Do not decide what your REAL Product Strategy is until you have Version 1.0 ready! Be Ready to Pivot!

In 2006, folks at the company Odeo were brainstorming ideas for a new software product that they wanted to develop. They came up with the idea for “Twtr” for sending SMS-like messages to groups of people who may be interested in receiving it. Then they hit upon the word “Twitter” that stood for chirps from birds that also stood for “spreading inconsequential information”! That’s how Twitter was born! For a long time, Twitter was made a lot of fun of, with many people denigrating it for exactly the same thing – useless stuff for people who have too much time on their hands and not much to do!

Fast forward a few years! Try telling how “inconsequential” Twitter is to the thousands of people who sent huge numbers of tweets from Egypt trying to highlight atrocities committed by Mubarak’s people before he was overthrown!

As you read this article, Twitter is being used in Syria by both sides in the conflict to get news, pictures and other information about the conflict that is happening there to their own supporters worldwide, in real-time!

It is no longer inconsequential and has become a real-time, short, quick mechanism to get information, images out to those interested. If you have lots more information to convey than 140 characters you place them on sites and send the URLs out! Now you can send it to additional people by attaching tags!

Documentum was a document management company that was started in 1990 and grew solely as a US FDA drug approval document and workflow management company. They had their first version ready and found that pharmaceutical companies in the US were needing a system that centralized all drug approval documents, and provided document versioning when many folks, distributed geographically, needed to contribute and edit others’ edits.

Documentum was a FDA document management software for a long time before they penetrated other verticals and became a general document management software company!

Our own company started out as a Real-time Business Intelligence software company. When we showed our partically completed first version to some Business Process Outsourcing companies in Chennai just on a lark, they said that that was exactly what was needed to process their BPO SLA monitoring activities. So we became a BPO and Call Center Analytics company from a Real-Time Business Intelligence company!

From our next version, the software was dedicated to having the features that was tailored specifically for that purpose, and took a different course!

What are the  lessons from all these examples?
If you are passionate about solving some problem, go ahead and implement something first. Show it around, gather users, have them use your product, and gather feedback. See where your sweet spots are – whose pain does it solve? Does it solve that pain immediately? Is the pain large enough for them to pay something in some way immediately (or monetization in case it is a consumer oriented software product like facebook or Twitter)?

If you get the same kind of positive feedback from some subset of your users consistently, you have found your sweet spot! Focus more on that market, be ready to pivot your direction towards that for a while forgetting all other markets! You can always come back to those other ones, once you are successful in that market.

Product startups may not be able to completely predict accurately who exactly might use their software and result in revenues for you in some way, right out of the gate! So get something out early, sign up users and get feedback and observe!

And be ready to pivot towards where you are finding your sweetspots! As a young startup it is very easy to get distracted and start going after all markets and all directions, but paradoxically the right strategy for rapid growth is always narrower focus! Focus in one area, one market, one group of users. Make it successful there, and then you can explore the other areas.

It is very easy to invest too much of your ego in your original direction and get stuck. This is especially a problem with technical founders. If your objective is just to do some hacking and have some technical fun, that may be OK. But if you want to build a successful business, you need to keep your ego in check and be ready to change direction nimbly, especially in the beginning.

Why aren’t more developers creating serious Mobile App Products?

Mobile Apps

These are the times, when every third person that you meet in Technology world has an idea for an App. It could be every alternate person if you’re hanging out in geeky groups or among heavy Smartphone users.

The Industry trends suggest a phenomenal surge as well. According to Gartner, Mobile Apps Store downloads worldwide for the year 2012 will surpass 45.6 billion. Out of these, nearly 90% are free Apps, while out of the rest of 5 billion downloads majority (90% again) cost less than $3 per download. This trend has a strong growth curve for the next five years. (See Table 1. Mobile App Store Downloads, courtesy: Gartner) 

Another report suggests that 78% of US mobile App Companies are small businesses (based on the Apple and Android App Stores based research). The typical apps that dominate this market are games, education, productivity, and business.

