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Watchtime episode 7: The history of tech with Elliott King

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watchtime episode 7: The history of tech with Elliott King

In today’s episode, we will have the chance to know more about the history of tech from our CEO, Elliott King, producer of the Watchtime series. We will speak about his IT career back in the nineties and subsequently about the digital marketing scene at its early beginnings.

At the start of his career, Elliott took a two years gap from university to work for a software company in London and then jumped to the United States to work for an American software company. In his own words; “There were a lot of adventures in the tech world there. It was the moment to stay.” It was 1999 in San Francisco, the city where all the “dotcom” started. All the e-commerce websites were becoming extremely competitive, start-up companies, tech giants, etc. “It was a bubble that was bustling, and some companies survived, some others didn’t.” Those companies who did well are still on the crest of the wave and nowadays are still concentrated on their target consumers.

  • Google. They concentrated on building an automatic platform that solved the supply of a market that they already controlled. “Google is a machine profit,” Elliott states. 
  • Amazon. They focused very much on customer service, on the delivery function and customer service. 
  • Apple. They created beautifully crafted products. And when Steve Jobs was back, they changed the tech world forever.

In Elliott’s opinion, at that time in Silicon Valley, Google did well and grew up, and this was the moment when the digital marketing industry as we know it kicked off. It was back then when E-commerce websites could be built and found on the SERP. Wide ranges of companies like MintTwist were fighting the battle (and helping others) to be found on the search engine.

Moreover, Google lead the way of the search engine market, as they were focused on building an automated platform. And because it was successful, there was a way to effectively market products and services: it allowed ecommerce’s to work their ways. On the other hand, Jeff Bezos focused on his strategy of dominating a single market sector while improving its customer service and delivery processes. A lot of investment and succeed also came from Amazon back then. 

In terms of social media, a lot of platforms started functioning, such as Facebook, where every user could put a piece of their own life. 

The things in Apple were a bit different, as its founder Steve Jobs was forced out of the company in 1985. It was in 1997 when Apple re-hired Steve Jobs, reshaping the world of tech forever. Years later, they launched the iPhone 1, the fact that was “time changing” for Elliot: “It made mobile Internet properly accessible.” In Microsoft, what Bill Gates did was look at an existing trend, and look at where it was going to lead: producing lots and lots of computers with their own software, ready to be sell in high quantities. Then he was ready to control the market. 

To sum up

These industries found their way out of the competition and created a business vision that has influenced various generations. Each of them concentrated on their goals, always having present what their public wanted and needed. Silicon Valley visionaries changed the tech world forever. In a fast-moving, changing world, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon are the winners of this digital era.

“To be dynamic in the digital ages, you need a plan and do it quickly, you need to be bold and decisive. In Silicon Valley, it does not matter if you fail, as long as you learn lessons and adapt quickly. That is the key.” 

*This episode was multi-streamed with ReStream

Watch the full podcast, and the rest of the series, over at Watchtime.


Aleksandra (00:02):

The WATCHTIME show is sponsored by digital agency MintTwist. Welcome to WATCHTIME the show for marketing industry influencers, looking for creative and digital ideas. We’ll be exploring new technology development and sharing the stories behind high profile industry players. I’m Aleksandra King from MintTwist.

Elliott (00:26):

Hello and in today’s episode, we’re going to get to know one of the producers behind the show and that’s myself, Elliott King. Now in order to get to know myself, we’re going to listen to a speech I made a few years ago at the Institute of directors and the speech was all about my personal career progressing through the ranks of IT, programming and subsequently digital marketing. But at the same time, I’m telling those overlapping stories of the very big companies, the Google’s, the Apple’s, and the Facebook’s of this world and my experience of the rise of these companies. And then we’ll finish off with my thoughts on why and how they were (and are) so successful. So sit back, relax, enjoy…

Elliott (01:13):

In 1999 I was 24 years old. I’ve been out of, out of university for a couple of years. I worked in London for a couple of years for a software firm and I quit my job and went to San Francisco. This is the golden gate bridge and San Francisco are at the top of the Silicon Valley and at the time, and still now there was a huge amount of business and investment going into the tech industries there. This was the place to be. It was exciting. It was amazing. It was adventurous. And so I went there and when I did, I found tens of thousands of programmers from all over the world. They had all gone over there and they were all working for these amazing things called ‘e-commerce start-ups’. In 1999, in San Francisco you would drive around almost anywhere in California and you would see billboards, huge billboards, talking about,, ….

