Marc Andreessen famously coined the phrase “software is eating the world.” It’s an apt observation. If you look back on the history of computing you’re likely to measure computers sold or devices sold or users harvested or productivity gained. These things are measured because they can be measured. But the greatest cause of value created and captured has been the development of software. An ephemeral product whose value is often ignored in analytical discourse.
Software is not easily measured and it’s not easily valued due to its intractable nature. Firstly, because businesses that make software tend to have weird cost structures–absurdly high fixed costs and operating margins: They operate without income for years and then suddenly are massively profitable with a minimal set of resources. They have a non-linear, “big bang” trajectory.
Secondly, software companies tend to capture revenues from something other than the direct sale of the good. Software is rarely sold. Services sometimes are sold on the basis of software but more likely audiences for services are sold to a set of bidders, or revenue is obtained in even more circuitous ways.
Thirdly, because there are curious multi-sided markets for software platforms. Charlie Kindel hints strongly at how difficult it is to understand the dynamics of software platforms. There is the prospect of lock-in of users and data. There are relationships to nurture with developers and there’s the principle of an ecosystem that creates network effects. The virtuous/vicious cycles are non-linear and unpredictable even for the experts who have been at it for decades (e.g. Microsoft).