Monday, June 27, 2011

The Lake Wobegon Company

A bad day at the ball park. 
Where does one find major league tallent?
One of the joys of being on Twitter, is that you stumble upon all sorts of interesting ideas.  Some of the most news worthy items comes from the Harvard Business Review.  This week two though provoking blogs were posted by Bill Taylor discussing talent inflation in the technology business.  In short CEO’s in SiliconValley will pay big bucks for the correct engineering talent. 
As Mark Zuckerberg said in the article snip:
"Someone who is exceptional in their role is not just a little better than someone who is pretty good," he argued when asked why he was willing to pay $47 million to acquire FriendFeed, a price that translated to about $4 million per employee. "They are 100 times better."
In other words, dad’s teach your kids SQL because they have a good chance to make as much money as a Major League closer. 

I am deeply conflicted about this.  I do not have Zuckerberg’s money.  I also am starting out from a very different place than he did.  As I grow my company, I need to hire good people because if I don’t it is going to affect the quality of my customer service and product.  So how do I find top performers without having to break the bank?  I don’t know the answer to that question but I do have clues. 
I will lean on my college’s Delta Mu Delta honor fraternity for business students.  When I was inducted as a graduate student I met a lot of sharp people who want to succeed.  I could use them.  They may not be the rock stars that Zuckerberg is chasing but they could grow into that role.  Also, I will be auditioning developers and leaning on my network of recruiters to help me find the right talent.  Again, I may not get rock stars but if I have a diverse team of programmers who work well together and are just as committed as I am, I think we can take over the world. 
Talent does matter but let us not get crazy.  My Chicago Cubs have spent lots of money over the last ten years and it still hasn’t broken there ugly tradition of losing.  I would rather have some misfits and malcontents with talent and something to prove that a roster of all stars any day.  I suppose that means I want a Lake Wobegonecompany where the weather is always nice and everyone is above average. 
I understand this is not realistic but one can always dream. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Made in the USA - Management!!

Nice article from the Harvard Business Review this week.  The gist of the article is that research from Harvard has confirmed that American companies, and in particular U.S. Multinational corporations exhibit the best management practices in the world.  This is not news to me.  We are the country which perfected the Limited Liability Corporation and our successes span from world from Microsoft to Coca-Cola. 
It should also give pause to people who feel that we are a nation in decline.  Many of the worst managed companies are in the BRIC nations of Brazil, Russia, India and China.   This gives me hope because it says that someone with a dream and a modicum of knowledge can grow a business into a worldwide player.   It should also be a cause for concern because if these nations actually learn how to manage their companies like we do they could crush the American Economy like a bug.  Being to optimist that I am, I think it is going to take a while for Russia to figure out that drinking on the job is bad for business. 
This week I am going to launch my web site and start having meeting with my local chamber of commerce and seeing clients.  I am pretty excited about that.  I think that I can help companies save money and improve their service.  I also hope that I can generate wealth and employment for my local community.  Frankly, it is time to punch this recession in the stomach and start doing business again.  It sounds a little crazy but if a bunch of us entrepreneurs try it just might happen.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sometimes you can't fake it

Sometimes you can't fake it.
Software developers by their very nature are creative people.  Ask us to solve a problem, and depending on whom you ask you might get thousands of different answers ranging from something overly complex to something elegantly simple.  It just depends on the problem and the person solving the problem.  Business is much more complicated than engineering because we are not dealing with technological problems which tend to follow set laws of physics, chemistry, and mathematics; we are dealing with human emotions and money which can be far from rational.

This is why I enjoy reading the opinions and experiences of other entrepreneurs.  You can learn a lot from others.    Andrew Thomas posted an interesting blog about Lean Startups which had a very intriguing title “Fake it Before You Make It”.  In short, Thomas argues that before you even have a product to sell customers, the budding software entrepreneur should mock up some prototypes or wireframes to generate customer interest.  Then based on the customer feedback you build a product and close the sale. 
For someone who has been in the business a while, I rolled my eyes and bit my lip.  Thomas’ ideas sound suspiciously like vaporware.  For those not familiar with the term, it is that interesting sub-set of computer programing that exists only in the imagination of a sales person or marketing professional.  It doesn’t exist.  It doesn’t work and it is unethical.  Businesses and consumers have been swindled out of millions of dollars by vaporware.  In fact, each year Wired Magazine honors the most egregious examples ofvaporware nominated by its readers. 

Digging a little deeper into the blog post, the author clarifies his position saying snip:
“Just to be clear I nor anyone in lean startup is advocating deceptive practices or vaporware.”
This is good.  It is nice to see that people who advocate lean practices are not saying you should fly by the seat of your pants. 
I am still deeply skeptical of this “fake it,” approach.  I am going to be launching my own company website in the next two weeks.  It works and so does the software application I am selling.  It is not complete or perfect but it is good enough to start showing clients.  They can lease my cloud services as is or if they want to customize it they are going to have to pay for the iteration.  I also plan to add other features in the future like Microsoft Tag technology and a logbook application for over the road truck drivers.  Currently, these new features exist only on paper, but they will be added on to the existing application in a modular fashion. 
I think it is more important to the lean software development process to use scalable architecture and object oriented design in order to grow in a quick and sane manner.  That way it is not a big jump from prototype to working software.  In addition, sales people must be trained to avoid making promises and then forcing the software developer to keep those promises.  There must be a financial risk to someone who oversells your product.  Thus, if a sales person mocks up a Power Point or Visio document of  what my software can do to a client and I don’t know about it someone is going to be docked a few percentage points of commission.  Sales and technology must work together. 
I feel that I have put together a lean and mean company so I don’t have to “fake it” in order to close some sales.  I realize that I will have to do some prototyping and that on occasion a sales person is going to over promise.  That said, I think the best approach is to have a few stakes on the grill before I start selling the sizzle.