Mobile App Store Downloads - Gartner 2012

This comes as no surprise. There is a huge divide between the Enterprise Mobility (dominated by the Enterprise Architecture, existing platforms and mobility extensions to the platforms that ensure business continuity) and End-User (Consumer) Mobile Apps dominated by the App Stores supported Small and Mid-size App Development Companies. The barriers to entry in the Smart phone Apps Market seem pretty low with the supporting ecosystem from Apple, Amazon, Google, and Telecom carriers.

However, let’s get back to the fact that majority of these Apps “do not” generate direct revenue.

While the entry seems without barriers, there are multiple hurdles on the race track:

1. Developers need to focus on the User Experience. The smartphone apps pick-up is highly skewed toward Apps that offer a good user experience even for minimal functionality. After the initial success, the App makers end up adding functionality for sustained interest, but the User Experience tops. It’s difficult to focus on UX while still trying to do everything right at the underlying architecture level for long term.

2. Marketing is important. Getting the early eyeballs is key for the App developers. Any serious App needs an immediate initial take-off, and among the things that they need to do to make it happen is to market the App beforehand and to get the authoritative reviews in place.

3. Initial Take-off is just the first hurdle. App needs to be able to handle traffic bursts, it needs scale with increased traction, support virality & social connects inherently, and also build an effective User ecosystem. None of these may seem like the core functional features of the App, but are most critical for the broad-based success.

4. The Freemium model is very popular, but it can kill the business if the marginal costs are not sustainable. The paradox of the Free model is that unless the 10% paid users are able to pay for your 100% costs, every additional user takes you closer to the grave. With this come in two questions – how do you keep the infrastructural costs low, and how do you build additional revenue models around the app.

  • IaaS can solve some of the infrastructural headache, but doesn’t provide you with the other functional layers that every App needs. You need to still build them. PaaS providers provide the scalable platform for building Apps, but you still need to build some of the functional features such as Gaming Rooms support, Messaging, User Authentication & authorization models, and so on. Mobile developers are still doing a lot of repetitive work across the smartphone Apps that can be consolidated into a framework.
  • Supporting the additional revenue models require integration with external Ad-services, Payment systems and more importantly the bandwidth to deal with this even more fragmented set of agencies.

5. The End-point device platforms are fragmented and getting even more so. A typical model for App developers is to develop an Android App, iOS App or a Windows App and then support the other platforms as they go along. However, keeping up with these multiple platforms is only getting more and more difficult with the speed with which Apple, Microsoft, and Google keep rolling out the OS. There’s tremendous pressure to release the App within the 1-3 days window of the release of the underlying platform.

Hence, while there are millions of people developing smartphone Apps as we speak, there are only a fraction that get built at serious level, and even smaller fraction that gets built for sustainable business success.

And considering these hurdles, the arrival of the Backend-as-a-Service (BaaS) is a blessing for the App Developers. Forrster’s Michael Facemire refers to them as “The New Lightweight Middleware”. He goes ahead and lists out some of the basic tenets of what makes a Mobile Backend as a Service, but I see this list evolving as the vendors offer more and more functionality to the customers leading to en ecosystem.

And the term “ecosystem” is going to be the key. That’s because a successful mobile App doesn’t stop at the user starting the app, using the app, and leaving the app. A successful App creates an ecosystem for the viral growth, user engagement, social functionality, in-built broad-based connectivity for multi-user interactions, and more importantly the ability for cross-platform usage. In a Gaming scenario, the user interactions and the relevant immediate feedbacks are paramount. Most successful apps build an ecosystem. Instagram, 4Square, Pinterest are the common household examples today.

ShepHertz App42 Cloud API is complete backend as service to help app developers develop, buid and deploy their app on the cloud.While Michael lists out the usual suspects in his post, most of them in the Silicon Valley, there is a very interesting player in Shephertz’s App42 platform, right here in India. The ecosystem approach that they have taken seems pretty much what may be required for serious app developers that need a robust backend provided as a service, so that they can focus on the app functionality, user experience, and more importantly the marketing aspects of the App.

