This week’s podcast is about why intangible assets are so important in operations, competitive moats and valuation. They are central to digital businesses – but confusing.
You can listen to this podcast here, which has the slides and graphics mentioned. Also available at iTunes and Google Podcasts.
Here is the mentioned AI company HeyGen (previously called Movio.la).
Here is the link to the China Tech Tour.
McKinsey’s Framework for Intangible Assets
- Innovation / Creative Assets. This is any time, effort or money spent developing intellectual property. This includes content creation, such as entertainment and artistic originals. And it includes other types of content such as mapping and user generated content. But it can also include R&D in new product development, improved customer interfaces and improved user experiences (whether digital or physical). The term “innovation capital” is a good description of these types of intangible assets, which we see frequently in digital businesses.
- Digital and Analytics Assets. This is any time, effort or money spent developing, maintaining, and advancing digital assets and capabilities. This includes software, data warehouses, digital infrastructure, and other digital and data capabilities. This includes pretty much everything in the digital operating basics. It also includes CRM software, ecommerce interfaces, data analytics models and algorithms and so on. I like that they separated this as a category from intellectual property and content assets. The title “digital and analytics capital” is great.
- Human and Relational Assets. This has two sub-types. This is any time, effort or money spent on:
- Building individual or organizational skills through training within an organization. So, this is your talent strategy – which includes specialist skills and capabilities but also social and emotional skills. This also includes relations and interactions within organizations, such as organizational and managerial capabilities. You can put adaptability and resilience here.
- Building ecosystems and networks external the organization is also important. This is relationships and partnerships with suppliers, complements and data partners. This is where Digital Operating Basics 4 as well as Consumption Ecosystems would go.
- Brand Assets. This is any time, effort or money spent to maintain or increase brand equity. This is an important category, but the name is not great. Relationships with current and potential customers is an important intangible asset (often called brand equity). This can include capabilities that build and maintain these relationships – such as loyalty programs, promotions, and fan clubs. Customer service and churn and retention initiatives are also very important.
- Why I Really Like Amazon’s Strategy, Despite the Crap Consumer Experience (US-Asia Tech Strategy – Daily Article)
- Why Netflix and Amazon Prime Don’t Have Long-Term Power. (2 of 2) (US-Asia Tech Strategy – Daily Article)
From the Concept Library, concepts for this article are:
- Intangible assets
- Valuation: Digital Valuation
From the Company Library, companies for this article are:
Photo by Ilya Pavlov on Unsplash
Welcome, welcome everybody. My name is Jeff Towson and this is the Tech Strategy Podcast where we analyze the best digital businesses in the US, China and Asia. And the topic for today, four types of intangible assets in digital businesses. So that’s not really like the sexiest or most compelling title I’ve ever come up with. And I think this is gonna be pretty short today, but it’s an important subject. It’s something I’ve been spending kind of a lot of time working on. I’ve got a new book coming out in a month or two. And a lot of it’s on intangible assets, because it’s just the center of most digital businesses and most traditional businesses that are going digital. But there’s not a lot of great frameworks for thinking about it. The financial statements are no help whatsoever. It’s kind of buried in the numbers, but it’s really important. So I thought I’d go through like two or three things that you need to know this for, why it’s important. And then I’ll give you a framework for this, which is a McKinsey framework, it’s not mine. Those of you who are subscribers, I’ve sent you two emails in the last week or so, pretty dense about this subject and laying out, you know. I think that covered it pretty good, but I wanna kind of talk a bit more about it and bubble up what I think are the most important points. So that’s what we’ll do for today. And let’s see, those of you who are not subscribers, feel free to go over to jefftausen.com. You can sign up there, free 30 day trial, see what you think. Standard disclaimer, nothing in this podcast or in my writing or website is investment advice. The numbers and information from me and any guests may be incorrect. The views and opinions expressed may no longer be relevant or accurate. Overall, investing is risky. This is not investment, legal or tax advice. Do your own research. And with that, let’s just jump right into the content. Now, there’s no real concepts for today other than intangible assets, which is kind of a big bucket, a lot of thinking there. You can go over to the concept library on my webpage and you’ll see intangible assets listed there. And I’m gonna start building that out. But really, most of what I’ve talked about with intangible assets thus far has been related to valuation. If