One of the things I often come across in my work is the notion that the software engineer is infinitely more clever and indispensable than the business person. In fact I have quite often come across engineers who have expressed the feeling that business is a fools errand that pretty much anyone can do.
That of course is not true. If you’re in doubt ask yourself this question: If business is so easy how come so many potentially great tech companies end up failing? Funny, isn’t it? Because if you follow the logic from above you would think that if you can build it, they – whoever they are – will naturally come.
It’s not so. And there is a good reason for that. And the reason is actually quite the opposite of the fallacy from above: It’s infinitely harder to develop a great business than it is developing a great software product.
Now why is that?
Let’s look at a case story. Meet Matt. He’s a software engineer who graduated top of his class from a great technical university. Right beside him is Eva. She graduated with honors from a well-respected business school. In terms of pure skill, insight and tenacity these two talented individuals are both top of their class.
Matt goes about building a great software product. He knows what he’s doing, and he knows how to get there. He has all the skills and all the control needed to start at A and end up at Z while coming pretty close to the deadline he set at the outset. Why? Because there are no real unknowns in his work. It’s all about programming skills and math, and since he is a master at it, it really is no problem for him building this great piece of software.
Eva also gets going. First of all she has to figure out who the target audience is for the new software product. That takes some research and some sampling back and forth. Then she has to figure out the go-to-market strategy and the messaging surrounding the product. While Matt may think it’s just straight forward, Eva knows it’s not necessarily so. Because where logic reins in programming, people tend to be less than logic, and Eva has to take this into account. Maybe the messaging that everybody would think would resonate won’t. And then what?
Then Eva has to think about pricing. She knows that it’s not only Matt who is doing great software within this realm. Lots of other skilled engineers are working at it for different companies, and they all compete head on. How do you stand out in a way where you can command a price for your efforts that will ultimately lead to a profitable business? It’s not that easy.
Add to that complexity the various different channels for marketing the product that Eva has to consider. When and where – and at what cost – is the company best served marketing the solution? Where will they get the most bang for their hard-earned buck(s)? It’s just another layer of complexity.
Finally, some of the competition may be involved in strategic partnerships with key players in the industry which just makes entering the market that much harder than it would have been otherwise. There may be roadblocks in place that are so efficient that it’s going to take more than hard work to circumvent them.
So while Eva has to consider and beat all these odds, Matt is just going about doing what he does best and can control himself: Building the product.
In a world where the various people in the roles of engineering and marketing/sales are really top of their class, do you still think engineering is the hardest part towards success? Or have you realized by know that actually being able to build a business is a super tough job if for nothing else the number of factors you need to count in which are essentially outside of your control?
You will be forgiven if after reading this you have a little more respect for the role the business person(s) play in a software company. Because no, it’s not all about the engineering guys of this world. Show some appreciating for your other colleagues when you get the chance. They more than deserve it.