Two Guys in a Garage

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I have been in those meetings. Those wonderful high-powered executive meetings. It’s where you are meeting with others to break down silos, think outside your boxes and generate magnificent visions for your future inside a wood paneled boardroom from the 1970’s. You know the ones, the ones where they put the bathroom right beside it so you can hear the tinkling while you talk about the future of business.

Then someone says:

“We’ve gotta move fast…’cause somewhere, some place, there are two guys in a garage working on some breakthrough program that will annihilate our business model!”

Never mind that the biggest software application came out in the past decade was created by two privileged guys in a Harvard dormitory. Nevertheless, for years, there was a romantic notion that two guys in a garage someplace were going to change the world. Two guys did in many ways, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. They invented the MAC, and the world has never been the same since.

But that idea is more urban myth than a truism about the software business. When I hear the words, I think about the way they market the lotteries. They play up pictures of success and happiness of the winners and market it so effectively that everyone else thinks it’s within reach, DESPITE THE ODDS. It’s a Powerball…er…powerful notion no doubt.

I think about that alot when I talk to customers on the phone that tell me they are using or thinking of creating their own software.

To some degree, anyone who is using an Excel sheet is doing some ‘coding’ work to run their business. Excel, after all, is the most universally accepted form software for the trucking and brokerage software industry.

But running a software business goes way beyond that. There are considerations that go beyond just some guy writing a great application.

As for the application itself….

Who is going to fixing the bugs?

Updating the software when the market changes or some regulator introduces a new rule?
Create the integrations? Because, after all, you can’t write one omnibus ‘all encompassing’ program.
It reminds me of the joke by comedian Stephen Wright,

“I am creating a map of the world…and I am scaling it 1:1.”

Who will expand its capabilities?

And who will support it when the one guy who wrote it gets sick? Or goes on vacation? Or Retires?

As Michael Corleone said in Software Father III, “They pull me back in!”

(Probably to do some more coding find out where the dead bodies are located.)

So, who is going to support it when the users want help?

Who is going to train the users how to use it?

And if you actually run a software business, then you really need someone to market it and sell it.

(Thank god for that, ‘cause if they didn’t…well they can go get someone else to write these damn blogs!)

In an increasingly ‘appified’ world, there is a sense that everything is ‘one and done.’ Write a nice piece of code, build a better mousetrap, and the world will come to your Mindcraft door.

Yes, two guys in a garage or one guy locked up in his bedroom, he can do it all. Marcus Friend excepted because while there are ‘Plenty of Fish,’ he was one unique fish in that ocean of programmers that could build one application and run it for years by himself.

If you truly believe that some guy in his bedroom can write the thing and run it all in a way that that will support your business as you grow, then you might want to go to your local Coca Cola plant and place your hands under one of their bottling spigots – who needs the bottle, who needs it packaged, put on a pallet, delivered and put on the shelf? Just drink the coke from your hands!

And who needs to put the secret recipe into syrup containers and send it to the bottlers? Let’s just follow the one guy who came up with the recipe and make sure he is always there to tell us how to make it.

If two guys decide to write software in a garage, it’s good to stay in the garage. Because god forbid they venture out and get hit by a bus.

Who can help you then?

I hear it all too often,

“Our guy wants to retire.”

“Our guy left the business and we don’t know what to do.”

“Microsoft is ending its support for…”

“Our guy went out to put some more coins in the parking meter and didn’t come back.”

At the end of the day, there is nothing inherently wrong about going with the software that was written by the two guys in a garage – even it is your son and you are wanting to find some way to leverage that significant investment of time and money you made in his XBOX and Mindcraft career.

But it does come with a risk. At its core, it’s a simple risk-return scenario.

And it doesn’t mean that those with lots of people and resources are necessarily any better. It’s amazing at times, that despite the best of intentions, and collective efforts of a lot of people, how awful some computer software programs are. But at least in those situations, with all the people and resources, under a brand that they have to live up to, there will be some continuity – some reason to be available the next day. And that alone mitigates your risk.

The pursuit of happiness is often an aggressive race for financial and commercial success – things move fast in business, and they are moving faster all the time. You may want a software partner that will be with you along the way.

Now back to my iPod and my Facebook. Hmm…I wonder who is on the ‘Plenty of Programmers’ website.

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