Elliott (02:17):

… “anything You like”.com. It was, it was quite crazy, but there were all these companies coming on and there was billions of dollars of investments going into these companies. And there were lots of programmers like me working on these websites, developing eCommerce platforms, developing the infrastructure that the investors believed was going to underpin a seismic change of all of the retail commerce, the real world, retail commerce going online almost overnight. And so all of these companies were (in the short term) loss making. It was all about investing in an imminent change that was going to happen. And there was so much competition it got a bit crazy. There was so much competition for programmers that start-up companies were giving share options (along with very large salaries). So lots of my friends, ’20 something year old friends’ were literally paper millionaires, having great parties and all the rest of it. However, they didn’t count on this….

Elliott (03:17):

So the concept was, if we build it, the consumers are going to come and start using these websites. But actually, they were a bit too quick because although the programmers in Silicon Valley were connected (they were using the internet), the wider world just wasn’t quite there yet. And so, in the end, the profit didn’t come along quick, and neither did the revenue. In some cases, there was zero revenue, let alone negative profits! They built these eCommerce sites, but no one came to use them. And therefore, they didn’t work. They made this fundamental error: you can’t just build something and expect customers to magically come. Otherwise this (type of bust) is going to happen. Your company, or in this case, the entire industry will go bust. And it was the ‘dot com bubble’ that was bursting and actually what happened was, I had many hundreds of friends that were working in this industry sector, literally paper millionaires, one day, almost the next day their companies have gone bust and their paper share options were worthless and they were on the plane back home to wherever they come from … They still had a good time though 😉

Elliott (04:21):

But there were, there were some survivors and there were some companies that thrived out of the, out of the ashes. And when I was in Silicon Valley, Google was an eight person company and it was, it was a tiny player in (the internet directory) sector against a far bigger player in Yahoo. There were also Lycos and others who were well ahead (of Google). But all of the other players, the bigger players, the established players had ‘search’ as a feature. And they were really trying to sell the news and the weather and the stock results and all of this type of stuff. What Google did really, really well in the early days was kind of two things really. The main thing is they focused on exactly one thing. So it was, they’ve always been an uncluttered page, still today, obviously. And that really works. They only did search; they didn’t try and do anything else.

Elliott (05:05):

They were also loved by the techies. So, they got into an industry sector and the techies then recommended their friends so on and so on. So, Google grew up and, and really, this is when the digital marketing industry, as we know it, kind of really started kick-off because, and if you remember the slide, the slide, a few slides back, you could build it, but no one could find you, you know, we could come -Now you could build your eCommerce website and there was a way for people to find you. It was the search engine. And companies like Mint Twist, that’s me, my school friends and the first employees of Mint Twist, meant lots of companies like us climb online and all the rest of us, we’re all about helping companies to be found on the internet so that they can sell more stuff. And we’re missing a couple of slides here, but yeah.

Elliott (05:59):

So I’m going to give, I’m going to give Google a gold medal because what Google did was amazing. They’ve obviously dominated the search engine markets. So, in the Western world, it’s something like 90% of search has run through Google servers. Now having controlled the market -so they supply the market, 90% of the market. They then did something that was genius, frankly. Very early on, they built an automated marketplace to sell access to the market that they controlled. So they’re the supplier, but they’re also the middleman to the buyers, which basically 90% of the Western world. So fantastic place to be in highly profitable business, you know, like them or load them. In digital industry, you have a, you have to have a love, hate relationship with Google, but you’ve got to respect their strategy- Great work. Now, because Google was successful, and suddenly there was a way to effectively market products and services

Elliott (06:53):

it really allowed e-commerce to work. So, Amazon had been around before, before bubble burst. And during that time, Amazon had invested… Their strategy, really, Jeff Bezos, his strategy was to ‘let’s, let’s dominate a single market sector for e-commerce and let’s perfect our customer service and delivery’. He was very, very clear about that in the early nineties when Amazon first started. And so, although they were still loss making, once digital marketing started to work, they became highly profitable because they already had invested so much in this single sector books. They knew exactly what they were doing. They could start to make money in that sector, and then they diversified into all sorts of other sectors. And as we see, Amazon is one of the most, well, it’s certainly one of the fastest growing eCommerce companies and one of the largest companies in the world.

