Characteristics of Monopolies

  • Focus on durability of your business!
    • The overwhelming importance of future profits is counterintuitive even in Silicon Valley. For a company to be valuable it must grow and endure, but many entrepreneurs focus only on short-term growth. They have an excuse: growth is easy to measure, but durability isn’t.

    • If you focus on near-term growth above all else, you miss the most important question you should be asking: will this business still be around a decade from now? Numbers alone won’t tell you the answer; instead you must think critically about the qualitative characteristics of your business.

    1. Proprieatary technology
    • Proprietary technology is the most substantive advantage a company can have because it makes your product difficult or impossible to replicate.

    • As a good rule of thumb, proprietary technology must be at least 10 times better than its closest substitute in some important dimension to lead to a real monopolistic advantage. Anything less than an order of magnitude better will probably be perceived as a marginal improvement and will be hard to sell, especially in an already crowded market.

    1. Network effects
    • Network effects make a product more useful as more people use it. For example, if all your friends are on Facebook, it makes sense for you to join Facebook, too. Unilaterally choosing a different social network would only make you an eccentric. Network effects can be powerful, but you’ll never reap them unless your product is valuable to its very first users when the network is necessarily small.

    1. Economies of scale
    • Economies of Scale A monopoly business gets stronger as it gets bigger: the fixed costs of creating a product (engineering, management, office space) can be spread out over ever greater quantities of sales. Software startups can enjoy especially dramatic economies of scale because the marginal cost of producing another copy of the product is close to zero. Many businesses gain only limited advantages as they grow to large scale. Service businesses especially are difficult to make monopolies.

    1. Branding
    • A company has a monopoly on its own brand by definition, so creating a strong brand is a powerful way to claim a monopoly.