack and have ratings a full twenty points higher, or more! Apple is at 47, Google at 53 and then there’s Amazon at a staggering 104 and VM Ware at a head scratching 242. What differentiates these groups would appear to be a mixture of perceived management strength and of course growth potential. The markets clearly believe we will all buy another ‘i something’ from Apple, search like crazy for things on Google, do our holiday shopping on Amazon and get all our computers to all use VM Ware’s virtualization technology (yes that last example doesn’t sound terribly exciting I know). So why do they believe Apple and Google are a better bet than IBM and Cisco? Is it because they view the likes of IBM and Cisco as old school tech? I think there is some truth here and it’s a challenge for these guys which is why if you look at most of the big tech firms with the lower ratings you will see they have all been reinventing their business models. IBM, Microsoft, Cisco and Intel all have huge investments in manufacturing and development efforts in places such as India and China. These investments help reduce their cost base which should improve their earnings. But these changes also allow them to look at how products get to market. If you make the kinds of changes these businesses have then you get the chance to rethink everything when it comes to the way you design and manufacturer your products. It is almost like starting again in some ways as you have masses of new brains getting involved. My hunch is that in the next few years you will see the fruits of these changes not just in the costs of the company but in innovation levels. Maybe by then the chasm will have narrowed and maybe the likes of Google will have jumped back across. In the meantime the big tech firms on the lower PEs do face a communications challenge as they try and show that the businesses they are running today bear no resemblance to the ones they ran just a few years ago (which is true) AND that this change is very good news indeed.

The high price of Tech

When I blogged on the importance of Facebook the other day I have to admit I would have struggled to put a $15Bn valuation on the business. That said, Microsoft has effectively done that today making both the purchase of MySpace by News Corp for $580m and Google’s acquisition of YouTube for $1.65Bn look like bargains. It will be fascinating to see what this deal does to the Facebook express train. With this amount of cash they can presumably go global and invest in their platform at a pretty aggressive rate. It will also allow the senior executives to get on with running the company instead of having to go through any rounds of VC funding. That said, it is pretty clear that they’d have had no problem raising money via that route if they’d wanted.

What I find more interesting is that Microsoft took such a small stake. It is pretty clear that they simply wanted to block Google rather than get executive control at this stage. Of course beyond the stock deal there is the ad rights portion. This is where the deal starts to make a lot of sense. The deal effectively gives them the rights to one of the biggest online properties on the planet and for that reason alone you can see why the valuation makes sense.

We have seen Tech valuations rebound quite dramatically this year. We had the VM Ware IPO which has been an amazing success story and now we have this deal. It certainly seems like the investment banks are keen to recoup the losses the banks have made in the mortgage business by some bold tech investments. It will be interesting to see which tech property can outdo these deals. One things for sure – someone will!

Gen F

OK I have to confess when Facebook started to emerge as a hot social networking site earlier this year I couldn’t help but wonder what all the fuss was about. Even when I had it explained to me that Facebook was really more of a platform for all manner of applications I still tended to smile politely and ignore the commentary. When people sent me a message via Facebook it annoyed me – most of my friends on Facebook have my email address so why don’t they just use that I moaned. In the past few weeks though I have been exposed to the generation that made Facebook what it is. This generation doesn’t use Facebook, they live it. If they eat something good they share that morsel with their communities, if they get stuck in an airport they write it on their wall and so on. Photos are posted at an alarming pace and YouTube videos are shared like my grandmother used to share sweets (she was very generous btw). Facebook has also become their messaging palace. Put this together and it is clear that for this generation Facebook has become their online home. If I were Google I’d be a bit scared by this. My generation has got used to Google. We go there and we search. We don’t do much else with Google though. The Gen Fs do a LOT more with Facebook and they spend hours there. Who’s to say they can’t create a search engine with Facebook user recommendations helping guide the results of that search? Indeed there really is no Google app they couldn’t offer through Facebook. To use an analogy, Facebook could be the equivalent of a major TV Network, making Google a bit like TV Guide. This game is FAR from over but the community around Facebook is growing by the day and it is spending a LOT of its day there. For the oldies like me it may feel like a passing fad but if the Gen F people I’ve met are anything to go by, Facebook is here to stay and could well be the one to surpass Google as the dominant player on the Internet.

BTW – using my YouTube metric, Facebook is now above Intel and just behind Starbucks in the number of clips.