While legislator’s concerns about anticompetitive conduct should be taken seriously, nobody seems to have any issue with Big Tech coming in to save the day and deliver toilet paper, snacks, accurate updates, and endless entertainment during a global pandemic.
It’s only been a couple of weeks since members chastised tech companies such as Apple and TikTok for dodging hearings, leaving empty seats at the witness tables to mark their absence. The public relations onslaught against Big Tech and the successes they have amassed has been ongoing for months. Big Tech is the only type of company however with the resources and structure to take on these challenges in a timely fashion, especially given the public demand. Not to mention the efforts they are making to dramatically expand or go beyond their core businesses in the name of pandemic relief. This begs the question: is it truly beneficial to break up the internet giants, and more importantly, what impact would that have on developers in the COVID-19 era?
The Justice Department’s antitrust prosecutors have largely moved their work online. Congressional Antitrust hearings are being conducted virtually. No chamber of government shows any sign of stopping their crusade to break up Big Tech. The last week alone has highlighted the large role these companies play in the global ecosystem. Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube released a joint industry statement with regards to COVID-19 and how they pledge to work together to “jointly (combat) fraud and misinformation about the virus, elevating authoritative content on our platforms, and sharing critical updates in coordination with government healthcare agencies around the world.” In times of crisis, it’s comforting to know that Big Tech is helping to keep the world going ‘round. These large internet companies play an even more critical role in the tech startup lifecycle. Rest assured, they will continue to even when social distancing becomes nothing more than a fond past time.
Nurture a novel idea, develop the product, sell the product, move to the next great idea, repeat. This is a common life cycle for many developer-run companies. The big players reward these innovators with a buyout for the product they created, as well as the freedom to journey on to make their next big thing. Developers thrive by taking those capital investments from Big Tech and then reinvesting them in new projects. Through this cycle, platforms are directly providing early funding through direct investment and via the serial entrepreneur environment. Starting a company is expensive. Large platforms provide tools, training, and market intelligence to assist developer-run startups in their own business development process so that many of these small businesses can get off the ground. This is important for fostering an environment conducive to any startup, but the impact is only further amplified when there is economic uncertainty (such as oh, a pandemic railing the global economy). Then, through acquiring developer run businesses, larger platforms are able to provide the resources startups need to scale, and a safety net and career path for skilled developers through “hire-in” acquisitions.
As such, changes in market access and monetization modeling will have a hard and negative impact on startup funding. This disruption will lead to many promising startups not making it past the vulnerable launch phase. With Corona-fueled economic doom impending, is this really the time to be cutting off these companies’ chances of funding, resources, and success? In plainer terms, do we really want to break up the major funders of small businesses at the most incredibly vulnerable time for small businesses? We can not in good faith be contributing to activities that would harm the building of small businesses in America. Especially, while in the middle of passing major economic stimulus bills to ensure their success. Many startups will not have access to opportunities that were present before the pandemic and the small businesses that survive will need crucial help to rebuild. Developers will need to take advantage of every avenue they can in order for their ideas and businesses to succeed.
Furthermore, in this cycle, the “Developer” title could not be more apt. Developers are in the business of developing, but that means so much more than coding until a piece of software exists. In a way wholly unique to themselves, developers develop ideas that change the way we view and interact with the world. The current crop of corona-related projects spearheaded by the individuals and small businesses in the community is proof of this unique form of innovation. Thus the create-and-sell strategy is inherently what they desire, contrary to the eat-all-the-little-guys rhetoric platforms are being accused of. Developers are serial entrepreneurs with an exit strategy. They crave the opportunity for applied-creativity and world impact. They maximize market efficiency by shifting the focus from launch to scale with the appropriate skills.
Big Tech isn’t perfect, nor do we want to suggest it is. There are many routes for monitoring and policing antitrust violations that can and should be looked at. Breaking up the players that hold the tech ecosystem together, however, will hinder American prominence in the technology space indefinitely. More importantly, it will cause a shock to that system that negatively impacts the global economy during an already dangerous time.