you’re gonna do a reproduction value, intangible assets, like intangible assets could be intellectual property. You own the rights to Iron Man. That would be an important asset if you were gonna buy Disney or whatever. But it’s an asset, so reproduction value, that would be one. Technology, digital skills, I’ll go through a lot of these, but it’s kind of a big fuzzy category. And I’ve mostly looked at it in terms of valuation. But the book that’s coming out, and this is gonna be a sort of a co-authored book between me and Jonathan Wetzel at McKinsey about- really motes and marathons competition. Well, a big part of that is the digital assets and the intangible assets that one company has in another. So it’s a big part of competition. Something I haven’t really talked about too much. When you start to look at, let’s say the operating, I’ve sort of said for a long time that you have to compete on two levels. You have to compete on operating performance and you have to compete on structural advantages motes. Well, it turns out intangibles are all over that. If you’re talking about moats, well, most competitive advantages, barriers to entry, moats, they are the manifestation of assets, capabilities, and resources that a company has acquired. If Walmart spends 20 years building stores, that is their operating activity. We build and manage stores, but the assets that are created, the stores become the competitive advantage. So the way I’ve always thought about it is competitive advantage has two sides of a coin. One side is the advantage you can see, and the other side is the resources, capabilities, and assets that manifest that. And there’s a whole lot of competition theory on resource-based competition. Capabilities-based competition. Well, when we start talking about digital companies, it’s a lot of intangible assets, intellectual property, proprietary technology. Locked in customers those would all be intangible assets, but it’s also the resources look this company has 5,000 let’s say not 5,000 this company has a thousand engineers with deep expertise and semiconductors Okay, there’s very few companies in the world that have that in fact It’s incredibly hard to get people with deep semiconductor expertise There are very small group of people and everyone’s trying to steal them from TSMC right now that resource, not an asset, you’d call that probably more of a resource, that would be an intangible asset. So this sort of assets, resources, capabilities, it can all kind of blur together, but you start to look at it in terms of operating ability. But then when you start to look at moats, structural advantages, competitive advantages, barriers to entry, well, most of those are also manifestation of the same thing. If we were talking about Blockbuster in 1995, the biggest barrier to entry they probably had was their big footprint of stores, those assets, tangible assets in this case, that was the barrier. And then it got disrupted and it became a big cost structure that was a burden. Okay, so operating activity, operating ability, intangibles matter. Competitive structures, structural advantages, moats, intangibles matter. And then of course, evaluation. You know, when you’re starting to look at value created by a company in the past versus value created in the future, we might look at return on invested capital. We put a million dollars into this business over five years and it’s making 20%, the ROIC is 20%. $200,000 per year off a million locked into this business. Going forward, we’re gonna open a new business, but it’s only gonna have a… return on invested capital of 10%. The return on new invested capital, the Ronin. So if we start looking at value creation in the past versus going forward, the denominator of that calculation is invested capital. It’s usually no plat net operating profit or losses after taxes divided by invested capital. Well, what is the invested capital? Well, it could be tangible assets. We have 20 stores. It could be working capital. We have a lot of inventory stuck in those stores. That would all be invested capital that stays in the business. And it could be intangible assets. We have a brand. We have a membership program with a thousand people signed up. So when you start to look at intangible and invested capital, I generally look at three buckets. Working capital, tangible assets, intangible assets. I add them all together, that gets me my invested capital, and then I see what kind of returns we’re getting for having that money sort of locked into the business. Okay, so I think that’s pretty easy to sort of, it’s easy to visualize when you’re talking about something like a store or a factory, because it’s mostly a picture of tangible assets. Okay, so let’s look at something not so, well, sort of a mix of easy and hard. Let’s say we look at a 7-Eleven convenience store chain. Not one store, 50 stores, 100 stores. Okay, we could look at their operating profits, we could get their no-plat, no-plat. We could look at their free cash flow after CapEx, things like that. But we’d ultimately wanna know how much invested capital is stuck in this business. I have to keep a certain amount of money in there, all times. and then it generates a return on invested capital. So, okay, so we got $10 million in this business in various forms. It’s in the stores, it’s in the inventory, it’s in other things, it’s making two million per year, it’s got a 20% ROIC historically. Okay, then