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Experts Are Experts Because They Can Advise Not Because They Can Create

Last week I was chatting with a good friend that is working in a super cool idea in a very challenging industry. As a great developer, my friend tends to initially look at problems from the technical standpoint. However, in this case, he has been smart enough to search for advice of different experts in the domain he is targeting. Even though the idea seems to have great potential, my friend was a bit concerned about how to proceed in case the feedback from the experts wasn’t that positive.

After listening to his argument and convinced of the technical quality and disruptive nature of the product I gave him a very simple advice: keep listening to as many experts as you can, do as much market research as you can but know that, at the end, you might be in a position on which you have to ignore the expert advice and pursue your dream. My reasoning here is very simple; experts are experts because they can advise but not necessarily because they can create.

By definition, if someone has developed a great level of expertise in a particular domain it means that they have been able to acquire a large amount of knowledge in the current stage of that domain. That level of insight in a specific domain can sometimes become the greatest obstacle when comes to envision disruptive solutions in that same space. Think about it, Steve Jobs wasn’t exactly an expert in the music industry, Dropbox’s creator Drew Houston didn’t have any background on building large scalable synchronization systems and Elon Musk hadn’t built any cars before he created Tesla.

Domain experts can certainly become disruptors in a specific space but, to do so, they need to rely on different qualities not necessarily related to their expertise. While knowledge and expertise is certainly required, disrupting a specific domain requires the ability of looking at a problem from brand new perspectives and a strong perseverance to believe that the current solutions in the space, those that are recommended by the experts, are NOT GOOD ENOUGH. In that sense, you can see why these characteristics can, most of the time, don’t go hand-in-hand with subject-matter expertise.

If you are working on a disruptive idea on a new field and are looking for validation from domain experts, my suggestion would be to use the expert-advice to improve and adapt your idea to better address the market/domain. However, I would also recommend to never let the advice of experts be the determining factor on whether you decide to pursue a disruptive idea or not. If experts can understand and feel comfortable with your disruptive idea then, by definition, it might not be that disruptive ;)

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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If You Are Not Working On Your Best Idea Right Now, You Need Therapy

In an interview a couple of years ago, Ruby on Rails creator David Heinemeier Hansson mentioned one of my favorite startup quotes of all times. When asked about why people should work on startups he firmly said “if you are not working on your best idea right now, you are doing it wrong”. That quote really embodies one of best advices you can give colleagues, employees or anybody when comes to plan their career path.

These are very exciting days for the software industry. We are experiencing a confluence of technology revolutions never seen before. Mobility, cloud computing, big data, gamification, social computing, etc are some of the greatest technology movements of the last twenty years and they are all flourishing at the same time. I know veterans in the software industry that predict that we are not going to see something like this for the next 15-20 years. These technology revolutions bring together an unparalleled number of opportunities to build software or services solutions that can have an impact in the world and to help you materialize your entrepreneurial dreams. The time is definitely now!

Working on relevant projects is a luxury that only a small percentage of the software industry enjoys. We typically end up sacrificing the satisfaction of working on things that can have an impact in the world in the name of higher salaries, more stable career paths and that permanent feeling that the time is never quite right. I don’t believe every single talented person in the industry has the entrepreneurial DNA to start and run a company. However, I do think this time in the software industry offers a unique opportunity to put your talents to work in exciting projects that brings you the happiness and satisfaction that only relevant challenges can bring.

Whether you are a programmer, a designer or a business development expert; if you are any good at what you do you would always find people that can offer you  higher salaries or a more senior positions. However, what you can rarely find are the opportunities that allow you to work on products or services that make you proud every night when you go to bed. What is incredibly hard to find are the companies, ideas, teams that can offer you an opportunity to work on something bigger than yourself that can have an impact in the world.

At the end, remember that high-paid opportunities are almost free out there these days but the opportunities of working on great ideas and building dreams are not.

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Get Off the Bitch Train: Selecting the Right Idea for your Product

Few days ago I was having a conversation with a co-founder of a very promising software startup on which she was explaining a few ideas they have been working on. One of the things that truly impressed me was the obsession that this founding team put into selecting the right idea to work on. After having a fairly successful career as a technology consultant, my friends keeps telling how she doesn’t want to work on mediocre “shit” anymore and wants to focus on problems that can have some impact in a specific industry.

