For anyone who wonders if Apple can maintain its creative edge and remain on top without Steve Jobs, Bill Frezza, a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a Boston-based venture capitalist, poses another simple question – Remember Polaroid?
As Frezza chronicles in Forbes, Polaroid was once the apple of Wall Street’s eye. Like Apple, Polaroid had a charismatic founder, Edwin Land – who is second only to Thomas Edison in the number of patents he received. “Where Jobs was the impresario of form, function, and business model, Land was the wizard of optics, chemistry, and physics,” writes Frezza. He also notes that Land’s patent victory over Kodak, a supplier that tried to steal Polaroid’s technology to launch a competitive instant camera, is strikingly similar to the recent Apple/Samsung battle won by, you guessed it, Apple.
Yet Polaroid’s time at the top was short-lived because the limited capabilities of Polavision instant movies couldn’t compete with emerging videotape technologies. And, today, little remains of Polaroid.
Could competition take a bite out of Apple’s seemingly untouchable market share? According to Frezza, the day Apple “stops building insanely great products, the day it loses its knack for thrilling loyal customers with new releases, the day a younger generation turns up its nose to chase a brand that’s fresh and new is the day the grim reaper goes to work. And this is as it should be, freeing up the capital and talent necessary to build the next great company, the consumer making the ultimate choice between winners and losers.”
He concludes with a simple statement that rings true throughout the decades. “Capitalism only works if companies are allowed to succeed and fail – on their own merits, in their own time, with their fate dependent on pleasing customers, not politicians.”
Clearly, Frazza is no fan of the notion that some companies are “too big to fail.” He notes, “The death of companies is always painful. But out of death comes rebirth, a cycle we interfere with at our peril.” I couldn’t agree more.
And, if you are interested in learning more about Polaroid’s founder, check out his biography Insisting on the Impossible.