we’re gonna open some new stores. This is why I like retail, because there’s a very nice separation between the assets you’ve built, the existing stores, and the assets you’re gonna build, the new stores. So the return on invested capital is easy to separate from the return on new invested capital. So we have these stores, 10 million invested capital, but now we’re gonna open, let’s say another five stores, 10 stores over the next two years. But they’re gonna be in a different part of town or they’re gonna be in a different city. And it turns out we’re gonna invest some money and the return on that money, the return on the new invested capital, isn’t 20%, it’s 10%. You would wanna know both of those numbers the value of this company. And to those of you who are sort of in the line chat group, I think I sent this out, maybe I haven’t done it yet, there was a quote by Aswath Damodaran, who I’m sure I’m saying his name wrong, but the big valuation guru at NYU, and he’s talked about ROIC, and he says, you know, it’s a paraphrasing, it’s a very good metric or a useful metric for mature and declining Let’s say you have 10 7-elevens and you’re never building anymore. That’s a mature business. We can get a good picture of look, the invested capital versus the cash flow because invested capital ROIC is kind of a looking back in time number. So he says it’s good for that. He says it’s problematic when you start to look at growing businesses because you have to figure out what the invested capital is going to be in the future, which could be radically different than the past. And the returns on that money could be different. So he says it’s good for mature and declining businesses. I would say it’s good for businesses that are similar to Warren Buffett type businesses where we have an existing asset, a proven business model, a strong competitive moat. We can figure out ROIC for those. Bird in the hand, you can figure out ROIC. Bird in the bush, R-O-N-I-C. Okay. But when you start to looking at a chain of stores, okay, we would look at the existing stores versus the future stores, ROIC versus RONIC, fine. But then unlike a factory, unlike a single store, when you start to look at 7-Eleven, then you say, okay, what are the three things that make up the invested capital of this business? Okay, we have tangible assets, stores, fine. We can figure out how much we spent on them, we can depreciate it, we can figure out that number. We have working capital. We got a ton of inventory in the stores. Fine, we’ve got that. But then you start to look about what is the intangible asset that matters for a 7-Eleven chain? The customers? Well, I mean, customers come and go. I mean, I don’t know if that’s an asset, but what if we have a million customers signed into our membership program and their loyalty program? Well, if we lock them in to some degree, that starts to look like an asset. That doesn’t start to look like, oh, people come and go. It’s like, no, no, we got a million plus people in our membership program. We got their numbers, you know, everything is on an app. Well, that’s an asset. In fact, that’s a very valuable, maybe the most valuable asset going forward into the future is captive customers. Okay. What about the brand, 7-Eleven? Is 7-Eleven better than 20 stores of Jeff convenience store? Yeah, there’s a legacy brand there. It is well known. Everyone in Thailand in particular has been looking at 7-Eleven stores probably for their entire life. I’m not sure when they opened here, but I think it was in the 70s or 80s. So there’s a real legacy brand there. Okay, what if the 7-Eleven, well, that’s an intangible asset, and it’s worth a lot. What if they also have a webpage or an e-commerce app, and they’re doing some sales through the store, but they’re omni-channel? Well, that e-commerce site, that’s a digital asset. I mean, there’s software and there’s an interface and there’s a database and there’s the backend. that is an intangible asset. So you start to realize that like, look, and one way to figure this out is, is I like to do a reproduction value, which is sort of an assessment of the assets of a business as opposed to its cashflow. And you can look at an asset valuation based on a liquidation value. If we took all their assets and sold them today, what would we get? That would get you a number. It’s not terribly useful most of the time. The other one is you do a reproduction value, which is if we were to recreate all the important assets for this business, how much would it cost? We would have to look at things like, how much would it create, how much would it cost me to create a database of one to two million loyal customers who are in a membership program? That would be an asset we’d have to reproduce. What would it cost me to reproduce such a well-known brand? That would cost money. So you start to look at the intangible and the tangible, and we gotta reproduce all the stores and stuff like that. Okay, so then you ask yourself, okay, if I was gonna be able to take any two assets from 7-Eleven, any of them, working capital, tangible assets, intangible, which one’s would I want? Would I want the stores? Maybe, not bad. I would prefer to have the app and the loyalty program. and maybe the brand. I mean, you give me the app and the membership loyalty program, I’m pretty sure I can recreate the stores. And I don’t think it works the other way. In my opinion, which is why I