We don't want to be Microsoft, and we sure as hell don't want to be Facebook. We want to be the guys that you can talk to, the guys who are quietly creating excellent software for the long tail, and doing it our own way. Read more...
It feels like there's a new wave of technology start ups making a run of it these days. Long-passed are the days that disgruntled business analysts throw their arms in the air, declaring they will control the future of desktop computing. I have an archetype in my imagination of a suit screaming "We're going to get us some VC, build a mamoth engineering team, lease a huge office in silicon valley, and acquire Yahoo by 2011!"
The New Start Ups are small teams with interdisciplinary skills, who are not bound by old production or management conventions. These teams are less than five people, usually pairing an engineer with a history graduate, or a client lead with a support expert. This type of mixing and matching of skills and world views is making applications simpler, and more human.
These companies have never seen a Gantt chart, and they never plan more than six weeks of their next release. These companies know that gathering up front requirements and planning a whole project based on a massive matrix of assumptions is a waste of time, money, and sanity. In other words, we don't chase windmills. A software application has a life of its own, a life that is only discovered when it starts to take its first steps.
These companies are support-heavy. They'll literally do anything they can to actively communicate with anyone willing to use their product. They scour their analytics and visit every site that links to them. They check their twitter every morning and reply to every mention as soon as they can. They understand that respect comes from support, because they're also stuck arguing with cell phone providers as much as anyone else, and losing just like everyone else.
These firms are frugal and averse to debt. VC funding almost certainly dooms your product to scope creep and mediocrity, bank loans are the chains that tie you to the ball what was once known as a "business plan," and the only angelic aspect of an investor is that they shoot arrows when they think they're helping. The New Start Ups are therefore finding ways to sustain their independence.
The New Start Ups have replaced business plans with release plans, and have offered simple, if not humble solutions solving one problem at a time. They know that 80% of features are never used, and exist mostly because of the bizarre requirements documents created by stick-holders… I mean stake-holders.
The goal isn't to become the next conglomerate, the next acquisition, or the next poster boy. The goal is to work hard, fly under the radar, and quietly change the way software is made and delivered. Their goal is to listen to customers, always to respond, and above all else to use their own intelligence to make effective decisions which must always result in a simpler solution than existed before.
Marketing is in a transformation. I think this is because marketing as we knew is the dead elephant in the room, and it stinks. Marketing budgets are now being used to build better software, because good software should speak for itself. Customer support is another form of the new marketing. And this is a great opportunity because the big fish have done such a terrible job at taking care of the people that guarantee their existence.
The software they're making is changing too. Less features, better features, and simpler features is today's rallying cry. Let's not solve the world's problems when we only need to solve one of them. And while we're at it, we don't need to solve everyone's problem, we can solve one problem for one group of people and make a pretty nifty living while we're at it. The products are stripped down, minimal, and void of clutter. The audience is some of us, not all of us.
And all of this works because we don't want to be Microsoft, and we sure as sure as hell don't want to be Facebook. We want to be the guys that you can talk to, the guys who are quietly creating excellent software for the long tail, and doing it our own way.