Looking at the carnage in the stock prices of Fitbit and GoPro, which both gave disappointing guidance to investors this week, Fortune’s Aaron Pressman makes an important observation: Making hardware is hard.
He’s right. Fitbit and GoPro aim to position themselves as “ecosystem” plays, like Apple, Pressman notes. Here are a couple of problems with that. First, there’s Apple, which made the Flip, a fine digital video recorder, obsolete by incorporating videos into the iPhone. Apple might similarly vacuum up the market for wearable cameras and fitness trackers too. The other problem is capital. If you’re trying to sell at retail, including to Amazon (which appears to have menaced GoPro), it helps to have a strong balance sheet.
The irony is that Fitbit and GoPro are among the best. Each has profitably captured the imagination of consumers. Yet each is a small fry compared to the giants of consumer electronics.
On a related note, it’s worth looking a little more at what happens when tech giants buy tech minnows. Earlier this week I made the case for worthwhile tech acquisitions, despite the conventional wisdom that they don’t work. Some smart readers offered examples to buttress my argument.
Fortune startup watcher Kia Kokalitcheva, for example, sent me four smart buys privately held Snap has made: Scan, which became Snapchat’s “Snapcodes”; Looksery, the backbone of the “lenses” feature that Facebook has since copied; Vergence Labs, the foundation of Snapchat’s anticipated connected eyeware; and Bitstrips, maker of Bitmoji. “I’m totally addicted to sending ‘friendmoji’ to my roommates via the app,” Kokalitcheva tells me. I have no idea what she’s talking about, but I am persuaded by her argument.
Former Microsoft bigwig Steven Sinofsky reacted to my having knocked Microsoft’s acquisitions history by pointing me to some good deals. These include Forethought, which became PowerPoint, and Vermeer Technologies, which led to SharePoint.
Finally, venture capitalist Dana Settle of Greycroft praised Google for buying YouTube, especially in contrast to News Corp.’s acquisition of MySpace. “One invested heavily in” the company it bought, and the “other starved it,” she wrote. You can easily guess which was which.