Its been a long time since my last post, I realize this. I've been busy leading my web team into glory in a world where the value on Internet sites and services is both declining and increasing. How can the value of Internet sites decline and increase at the same time you ask? The answer is a complex one, but in a nutshell, it describes the volatility of the current state of Internet based sites and applications. Some companies are doing well, with new and interesting products yet still worried that their competition will invent a new feature that they will have to scramble to counter. Other companies are failing on ideas that already exist, without the ability to change their focus, or finding that they have to change their original vision, which can easily prove to be just as harrowing and risky as a facelift (in real life).
As a company in the Internet Industry, one of the largest costs encountered these days is your payroll. Paying a Java Developer 120k+ annually, or paying a web designer 75k+ annually is a huge cost, especially when you're working on a concept that will be funded by ad sales or investors expecting returns somehow. Creating a start up is just about as risky as playing power ball (unless you're a talented developer, business mind, and designer that can develop a concept all on your own).
In any given month, I have lots of kind people weekly asking me if I'd like to work pro-bono for them on their great ideas, in hopes of magical future stock options. Its best for me to (carefully) deny their offers, and I usually do, because there's all too often a deep lack of technical organization and skills which will mean that I'll be required for 80%+ of the workload in the process of making their ideas successful. These bold entrepreneurs often take offense at my resistance to working for free, but we're in the worst economy since the great depression and it takes a lot to ensure survival, food and shelter. A dreamer is always a bad investment in any economy if you ask me. I'd rather partner to be a technical "doer" if I ever choose such an undertaking.
A "doer" in this case is someone who knows their industry; Someone who lives and breathes IT and design, development, business, and working hard. A person who will take the time to learn what's important before assuming their ideas are solid. These are people who have the common sense, wits, and knowledge to stay afloat in bad economies by keeping their marketable skills in line with their desired industry; Clear communicators that don't speak in long, vague or abstract terms, people who understand the value of a solid presentation with heavy attention to detail. These are the types of people that are smart enough to promise realistic deadlines, and then meet them by doing the work themselves if necessary, while being mindful of budgets; These are the people that build spaceships, and good cars.
Now that we have the context of risk and "doers" straight, we can work to define what leads creative and smart minds to success.
If history has proven anything to us about success, its proven that success is completely illusive to any and everyone, and though you may have success today, you might not tomorrow. This is an important mantra. Your competitors and assets mean nothing once you grasp that. Your overall success, in my opinion is based on your survival, stability, and sustainability:
Survival - The overall time your idea survives. Timeless ideas survive, think Coca Cola. This company has been around for most of our lives without tons of reinvention. Sure, its due to the nature of the beverage industry, but it can be adapted to other industries as a concept for a timeless product, that was a good idea to begin with, because there was nothing else like it when it was conceived.
Stability - This has everything to do with your company's assets, to expenditures, and human capital. If you have the right amount cash flow and employees to tide you through emergencies or breakdowns in your development cycles, that increases your survivability in an industry that is very reliant on responsiveness and scalability. Problems happen all the time, if you don't anticipate and counter them quickly, failure will be your fault as a decision maker. You also have to run the operation carefully, neither too lean or too costly to prevent it from financial implosion. A very delicate balance indeed.
Sustainability - This relates to your operation's future. You will need to enhance your product and/or services (assuming its on a firm basis cited in the survival category). Not by staying on top of trends, because trends can be fly-by-night or misguided, but by developing a 6th sense of where your industry is going. You must educate yourself on past and current industry and social trends (e.g. client-server, when the telephone was invented, cable TV's current decline) and learn how to apply the outcomes to trends in your field to ensure your venture will be responsive and at the forefront of successful change management.
I don't believe people when they tell me that the Internet is a much more significant invention than the telephone because we wouldn't have the Internet without modems, which relied on phones in the early days. The same goes for computers and electricity, where one relies on the other. In thinking about business and development, I try to find parallels that drive my decisions.
In the process of developing a web or mobile application, "need" and "function" run highest in my priorities during the conceptual phase.
Need - The desire to have a function fulfilled by an application (in this case). In other words, the deep public consumer demand or consumer desire for fulfillment of a service to drive sales of an original application which I invent.
Function - The "How" for fulfilling the need; How will an application work, look, and feel? How will it work? How will users perceive and use the application? What is the functional theme and motivation for the application (driving design)?
After I sort out these goals, Its a great time to work on finding capabilities and limitations that I'll encounter during my design process. Research and development (prior to beginning development) is a essential component of knowing what I can successfully commit to with clients. Every project I work on has a different set of tools and goals, its important to define these items before being deep into a project, and its important to communicate clearly with clients to help them to understand limitations. As a brief glance into inception of a project and the ins and outs of cost and risk in Internet business, you can probably draw the connections to functional roles in getting technical web projects done.
Even if you are dealing with non-technical managers, there are a lot of components that require higher level understanding of technical processes to ensure that work actually gets "done" for any web-based business. A reason why so many start ups remain on the ground is the lack of balance in developers, resources, and technically savvy management. I hope you seek a balance in all of these categories, because if you don't develop your marketable and technical skills and understanding, you'll be hiring a technical team that could possibly play mutiny on your company's vision. Be a technical "DOER"!
Notes on progress...
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