Monday, January 21, 2013

When there is a will…

We were sitting in the lobby area of a Denver Tech Center hotel, waiting for our next meeting and conversation somehow went toward the difference between a corporate environment and a startup or a small, private company.

We talked about meetings – which were mostly boring and not conclusive in the corporate environment – nobody seemed to own a decision and so we would gather to discuss the same topic over and over again. Then a new person, who was absent at the previous meeting would arrive, the group would brief him on the progress and share a conclusion – the new person would say that he needs to noodle on it and can’t concur – so another meeting would be called. Nightmare; looking back at my corporate life I can recall several of these lengthy meetings that lead to absolutely nothing. To contrast that with a startup – the people all determined to make a decision and to move forward, the rule of majority making a decision or a leader determining the course of action, as the case may be – meetings tend to end with a clear direction, and progress is pretty rapid.

Is it because in the small company nobody gets paid to waste others time? Is it that all players have high stakes and are motivated to get things done fast? Or it is just the size that matters? In the large environment, where organization charts span several tabs of an excel spreadsheet, nobody feels safe taking responsibility for a decision, it seems. When your chart lists five people and a dog it is clear where the authority resides.

The outcomes are obvious – I recall projects that took years, literally, from conception to product release, with the scope creep beyond belief as everyone felt compelled to make sure all Is are dotted and all Ts are crossed – the good enough did not seem to be a goal, and time was not as much of an essence. In a startup it is clear from the get-go that you don’t make any money until you create something that you can sell. The goal is to get to market as fast as is possible, and the product needs to meet the requirements, but does not have to be fully “function rich” – that’s what future releases are for, to add to the product based on the clients’ feedback. That approach reduces the risk of wasting time building a widget that nobody in the real world would desire, and focuses the team on the outcome being produced timely.

Recent projects come to mind – from completely different worlds – one focused on the consumer, mass-market, one on the corporate world, the other aiming at pretty much a niche within large-corporations and yet another one aiming at the Association Management business were fresh on our minds and to me exemplify the advantage of being small and focused and being able to move swiftly, with clear goals and clear decision-making processes.

So, the mass market example of a really well executed creation of a new product is InkaBinka, a revolutionary approach to the internet, an invention that materialized as a market ready product in just months. The extra requirement of having marketing materials necessary to introduce a consumer product made this project pretty challenging, but all involved understood what needed to be done and delivered a market-ready offering! Read more about InkaBinka on their web site, and also in this blog posts

As for the example of building product for the corporate world, decisions made around a metal garden table on the veranda of a repurposed former motel have been tightly focused on use-case scenarios, even as architecture is being finalized and code is being produced. I hope to be able to cover this project in more detail in a few months but already the energy coming from a small group of highly skilled, highly motivated folks, who have enjoyed working for start-ups many times before is oozing from those motel rooms – oops, offices.

And then there is maRunga, a product that will arrive shortly and will be demonstrated in June at the HP Discover 2013 conference. The idea of a clouds support on Nonstop is hardly a new one and the HP Team has been evangelizing the concept and showing demos illustrating it for quite some time. InfraSoft team ventured into building an actual offering shortly before the end of 2012, and despite the Holiday season and usual customer support distractions as they also provide uLinga product to the NonStop market, the development effort is full speed and maRunga will be ready, as planned. Look how distractive an Aussie BBQ can be!

There was plenty of opportunity to get distracted, the Team entertained ideas of opening the access to public clouds (ingenious thought, next releases!), the implementation of the per transaction pricing model (excellent thought, may be worth pursuing in the future!) and many other such additions, yet the Team stayed focused on the goal of delivering an actual product that will deliver on the promise of the HP concept demonstrations. Simple, elegant, and well executed.

I wrote about maRunga before
and I am sure you will see more written about it as the go-to-market effort begins.
Then there is an Association Management new web site and a new business.

I recall at one of our trips to New Zealand seeing an add that said “Once you wear black you can never go back” – I don’t even know if that was a funeral house, New Zealand’s rugby team, or something totally else that was being advertised on posters pasted to so many walls in that little New Zealand town. To us it became a phrase we use when we encounter something that changes the way we see things, do things, or in general a life altering invention or discovery. We used this expression when we first took Z06 Corvette to the track, after struggling for a few years with a Corvette that had been supercharged …

Looking back at my relationship with all four start-ups I am really enjoying the involvement even as it varies with the maturity of the projects, and my relationship with the principals. Whether it’s simply providing opinions and observations, helping out with “QA” or, should I say, testing with the intent of providing an end user input to the project, or recommending folks I believe would have an immediate impact on the project, or just blogging to provide a content to the site I am enjoying to be of however much help I can be. I think with some of these projects, if you take a closer look, you will agree that they are of the “if you ever wear black” variety!

Sitting in the lobby of Marriott, sipping Sauvignon Blanc, and remembering the many projects that we used to lead, follow, or abandon … it was clear to us that having the freedom to make fast decisions, having a team where everyone feels committed and everyone understands how those decisions are being made, has an acute advantage over what might transpire in the ever-noodling often-bloated, corporate world. Besides, when you get lucky to be involved with a small company you are working with a group of people you actually like, respect and enjoy working with! To the point of wanting to do it all again and again.

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