PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

Brace yourselves for the stock market frenzy
February 00

The Freeserve stock market flotation caused a frenzy as once-prosaic and sane City of London business people performed the financial equivalent of throwing off all their clothes and dancing in the fountains. However, this was only some two years after our former colonials of North America had started going barmy doing that sort of thing.

Moreover, since they started, the Americans have been repeating the exercise about 5 times a business day for two years. It is because the whole of US business and industry is seeking to reinvent itself, since their financial community realised much sooner than ours that the incumbent businesses pursuing traditional management and development processes were carrying too much baggage to make the necessary leaps of faith and other unconventional moves required to catch the opportunities.

Worse still, the Gordon Geko-like financiers realised that many (nearly all, if the awful truth be told) traditional businesses were carrying huge overheads that had been completely obviated by the internet. Staff and premises were about to become the horse and cart of the cyber age; and US financiers are not famed for sentimentality where their bank balances are concerned. Businesses in staple commodities like food and drink that cannot (yet) be delivered via a modem have been marking time on the sidelines while the retailers and service providers like banks and stock brokers have been having the proverbial kicked out of them by the new e-fervour.

In the space of a few months, companies like Amazon that cannot make a profit were worth several times the market value of extremely well established, but predictable and baggage-laden, businesses like Barnes and Noble.

The UK has been, typically, rather more cautious. UK management teams are based on a generation that simply has not (until very recently) seen the need to understand IT at the level that the US management teams have been absorbing for the past ten years. The UK educational process is largely to blame – intensive cramming in narrow subject areas until the ages of 21-23 – and then, having done “their bit”, the products of this process traditionally set the career cruise control and head off towards their pensions, with as little distraction as possible. The idea of ongoing education is a recent phenomenon, as is the idea that jobs are now rarely going to be for life.

Moreover, the UK is in real and immediate danger of losing out to other countries. Not simply because of the inertia of our system, but because the government smugly believes that it is doing something useful to create a haven for e-businesses in the UK. Boy are they WRONG. The recent World Trade Organisation talks revealed just how far out of touch economies with restricted and costly practises have become with the real world.

The internet is the great leveller – it means that we are heading towards a world where the developed countries can look forward to a standard of living equivalent to that of the average on the planet – traditionally described as the lifestyle a small town Chinese peasant.

Meantime, UK markets, believing that they are somehow getting the plot, have displayed a quaint view of the new e-conomy, where one of the recent UK signal events concerns some tawdry sporting pastime called “soccer”, m’lud.

A web site called floated on the stock market. For those of us who can’t see the point of a yet another game where the UK national team is ritually humiliated from time to time by Johnny Foreigners of all ilks, why anyone should give a monkey’s cuss about such a thing was a big enough mystery in the place, but then, we are indeed a curious race.

Shares in 365 Corp doubled within minutes of going on sale at London Stock Exchange. At 259p per share the company is valued at around £455m, compared with £285m at the offer price. Little do these folks realise that it is the work of about 4 weeks and $50k max for a team of smart Chinese programmers to replicate then accelerate past anything as simple as an information web site.

I expect that this plea will fall on deaf ears, but please, let’s get back to basics.

The internet was/is hugely exciting as it is every guerilla marketing person's dream, as the epitome of interaction between vendor and buyer; and although it's been through two phases: the early adopters and gurus, followed by some incumbent brand consolidation, it will eventually end up as the great leveller and it will revolutionise business models, and not simply prop up existing retail concepts or existing information sources (like those used at Football 365) with “new channels”. 

Ebay and other auction schemes were a start of that “new” process, but it still has a way to go. I can see the attraction of hitching web properties to existing brands (but then again, so can everyone else with the traditional commercial mindset), but I can also see a more exciting future creating the new European net brands, since there are almost none at all. Europe "got the net" just after the US went from pioneer to first consolidation phase on brands, and there is much evidence building that Europe can support it's own net brands, but the challenge across 20 countries and 5 core languages is considerable.

However the sites are developed, the English language is almost certain to prevail, and guess who handles that better than anyone? Correct, that’s us, just.

So pray for a government that is not distracted and so far up its own arse trying to appease every foreign faction that wants a piece of us from Ireland to French beef to take its eye off this ball, and let dinosaurs like John Prescott and his brainless transport strategies distract the nation from the most pressing issue. We don’t need two jags and his £5 gallon of petrol; we need £5 a month 2Mbit internet connections. OK..? Otherwise the UK’s contribution to the internet will be as great as it is to the world of soccer – a hopeless national team, a national league where all the star players are foreign; but an ability to repurpose information from all over the shop that is mostly going to be popular because of our national language advantage.