“Selecting the right idea for your product is like finding the right guy to date”, jokingly she said. I wish it was that simple, I responded ;)

The conversation with my friend reminded of some ideas that I wrote on a previous blog post that I thought it might be good to present it to the newer audience of this blog :)

If you are any good in your space, whether you are a programmer, artist or any other profession, you are going to have a lot of ideas about how to improve that space. As an entrepreneur, you need to discriminate the ideas that are worth pursuing from the ones that might not be so good. The answer sometimes is far from as trivial as it seems.

Here are a few tips that might help you with the process of selecting the right idea for your product.

Doubt Yourself

Most of the time, people will tell you to trust yourself and your ideas. I am advocating the opposite; doubt and question your ideas every step of the way. Doubting and questioning the viability of a specific idea is not only the responsible thing to do in terms of the people that depend on you but it will keep you incredibly sharp and innovating. The trick is to NEVER LET THE DOUBTS PARALIZE YOU but, instead, use them as a way to refine and improve your ideas.

Believe in your Idea

Always try to pick an idea that you believe in. Sometimes being passionate about an idea is more important in the long run than the idea itself.  Building disruptive companies is a painful journey. You are going to face a lot of skepticism, criticism, and disappointments. The he worst part is that those challenges will extend to your loved ones as well. At any point, your passion and belief in your ideas will keep you going.

Walt Disney would occasionally present some unbelievable, extensive dream he was entertaining. Almost without exception, the members of his board would gulp, blink, and stare back at him in disbelief, resisting even the thought of such a thing. But unless every member resisted the idea, Disney usually didn’t pursue it. The challenge wasn’t big enough to merit his time and creative energy unless they were unanimously in disagreement!

Take Criticisms

I am very blunt about this one, PEOPLE WHO CAN’T TAKE CRITICISMS OR ARE VERY SLOW ASSIMILATING THEM WILL NEVER MAKE GOOD ENTREPENEURS. If you are over sensitive about criticisms you won’t be able to improve and you will let emotions get in the way of your company’s success. My advice here is to trust the intention of the people criticizing your idea, filter the smart criticisms from the stupid ones and MOVE ON.

When Michelangelo was finishing The David, along came Piero Soderini, the town mayor or boss, to have a look. Michelangelo had put a canvas around the scaffolding so no one could watch him work. Piero Soderini put on the show of the art connoisseur, walking around under the huge figure. “It’s coming along wonderfully,” said Piero Soderini. “But do you know what? The nose is too thick.”

He knew that from where Soderini was standing it was impossible to judge whether the nose or anything else was right. “Well, we’ll fix that right now,” he said; and quickly grabbing a hammer and chisel, climbed up the scaffold like a monkey. Clink, clink—Soderini heard the hammer against the chisel and saw marble dust fall. Clink some more. “How’s that?” Michelangelo called down from the scaffold. Of course he hadn’t touched the figure at all but only pretended to be altering the nose.
“Oh, that’s much better!” exclaimed the mayor. “Now you’ve really put life into it.”

Be Knowledgeable

I cannot stress this enough, having deep knowledge about the industry you are playing in, the history of companies in the space, and the market in general, will be key to making the right strategic decisions about your product. I will go a bit further to say that your knowledge of history, science, philosophy, art, or social dynamics will also shape the way your company evolves. In my experience, exceptional entrepreneurs are very often knowledgeable in a lot of these subjects and are able to incorporate ideas and drive inspiration from those subjects into their products.

Larry Ellison is a great admirer and a deep connoisseur of Japanese history and culture. That passion has influenced a lot of aspects of Oracle like aggressive sales and acquisition tactics and the permanent goal of achieving 100% market domination.

If You Like Your Idea, Try To Break It

If you think you have a great idea then try to break it. Spend time and energy exploring every possible reason that could make your product fail and set the passions aside. If you can easily point flaws in your idea then you can expect others will as well.

Evaluate the Risk

Ultimately, you need to evaluate the risk of failing to come up with some strategies to recover from failure if it happens. There are some ideas that are worth trying simply because there are minimum risks in case of a failure.

When the podcasting company Odeo realized that they had little chance against ITunes, Jack Dorsey presented an idea to the team that could help reinvent the company. The idea didn’t have the best reception but, realizing that they had little to lose; Evan Williams gave Jack and Biz Stone two weeks to work on it. Have you heard about Twitter…..? J

Make Others Believe

The degree to which your core team believes in your vision, dreams and capability will directly impact the type of company you are building. Software startups can’t be seen as a factory anymore in which the bosses dictate and the developers follow well defined recipes. Disruptive products need vision, passion, team-collaboration and are typically painfully hard to build. If you are able to inspire your team to share your dreams and passion, they will make your company, product and team better every day.