brought up 7-Eleven, I think the intangible assets are increasingly the most valuable part of that business, where historically it’s been the stores. And as more traffic moves on to e-commerce, now maybe 7-Eleven wasn’t the greatest example because they get most of their traffic. foot traffic because it’s sort of fast moving consumer goods. But in a lot of retailers, more and more of the traffic is going through the e-commerce site and the stores are almost secondary. Convenience stores are a bit of an exception to that as our grocery stores. Okay, but okay, so I think I’ve kind of made my point. You wanna get a good handle on the intangible assets for multiple reasons. But it’s, when you start moving into intangibles, I just told you that like, look, I can figure out the ROIC versus the RO NIC for the stores, new stores versus old stores. What about the e-commerce site? How do I separate the ROIC versus the future? One, it’s the same thing. It’s just going to grow more. We’re going to keep investing in it in various ways. We might add content. We might add live streaming. That would all be new invested capital, but it’s very hard to separate the past from the future in digital assets. So that part becomes very difficult, which is why I sort of did a retail example, because you can see the separation in the stores, but once you move into the intangibles, it’s very difficult to separate those things out. The other thing is it’s just hard to get the numbers. I mean, what is the e-commerce cost, the site? What is the loyalty program cost? Where are those numbers in the income statement and the balance sheet? You go to the balance sheet, there’s not a broken down tangible assets section like there is for PP&E and land and gross PP&E. No, it’s just one line item that says other intangible assets and then goodwill, which is also a problem. So it’s all buried in the financials. All of these intangible assets, sometimes it’s about capex. You invest in a new e-commerce site or whatever, and it shows up as capex. Other times it’s M&A. we bought this company and then you get goodwill and that’s nonsense and it makes the numbers all fuzzy. But so much of it is R&D. Well, R&D is an operating expense, unless it’s software and then you capitalize it and then it becomes software. So it’s all just, and then a lot of it’s just staff. I mean, intangible assets, digital businesses is overwhelmingly about human capital. It’s you put 2,000 people in a room, not a room, a building, and they create stuff. It’s very hard to separate out the intangible assets from the fact that we’re paying people salaries. Are the salaries, should we capitalize those? So the whole thing becomes fuzzy in the numbers. And I’ll just tell you my approach. My approach is to ignore pretty much everything in the financial statements. when it comes to intangible assets. I find the financial statements are very good for tangible and working capital. For intangible assets, I basically pull out a piece of paper and I write my own summary of what I think the true assets are of this business and what they cost. And I don’t try and tease them out of all the little notes in the financial things. I sort of build my own from scratch and then I make an estimate. And then I look for numbers to see, but I kind of build it from scratch myself. Look, I think this is what the key intangible assets for Twitter are. This is what I think the key intangible assets for 7-Eleven with a robust e-commerce omni-channel strategy. I think this is what the key tangible and intangible assets actually are. I’m gonna put numbers on those from what I think it costs. And then if possible, I’ll sync that up to the income statement, but I don’t know how to pull it out of the income statement. I don’t know how to pull it out of the balance sheet. It’s all buried there. I build my own, my own clear picture. Elon Musk said something kind of similar a couple weeks ago when they asked him, why did you fire so many people from Twitter? And he basically said he didn’t take the list of 8,000 to 9,000 employees plus 5,000 contractors and just start crossing people out. He basically asked himself the question. How many people does it take to maintain this type of company from scratch? Like blank piece of paper. And he came up with something like two to 3,000 people plus another four to 5,000 contractors who basically do content moderation. And I think that’s how he got to roughly that number. He didn’t tease it out of the financials. He just sort of drew a picture of what he thought the true assets and operating requirements were. Here’s how many people it takes. Let’s just go for that. And then if that doesn’t work out, we’ll add people back. Okay. So with that, okay, that’s a lot of theory. Today’s not gonna go very long. Let me just jump to the so what. I think I’ve defined the problem in tangible assets. Let me give you the framework that I use, and this is not mine, it’s McKinsey. I think it’s the best one I’ve seen for taking apart intangible assets. So let me give you that one. Now this is actually written in like 2018, and Jonathan was one of the lead authors on this. He’s one of the sort of leaders of the McKinsey Global Institute, which does all their research and stuff. So a lot of this is his thinking, but I mean, they basically went through some various books and big thinkers, academics, who talk about intangible assets, and then sort of pulled that out