From Polaroid to GoPro: How Success Factors of Businesses change

GoPro and Polaroid have a lot in common.  Yet, their respective successes were build on different factors. Learn how sources of differentiation have changed for companies over time and what this means for investors.

Identifying a company, which looks promising today is one thing. Assessing whether this business will be successful in the future, however is another thing.

Many businesses look attractive today. Pundits, media outlets as well as other prophets of investing are not shy to praise them. Yet, are you sure that five years from now the company will still look attractive? Stakes can change quickly in an industry, and even for people who have first-hand knowledge of an industry it is not always easy to foresee change. In 2000, a Blockbuster Video executive laughed at the offer to buy Netflix at $ 50 million. In 1997 Apple stock traded at $ 17 a share. Back then, Michael Dell was asked what he would do with Apple. He said that he would shut the company down and give the money back to the shareholders. Industries and businesses change over time.

“So that means I should only invest in companies, which are protected through a wide economic moat?”, you ask. Great question, which brings us to the next and crucial point. Investors like to point out economic moats. Yet there is a problem with economic moats. At a certain point of time they may appear to offer long-term protection for a company. In the long run though, even they may be subject to change. Some past moats don’t sustain, and new ones emerge. Many kinds of competitive advantages have become more and more temporary over the past years and barriers to entry have declined, as we will discuss in more detail later. Such developments lead to a constant transformation of industries, which in turn makes predicting change even more important.

Yet, predicting change is among the investor’s toughest challenges. The development of a business depends on many factors and we don’t have crystal balls.

While we may not be able to develop visionary powers, there are a few ways in which we can enhance our investor’s tool belt and our ability to foresee change.

image credits: Roberto Caucino, Shutterstock

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