Now why, still, aren’t more and more developers building even more serious mobile App products? Why shouldn’t they be? I think, they will!

Product companies will constantly change business plans, product ideas, and offerings to meet the ever-changing market opportunities, Piyush Singh, CIO, Great American Insurance Co.

Piyush Singh is the Chief Information Office (CIO) and Senior Vice President at the Great American Insurance Company—a property and casualty insurance company, and Vice President of it’s parent company, American Financial Group [NYSE:AFG]. Under his direction and vision, Great American’s IT department has transitioned from supporting a legacy IT environment to become a trusted player in the company’s business success—offering agility and adaptability to align with the executive vision. In this interview, Mr. Singh shares his observations on innovation in Indian software companies, product development, and how large IT companies could accelerate the pace of product innovation. 

Piyush, you have been watching the Indian software industry over a period of time. What are some of the changes you see now especially in the context of the software product industry in India?

The Indian software Industry is the envy of many countries around the world, and numerous governments and business associations have been trying to emulate its model. It has made a significant difference in elevating the professional services job market and provided the necessary fillip to the country’s infrastructure—transforming sleepy suburbs into high-tech cities with world-class facilities. The Indian software Industry contributes $67B to the economy in direct revenue, but delivers a bigger economic impact (probably tenfold) when you think of all the tertiary employment it generates and the indirect revenues created.

Yet, this phenomenal growth has been a result of labor pricing arbitrage, and many of the large companies that lead the software services are today challenged by lack of innovation and intellectual property (IP). Yes, outsourcing and large services contracts are definitely attractive but unsustainable in the long-term. Sustainable growth and maintaining unique value propositions demand significant investment in IP—and this needs to be more than just systematizing processes. I do not see IT services companies investing in actual development of product portfolios that might address vertical markets or provide horizontal solutions. Typically, I see global services brands create deliberate pools of internal innovation that harnesses the knowledge of its workforce or buy IP-based companies to provide them the necessary scale for reach and investment. So far, I’ve seen neither processes here, but am hopeful that this will change.

Culturally, do you think Indians (and this is very broad considering our diversity) are risk takers and willing to start out businesses? Or are they averse to taking risks?

I don’t think so, and there are numerous examples of our appetite for risk—numerous Indians in the Silicon Valley have taken their start-ups all the way to public offerings. What I have noticed is, we tend to invest in real estate—really investing for the long haul.

Today, I find ourselves increasingly accepting entrepreneurship and its risks, even as senior executives leave large corporations to do something more meaningful, and different. But these new companies will need significant capital and gestation periods before they begin to show results. This is in contrast to the services industry growth that sets an average 20-30% growth every year—leaving start-ups struggling to showcase such growth. The risks and returns are completely different in a product company—Oracle, SAP, Microsoft, Apple are all shining examples of IP-led revenue-generators. Their valuation and market sizes are incredibly spectacular. But they didn’t grow into such successes overnight.

Product companies will constantly change business plans, product ideas, and offerings to meet the ever-changing market opportunities. These evolutions take time, effort, and capital—ask any Silicon Valley venture capitalist.

On the other hand, if you read the balance sheets of many of the services firms, they have idle cash, and great market reach. It will be a win-win for all if they use the cash to fund or accelerate the incubation of products that they can take back to their markets.

What is your take on emerging companies in the product space? We see, for example, many of them are developing apps and very few seem to be venturing into the enterprise or B2B space. Do you agree?

I agree completely. In the insurance space, for example, of all the companies out of India I’ve worked with, only a few have made any real IP investments—MajescoMastek, PlanetSoft (acquired by Ebix), L&T Infotech, and Mphasis. But if you see the revenue portfolio of the top 200 services firms out of India, the financial services industry is a leader in driving investments. And only a handful companies have made any IP-led investments. Strange, don’t you think?

