They’re not your customers anyway

That bastard cracked your $1 app. ONE DOLLAR. That’s all you asked in exchange for the hours you put in, and the guy still didn’t pay. People like that should be executed. Like in the middle ages – an arm for an arm, an eye for an eye. Chill. He wasn’t your customer anyway.

Without diving too deep into a discussion on the usefulness of copyright, there are lessons we can learn from the fashion industry. It always had next to no intellectual property protection and a gigantic knock-off market (ever seen street stands with “genuine” Louis Vuitton bags?) Looking at how much sales the fashion industry is making, compared to high IP ones, they seem to be doing just fine:

Sales in high- versus low-IP protection industries

Still, fashion designers must be feeling awful watching people buying all this counterfeit apparel, enjoying the results of their work without payment, and will pursue every opportunity to curb that market, right? Not quite. Addressing the issue, Gucci’s legend Tom Ford said:

And we found after much research that — actually not much research, quite simple research — that the counterfeit customer was not our customer. [emphasis mine]

Tom Ford, Ready to Share: The Ecology of Creativity in Fashion

I picked up the quote from Johanna Blakley’s talk at TEDxUSCLesson’s from fashion’s free culture“, where she argues for less intellectual property protection overall, which would not only spark innovation by making new ideas easily accessible, but also profit the very creators who’s interests copyright claims to protect.

You see, the guy who cracked your app wouldn’t have bought it otherwise. Maybe he doesn’t have the money, maybe he’s not sure if it’s worth even $1, or it’s just his philosophy – not paying for software. But the app now has one more user, who still might become a customer eventually, or lead others to become by bragging about the great app he just found.

Think beyond the app, where you already sunk the cost of development. What can you offer that is scarce, that would make paying more attractive? How about a service available only to official customers? Support? A booklet with workflow tips?

Focus on your customers – those who do pay, because they value how your work saved them some of theirs. Build relationships with them, see that the app continues to adapt to meet their needs, and don’t waste emotions on those who never were your customers in the first place.

How much does a good developer cost?

10 is more than 5. Hiring a great developer for 10 a month costs twice as much as hiring a good developer for 5. Maybe you’re not building the next Google. Maybe you’re not working on processing petabytes of CERN experiment data. You probably don’t need a genius to write the code of your application. You hire the good one and pay less, then end up paying way more.

It’s not what you pay them, it’s what they cost you.

A good developer will write a good, simple piece of code that’ll work for your purpose. Then your business will change – expand, contract or simply shift – and the application will need to change. The good developer will comply and patch her original work to fit the new purpose. The cycle will continue, but with every change your developer will more often use words like “impossible”, “limitation” and “revamp”.

You will hear that the system was built for the original purpose some time ago. It now cannot handle the things you need it to handle. It needs to be built anew. How much will it take? One year. Two years. Forever.

The good developer’s design was limited by his abilities. It didn’t use the advanced, abstract features of your technology of choice. It did the job in the simplest way possible, without much thought put into later development. All the things a great developer would have planned for and done.

The good developer’s work cost you hundreds of thousands or millions in:

  • the business you lost because your system couldn’t support your changes,
  • the money you’ll have to pay to build the system anew.

It’s not what you pay them, it’s what they cost you.

The insane part? It’s the reality at most companies these days.

I don’t want to be in a startup

Being in a startup means going to startup events to meet other startups and talk about startups. You may think of a “startup” as two guys working feverishly in a garage and suddenly dropping the bomb of a revolutionary new product onto the unsuspecting world. But what I saw is best summarized by a friend’s comment: “have you actually seen them ship anything?

Business is about earning money, and you do that by delivering something of value to a customer. A “customer” is, by definition of a befriended accountant, “someone who paid.” Startups, in order to be legitimate businesses, also need someone to pay and they indeed find such people. They’re called venture capitalists.

Now, before you start sending me examples of startups actually delivering something and getting paid for it, I assure you I’ve seen them. I just wouldn’t call them startups. You won’t meet their founders on most startup events. You can meet them at work, when they’re not meeting their customers, or spend quality time with their cherished families. They’re just plain, old businesses.

It’s not a rodeo, cowboy

The market for something to believe in is infinite. I haven’t seen any better evidence of this being true, than during yesterday’s finale of Startup Weekend Warsaw. The team with the most daring, creative, inspiring idea for a project won by a landslide and swept away half of the numerous prizes. Business played second-string.

Some people were clearly dissatisfied with the outcome:

Perhaps rightly so, perhaps not, but the truth is that an event of this type isn’t about building a business. You can’t build anything of quality and value in a 48-hour, caffeine-laden, sleep deprived, headlong running weekend. You are constantly distracted, overworked, haunted by the ever closer deadline, so as a result you cut corners – lots of them, just to be able to show something, anything in the end.

You can achieve two and only two things, really:

  1. Meet plenty of quality people – be that your team mates, which you will be testing out right there on the spot, or mentors and judges, who are also potential investors, clients and overall good business connections.
  2. Brainstorm and iterate over numerous variations of your idea – remembering that your expectations of the market, customers and value of your product are likely to be amiss at least the first couple of times. You’ll do that with the help of mentors, people with 10, 20+ years of business experience, whose time you normally wouldn’t be able to afford.

Running a business requires True Grit. Precisely the like of sheriffs in the old days of the Wild West. Staying atop an angry bull for 8 seconds will make the crowds cheer, but how about trying to catch that bull when he’s out in the wild? And what if the bull doesn’t care? “Being in business means fighting obstacles, one after another, EVERY SINGLE DAY” (via @ForPiter) is the smartest thing I heard over the last weekend and it’s something that all participants will eventually learn, if not from others’, then from their own experience.

I saw that kind of persistence in Justyna Goławska of TradycyjneJedzenie.pl and Przemek Białokozłowicz of CAREgiver who pursued their projects despite having little popularity among the crowds. I raise my glass (of coffee, for now) to the underdogs.

Agile is the business approach to software engineering

Try, fail, adjust, go back to step one. So it goes on until failure turns into success or you get bored and leave to do other stuff. Such is business. It’s extremely rare that an original idea becomes immediately successful. Most ideas go through an iterative process of trial and error and the end success comes from a sometimes completely different idea than the initial one.

Take the Confected application that we are building. We set out with certain expectations, built and tried it out during this year’s TEDxWarsaw. Some of the expectations were correct, some were utter failures. We collected all the lessons and went back to our workshops to adjust the project. Meanwhile, while we’re talking to other conferences about setting up the application for them, we often stumble upon ideas for the application that are significantly different from the direction we’re pursuing. And our success relies upon whether and how we’ll take those offshoots into account, because as they say, climbing a ladder faster won’t help you if it’s placed against the wrong wall.

So when you consider any Agile methodology for software development, irrespective of whether that’s Scrum, Kanban or any other funny name, they’re nothing else than a business approach to engineering. You correctly assume that you’re unlikely to get it right the first time, so you try, fail, and adjust. You collect feedback and put it right into production, often completely changing the original designs.

It’s a way of working that’s quite familiar to business people but often strange to programmers. “But the specs said nothing about this!” Indeed they haven’t, but our knowledge of the world changes (or the world itself does) and refusing to adjust is asking to become evolution’s prey.