of academia and theory and applied it to the real world, which is their clients. And they came up with, I think, a very usable framework. for CEOs and investors, and it’s four buckets. The first bucket, which I don’t really like the name, and I’ll put this in the show notes, the first bucket they call brand capital, I don’t really like that name. When they use capital, they’re talking about assets. So let’s call that brand assets. This is any time, effort, money spent to basically capture customers to build a brand. Which is really, brands are not that interesting. People always talk about brand equity. I don’t care about brand equity. I care about the presence of my company or product in people’s brains. So I view it much more as like customer capture. But you could categorize this as relationships with current and potential customers. That’s how I would describe it, not brand equity. I would call it almost like customer relationship assets. And that would be things like loyalty programs, fan clubs, really good customer service capabilities that decrease your churn and increase your retention, communities, all of those, and you could put legacy brands in there as well, but all of those things are about, you have a not common relationship with current and potential future customers. That’s a real asset. This tends to be put under the title brand equity, which I don’t really like. Because I think the brand part, when they say brand equity, brand capital, brand, I think that’s very 1990. If you have a good relationship with your current customers, it’s probably more about, it’s probably more from a good digital connection with them. They check your app every day, then it is your name. So it’s about the relationship, which used to be mostly just brand. And now there’s a lot of interesting aspects to it. So that’s bucket number one, which we can call brand assets. And a lot of that, I think, is in there. Some of it’s kind of weak. 7-Eleven’s not bad. 7-Eleven doesn’t have too much of that, but if we look at something like WeChat, everybody checks WeChat all the time, or WhatsApp, or Facebook. They have a very vibrant and direct relationship with their users. That would be one type, frequency. But it’s not particularly emotional. It’s more like a habit, a utility. If we look at Star Wars before they wrecked the franchise, I mean, people used to sit on the sidewalk for a week before the Star Wars movie opened. You know, that was an emotional attachment. You know, people watched that their entire lives. That’s a very powerful form of this. And I would consider that, you know, a rabid fan base is an intangible asset. So anyways, I think you get the point. Okay, also within this bucket, we could put the category of content creation. I’m sorry, no, let me skip that. Let’s keep that separate. Okay, bucket number one, brand assets. Bucket number two, we will call content creation. which is, okay, you created the Star Wars movies, now you own the intellectual property. That’s an asset. Fine. Artistic originals, other types of intellectual property. You could say patents, but it’s kind of more of a government regulation aspect. So there’s lots of types of creativity things, entertainment, artistic originals. But we could also use sort of non-creative examples like, user generated content. All those people, if you go to TripAdvisor or Wikipedia, there is nothing on those companies but user generated content. That is all they have. You know, the fact that people leave these reviews on TripAdvisor or let’s say Expedia, or people, you know, editors manage Wikipedia. The content is the only asset, but it’s not creative. It’s not. writing a movie or a hit song, it’s user generated content. That would be sort of content creation. We could maybe put R&D in product development as a type of content creation, depending, maybe not if you’re making technology, but if you’re making lots of types of fashion and you have a really good creative team that makes fashion, you could maybe consider that a type of content creation. the interfaces, what if you just have a really great user interface that has a great user experience? I think this is a lot of what Zoom did. Zoom was pretty much a utility. I mean, it’s not like video calls didn’t exist. But what Zoom did is they made such a simple and easy to use interface. You could sign up and it worked so beautifully. I think their sign up and interface was their primary asset. And then they had some pretty good tech on the back, but so did Skype and others. So you could kind of start content creation as an asset. You could almost start to refer to this as innovation, innovation capital. There’s a lot of different types of that beyond, hey, we created Ironman. No, it’s data, it’s user generated content, it’s types of R and D. And now we can start to get to the point where generative AI, chat GPT, mid journey, these new companies are creating unbelievable content with software. Well, that would be, I mean, whoever owns chat GPT open AI, that’s an unbelievable asset. And I’m gonna write a lot about these in the next week because it’s absolutely blowing my mind what they can do. I mean, I’ll give you two examples. I went onto a site last night and I saw someone create, they basically just put in a prompt, right? It’s prompt engineering. You put a prompt into a generative AI program and tell it what to create. Code, chat, people know that. This one was write me a