Can You Execute?

Your capacity to execute is as important as the quality of the idea. As an entrepreneur you should obsess about the execution of your team, you need to spend less time doing the fun stuff and more taking on the painful things and making others execute better.

The French invasion of Russia in 1812 was considered a great idea from any military standpoint but Napoleon totally underestimated their capability to survive the crude Russian winter. If the Russian campaign turned out to be successful, it would have been the end of years of European wars and would have granted France one of the biggest empires in human history. Instead, the failure of the execution forced the French troops to retire from Russia in December 1812 marking the beginning of the decline of the Napoleonic empire.

Stop Sketching and Start Executing

Execution is the best way to validate and improve your ideas. Don’t try to answer every question before you start executing. Most likely, you won’t be able to. Without executing on an idea you are unlikely to find out its true potential. Remember that failure is rarely the worse outcome, mediocrity is.

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Enterprise Software Sucks but it Doesn’t Have To

Very frequently we hear IT professionals complain about the poor quality and experience of enterprise software packages when compared to the simplicity and always growing innovation of consumer software, and rightfully so!

Enterprise software is, for the most part, archaic, boring, expensive and rarely innovative. As a result, IT environments keep distancing themselves from modern social and consumer dynamics to a point that they almost seem like two different worlds.

Most people will blame the big enterprise software vendors for the lack of innovation in the space but I think the truth is slightly different. Having thought about this problem for a while and having even started two companies to try to address it, I firmly believe that enterprises are more responsible for the lack of innovation in enterprise software than enterprise software vendors.

Here are some of the aspects of IT initiatives that, in my opinion, have consistently  harm the evolution of enterprise software.

Relying on Big Budgets

For 20-30 years, IT has developed a big spending mindset. We’ve all witnessed ERP implementations or J2EE “modernization” efforts that range in the multi-hundred million dollar price mark. While it is great to see organizations spend big capital in their IT infrastructure, I firmly believe that those big-budget, multi-year IT efforts have caused more harm than benefit to IT organizations.

The argument here is pretty simple, most IT organizations rarely invest that big capital in their R&D efforts and, instead, spend to adopt the old and well-established enterprise technologies which, in turn, puts very little pressure on the enterprise vendors to innovate. Seriously, why would SAP, IBM or Oracle bother to innovate in their technologies while we keep paying hundreds of millions for the same painful technology packages they developed 10 years ago?

Business Focused Not User Focused

A good software technology makes good Xs, a game-changer software technology makes great users of X!

For years, organizations have adopted enterprise software solely focused on business centric functionalities and have paid little attention to the user experience of the technology itself. This seems almost ridiculous once we realize that users are the key element to bridge software technology and business processes. Making enterprise users more productive is very often the fastest path to make your business more productive.

The thing to realize here is that, regardless of what industry you are in, most business concepts like HR or Sales are boring in nature and very slow evolving compared to technology concepts. By always focusing on business and not users, we have created the perfect recipe for designing boring, archaic software.


Forty Years of Neglecting Open Source

What is the last disruptive enterprise software technology that you‘ve seen from Microsoft, Oracle, IBM or SAP? Nothing comes to mind? You might have to go back 11 years to the release of the Microsoft .NET Framework which, arguably, is not an enterprise technology. On the other hand, the open source world as seen a non-stop revolution of software technologies. Ruby on Rails, NoSQL databases, Node.js, Android, Hadoop are just some of recent open source technologies that have changed the way we build software applications in recent years.

For decades, lots of large enterprises have been fearful to adopt open source technologies and, instead, have focused on embracing commercial software from big enterprise vendors. Consequently, those organizations have missed the opportunity to embrace various waves of innovation in the open source world that would have helped enable new types of business agility.

By neglecting open source, enterprises has closed the doors to a lot of fresh, new and innovative enterprise software solutions that could have drastically improved their organizations.

Risk Averse Mindsets

Let’s face it, most IT organizations are really afraid of change. Haven’t you heard that “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”? Well, maybe people should get fired from “buying IBM” from time to time. By only adopting IBM, Oracle, SAP we are fomenting a culture of safety, a culture of fear of risk, a culture afraid of change and innovation. Innovation doesn’t happen without taking risks and without a few failures.

