In a post entitled “Time for Google to Cut Up Its Credit Card?” Mike Elgan takes Google to task for spending too much (both in the last quarter and in their future plans). Here’s the core of his argument…
The company is still growing -- net income grew 27 percent to $8.58 billion for the first quarter (compared with the same quarter last year). That's strong growth, but slightly slower earnings-per-share than Wall Street predicted. Google's stock price fell 5.2 percent.
The real problem is the long-term prospects for Google's continued dominance.
Google faces a volatility imbalance between income and spending. Google is an advertising company. Some 99 percent of its revenues come from ads. The trouble is, ad revenue is fragile, and tends to rise and fall with the economy, and changes in the ad market. But costs tend to be more persistent, and tend to rise, rise and rise.
While 27 percent revenue growth sounds good, consider also that spending is growing much faster. In the past year, for example, Google's research costs have increased by 50 percent. Sales and marketing costs have risen 69 percent.
Google announced recently that it's hiring 6,000 new employees this year -- a 23 percent increase in staff. And Google is paying more for the people they've already got.
I don’t think he’s right here and to illustrate that I want to look at what lies ahead for Google. Google has two possible futures right now.
The first is stagnation. In this future they remain dominant in the advertising space but never achieve huge success in other markets. Then, as time goes by, their core business starts to erode and they become a company dedicated to maintaining their monopoly at all cost.
The second possibility is they thrive. To do this they need several successful businesses. Because the biggest part of thriving is hiring and maintaining quality employees. To do that you need to be able to pay well and create an environment that’s enjoyable. That can’t be done with a single product no matter how successful that product might be.
Once you see those two basic possibilities you can properly frame Google’s situation. Right now Google is in a negative feedback loop. It goes like this…
…The company has trouble innovating
…That leads to a bland employee experience
…The bland experience causes quality employees to leave
…Less Talent means more trouble innovating
…And the cycle repeats itself
This is a path to stagnation. If Google allows this trend to continue they’ll be a company dedicated to maintaining a slowly eroding advertising monopoly within five years. That is not something they want.
So the question becomes “How does Google reverse this trend?”
The only part of the above cycle that is within Google's power to fix is the employee exodus. That’s where the spending comes in.
Spending money on additional salary perks and pouring money into innovative products helps retain quality employees and recruit new ones. This gives Google its best shot at avoiding stagnation.
So not only is Google right to spend money they’d be dooming themselves if they didn’t.