rap, or no, it was write me a song that is in this style, that’s about this, that has a noticeably interesting voice. It basically wasn’t very long, it was like three sentences long, the prompt. and it generated a song and the song was good. It was like a pop song on the radio. Well, like it’s not on the radio anymore. I mean, it wasn’t a hundred percent, but it had drums and guitar and a lead vocalist and a catchy chorus. And it was 75% of the way there to a song that you would expect to hear on a music video. It was right there. I mean, it was stunning. It was so good. And then I was talking, I’ll talk about this at the end, I guess. But Patrick, if you’re listening, hey Patrick, I got a note from a company called Movio.la. I’ll put the link in the show notes that basically does generative AI videos, which they also call synthetic media. And I was playing around on that. And basically… It’s AI, not to paraphrase it too badly, it’s AI that creates videos of people talking and doing things with no filming, no equipment. You can create an avatar which looks like a real, and it can be maybe a funky avatar or a realistic one based on someone else or based on your own picture. So I could literally take a photo of myself, upload it, and then I could say, write me. a 30 second monologue about intangible assets, which you know, Chad GPT would do, I would feed that script into this and it would create a video of me talking. It would create the picture of me, it would create the voice that goes with the text, and it would sync it all together and it’s a video. And it’s, I mean, it’s not there yet, but it’s pretty far along. I mean, it’s, you give it a year or something like that, I think it’s there. So this idea of, AI generated videos, AI generated television shows, AI generated everything pretty much on TikTok. Anyways, I just saw those both in the last two days and it just blew my mind. Anyways, we could call that bucket number two, content creation as an asset, whether it’s the content itself, the capability that creates the content, the data that’s required, that would all go in that same bucket. Okay, bucket number three, there’s four of these. Digital and analytics assets. Okay, that one, little bit of overlap there, but I think the distinction between content assets, content creation assets and digital and analytics assets is a useful one. Okay, this is your software, this is your data warehouse, this is your digital infrastructure, this is your data capabilities. Now at a certain point, If you’re getting into predictive AI, okay, then you’re in content generation. But I think the distinction is pretty good. Pretty much everything I list in my digital operating basics could be in this. It could be your CRM software, it could be your data analytics models. But I think the general title, digital and analytics assets is a great bucket. Fourth one, last one, human and relational assets. That’s a really good title. That’s this idea of look, most digital businesses are just people. They’re sitting in a building and they’re all talking and then they all go code on that, that is the asset. And it’s traditional businesses like Walmart and retail, as they go digital, they’re hiring all these people. So you’ve got to look at not just the human capital, the people. You have to look at the relationships between people. How do they organize themselves? How do they work together? And they basically broke this into two buckets. Their first bucket is individual or organizational skills. So this is people and training. We’ve got a thousand engineers who are good at this. We have systematic training to make them better and better. You know, we’re doing digital training. We’re doing AI training. We’re doing whatever. That’s your human capital element. But you also need to look at the relations and interactions of these people within your organization. So that’s your organizational capabilities. That’s their managerial capabilities. That’s your ability to change quickly as the market changes and redeploy teams to create new things all the time and to be very adaptive or resilient as a company or to be highly innovative. I mean, this is, if you look at Elon Musk, He’s very good. I mean, he has a lot of great talent because everyone wants to go to Mars, right? But he’s also very good at organizing those people so that as a group, they operate incredibly effectively. And this is pretty much what he did at Twitter. One, he changed the people, 80% of you goodbye. But he also restructured how they work, which is, I’ve been calling it shock therapy. I mean, he basically performed shock therapy on the culture. this is how we’re gonna work. So you could put all of that, so this is under bucket number four, human and relational assets, but the first type would be individual and organizational skills within the organization. And training would be a big part of that, but the keyword is within. Because the second bucket is the same idea, but external to the organization. This is about. building ecosystems and networks of, look, we’re not just one company. We have multiple partners. We all do data sharing. We do collaborations. We have relationships and partnerships with our suppliers, with our data partners, with our complements. If you look at my digital operating basics, this is number four. This is about once you digitize a company, you have to start looking externally and collaborating, which is data, but