Those who follow my Twitters know that I've just returned from two weeks in South Africa and Zambia, including six days in the game parks at Kruger seeing animals in the wild. I was amazed at how close we got to the animals - who apparently think of a big open Land Rover as an interesting, but non threatening large companion. Lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and the like were in touching distance, while the zebra and giraffe did seem to run at our approach. Maybe they were smart enough to know why the gun was mounted next to the driver.
I find it hard to resist seeing the jungle situations as metaphors for the venture and startup world. First, Google and Microsoft are the Land Rovers. They're very big, they're out there, but you have to live your life and go after your own prey, in which case they'll ignore you. This works well for the lions and leopards, who can go after meat knowing the elephants are vegetarians, and will only trample them if they get in the way. And their trampling won't usually be to get the food source - they have their own. In our world, this means focus on your own products and customers.
If you have low gross margins, you need to be very big. Elephants excrete, without processng, about 2/3 of their food. Their digestive systems are pretty inefficient. But even on that 33% gross margin from their calorie intake, they have gotten extremely big. What they don't use, however, provides interesting input for others - here a leopard is eating some of that dung to get at minerals and other nutrients that are easier to find this way.
Specialization is often a way to get big, without conflicting with other parties. The giraffes mostly eat the high vegetation that the elephants, rhinos and hippos can't reach. Rather than going for the low hanging fruit - they go after the highest stuff, but have adapted their bueiness model accordingly.
Visiting the awe inspiring Victoria Falls (which the natives call the thunder that smokes), you see the critical nature of timing. Here are the falls when we were there in March (with flows of millions of kilolitres per second). Here it is in November - almost totally dry.
All in all, it's a trip I recommend to everyone - you recharge the batteries, see where we came from (my 23Across profile makes it clear that my DNA is out of Africa, as is true of all the humans), and puts into context our technology based society.
Of course, I should note that hundreds of miles from civilization, with very slow internet connectivity at the lodges, and no cell phone service in the lodges, you have time to ponder a beautiful sunrise . Or so I though till we went out on a drive one morning, and, once out in the middle of nowhere, my Blackberry started to vibrate - having caught signal from the only tower for 50 miles. I left it in the lodge for the next rides.