What’s interesting is that it’s not that India doesn’t have the talent: every large US-based company (Microsoft, HP, Cisco, IBM) have a lot of product development out of India. The capabilities and talent definitely exists—we need the larger Indian companies to show the way.  They should make use of the talent that exists in their own setups, sponsor ideation, build incubators and make a directional investment in product development. They should stand up to explain their actions and the promise it holds. Analysts might not like the idea initially as it does not fit in their current forecasting models  but as they realize the potential and see results over time, they will warm up to the concept and probably push for higher investment. I would argue that Indian companies do bring in a lot of process expertise in any project that they manage, so  they can definitely build processes that would seek ideation and lead to valuable IP.

What’s your view on innovation in the Corporate environments?

Innovation has become a necessity for existence. As Robert Murdoch, Chairman and CEO of News Corp aptly said, “The world is changing very fast.  Big will not beat small anymore.  It will be the fast beating the slow.”  Innovation is being taken out of R&D labs and becoming the fabric of the entire company and an integral part of the culture at all levels. If it’s not happening, it can hurt them. Look at what’s happened to Kodak—they invented the digital camera concept but now the only value left is in the patents which they filed.    Blackberry (RIM) is facing a similar situation – in May of 2008, of the corporate companies surveyed 82% of them were looking at buying RIM based Blackberry’s.  Their lack of innovation in the world of user experience design has left them in a situation no one wants their company to be.

Do you think a major contributing factor in the last couple of years has been contributed by bandwidth availability, relatively easier capital and technology disruptions from areas like cloud computing? Have these leveled the playing field?

Well, these not only level the playing field but also give you an opportunity to differentiate your offering. For example, cloud computing levels the playing field, making it a lot easier for people to invest in or explore new products as long as you provide open integration points,a level of flexibility and a blueprint for future innovation. Commoditization brings prices down but forces you to decide on the USP that would help your company stand out.  You need to balance commodity with strong uniqueness so you can leverage both benefits. People who are going to be nimble and fast, and people who respond to these paradigm shifts are going to emerge the winner.  The key lies in how quickly you react to market forces and how adaptable you are. Any country that can produce a model of constant adaptability becomes a much more stronger player in the long haul.

Five years ago a typical software strategy didn’t take into account elements like user experience design, predictable analytics/big data, mobility and enterprise social networking. If you’re a ten-year old product company or a large services firm, it’s a little tougher to make a shift to embrace these elements. If you’re a smaller company though, and you’re nimble and watching these trends closely you can adapt to them quickly. It depends on how leading edge you are, because people are always talking in the context of ‘now.’ Mobility has been on the forefront since early 2008—but companies are still exploring mobile apps. Big data has been there for 3 plus years—but how many people are truly exploiting the value of this data? Enterprise social networking helps companies capitalize on people, collaboration and sharing better. It provides individuals more command and control—if the person at the lowest level comes up with a bright idea, everybody knows who to give credit to!

So you Piyush – if you had to give some advise to product companies or people who are venturing into the software product element India, what would you say?

  • Identify a domain where you see that there is market opportunity and don’t look at what is currently being offered as a solution.  Try to look 3 years ahead and try to build it around the emerging model of doing business—it’s about how you’re going to do business tomorrow, not how people work today.
  • You’ve got to balance domain expertise with people from outside so that you can think differently. You can’t have people who think the same way all the time. You need to understand how to incorporate User Experience Design—making people react and say “It is obvious.” Product companies have the advantage of disrupting the existing ways and changing the model—that’s what DELL did with PCs, Amazon with the book store, and Netflix changed movie watching at home.
  • You should be willing to find a charter partner who can help you to bring about change and  break the current paradigm.  Once you have this, you’re on the path to building a product that will succeed.
  • Don’t just be happy with what you have and what you build. You really have to be dissatisfied with the present and galvanize resources into action. This requires a fundamental shift in the group mindset, how we operate and how the company is structured. We need to learn from the old Chinese saying ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ – not just the management ranks!
  • Don’t make random calls and hope that there will be sales. Learn the market, understand the potential buyer fully and then target with laser focus. Do not take a shot gun approach and hope that it succeeds.