By always “buying from IBM” we are giving the IBMs of the world the perfect excuse to keep building crappy software.

Always Cutting Costs

Investment in IT is, very often, not very high in the priorities of organizations. Very often, IT initiatives are subjected to drastic cost cuts due in order to prioritize other business initiatives. Budgetary constraints tend to more routinely affect areas like infrastructure systems which don’t directly deliver business value but they are instrumental in order to enable business applications. This type of mindset has caused IT organizations to rarely focus on innovation and, instead, prioritize other business focused initiatives. As a result, those IT organizations keep constantly falling behind the times in the technology cycles and losing the passion for building great applications.

It is important to realize that innovation requires systematic investment and is not something that you solve by exclusively throwing money at it. Innovation requires more than financial resources. It requires talent, passion, knowledge and having a solid infrastructure to build upon.

Long, Big Technology Adoption Cycles

Most IT organizations still have the same long technology adoption cycle of the 1980 -1990s when enterprise software was almost seen as a luxury. Given the fast pace of technology, these long cycles have caused organizations stay behind the technology curve. Additionally, taking long periods of time to adopt enterprise software technologies significantly affects the capability or organizations to innovate and to stay youthful.

Things are Changing

Despite all of this, it is important to mention that I don’t consider enterprise software a lost cause. On the contrary, I see enterprise software as one of the biggest opportunities to drive change to the business world. If you think about it, companies invest 2 trillion dollars every year in enterprise software. The US Federal Government alone spends around 80 billion dollars in IT. That’s significantly more that most consumer markets.

Every day companies like Atlassian, Thoughtworks Studios, Box, Yammer, Jive, Tellago Studios and dozens of others go to work trying to bring innovation to the enterprise space. Although we have to battle a lot of the circumstances examined in the previous sections, there are a few elements that are bringing a new wave of change to enterprise software.

Generational Changes

As new generations come into the workforce, companies will be forced to embrace new communication, social and learning patterns that are more tailored to newer generations. Hopefully, those generational changes will start driving more simplicity and better usability to enterprise software packages and to businesses itself.

Cloud Platforms

The emergence of cloud computing platforms has opened the door for massive waves of innovation in enterprise software.   Whether we are talking about platform, infrastructure or software as a service, we have to realize that these platforms are playing a key role in democratizing technology and infrastructure. Nowadays, startups have the same technology at their disposal than the big enterprise vendors.

Social Computing

Social networks are part of our everyday life and it’s just a matter of time before they become mainstream in the enterprise. Companies like Yammer and Jive are leading a movement that will, inevitably, end up making social computing a key component of any enterprise software package. By introducing social computing aspects in enterprise applications we will implicitly start changing those software packages to be simpler and better suited for collaboration.

Mobile

I will argue that most enterprise applications in the upcoming year should have a mobile component. Mobile interfaces will inevitably drive simplicity to enterprise software packages. Fortunately, as powerful as some of the big enterprise vendors are, they can’t change the size of the screen or the touch interface of an IPhone. In that sense, enterprise software technology will be forced to adapt to the new world in which mobility is an essential component of how we conduct business.

What do you think?

Does enterprise software sucks?

 Can we change it?

 
14 Comments

Posted by on July 7, 2011 in entrepreneurship, startups

 

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Selecting the right idea

If you are any good in your space, whether you are a programmer, artist or any other profession, you are going to have a lot of ideas about how to improve that space. As an entrepreneur, you need to discriminate the ideas that are worth pursuing from the ones that might not be so good. The answer sometimes is far from as trivial as it seems.

Doubt Yourself

Most of the time, people will tell you to trust yourself and your ideas. I am advocating the opposite; doubt and question your ideas every step of the way. Doubting and questioning the viability of a specific idea is not only the responsible thing to do in terms of the people that depend on you but it will keep you incredibly sharp and innovating. The trick is to NEVER LET THE DOUBTS PARALIZE YOU but, instead, use them as a way to refine and improve your ideas.

Believe in your Idea

Always try to pick an idea that you believe in. Sometimes being passionate about an idea is more important in the long run than the idea itself.  Building disruptive companies is a painful journey. You are going to face a lot of skepticism, criticism, and disappointments. The he worst part is that those challenges will extend to your loved ones as well. At any point, your passion and belief in your ideas will keep you going.

