Lately, I have had the opportunity to sit across the table for a coffee or a beer with a lot of technically talented people. Some of them I have actively recruit into Printchomp, because I recognize their skillset and ability and what they bring to the table. I have however seen some irritating trends. So people may be working on their pet project, which is totally fine, but then as an after thought they wonder how can I get millions of people to using it. This point leads me to my general hypothesis: that there are two equally important parts to balance the equation, the business part and technical part.
I just sat in on a MBA class of students pitching their company ideas, and one resounding thing came back time and again. Many spent the presentation talking about a cool new technology, but not the pain it was solving. This is how I feel sometimes when I am listening to pure technologists describe their product to me. Yes it might be technically excellent but why the hell would I want to use it?
There are some interesting lean principles regarding validation and testing hypotheses that can help pure technical people avoid those traps. That said I don’t think enough technical folks test those assumptions. It really comes back to why are you building this feature or product. One of the other judges at this university pitch presentation hit the nail on the head, build what you can sell not sell what you can build.
I will go to my final point. There is a lack of respect for marketing and business development. Converting people to using your service or product doesn’t “just happen”. There are some instances where things can strike a nerve and go bonkers, but the vast majority of things need to build an audience. Audiences are built using good messaging and tactics, executed by a person who knows what they are doing. If you are an engineer and approach a friend to help you with marketing, don’t expect that they will impart all their knowledge in 10 minutes. Imagine your disgust if they expected you to tell them all about development in 10 minutes, it ain’t gonna happen.
People need to consider tough questions like Cost Per Acquisition (CPA). They also have to know whether it is even worth it to acquire that customer, if you don’t have a downstream strategy, what is the point. One company in the pitch competition was stating their key differentiator to Dropbox was unlimited storage. I went on to painfully explain how one user could effectively break their business model.
Before I close, let me leave with these points. Can an engineer build something without the help of a businessperson? Absolutely! That said, they will increase their chances success by order of magnitude by leveraging talents that can help validate whether there is a market need for this and how to communicate those features to the marketplace. Ask yourself, is this a business or is this an exercise in “can I build this”?
This is not an attack, but a request for the same respect you would demand of yourself.