Which 5 product companies or fields are you interested in meeting?

I would rather choose three fields that are of interest for me:

  • Companies that are working in the insurance sector – what are they doing and what’s innovative
  • Companies involved in infrastructure–what are you doing to improve the end user experience/reliability and availability in the modern complex world
  • Companies that are involved in new and novel concepts that challenges any business model. I want to be challenged to look outside my standard thinking model.

If you are keen to meet with Piyush at NPC. Do drop in a mail to us at [email protected] and we will get back to you.

Want Software Product Success? Narrow the gap between the User and Technology!

Guess what’s the #1 Business Intelligence Tool in the world is?

Oracle BI?

Microsoft BI?

Informatica? Cognos?

None of the above! The ugly and the real truth is that the #1 Business Intelligence tool in the world today is…..

…… The Spreadsheet!

Yes! The lowly spreadsheet is the most used BI tool in the world, including every Indian IT company that we have come in contact with.

Companies invest millions of dollars (or rupees) on expensive Data Warehousing and BI tools but secretly everybody is using spreadsheets to download the data from these data sources into spreadsheets and doing their own Business Intelligence!

The simple secret is that the lowly spreadsheet bridges the last mile gap between the USER AND THE TECHNOLOGY!

The formalism is very simple – you, as the user can get very far by doing your own programming, as long as it is something simple, with formulas and macros!

Now with support for Pivot tables,  they allow this self-programming to go even farther than that! You can drill-down and see how composite numbers are made of simpler numbers!

That’s the real secret of software product innovation. Bridge that last mile gap between the user and the technology and you have a winner!

I have personal experience with this!

BPO and Call Centers in India were struggling with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and SLAs. Clients in the US and Europe write BPO and Call Center contracts with Incentives for meeting SLAs with KPIs and penalties for not meeting them!

There you go – if your product is directly tied to money, you have a winner already!

If your Average Handling Time for a call is within 3 minutes you get an additional incentive. If not your total payment got a penalty deducted from it. If your Customer Satisfaction Index average for a process is less than 3.0 on a scale of 1  to 5, you got a penalty. If it is more, you got an incentive!

Every large BPO company had anywhere from 1 to 20 clients, each client has 1 to 20 processes, each process had about 5 to 20 KPIs, each KPI was calculated with about 2 or 3 pieces of information.

That was a lot of information to process, more so, when the information came from backend databases, excel spreadsheets and just simple text information reports or CSV file extracts from clients’ systems in the US and Europe.

So we built an ETL framework that handled inputs from may different sources, we used Microsoft SQL servers, built automated tools that built data cubes automatically and populated them automatically using MDX queries. Drill-down Queries got translated into MDX queries automatically.

When you queried stuff or imported raw data , we built tools that were friendly with Excel spreadsheets, allowed export/import, since we knew that was the most popular mechanism used.

Yes. we were successful in selling enterprise licenses to Indian companies that were trying to find a comprehensive solution for this problem for a long time.

We bridged the gap between the user and the technology and were successful!

That’s always the secret, whatever your passion is, software product innovation for the consumer or business!

Figure out what that gap is , between the user and the technology, and bridge it, you have a winner!

 

Is Software Innovation an Art or a Science? It’s Artful Science or Scientific Art!

When we think of Software Product Innovation, we imagine getting “Eureka!” moments 3 am in the morning, getting up and writing down inspired thoughts and coding them the next morning!

Reality is much more mundane and is more of evolution rather than sudden insprirations from the sky!

