Don’t quit, watch everything, don’t get too far ahead of the pack, be willing to deal, and be in to win. Looking over the past 20 years, the following is my advice for anyone in the technology sector for the next ten.
Never quit. Even if you decide to step away from something, keep a placeholder on it. Never abandon a web site, never abandon an app you have designed, never abandon software, or any industry contacts you have made. Ever. Easier said than done, but consider a web site can be kept “seemingly live” with a single update every quarter — not so difficult at all. All good business people have an exit plan with every project they initiate. What happens when I don’t want to do “this” any more? You always have options — you can sell it, license or lease it, use it as the basis for a cooperative initiative, make it freeware and continue to use it to promote your newer projects, move it into open source or donate it. All of these may not apply, but some will.
A quick three minute email to someone can keep a relationship relevant. A new “dated” paragraph on an old web site, will keep it alive. Publishing an article every 3 to 6 months, will keep your name and expertise relevant.
The same goes for retirement — just because your conventional work days are through does not preclude you from continuing to be the expert you were as a consultant or board member for other projects.
Watch the trends. New devices and software (to include apps) change markets, but not immediately. In 2002, it was difficult for most people to imagine they would prefer to read electronic books vs. hard copy. E-books made their debut, but except for the early adopters there would have been no market at all. Fast forward 6 – 10 years, some governments have been looking at, even implementing e-books for public schools – they went semi-mainstream. Mobile first started getting real attention around 2006, and by 2010 reached the same “semi-mainstream” position – half the time. Anything that shows solid growth over about 18 months from making its debut is worth considering as an addition to your development portfolio.
The point that goes with watching the trends is to watch what the competition is doing. Competition is a good thing. Every time a movie for one genre is successful, a slew of others “just like it” come out. Those who watch one like the genre and will likely watch other movies like it. That goes a long way to explain the success of the inundation of zombie and superhero movies. Pro-wrestlers vs. Zombies… um… It is why when you go to the supermarket, you have choices on everything from breakfast cereal to toothpaste and toilet paper… why some candy bars come with nuts, some don’t.
Early adopters. It is “prestigious” to be on the leading edge, but not always profitable. Prestigious applies to “doing jobs no one else wants to do”. Prestigious “military units” get assigned missions no one else in their right mind would ever think of doing. Same thing in technology, the amount of money needed to push something into mainstream use is out of the reach of anyone but the largest corporations. They let the small, cutting edge business developers do the hard work, then “buy them” – frequently enough. Knowing that, it can be a strategy unto itself. The difficulty here is that early adopters take pride in what they’ve produced and don’t want to relinquesh the reins, think they can do it, or hold out for a better offer.
Hold-outs are frequently left in the dust because larger corporations are looking at “Time to Market”, cost and convenience. If a large corporation has the means to do what you are doing faster, cheaper or easier than you are already doing it — odds are pretty good that they will, unless there is something else unique about your business (special patents, for example). Just because you might be first, does not mean you are the only one with the same idea or product. In example, Craiglist has served to seriously disrupt traditional classified advertising – despite its retro interface – but there are well over 50 other documented cases of other’s trying to build a “bigger better Craigslist”.
Being first does not inherently equate to market domination — except in the short term. The long-term is a totally different story.
100% or 1%? The question for early adopters is whether they want to hold onto 100% of “a small pie” or 1% of a “much larger pie”. These are extremes, but helps to provide context. Even if it is equal, say your 100% share in a business translates to $10,000, while another’s 1% share in a similar business is worth $10,000 (its value being $1 million). Where would you place your bet? A business worth $1 million is much more likely to capitalize upon its inherent value than one worth just $10k.
In to win. Probably the most important aspect of getting into anything is getting into it to win. Winning, however, is very subjective – related more to your personal goals than any external arbitrary assessment as to what “success” really means.
If you enjoy what you do, you are far ahead of the 75-80% who really don’t enjoy what they do. I know quite a few people who are very good at making money – via a job or a business, but who fundamentally – absolutely and completely hate every minute of it. That’s the other extreme.
It is always a matter of leveraging one to advance the other. If you have the money, apply it in ways that lead to your enjoying what you do more. If you don’t have the money, it is usually a much longer route to leveraging what you do enjoy most so that you can financially engage it even further.
My view of winning is being able to do what you enjoy most while achieving your financial goals in a way that lets you have meaningful relationships with the people closest to you. What’s yours?