All Things to All People Redux

Remember Compaq? You may remember it as part of HP and the lengthy acquisition. Before things fell apart Compaq was a high flying PC maker that famously declared their vision as

“Delivering all things to all customers”

In 2000 when things were starting to unravel, after being thrown off by Dell and Gateway, an analyst wrote

“They need to realize that Compaq cannot be all things to all people,” he said. “Compaq needs to focus its limited resources on those things that will provide maximum bang for the buck.”

The recommendation was , focus and choosing a fewer bets over spreading too thin. In other words, strategy.

Last week we heard from another company on their vision.

“Anything you want on, on Earth you’re gonna get from us.”

Be it retailing, computing, entertainment or tablets. It is all things to all people.

And they are ploughing investments into every kind of infrastructure and technology to live up to that battle cry. For now they have no pressure whatsoever from their investors to do otherwise or were asked to, “focus limited resources on things that will provide maximum bang for the buck”.

Somehow the investors and analysts believe a single business can serve all customers and excel at it. Somehow they all believe all those disparate businesses will start paying off when the company turns on the profit switch.

When a business plays in every possible field it has competition from every possible player out there. Fortunately for them the competition is coming only from bigger players they can keep their eyes on. And these players  do not have the same freedom with their investing community.

Disruption comes not from bigger players but from many smaller players. Can they handle disruptions that erupt in every small corner? Will they start yielding smaller areas and suffer impact to their growth story or try to plough more to defend in every market?