Few companies make it to top and even the ones that do rarely stay there for a long period of time. The top spot remains a spot to be shared and envied by others who have never made it there. Companies need to be constantly aware of changes in their environment and market lest they lose relevance and become obsolete. With today’s rapid technological change, companies rise and fall faster than ever before. Companies need to continually innovate and reinvent themselves and their product offering(s) to stay in business. Here are three tech giants that once soared high to such enviable position but have now fallen short of their past glory:

1. RIM

Research-In-Motion was founded Mike Lazaridis and his friend Doug Fregin in 1984 while still undergraduates at the University of Waterloo. RIM came around during the early days of wireless networks and when email was still largely unknown in the world but Lazaridis foresaw the potential of mobile email. Can you pause and imagine a world where you cannot check your email inbox on the go? Even though a lot of people prefer other modern means of communication like Twitter, Google+ and Facebook, no one can deny that emails are still important and relevant especially in the corporate world.

The sum of the efforts put together by Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin lead to the innovation of the smartphone device called Blackberry. Blackberry became popular and changed the way organizations back then operated. A Blackberry device was very important then that some of the most powerful people in business and politics ran their lives with this device. Blackberry evolved over years to be a popular choice amongst a large number of people. It has however fallen from grace leading to disappointing sales figures. One popular but probably true opinion about RIM’s gradual decline amongst techies is that the typical Blackberry has not evolved (like iPhone, Android) into “a mobile computer in your pocket” but has rather stayed as “a highly functional mobile phone”.

RIM’s recent line of new Blackberry smartphone releases has not been impressive – the new set of phones lack differentiating features, making new releases just mere alterations of their predecessors. RIM has also not been able to create an attractive enough software ecosystem that can attract developers that can develop high end mobile apps – leaving Blackberry users with limited options of apps. With the earliest date of the release of the next line of devices (Blackberry 10) shifted to next year 2013, the question still remains “Will Blackberry 10 Save RIM or is it Too Late?”.

2. Nokia 

Nokia for 14 years was the strongest and largest mobile phone hardware manufacturing companies leading in innovation, design and market delivery. But like RIM, Nokia could not also create a large ecosystem for developers like Apple and Google did with Android within a short period of time. Nokia’s genius in making hardware hasn’t been questionable and what it seemed to lack in software wizardry it made up with durable and powerful hardware. Nokia was a leader across the high-end market to low-end market of mobile devices raking in cash and was an investor’s delight. It all became a different story starting from October, 2007 when Nokia’s stock price started to freefall from its second highest peak at approximately US$40. Nokia’s fall from grace also coincided with the rise of Apple’s iPhone.

While Apple was reinventing the smartphone with iPhone, Nokia seemed to be lost in a state of euphoria and did not see the need to attack Apple urgently afterall Nokia dominated the mid-range and the low-end market of phones. Google followed the Apple’s lead by releasing its own version of a mobile operating system called Android in 2008. Nokia’s demise however became obvious after Google perfected its Android’s strategy by offering Android to hardware manufacturers. This was a brilliant strategy as it provided Google’s Android with the ability of competing on the high-end market all the way down to the low-end market of mobile devices. This coverage attracted a large developer base who have helped Google build the only mobile apps ecosystem that can dare to compete with Apple’s iOS apps ecosystem in terms of volume and quality.

On the dawn of these developments, Nokia had three options: pursue MeeGo which was Nokia’s in-house high-end operating system, side with Android, or partner with Microsoft and adopt Windows Phone. Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop (a former Microsoft employee) decided to partner with Microsoft and adopt Windows with the argument that it was not a battle of devices, but a war of ecosystems. He argued that Windows Phone was more market-ready than MeeGo and with Microsoft’s partnership, Windows Phone and its ecosystem would mature quickly. If Nokia had sided with Android, Nokia would had become Android’s largest partner even bigger than Samsung but Elop argued that it wouldn’t had offered Nokia the differentiation it needed. With Windows Phone Nokia could release something unprecedented into the market which it did with the release of Nokia Lumia 800 in November of 2011. Nokia has also released some other models of Nokia Lumia which although having the necessary features of a smartphone are not selling in high demand leading to a disappointing shipment of a little above 2 million devices. Nokia still makes a lot of money from low-end phones though but the volume of sales has dropped substantially.

3. Yahoo

Yahoo was founded in 1994 by two Standford grad students, Jerry Yang and David Filo. The story known about Yahoo’s creation was that Jerry and David were both doing their PhD theses and all the technical papers that they would have to reference were online, so they were trying to keep track of them all. They had a big list and had to start categorizing when the list got too bogus. So in short, Yahoo started as a portal for links to other sites. Yahoo however increased its product offerings with the addition of a search engine, email, instant messaging and some other functionalities. One of Yahoo’s early mistakes was not taking the search engine business seriously and therefore losing the competition to Google. Paul Graham strongly suggest in one of his articles that Yahoo lost the battle mainly because its management then did not understand the power of search engines then. The power of search engines is that it is usually the first destination of Internet users when they need to use the Internet because it presented the Internet in an organized form as opposed to the chaotic manner of the Internet. No wonder Google is a top Internet destination today accounting for a large percentage of the Internet’s traffic.

After losing out in the search engine business, another missed opportunity moment for Yahoo was in the social networking which is already changing today’s social interactions and relationships. Yahoo wasn’t entirely oblivious to social networking though it actually approached Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook with a bid of $1 billion. However, this effort like the efforts of many other ‘buyers’ wasn’t successful as Facebook wanted to take over the world all alone. However Google unlike their counterpart Yahoo had a foray into social networking with an in-house built Orkut named after its creator, a Google employee by the name Orkut Büyükkökten. Orkut more or less failed though but Google can now count that as a blessing as it has appeared to learn from its mistakes with Orkut reflecting in its second attempt with Google+.

It is however interesting to see Yahoo’s board making the bold and strategic move of poaching Marrisa Mayer from Google as its new CEO. Marrissa Mayerr was the first female engineer and among the first 20 people hired at Google. She was known to be a major force behind Google’s simple user interface. For 10 years, she was involved with the running of Google’s core search business while the company demolished its competitors like AltaVista, Lycos, Excite and even Yahoo. Before her recent appointment as the CEO of Yahoo she was assigned with the role of the VP of location and local services for Google. Part of her responsibility in this role was to oversee more than 1000 engineers and product managers working on Google Maps, Google Places and Google Earth on the global scale.

It’s however too early to predict whether she can rescue Yahoo but with her experience at Google starting from its early days she is likely to succeed. She’s also a risk taker (successful one at that) and also a woman to be reckoned with in the world of technology today.

Conclusion

It is worth-noting that it might not be the end for these companies who despite facing these challenges could rise above them and remain relevant and in existence. Apple was once faced with a similar situation and it excelled under the leadership of Steve Jobs after his comeback to Apple. Nokia also is no a stranger to challenging times. In the early 1990s Finland suffered a severe economic depression. Nokia responded by focusing on its telecommunications divisions, and by divesting itself of its television and PC divisions. These moves lead to Nokia’s meteoric rise to become the dominant telecommunications company of its time.

With the appointment of Marrisa Meyer at Yahoo!, the future of Yahoo! looks less bleak as she is capable of reviving the company and could take it to new heights. For RIM however, the future still appears bleak but hopefully its CEO Thorsten Heins will be able to revive it.

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