Thursday, October 28, 2010

Microvision: What Business Growth Strategy?

Every business has to plan for growth and executives should make sure their growth plans are consistent with their dynamic business plan. A dynamic business plan is an updated version that is kept current to reflect the ever-changing business-operating environment. Especially in the technology and DOT.com businesses, where the product cycles are so short and consumer preferences are mostly dependent on the next hot product or service.

When it comes to growth plans, the two ends of the spectrum are, for example, should a company grow quickly and unprofitably, like Amazon and Hotmail─ before it got acquired by Microsoft for $480 million, or slowly with a careful eye on the bottom line, like Ben & Jerry's ice cream parlors? It all depends on how much venture capital you have access to and what the competition is doing!

The worst thing you can do is fail to decide whether you're going to be a Ben & Jerry's company, or a Hotmail company, or an Amazon company.

There are three possible scenarios when focusing on the challenges of growing a business and picking the right growth model that is consistent with your business plan and positions you for whatever your ultimate goal is…

Number one: you want to be the gorilla of your industry in a hurry like Amazon.
Number two: you want to ramp-up your business fast and position for an acquisition like Hotmail.
Number three: you want to be a brick and mortar company producing steady profits like Ben & Jerry’s.

Regardless of what your business model is, the CEO and the CFO of the company need to formalize their business growth strategy and evangelize to the man in-charge of running the day-to-day operation of the business. Building a company is no small task? You've got one very important decision to make, because it affects everything else you do. No matter what else you do, you absolutely must figure out which camp you're in, and gear everything you do accordingly, or you're going to have a disaster on your hands.

THE DECISION MAKING PROCESS:

Whether to grow slowly, organically, and profitably, or whether to have a big bang with very fast growth with lots of capital spent in a hurry, that is the question?

The first model, popularly called "Get Big Fast" (a.k.a. "Land Grab"), requires you to raise a lot of capital, and work as quickly as possible to get big fast without concern for profitability. I'm going to call this the “Amazon”, because Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has practically become the celebrity spokes-model for Get Big Fast.

The second model is called "Hotmail for Sale or Fail". As for the name of our model “Hotmail for Sale or Fail”, I just made it up to make the point. This model requires you to raise only a small amount of capital, position for acquisition, and work as quickly as possible to build momentum to show there is promise of getting big fast… without concern for profitability. I'm going to call this “Hotmail” model, because Hotmail fits this model very well.

The third model, organic growth model, is to start small, with limited goals, and slowly build a business over a long period of time. I'm going to call this “Ben & Jerry’s” model, because Ben & Jerry’s fit this model pretty well.

Now the question is: “where on earth does the Microvision business model fit-in?"

The short answer is...

 "Nowhere"

Microvision’s current business growth strategy is either non-existent or is severely flawed after the green laser debacle of late… that still continues to haunt Microvision even after 4 years.

Here’s one clue to the non-existent, or flawed, business growth strategy…

In early 2007, Alex Tokman, CEO of Microvision, was quite aware of the following facts…
*  Embedded pico projector was to be the holly grail for Microvision.
*  Without diode RGB lasers; the power, size, and cost of the laser light source based on SHG green lasers would be prohibitive for embedded applications.
*  In 2007, diode green lasers were 4 to 5 years away… as like in 2011/2012 time frame.
If you were to assume correctly, and AT was aware of these facts as early as in 2007, then why in hell his management team carried-on with an army of personnel in SG&A [and R&D] to continually spend over $12 million dollars every Qtr for the last four years. If AT had used this readily available information and some gumption to control costs to say $6 million per Qtr… today there would be lot less pressure to raise money to continue with operations─ while still waiting for diode/SHG green lasers, because Microvision would have saved over $96 million dollars in costs without sacrificing much.

Microvision management should have either changed their business growth strategy to “hunker down” and coast on a low cost/low profile basis until the green laser technology was mature enough with more plausible cost and performance metrics… or let someone else run the company, instead of pushing the company hard on the downward spiral of financial gloom and doom while waiting for diode/SHG green lasers.

Microvision’s current business growth strategy assures that they will continue to lose money-- as they are now… and continue to do so all of the next year and five years from now. The cost and availability of green lasers today, or a year or two from now, plays a role but its financial impact on the bottom-line profitability is very small when you consider the vicious [large volume/lower cost/lower absolute dollar margin] cycle associated with commodity products such as PDEs and IPMs that are sold to consumer product OEMs.

As long as Microvision corporate management is fixated on just selling their laser light based PDEs and IPMs in an OEM market that has all the makings of a commodity market… they will be at the mercy of the OEMs; for consumer product introduction time-lines, consumer product pricing, product marketing, and commodity component pricing with no pricing power.

Just look around and tell me if you see any embedded mobile phone camera makers or the touch screen makers [for things like iPad or iPhone] making any money worth crowing about. On the other hand, consumer product OEMs like Apple, with vision and gumption, come to market with one consumer product at a time─ on their terms, and rake-in billions in revenue and profits.

The current Microvision business model calls for hundreds of millions in sales of PDEs and IPMs to make a few millions dollars in net profit in a commodity type pricing environment … and that too, if and when the OEM customers let that happen.

Microvision still has time to re-configure its business growth model and seriously consider launching its own branded consumer products ─ possibly in partnership with large OEMs; and be the shaker, baker, and maker of its own destiny.

Just take the current situation of Microvision patiently waiting on its hands and feet─ and spending $12 million dollars per Qtr; while the OEM for the High End Media Player (HEMP) procrastinates on product configuration, product introduction time-lines, and product marketing and pricing issues.

In the best case scenario, the current Microvision business model can, in a year or two, only produce modest earnings growth of perhaps 12% per years for many years to come… and may never come even close to the hyper growth in revenue and earnings that we once believed was possible.

Anant Goel