Yahoo started because Jerry Yang and Filo just wanted to create a searchable directory of information first at Stanford University and then San Francisco in general!

facebook started as a teenage testorone-fueled comparion site for Harvard students to post pictures of fellow girl students and rate who’s hot and who’s not! From there it evolved into directories of students in universities to find each other for dating more than anythingelse. For a long time, facebook signed up university by university and not the general public-oriented thing it is now!

This stands for enterprise software products also – Oracle Relational Databases were less expensive, clumsy knock-offs and replacements for Digital Equipment Corporation’s RDB/VMS relational database system.

Before Microsoft Word and Excel spreadsheets, there were Lotus Ami Pro and Lotus 123!

Before Google search, there were DEC Alta Vista search engine and Yahoo!

What made all the successful ones innovations in their own right were not just technical superiority but they took useful innovations and products before them and fixed annoying problems with their usages or expanded the concept of who can use them additionally or fixed usability problems with them.

Or they took an older concept and applied it to a new platform!

Or took an older concept and applied it to a newer market!

So if you want to innovate, you don’t necessarily to invent something new. You can innovate by doing one of these:

—- Is there something useful but not so easy to use? Can I fix it by making it easier to use? (Google’s single search box in the middle is a great example – Alta Vista got lost in boolean searches and requiring ANDs and ORs when specifying search. Google said – don’t worry about all of that stuff. We will take care of it. Just type in what you want into that box!)

— Can I take something useful and apply it to a new market? eBay India was another company before it became eBay bought it and made it eBay India. Flipkart is India’s Amazon. Cleartrip is India’s Expedia! Make no mistake. They are not just copies. Flipkart uses courier delivery. Cleartrip is useful for buying train tickets less painfully than when going to the IRCTC website. They all add some value and difference!

— Can I take something in one platform and make it suitable and applicable to another platform? Mobiile versions of applications may need to be differently designed and executed than an online, browser version of something.

— Can I build a family of products around one idea with more features? Personal, Professional, Enterprise versions of software is a fairly standardized way of adding additional features but orienting them towards different markets.

— Can I build a family of products that are related to each other but different from each other in functionality? Word, Powerpoint, Visio, Excel are all examples of slightly related products but providing different kinds of functionality.

Many times, we think that innovation is coming up with something completely new,. Successful innovations have all fixed or fine-tuned something useful but had some problems that were preventing widespread adoption.

Sometimes it is as simple as figuring out what these are and fixing them. And also thinking about related things so that you are thinking about a “family of products” rather than a single “one hit wonder”.

Wikipedia provides a clear definition of Innovation:

Innovation is the development of new customer value through solutions that meet new needs, unarticulated needs, or old customer and market needs in new ways. This is accomplished through different or more effective productsprocessesservices,technologies, or ideas that are readily available to marketsgovernments, and society. Innovation differs from invention in that innovation refers to the use of a better and, as a result, novel idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself. Innovation differs from improvement in that innovation refers to the notion of doing something different (Lat. innovare: “to change”) rather than doing the same thing better.

Be There or You Will regret it – Product Conclave 2012

NASSCOM Product Conclave (NPC) 2012 is an exclusive forum for product entrepreneurs looking to get actionable takeaways and learn from experts, peers and practitioners on their Go-to-market strategy. NPC 2012 promises to motivate, inspire and educate. An all star cast of product entrepreneurs, including Ram Shriram (Sherpalo Ventures), Sajiv Sidhu (i2 technologies) will share their proven techniques for product success. Over 60+ hours of goal oriented track sessions in the areas of product management, marketing, sales and business development will help you learn from people who have previously built, are currently building or are looking to build global product organizations.

The frustration of “lack of progress” with your product

On the outside looking in, its extremely frustrating to hear of product teams shipping product multiple times a day.

I tend to often question: “What in devil’s name am I doing wrong”?

  • Is it that I have not defined the product requirements right?
  • Have we hired the wrong people? Does our team not have enough experience?
  • Is our culture not supportive of mistakes?
  • Are we not focusing on the right things?
  • Do we not have the capability to get stuff done quickly?

