Die fundamentalen Defizite des “Blitzscaling” nach Art des Silicon Valley

Von Ralf Keuper

Den Erfolgen der Startups und Internetunternehmen aus dem Silicon Valley wird im Ausland häufig große Bewunderung entgegen gebracht. Respekt flößt vor allem die Fähigkeit vieler Startups ein, ihre Services in kurzer Zeit fast über den gesamten Globus zur Verfügung zu stellen und Millionen von Nutzern an sich zu binden. Reid Hoffman, u.a. Gründer von LinkedIn und Mitglied der sog. “Paypal”-Mafia,  bezeichnet diese Form der Markteroberung  als “Blitzscaling“.

Blitzscaling is a specific set of practices for igniting and managing dizzying growth; an accelerated path to the stage in a startup’s life-cycle where the most value is created. It prioritizes speed over efficiency in an environment of uncertainty, and allows a company to go from “startup” to “scaleup” at a furious pace that captures the market.

Blitzscaling hat im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes seinen Preis: Schon beim Start sind hohe Investitionen nötig, die mehrere hundert Millionen Dollar betragen können. Ob das Geschäftsmodell überhaupt tragfähig ist, bleibt für Jahre ungewiss. Bis dahin aber haben die Newcomer wie Uber oder AirBnb Fakten in Form eines Quasi-Monopols geschaffen, die es anderen Unternehmen sehr schwer machen, noch einen Teil vom Kuchen abzubekommen.

Nicht alle halten “Blitzscaling” für ein Erfolgsmodell, dem es nachzueifern gilt, wie u.a. Tim O’Reilly, der seine Kritik in dem Beitrag The fundamental problem with Silicon Valley’s favorite growth strategy formuliert hat.

Schon allein die Wortwahl weckt ungute Erinnerungen an die Vergangenheit:

Blitzscaling promises to teach techniques that are “the lightning fast path to building massively valuable companies.” Hoffman and Yeh argue that in today’s world, it’s essential to “achieve massive scale at incredible speed” in order to seize the ground before competitors do. By their definition, blitzscaling (derived from the blitzkrieg or “lightning war” strategy of Nazi general Heinz Guderian) “prioritizes speed over efficiency,” and risks “potentially disastrous defeat in order to maximize speed and surprise.”

O’Reilly begründet seine Skepsis am Beispiel des Werdegangs seines eigenen Unternehmens. Im Jahr 1993 lancierte O’Reilly Media GNN, die erste Seite im Internet mit der Möglichkeit, Werbung zu unterstützten. Damit war O’Reilly seiner Zeit voraus – zu weit:

We were so early that we had to persuade the world that advertising was the natural business model for this new medium. We plowed every penny we were making from our business writing and publishing computer-programming manuals into GNN—our own version of throwing hundred dollar bills off the rooftop. And for two years, from 1993 until we sold GNN to AOL in mid-1995, we were the place where people went to go to find new websites.

Schon bald begannen die Marktbedingungen sich zu verändern:

As the commercial web took off, however, it became clear that we couldn’t play by the same rules as we had in the publishing market, where a deep understanding of what customers were looking for, superior products, innovative marketing, and fair prices gave us all the competitive advantages we needed. Here, the market was exploding, and unless we could grow as fast or faster than the market, we’d soon be left behind. And we could see that the only way to do that would be to take in massive amounts of capital, with the price of chasing the new opportunity being the loss of control over the company.

Dieses Muster wiederholte sich mit dem ersten kommerziellen Windows – Web Browser von O’Reilly, Website.

In the case of both GNN and Website, you can see the blitzscaling imperative: a new market is accelerating, and there is a clear choice between keeping up and being left behind. In those two examples, I made a conscious choice against blitzscaling because I had a different vision for my company. But far too many entrepreneurs don’t understand the choice, and are simply overtaken by better-funded competitors who seize the opportunity more boldly. And in too many markets, in the absence of antitrust enforcement, there is always the risk that no matter how much money you raise and how fast you go, the entrenched giants will be able to leverage their existing business to take over the new market you’ve created. That’s what Microsoft did to Netscape, and what Facebook did to Snap.

O’Reilly hätte sich auf ein Spiel einlassen müssen, das er kaum hätte gewinnen können:

Had we followed Hoffman and Yeh’s advice, we would have taken on a contest we were very unlikely to win, no matter how much money we raised or how fast we moved. And even though we abandoned these two opportunities when the blitzscalers arrived, O’Reilly Media has had enormous financial success, becoming a leader in each of our chosen markets.

Die Beispiele, die als als Beleg für den durchschlagenden Erfolg von “Blitzscaling” genannt werden, wie Google, Facebook, Microsoft und Amazon, lässt O’Reilly nicht gelten:

Each of these companies achieved profitability (or in Amazon’s case, positive cash flow) long before its IPO, and growth wasn’t driven by a blitzkrieg of spending to acquire customers below cost, but by breakthrough products and services, and by strategic business model innovations that were rooted in a future that the competition didn’t yet understand. These companies didn’t blitzscale; they scaled sustainably.

In gewisser Hinsicht ist O’Reilly Media das Gegenmodell zum Silicon Valley, wie Greg Satell in The DotCom Bust Could Have Killed O’Reilly Media, But It Learned To Reinvent Its Business Model And Built A New Future schreibt. Momentan vollziehe das Unternehmen den Wandel von einem Verlag zum Geschäft mit Wissen:

“We don’t see ourselves as a book publisher,” Baldwin says. “The book is just a container. What we’re focused on now is packaging the knowledge and know-how of thought leading talent to help our customers make an impact on the world.” That creates more value for O’Reilly’s customers and also provides additional revenue for itself and its authors.

“So, for example, we might contract an author to write a book, but that relationship goes far beyond the publishing date,” Baldwin explains. “They speak and do trainings at our conferences. They do events on our learning platform. They design online training curriculums. Anything that helps us spread knowledge so that it can be used productively.” ..

“There are a number of technologies that are nascent today, from genomics to nanotechnology to new computing architectures like quantum. We see our job as spreading that knowledge, making it actionable and helping people navigate what’s happening.”

Jedenfalls zeigt die Diskussion, dass es für den langfristigen Erfolg eines Geschäftsmodell mehr braucht als Effizienz, Schnelligkeit und Kapital – sofern man Herr im eigenen Haus sein und bleiben möchte.

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