A non-Brexit post – Remember Microsoft and LinkedIn?

Remember when all we had to worry about was whether Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn was going to work? It still matters. And I am a cautious optimist that the deal is a good one.

Full disclosure: I want LinkedIn to succeed. A chunk of my professional network is embedded in LinkedIn. It’s drifted downwards for the past several years and I’ve been very concerned.

Why am I optimistic about the deal? The CEO of Microsoft is not Steve Ballmer. It’s Satya Nadella.

With little fanfare, Nadella has maneuvered Microsoft into a strong second place in the cloud computing business. Amazon rules the roost but under Nadella, Microsoft web services are now head and shoulders ahead of the likes of HP, IBM, etc.

Under Nadella, Microsoft has become a company that plays the partnership game well — that is most unlike the Microsoft of the past.

Yes, Microsoft has had notable screw ups in its acquisitions. Those happened on the previous CEO’s watch.

So it looks like LinkedIn has hooked up with a good partner.

Why am I cautious?

LinkedIn’s track record in product management is poor.

Only if you’ve been in cryogenic stasis for the past five years could you have missed the fact that search and mobile are critical areas of functionality. On mobile, LinkedIn is really troublesome. It seems impossible for LinkedIn to figure out how to sync its mobile apps and desktop.

In search, LinkedIn is still missing very basic features. Don’t believe me? Just try to search the history of newsfeed posts by a specific member. You can’t even go to their home page and trawl through old posts.

Other social network tools have mobile and search sorted. So we’re not talking about an off-the-chart technical risk. It’s about focus and execution. I’ve poked LinkedIn product management about this several times in the the past few years. There’s been little improvement.

Why can’t LinkedIn deliver, despite years of trying? I’m not privy to product planning meetings but I did go through a similar situation at Alias. Customers in our two biggest markets seemed to be pulling in opposite directions. They were unhappy with the pace of development. Competitors were circling for the kill.

We could see the process and resource gaps. The problem was on the soft skills side; I.e. how to get sales, product management, engineering and customers in multiple markets to agree on priorities and timelines.

The ability to respond to problems of this nature is rooted in culture. Do you have a pull-together culture or a divide-and-conquer culture? Alias had a strong pull-together culture. Divide-and-conquer cultures make alignment very difficult to achieve, if not impossible. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” according to Peter Drucker. He’s right.

Can the new, kinder, gentler Microsoft nudge LinkedIn to sort out its chronic problems in mobile and search?

Microsoft says it won’t interfere. As a rule, interfering parent companies are bad… but this might be the exception that proves the rule.

Geoff Foulds
Geoff Foulds
What fascinates me are the edges. And nowhere are the edges edgier… the stakes higher… than startups. There are plenty of sources of friction, compression and tension among founders and financiers, engineers and marketeers. How do you mesh all the edges so they transmit power even when loads are heavy? That’s what I write about.

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