Business Decisions: How We Chose What Product to Build

This is the first in a new series about business strategy choices we’ve made at Synap Software and how they work out. Most of these decisions are applicable to any company or startup, not only software vendors. In an old blog post I wrote a long list of what I called at the time “Best Practices” for software companies. (The post is here but is not required reading for this entry.) I promised to come back to it and explain the thought process behind each decision from the perspective of our company, so here we go.

Decision of Product Choice: Lead Management Software

There are several reasons I choose to build a small business marketing and lead management product. I’ll cover one reason here.

Reason #1: It’s What I Know

Though I promised to write this series some time ago, I was motivated to write this today after reading Phil’s Lessons Learned series. His blog is recommended reading. There is a thread running through his lessons learned series of the value of sticking with what you know and I agree with him. Whether it be the technological aspects, customer behavior, or industry metrics; sticking with what you know gives you a head start, helps you build the right thing, and keeps you interested throughout the long process.

  1. Knowing lead management helps us build the right thing

    All designers and developers should read Robert Hoekman’s Designing the Obvious. The first step in his “common sense approach to web application design”, which he admits is “pretty darn obvious”, is to Know What to Build. And what better way to know what to build than to be your own subject matter expert?

    I know marketing, lead management, and workflow systems from 17 years of IT experience supporting Customer Care, Sales, and Marketing organizations. I’ve seen what works and what does not work through the eyes of users. I’ve seen users frustrated with large, long IT efforts and complex, expensive marketing and lead management software products.

    I believe that the major reason for the high rate of IT project failure is the disconnect between the builders and users of software. By “sticking with what you know”, to use Phil’s phrase, that gap between builder and user is substantially narrowed. I didn’t need to go to users and take an order only to find out that what they ordered is not what they really wanted or needed.

  2. Knowledge indicates experience which indicates interest

    Another reason to pick a product area in which you have expertise is that your level of expertise probably indicates your level of interest. You built expertise from years of experience and those years devoted to the subject probably indicate some level of interest. Interest in a subject will help keep you trucking through the long hours, seemingly endless work, and sometimes lonely efforts it takes to get started.

    If I had not found small business marketing interesting I probably would never have gotten LeadsOnRails.com to a point of launch. My time and energy would have quickly been distracted into things I did find interesting.

  3. I can talk about small business marketing and lead management software with others

    Step 2 of the 7 Steps to Improve Small Business Marketing is to participate in, listen to, and learn from your customers’ community. This is a lot easier and more enjoyable to do when you have your own experience and knowledge in the area.

Is small business marketing and lead management the right decision for us?

Building in a field I know is definitely the right decision. I couldn’t imagine trying to learn something new while also building a product around it. LeadsOnRails is satisfying users’ needs and expectations. I’ve been able to maintain a personal interest in the product through thick and thin.

The one area where I would like to do more is in regular and active participation in the small business marketing and lead management community. I have a plan and will share the results in a few weeks.

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The easiest way follow along as I cover more details behind each major decision we’ve made to this point, as well as my assessment of if it was a good decision, is to subscribe to the blog feed.

CREDIT

Two recommended reads prompted today’s post. One is Phil’s Lessons Learned #1 – Stick with what you know. After reading this I realized I haven’t really explained why lead management software is something I know. I recommend you read Phil’s ongoing series on some of his recent decisions. And yes, I realize Phil’s mention to stick with what you know is in reference to technology choices (e.g. desktop vs. web), yet it is applicable across the board.

The other is Ken’s Restarting the MicroISV Challenge where he points out that he never really explained his project idea which, again, made me realize I never really explained much about our company beyond the “about us” and short biographies on our company pages.