From Piranha to Great White Shark – Evolution in the Digital Marketplace

The marketplace is not unlike nature; both are filled with fierce competition, survival and extinction, tremendous diversity, changes to the environment, and seemingly infinite techniques to thrive. 

Nowadays, we’re seeing species especially hard hit by climate change, like polar bears, or species threatened by changes in habitat, such as tigers and other large predatory mammals. And we’re seeing the marketplace equivalent with markets moving from brick and mortar to online, like the travel industry for example, and other industries’ natural habitats, if you will, are shrinking, like Western manufacturing.

John Cambers, chairman of S&P 500-listed company Cisco Systems, predicts that within the next 10 years 40% of all businesses will go extinct unless they modify their business models to incorporate new technologies. 

Building on the wildlife metaphor, one finds three distinct species of online companies: great white sharks, piranhas, and swordfish. These digital beasts are the companies which can thrive in their new online environment.

The most obvious are the digital great whites. These are the massive online companies— companies often native to their digital environments. Google, Facebook and Amazon, to name a few, are perfect examples of the digital great whites and are characterized by diverse product portfolios and massive assets. And with a substantial market presence, it follows that there tend to be very few of these behemoths, much like their aquatic versions. 

Where the great white shark has a tremendous appetite to fit its size, a digital great white like Google has to stay competitive by having a presence in many industries. In entertainment, Google has YouTube and Google Play, the dominant Android app distributor. Google Fonts and Web Designer help Google stay competitive in designing software, an area traditionally dominated by Apple, another digital great white. In order to stay at the top R&D is often made a priority and to that end Google has been expanding their artificial intelligence portfolio of late. 

The digital piranhas are the species that a digital David Attenborough might want to keep his or her eye on. Companies like these are small but highly competitive and aggressive towards their prey. BlaBlaCar, Shazam and slack are but a few in this school.

Most of these companies stay heavily focused on their products. Unlike the digital great whites, they stay focused on their specific, sometimes even niche, markets and prioritize specialization over diversification. Their competition is almost exclusively those companies that offer the same products. And like real-world piranhas they need to stay fast and fit to have a chance to dominate the market. 

The iGaming industry is a perfect example of the fierce competition and product-centric business models that are so prevalent in this digital species. Online casinos bgo and Mr Green offer customers free spins and matched deposits in order to entice customers and stay competitive. The iGaming industry is further representative of digital piranhas inasmuch as they have yet to reach their maturity. By incentive and specialization they are hoping to corner the market and with such fierce competition their products and development can be some of the quickest.

Somewhere lying between piranhas and great whites are the swordfish. Not quite as agile as the piranha, not yet as diverse as the great white, companies like Airbnb, Netflix or Zalando are big and fast enough that they are rarely threatened. 

Their market share means that it’s unlikely they will disappear anytime soon. While digital piranhas can come and go the chances of an Uber, for example, vanishing overnight is unlikely. Still more numerous than the great whites, a few companies tend to lead the way for whatever industry they are in. 


“IMG_0407” (CC BY 2.0) by swruler9284

Nearly at peak growth, these companies still have a chance of growth, but focus on expanding their models on vertical-specific products. To take an example, as a company which started by posting DVDs, then broadband streaming, Netflix is poised to become a global TV and film producer. With series like Marseille, what would have traditionally been reserved to an exclusively French audience can now be viewed around the world thanks to subtitles. Netflix has come quite a way since those red envelopes. For the digital swordfish it’s vital that they remain innovative enough to begin branching out into industries complementary to their core competencies.

As it is in the animal kingdom, in the digital marketplace evolution holds a great many surprises and none can immediately say what will or won’t succeed.

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