Knowing your Product
Recently I’ve developed a new habit of taking an external look at boso by stripping away what it actually does (online trading) and looking at the raw functions it is composed of. The easiest way to do this is by stopping looking at boso as an Internet business and compare it to another type of business – my current favourite being a restaurant. This exercise has actually given me a different perspective on things and above all it has stressed the importance of actually knowing and understanding your product.
Kul and I have always been reliant upon other people to build our website for us. Since neither of us could code, our product development has been dependant upon getting people in to build the site and so when they leave or don’t build the product we we had in mind – things are pretty tough. This is when my new perspective kicked in – I though to myself that if we were a restaurant, it would be completely unworkable for neither Kul or I to have an appreciation of food or cooking. We might be able to get a head chef in but if he ever left we’d be back at square one. Quite simply, a restaurant won’t work if there are no chefs to cook the food. An Internet business is no different – always being reliant on other people to code is a risky strategy because you can never then assume full control of your business. If you have a limitless supply of great coders then this isn’t a problem but in reality, such a scenario doesn’t really exist (unless you’re Google, Microsoft or Yahoo of course).
That’s when we decided we had no other option – we had to learn how to code. So late one night I set up all the relevant server and database connections I needed, pulled out an online PHP tutorial and started typing away in TextEdit. Quite simply it was the best decision I’ve ever made and I honestly wish I’d made it two years earlier. If there was one benefit of a three year Oxford law degree (one which involved a huge amount of last minute preparation for tutorials) it was picking up the skill of cramming large amounts of information into my head in very short spaces of time. As a result I’ve picked up the concepts of programming very quickly and am moving onto some pretty interesting stuff. What it means is that for once I can actually do all those niggling little touch ups myself and as I learn more, I’ll actually be able to implement new functionality. While I’m not going to be attracting offers from Google anytime soon, what it does mean is that we can be less reliant on other people for the development of our own product.
The experience we’ve had is something I think is a problem with the Internet scene right now. It seems to generate such a buzz and a lot of people view it as a quick way to make a buck. A lot of business people think they can make an online business work and they always just assume that building the actual website is secondary to the idea itself. I think this skewed perspective will result in a lot of these companies failing – it’s no coincidence that the most successful web entrepreneurs could all code. Kul pointed this out to me and gave me a list of the greats – Max Levchin (PayPal), Evan Williams (Blogger.com), Sergey and Larry (You Know who they are), Pierre Omidyar (eBay) and so the list goes on. These guys could all code and this shouldn’t be a surprise – if you were opening a restaurant you wouldn’t think of hiring chefs as some secondary or minor problem that could be solved at a later point in time. So why do people think that actually building the website can be easily done? It’s not something that you get your mate who knows a bit of HTML to do in 20 minutes and it’s not something you can continually outsource to every Tom, Dick and Harry with a computer science degree. Ultimately unless you have someone at the founder level who can code, I think you’re going to end up in big trouble and product development will become your biggest bottleneck. Pretty annoying since it’s also the biggest factor in defining whether your idea will be a success or not.