Build Simple Products

Inspiration for this post rests in David Heinemeier Hansson's ( @DHH ) talk given to Stanford ETL Series given Jan of 2010.

http://etl.stanford.edu/archive/ on itunes: Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders #64

I spent the bulk of my 20's working as an Officer in the Navy. My official title was logistics officer, my responsibilities included doing all kinds of things related to making sure things worked, ie, fuel for stuff, food for people, money for systems etc. My life was very challenging but I worked around a lot of smart people while seeing the world. My duties had me live in Japan, Italy and a brief stint in Afghanistan. In general, I had contentment.

Meanwhile, my lifelong goal before going on active service was to become an international business professional. Growing up in Phx, Az, my Dad has been an accounting professor at the Thunderbird School of Global Management since 1989. I grew up believe that getting my mba was the right step in my journey.

December 2006, I separated from the Navy and spent a year in China studying Mandarin. Americans especially always ask me why I did that, as if it makes little to no sense. I went to China because as I saw it, China was becoming a major player and I wanted to have a deeper understanding of the language and culture. I spend almost a year studying and partying in Dalian, China, it was an awesome experience.

Jan 2008, I started my MBA, or the beginning of the end as I would come to learn. B-School started right while the economy was getting into full swing, and when I say full swing, I really mean things on the securities markets were collapsing. What was it I was focusing on at school? Finance, yeah, that was about to not work out.

What I really want to talk about is not the details of this timeline but the nuts and bolts of why I think @DHH is spot on with his message to unlearn B-school isms. Lets Focus on a few keys points that David makes. 1. Management theory doesn't have much relevance in the context of a small growing technology company. 2. Word of mouth still remains one of the most effective forms of "marketing". 3. Imposing resource constraints fosters productivity and creative problem solving. 4. Build simple, real products and sell them to people, for money.

Management theory doesn't have much relevance in the context of a small growing technology company.

I totally agree with this statement and I think David makes a great point by articulating that much of what is studied and put into cases just isn't applicable in small, growth centric startups. Think about all the cases and "right way" of doing things and "management frameworks" that are taught at bschool. At the end of the day, these are mostly irrelevant to building products and in certain situations, can be very detrimental to rapidly iterating and exploring hypothesis, which is ultimately and exercise in exploring a long string of un-knowns.

Word of mouth still remains one of the most effective forms of "marketing".

This one I love. A lot of management and marketing theory is dressed up Common Sense. When a product is weak or a company can't deliver on the goods then a lot of times crazy marketing 'strategies' get put into place. The bottom line, build products that people love and that work and get people to tell their friends and family about them. This is the oldest marketing strategy on the books. I dislike the active approach to marketing, it, some crazy schemed to build "brand recognition" or measure "brand influence". The best thing a company can do is focus on solving the problems of its customer base and let the customers work out the rest of the details.

Imposing resource constraints fosters productivity and creative problem solving.

Constraint is the nature of distillation, which is a fundamental requirement in creating things with premium quality and experience. (food for thought....RIP Steve Jobs)

Build simple, real products and sell them to people, for money.

I'm going to use this idea as a segway into the purpose of this post, which is to talk about how I unlearned my MBA and became a full stack rails developer. When I graduated from B-School, I was about 1 of 50 or so peers to have a job offer. I worked for a year at a consultancy doing bizdev. It was ok work, decent pay check and lots of autonomy but ultimately what did I do? Nothing particularly useful or contributory to the world around me. After a year of that, I went to work at HP. Hmm... I've heard quotes on the internet that HP is one of the fastest deteriorating corporate brands out there... So again, yeah, ok paycheck, lots of autonomy, not a lot of contribution to the world around me.

My point in all of this. Building unique products, goods and services is the only thing that creates a sustainable business. Weather or not the business is large or small, the ability to make one unique thing will define the company. The more people a company hires who cannot create unique stuff of value, the more the company will suffer and ultimately lose long term profitability. Apple knows this, Dropbox knows this tons of very wealthy technology companies know this and at their core, they all produce unique goods and services.

So, my journey towards early-stage technology-isms, summer of 2011, with the help of a friend, I launched PitchKlub.com, a browser tool that allows a public speaker to collect feedback about their communication style. PitchKlub to date hasn't taken off or become a major success, but I did get a taste for building something unique and sending it out to world, which was an awesome process. Pitchklub was coded by my friend @callmephilip.

During this process, I realized I wanted to get a lot closer to the building of stuff. April of 2012, I wasn't liking the direction my work at HP was going so I did what many successful professionals have had to do at some point in their careers, I quit a decent job for the unknown. A week after my last day at HP, I found DevBootCamp. I was admitted to the summer class, it was an awesome experience. I spent 10 weeks with a bunch of really motivated people and learned how to build software using ruby, rails and open source web technology. Now, I work, I build, I create and that is it. Life is simple and I make a direct contribution to building things that people use. I had to abandon a lot of MBAisms like 'oh the engineers can do it' and 'build the brand' and 'cut costs', all of which ultimately don't have anything to do with creating awesome stuff of unique intellectual value.

This post is beginning to ramble so I'm just gonna finish on the statement;

Unlearn what you know, accept that life is about the unknown and learn to build awesome stuff.

I continually seek new software engineering contracts and product collaboration opportunities so please, send email to jd@startuplandia.io.