Experience with multiple startups has taught me that its ignorant to compare your company with others (who might have stated at the same time) who have more “visible progress” than yours does.

But I hate that experience.

Its hard not to compare and question why is someone else doing so well with a smaller team than you have.

Experience has also taught me that startups for most parts (like kids) have a step function in progress. Its rarely a smooth “up and to the right”.

I hate that experience as well.

Should all that experience not make the next go around a lot smoother?

So the question – “What the value of all that experience”?

There’s only one answer – Its overvalued.

There’s one solution to most of these questions and although it is a cliche and often repeated, the answer is “Hire right” – whether its consultants or contractors or full-time employees, you need to constantly evaluate and hire the right people.

So, how do you hire right? And how do you define “right”?

So lets start with not the job description, but with your culture and values. Hire the right person that fits your culture and can align with your values.

If you culture is defined by moving fast, hire and attract people that can do that.

How do you determine if someone “fits” your culture if all you can do is interview them for 1 hour or so?

Write down questions to situations where you feel your culture will make them act one way versus the other. Ask those questions during the interview.

Depending on the answer to those questions you can determine if they can align.

What I have learned is people rarely change. So its hopeless to expect someone who is not a good cultural fit, to come in and get “religion”.

Original Post can be accessed at BestEngagingCommunities.com

The new age startup – Build a feature not a product

Its a well known fact that the infrastructure costs of building a software / Internet startup have dramatically reduced. Although the costs of developers have dramatically gone up by the same percentage, the productivity per employee hired has also gone up dramatically. Given that a developer can now manage instances, push to production etc., the need for DevOps is moved to a much later day, lowering the number of people needed at a startup.

A decade ago most companies were focused on building a business – long term focus, building processes to scale and grow.

5 years ago companies started to focus on building a good product.

The new law of the valley startup (2012) is build a feature.

See if there’s any traction.

Build next feature.

See if traction has increased.

<Rinse & Repeat>

Why has this happened?

1. MVP: Most people are taking the Minimum viable product to its extreme (or bare minimum) and valuing a shipping feature over a feature rich product delivered later.

2. Try your idea out: Most of us have a idea (we think) is going to change the world. The world though, has other plans. It does not like change. Small, incremental changes are acceptable (maybe) but large ones, take time. So lets push a simple small change to the user (customer) and see their reaction.

3. Too small to fail. If all a feature takes is 3-4 weeks to build, the cost of the development is low. Amazingly low. And at that point, failure (or lack of traction) does not matter. Its okay for the product to not fit the market, because the product  was not built anyway. Its just a feature that was built.

4. It helps with prioritizing features of your product. If all you build is one feature, the next one is customer driven (mostly). If a feature does not get traction, it does not matter. Remove it to add another.

5.There’s no long term without short term. I heard PG say this from another friend. If you dont get some short term traction or wins, there’s no point in thinking what the world would look like when you are dominating it.

So my fellow entrepreneurs, build a feature.

Ship. See if it gets traction. Build more. Keep shipping.

>>Original Post can be accessed at BestEngagingCommunities.com

The Product Business is Like the Movie Business

I read the cover story in Forbes on the success of Dropbox, which is set to do about $240 million in sales in 2011, with only 70 employees. As Forbes points out, that is about 3x the revenue per employee of Google, which is no slouch in the revenue per employee department itself. First, congratulations, Dropbox! This is the type of breathtaking number that makes the ordinarily successful companies like, well, Zoho, to wonder “What are we doing wrong?”

In our 15 year history in Zoho Corporation – which is bigger than the Zoho product suite itself – we have shipped over 70 products, of which we would say about 30 have been successful in the sense of being nicely profitable. Yet, even with that group of 30 products, we have seen the 10x effect: a set of two products that have taken approximately the same amount of effort to build, by similarly situated teams, yet one of them does 10x the sales of the other, with both of them being profitable. Of course the 10-bagger is much more profitable but the key point is that both of them could be counted as successful in the sense of being profitable. We have even seen 100x difference for approximately the same effort, but in our case, that is the difference between doing only $100K a year in sales vs $10 million a year, and I would not count that as 100x because the $100K product either grows up or we would eventually discontinue it because it is not profitable.

