DEC used to give a turkey to every employee at Thanksgiving. At its peak, that was 140,000 turkeys. An employee once suggested to Ken Olsen that they buy a turkey farm. Olsen didn’t. What would Google do?
There are a couple of principles here. Firstly, companies should stick to their knitting. When computer companies buy turkey farms, or credit card companies get into cable television (American Express’s doomed joint venture with Warner) or food companies buy tobacco firms (Nabisco and RJ Reynolds Tobacco) the outcome is seldom happy. We all like a good story, and there’s always a good story about why these unions should work, but they almost never do.
Similarly, Google can spin a story to justify getting into the electric car business, or why they should invest in biotech, but these smell like post-hoc rationalisations of the unjustifiable. In the case of 23andMe, the stench is putrid – a classic case of corporate misgovernance, with Sergey Brin using his company’s assets to make a private investment in his wife’s company.
This brings me to the second principle. If the only thing a company can do with shareholders’ money is to piss it up the wall on the founders’ playthings then they should return the capital to shareholders. They can then piss it up walls of their own if they want to.
Google would buy the turkey farm.