The Transformation of Companies: Is It Still the Same?
Buying, acquiring, and merging software companies is a common occurrence nowadays. But at what point does a company cease to be the same as it was originally? For example, if Google were to discontinue its search engine, would it still be Google? Or if Office replaced its office suite with other applications, would it still be Office?
If I were to ask you if you're familiar with a company called Piriform, most people would probably not know who I'm talking about, especially if I mentioned that their logo was a pear, much like Apple has an apple. Piriform indeed had a pear as its logo. However, if I tell you that it's a British company known for creating software cleaning tool called CCleaner, you might start to recognize it.
Next, if I mention a Czech company called Grisoft, you might not recognize it either, as it changed its name to Anti-Virus Guard or better known as AVG. This antivirus software used to rank among the top antivirus programs during its golden era.
These two companies share something in common: they were both acquired in 2017 and 2016, respectively, by a mega antivirus company as famous as they were.
It's highly likely that if you've been a Windows user in recent years, this sound may sound familiar to you: "Virus database has been updated."
And rightfully so, this is the sound of one of the most famous antivirus programs for the Windows operating system in recent years. Its fame doesn't just come from being good, which it is, but also from distributing its product for free. This means you can use Avast without paying for it. This approach led to it having up to 435 million users worldwide.
Furthermore, it offers a set of premium features that can be purchased to provide additional protection for your computer, and that's where the business model comes in. With over 16 million users paying for these features, they have a profitable business. This profitability allowed them to acquire Piriform and AVG with ease, the latter for a sum of $1.6 billion.
On the other hand, there's another cybersecurity giant named Symantec Corporation, the creator of Norton antivirus, another leader in the industry. The entire company was acquired by the conglomerate Broadcom in 2019 for $10 billion, and it changed its name to NortonLifeLock, allowing it to focus on what it does best: antivirus, antispyware, and premium antimalware products.
Now, these two mega-security companies have decided to merge their operations, according to the CEO of Avast, "At a time when global cyber threats are growing, cybersecurity penetration remains very low. Together with Norton LifeLock, we can accelerate our intention to provide comprehensive cyber protection for consumers worldwide."
This is true; they now have more resources to combat virus and phishing threats more effectively. However, it places the control of cybersecurity in fewer hands, creating uncertainty about the future of both Avast and Norton. Because although it's called a merger, the resulting product will primarily be Norton, and users will slowly migrate to this new company. Let's just hope that Avast's freemium model isn't compromised by this surprising acquisition.
All this talk of buying and merging companies makes me wonder: is today's Norton the same as the one founded in the 1980s? Part of a company's natural growth, much like living organisms, is to renew, change, and evolve. It's a bit like the paradox of the Ship of Theseus, a legend recounted by Plutarch:
The ship in which Theseus and the youth of Athens returned had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, in so much that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.
There are also other examples of the same paradox in different scenarios:
- If I apply a patch to a torn sock, is it still the same sock?
- My favorite one, the grandfather's axe: if it has had its blade replaced three times and its handle four times, is it still the grandfather's axe?
This paradox is even discussed in the final episode of the first season of Marvel Studios' series, WandaVision.
What's interesting about this paradox is that if someone were to keep the pieces that were replaced from the original ship and assemble a new ship, which one is the Ship of Theseus? The new one, the one that was replaced, or both?