Dropbox is a logical extension of this phenomenon, where a product does 100x the sales, without taking much more by way of engineering effort than a profitable 1x product. And then the grand daddy of them all – Google search, which in its heyday reached $1 billion in sales, on not much more than the effort of a single engineering team – the headcount gets added later to diversify the company but the original search was a small team. I believe there has only been one Google search so far, so the ordinarily successful (ahem!) shouldn’t feel too bad.

Y Combinator, which has funded over 300 companies so far, is a perfect illustration. All these teams are similarly situated, with similar founder profiles and they all get similar initial funding, and they spend similar initial effort. If we consider only the universe of profitable YC companies, my guess is that so far there is only one 100-bagger i.e Dropbox, in the YC portfolio. Based on Zoho experience, I would estimate YC has about ten 10-baggers, and about fifty one-baggers (i.e just about profitable).

Welcome to the product business, which looks very much like the movie business!

Enterprise Applications – Thousands of app “snacks” instead of “full meal” applications?

Today was the second time I am hearing that the future of applications in enterprises are thousands of small apps instead a hundred or two applications!

I was listening to the CTO of Computer Associates who forecasts the future of applications in enterprises as stringing together lots of small apps that do something very well rather than developing something from scratch fully!

Here is the article that covers his talk that is provocatively labelled “Video Killed the Radio Star and Cloud Computing Will Kill the Programming Star”

Donald Ferguson, CTO of Computer Associates makes the very interesting point that you can STITCH together bigger applications with small focused apps together to do something larger in an enterprise.

Very true! Here is the website I created for our local networking group Healthcare Innovation Programs – Kentucky which is a networking group to educate each other about innovations happening here in Kentucky.

I put this together in 30 minutes! THIRTY MINUTES! Ten years ago this would be a three month project with hacking HTML by hand!

About a year ago I put together another website for another networking group usingNing that took me three hours to figure out and set up!

Here is the second article that argues for enterprises using thousands of small apps rather than developing large apps! – On Deploying Tablets in the Enterprise


The discussion panel in this article also makes the same point – “Don’t turn tablets into PCs,” Todd Barr said, meaning that IT departments shouldn’t try to manage them as closely. Since apps are cheap, organizations should encourage experimentation and individual work styles.

Seems like that’s where things are headed – small apps stitched together to do something bigger!

It’s happening in mHealth already – Withings Body Scale enters into partnership with BodyMedia FIT Armband.

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies. – Mother Teresa.

Indian Software Startups Similar to Excitement of Late-90s Silicon Valley

Editor’s note: Sharad Sharma and M.R. Rangaswami are co-hosts of the NASSCOM Product Conclave 2011 (November 8-10, 2011), a must-attend event for software product startups. Now in its eighth year, more than 1,200 delegates from 600+ companies are expected to attend. Sharma and Rangaswami share with SandHill readers their insights on what’s happening in this dynamic market – and why U.S. buyers and software execs should keep the Indian startups on their radar screen.

One of the keynote speakers at the NASSCOM Product Conclave a couple of years back was Guy Kawasaki. In his recently published his book, “Enchantment,” he wrote that our Conclave was one of the most interesting that he had attended in the last few years because of the energy at the conference. And the energy this year is already really high. That’s because, in some respects, the Indian software products industry today is where Silicon Valley was in the 1997-98 time frame.

The Valley then was in a different era of entrepreneurship. There was enormous excitement about where the future of the world was headed and the role that the Valley could play in that. India is somewhat like that in the context of what’s happening now and the role that its software products industry can play in the economic future of India and the rest of the world. It’s a very exciting time.

Original Post at Sandhill.com