it’s also people. with other organizations. This is where business, especially business, digital business is starting to look more and more like a team sport, that it’s ecosystem versus ecosystem. Well, this bucket is about creating the people and relational aspects internally, but also increasingly externally. And it was, that’s their four buckets. I think it’s great. It’s the best one I’ve found. And this is pretty much when I look at a business and I sort of recreate. what I think is really going on with intangible assets, I put them in those buckets. Okay, last point, then I’ll be done for today. Now, the nice thing about what I do is I am not trying to recreate the entire business. I’m not trying to recreate the entire balance sheet. Here’s everything that this company does as intangible assets. That would take a lot of time. And what’s the point? I’m only looking for those intangible assets that really matter. I don’t need to recreate the intangible assets of the legal department, no offense to anyone in that, but it’s not gonna be the key capability that’s gonna determine whether I win or not. So I sort of have a short list of intangible assets that I think are sort of key stuff. And those, let’s see, I’ll give you the list here. This is just my little working list. It’s not done or anything, but I think it’s pretty solid. I look for reputation, I look for loyalty. Customers just love them. Customers are absolutely in love with this company. They’re super fanboys. They love this makeup more than anything else. You know, that would be one bug. I like personal customer relationships a lot. You know, I do consulting stuff a lot. That’s a lot about relationships. I mean, it’s a lot about you work with people for a long time. They know you, they trust you, you know, you have good working, I love stuff like that. I think that’s a nice, it doesn’t scale like AI, but I think that’s great. I love B2B customer businesses for that sense. Intellectual property, we mentioned, creative activities. I like rare technical abilities. Okay, it’s a technical ability like semiconductors, but it’s really rare. It’s really hard to get those people. And they only want, not just because money, but they don’t want to, if you’re a semiconductor person, everybody, well, not everyone. Let’s say if you’re really good at AI right now, there’s a gazillion companies around the world that want those people, retailers, banks, media companies. But they all want those people like to work on projects that they find exciting and they find meaningful and they want to live in certain cities. And yeah, so rare technical abilities, which is a lot of digital stuff. certain technologies, certain capabilities, certain trade secrets. My favorite example of this actually, which is a weird one, is the ballpoint pen. Like the ballpoint pen is actually a really impressive trade secret. That the little ball at the tip of the pen that rolls so smoothly when you write, it’s actually pretty hard to do. I think it took China. 15, almost 20 years to figure out how to make those. They just announced it a couple years ago that we figured out how to make ballpoint pens because it turns out making those little pieces so that it works is actually pretty tough. There’s a lot of stuff like that in trade secrets, scientific papers, there’s a lot of, it doesn’t have to be earth shattering like a lot of digital stuff. There’s a lot of little stuff like that, especially in manufacturing. That stuff’s pretty cool. And then digital networks, physical networks, anyone who’s locked up a social network, communities, I love all of that stuff. That’s just sort of me thinking about it. I’m not going to spend my time mapping out all the intangible assets at Vericom. I’m looking for certain things that I think are going to make a difference. Anyways, that’s it for the content for today. Just one concept, which is intangible assets. I hope that was helpful. Lot shorter day. I’m basically playing catch up because I missed a week when I was in Malaysia, so that gets me up to back on schedule for a podcast. Yeah, I hope that was helpful. As for me, I’m having a pretty great week just running around, producing like crazy. When I travel, I find it interesting. When I’m on the road, in many ways I’m more energetic and I feel sort of more in the game. So in many ways, I find like I’m… I’m learning a lot more and I’m reading like crazy and I’m listening to like tons of podcasts. But at the same time a lot of my sort of standard writing and stuff tends to get off schedule a little bit because you know suddenly you’re in a hotel room or you’re in an airport and you’re too tired to write. Anyways, so that I find it kind of interesting that I feel both energized and a little I don’t know not as let’s say operationally efficient as I usually am on that step. Anyways, but I’m all pretty much out of now. And that’s it, and I will talk to you next week. Bye bye.
I write, speak and consult about how to win (and not lose) in digital strategy and transformation.
I am the founder of TechMoat Consulting, a boutique consulting firm that helps retailers, brands, and technology companies exploit digital change to grow faster, innovate better and build digital moats. Get in touch here.
My book series Moats and Marathons is one-of-a-kind framework for building and measuring competitive advantages in digital businesses.
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