Walt Disney would occasionally present some unbelievable, extensive dream he was entertaining. Almost without exception, the members of his board would gulp, blink, and stare back at him in disbelief, resisting even the thought of such a thing. But unless every member resisted the idea, Disney usually didn’t pursue it. The challenge wasn’t big enough to merit his time and creative energy unless they were unanimously in disagreement!

Take Criticisms

I am very blunt about this one, PEOPLE WHO CAN’T TAKE CRITICISMS OR ARE VERY SLOW ASSIMILATING THEM WILL NEVER MAKE GOOD ENTREPENEURS. If you are over sensitive about criticisms you won’t be able to improve and you will let emotions get in the way of your company’s success. My advice here is to trust the intention of the people criticizing your idea, filter the smart criticisms from the stupid ones and MOVE ON.

When Michelangelo was finishing The David, along came Piero Soderini, the town mayor or boss, to have a look. Michelangelo had put a canvas around the scaffolding so no one could watch him work. Piero Soderini put on the show of the art connoisseur, walking around under the huge figure. “It’s coming along wonderfully,” said Piero Soderini. “But do you know what? The nose is too thick.”

He knew that from where Soderini was standing it was impossible to judge whether the nose or anything else was right. “Well, we’ll fix that right now,” he said; and quickly grabbing a hammer and chisel, climbed up the scaffold like a monkey. Clink, clink—Soderini heard the hammer against the chisel and saw marble dust fall. Clink some more. “How’s that?” Michelangelo called down from the scaffold. Of course he hadn’t touched the figure at all but only pretended to be altering the nose.
“Oh, that’s much better!” exclaimed the mayor. “Now you’ve really put life into it.”

Be Knowledgeable

I cannot stress this enough, having deep knowledge about the industry you are playing in, the history of companies in the space, and the market in general, will be key to making the right strategic decisions about your product. I will go a bit further to say that your knowledge of history, science, philosophy, art, or social dynamics will also shape the way your company evolves. In my experience, exceptional entrepreneurs are very often knowledgeable in a lot of these subjects and are able to incorporate ideas and drive inspiration from those subjects into their products.

Larry Ellison is a great admirer and a deep connoisseur of Japanese history and culture. That passion has influenced a lot of aspects of Oracle like aggressive sales and acquisition tactics and the permanent goal of achieving 100% market domination.

If You Like Your Idea, Try To Break It

If you think you have a great idea then try to break it. Spend time and energy exploring every possible reason that could make your product fail and set the passions aside. My business partner spends long hours firing everything at some of our products and, most of the time; we find something that makes us refine our strategies around them.

Evaluate the Risk

Ultimately, you need to evaluate the risk of failing to come up with some strategies to recover from failure if it happens. There are some ideas that are worth trying simply because there are minimum risks in case of a failure.

When the podcasting company Odeo realized that they had little chance against ITunes, Jack Dorsey presented an idea to the team that could help reinvent the company. The idea didn’t have the best reception but, realizing that they had little to lose; Evan Williams gave Jack and Biz Stone two weeks to work on it. Have you heard about Twitter…..? J

Make Others Believe

The degree to which your core team believes in your vision, dreams and capability will directly impact the type of company you are building. Software startups can’t be seen as a factory anymore in which the bosses dictate and the developers follow well defined recipes. Disruptive products need vision, passion, team-collaboration and are typically painfully hard to build. If you are able to inspire your team to share your dreams and passion, they will make your company, product and team better every day.

Can You Execute?

Your capacity to execute is as important as the quality of the idea. As an entrepreneur you should obsess about the execution of your team, you need to spend less time doing the fun stuff and more taking on the painful things and making others execute better.

The French invasion of Russia in 1812 was considered a great idea from any military standpoint but Napoleon totally underestimated their capability to survive the crude Russian winter. If the Russian campaign turned out to be successful, it would have been the end of years of European wars and would have granted France one of the biggest empires in human history. Instead, the failure of the execution forced the French troops to retire from Russia in December 1812 marking the beginning of the decline of the Napoleonic empire.

Stop Sketching and Start Executing

Execution is the best way to validate and improve your ideas. Don’t try to answer every question before you start executing. Most likely, you won’t be able to. Without executing on an idea you are unlikely to find out its true potential. Remember that failure is rarely the worse outcome, mediocrity is.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2011 in entrepreneurship, startups

 

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