Elliott (07:45):

And I should think we’re going to see a lot more from these guys going forward. So gold medal there, gold medal for Google, as I said, this is the slide I was referring to. So gold medal for Google, gold medal for Amazon. And there’s a whole bunch of social media sites that started to kick off. And you know, in the, in, in the last sort of decade or 15 years or so, and you could give a whole bunch of gold medals out to these guys. Facebook saw the, saw the requirement for generations to want to share portions of their lives online. And they position themselves accordingly. Now, here, here’s where Apple make a comeback. So remember they lost out quite badly in the nineties. Steve jobs actually was fired from, from Apple in the late nineties, but they rehired him. And what Steve Jobs did, and Apple, in 2007 was release this thing called the iPhone one.

Elliott (08:41):

So the iPhone one was, I think game-changing because it made mobile internet properly accessible. Now the interesting thing about Steve jobs, Apple, what happened here was that the two technologies that underpin this iPhone one, they’ve been around for a long time. So touch screen technology had been around for a long time. Mobile internet, the underlying technology had been around for a very long time. But what Steve jobs had was, was the vision to conceive these two, apparently different technologies, pull them together and suddenly make the whole world of mobile internet, highly accessible via apps and the interface that you know, that we know very well today. And so, he won back his pride, if you like, and, and changed, you know, I think changed the world in some sense. And so, gold medal for, for them too! Okay, so, so sorry for the wordy slide, but let’s just, let’s just review because I think here are the key sort of, or some of the key lessons we can learn from these guys.

Elliott (09:42):

So Lord sugar, a classic businessman, let’s say, he saw a trend in the 1980’s. Computers are going to be interesting to consumers. He moved very quickly and was very early to the market and was able to realize success off the back of doing that. Microsoft … What bill Gates did was look at an existing trend and look at where that was going to lead. I.e. there’s a trend for computers to be bought in larger and larger numbers. In the end, software’s going to be the differentiator. His tactic for getting there was to give away the product to the company that had largest access to market (IBM). So they were Microsoft, a very small company – that ‘piggybacked’ on IBM to get their product out to (the mass) market. It was an investment in his own vision. But once, once it did start to work and people did want to use more and more software platforms, Microsoft were able to profit, control the market and became more powerful than the once almighty IBM.

Elliott (10:42):

Google.. Google’s main advantage for me was they just stayed focused very, very focused early on. They were also in the right place at the right time because they were able to become a darling of the tech community in Silicon Valley. And, it really grew out of, out of that niche marketplace. They then obviously the way that they really monetize that was to do what I mentioned earlier on. They built an automatic platform that effectively sold the supply of a market that they already controlled. So this marketplace technology, which is what AdWords is based on, was just genius. Because it’s a profit machine. If you think about it, at Google headquarters they can just push a button up and down to decide how much profit they want to make. If you, if you’re a company like that and you’re making so much profit, you can invest in diversification. You can see Google doing all sorts of other things, the vast majority of which are loss making, but why wouldn’t you do that? Why pay tax on your profits when you can invest in all these other great things?

Elliott (11:55):

Now Amazon … I think, here’s a classic business lesson that’s worked in the digital age. They just focused very much on customer service. And if you read anything about Jeff Bezos, he was very clear, right from the outset. And really, Amazon would focus on the home delivery function and on customer service. If you’ve got those two things right as an eCommerce company, you’re going to do well. They invested very heavily on those things (right from day 1) and once they started becoming profitable, they diversified beyond books and into, into other components.

Elliott (12:25):

Apple believe in your big vision, you know, use design, make the thing beautiful, and then consumers are going to want it. So Apple have always been focused on this consumer market because they’ve got this big vision that they want to spread to everyone. And obviously the other thing, he, he, he was very persistent. He was fired by Apple. He was in, he was in the dark for a few years. He came back and arguably changed the world. Okay. So just to round up, I think for me, it’s one of the main things you need to do to be dynamic and take advances of the digital age is to, is to plan. But do it quickly. You need to differentiate, you know, that’s, that’s just a classic message. You need to be bold and then you need to be decisive. And again, quick, and the, the adage in, in, in Silicon Valley, in tech companies, that really advances is, it doesn’t matter if you fail, as long as you learn lessons and adapt quickly, that’s really the key. And then it’s a question of planning and doing it again. So constant quick change.

Aleksandra (13:39):

And that completes today’s episode. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. And if you have, do subscribe to get the subsequent episodes automatically, in the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about digital marketing, please visit Thanks so much for joining us and see you again soon.

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