How to Think Big in Software Products?

Sometime ago, I wrote another post in this forum – Expect a Microsoft, Google or facebook out of India? Won’t happen unless we THINK BIG! .

Thinking Big is a process with definite and specific benefits, about which I will write in a future post.

But this post is about How to Think Big?

Again, some disclaimers! This is only for entrepreneurs and people in the software product ecosystem who want to build something of the scale of Google or Microsoft in India.

You can certainly build great companies that serve the Indian market with Software Products or Services and make a really good living out of it.  You can build services companies that target the whole world and make them very successful like we have seen the past three decades. It is in no way less noble, profitable and good for society than software product companies that target the whole world.

So if you are of the belief that global companies do not map to the Indian market (which is complete non-sense given the reality of what people use in India everyday either as individuals or enterprises)  or Indian companies cannot be built to a global scale, this article is not for you. You can stop reading it right here! This is only for entrepreneurs in India wondering what it takes to build a software company of the scale of a Google or a Facebook or Microsoft targeting the global marketplace.

And there are lots of them today, in India!  – Check out  the article – We are very very bullish on India, Paul Singh, Partner, 500 Startups.

Thinking Big does not mean you spend days day dreaming about big things and dropping what you do today and starting to think about big things. In fact, quite the opposite is true! Big companies have been built with building something small first but quickly redefining what you do in terms of larger markets, larger visions, larger missions and tactics.

Facebook started as a silly college prank site to post pilfered pictures of pretty people and others rating them “Hot or Not”! Once they found out that its better as a virtual meeting place and for status updates about what’s happening in the students’ lives, the redefined it as a business that targets only colleges. For a long time, facebook was limited to colleges only and they rolled them out college by college. Then they realized that it is useful for everyone in the world. Today facebook defines its business as a virtual meeting place for everyone in the world!

Google started as a search company for information in websites. Now they are defining themselves as helping you search for a location (maps), videos, audios and is the business of indexing all information in the world and helping you find it!

On the enterprise products side, PeopleSoft concentrated for a long time on enterprise HR functions and then expanded out to CRM, Manufacturing, Accounting and Finance, etc. is a great example of someone thinking big, right at the beginning but targeting a problem everyone faces everyday. Watch this company started by a 17 year old Nick D’Aloisio – this could be one one of the next big things, and this kid could be very successful! That’s because Summly is addressing a very pressing problem in a very large market! Summly is an iPhone app that automatically summarizes in one paragraph, important stories from all major news sources. I tried it and it’s very useful. In about 10 minutes you can get yourself updated with important things that are happening in all facets of news. Google News is good but you still need to go through entire articles yourself. People don’t have time to do this on a consistent basis day in and day out.  This company could go places quickly.

So how do you Think Big?

  • Are you addressing a pressing need for your target market for the whole world? – In my previous post I outlined a number of problems individuals still face everyday – information in many form factors – smartphones, laptops and desktops. In many software packages – documents, spreadsheets, databases, calendars, notes software, etc. Enterprises are still dealing with pressing problems like security, backups, disaster recovery, incompatible data within the same company and between companies. So whether you target the consumer world or the enterprise world, there are unresolved problems everyday. I bet that no matter what you do today,it can be conceptually mapped to a larger target market anytime. It’s in your own thinking!  There are always other things that are close in affinity to what you do, to expand the market into a larger one. If you are developing a software solution for hospitals in India, how can you generalize this into a solution for hospitals in Europe, US or Asia-Pacific?. While doing this just remember that your technology delivery mechanisms may need to change also. Hospitals in India may be using desktops and laptops but elsewhere it may need to be tablets and smartphones. Summly above is a great example in the consumer marketplace – thinking big to solve a common problem for everyone in the world – Too much information, too little time. You think that such companies cannot be built in India? I don’t think so! Resources to build such companies are available to Indian Entrepreneurs just as easily and cheaply to any body in Silicon Valley or elsewhere! What’s holding us back is our own thinking, nothing else!
  • Is it a large enough and fast-growing market?  – Both the words large and fast-growing are important if you want to build something of the scale of Google or Microsoft. That has everything to do with the problem you are solving as well as the timing of it. Oracle was aggressive with its Relational Database product when the demand for databases was growing fast since it was the beginning of the IT automation in many companies. Microsoft grew with the fast growth or personal computing. Google grew with the fast growth of websites and the need to search for a needle in a haystack of billions of websites. So you may ask, what are the corresponding trends today?  If I were to start a company today (for the global market, not just India) , I will not bother about laptops and desktops and enterprise systems. The future of computing is small form factor systems like Smart Phones and Tablets with cloud-powered backends. In five years’ time tablets and smartphones will be the laptops and desktops of today. But each of those platforms are different from even each other. Smartphone apps need to do something quickly, simply and not too complicated. People realistically spend at most a minute with apps in a Smartphone. Tablets have more screen space, have space for complex applications but they have other problems that need to be addressed properly like security, online and offline modes of working that you did not encounter with laptops and desktops. These are the problems that create opportunities in both the consumer and business global marketplaces!
It’s as simple as that! Thinking Big is about  – Is it a pressing need and is it addressing a large enough and fast growing market? It does not matter that you address all of that market right away but can you see how your current products can be expanded to cover more and more of the larger market?
So it boils down to – Are you Thinking Big if you are just starting out and if you have an existing company with software products, are you Thinking Bigger?
In my next post I will address definite and specific benefits to a startup company or an existing company with software products on Thinking Big!
Look at things not as they are, but as they can be. Visualization adds value to everything. A big thinker always visualizes what can be done in the future. He isn’t stuck with the present. – David J. Schwartz.