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Tue 04 May 2004

Building Better Mousetraps

Category : Technology

"Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Postfix and Sendmail Enablers are not, most definitely, commercial successes. Not by a long way. But I'm happy that they've been useful. It would have been nice to see more PayPal notifications. But it's nice enough, for the moment, to see the variety of places where they've been used. For example, these are some of the places they've been referred to :

Moodle - http://moodle.org/doc/

Sol4.Net - Sending Email from Perl - http://sol4.net/projects/project1.shtml

The Postfix Site : http://www.postfix.org/addon.html

We're learning something everyday from doing this. I'm learning how to handle the tech support requests better. And we're learning, as we experiment, about building things that people would want to use. People whom we've never met before, and who don't know us from Adam. But will they still use the stuff if they have to pay for it?

For ten years, we had gotten by well enough building custom software and providing custom site support. And getting paid by PC users while hanging on to our Macs was a trick that worked for us. But I don't how the other guys in the business could keep on doing this because the energy, the intensity of focus you have to supply to keep the business going, is simply not sustainable. I think Michael Gerber described it best in "The E-Myth Revisited".

Part of the reasons for all this rambling is that I'm far from clear how to find the way out. And this weblog is my way of letting out the noise when the thinking gets too loud.

For example, I was writing the documentation for Luca, an accounting system that we built, and I was saying something like how Luca allows a company to manage a really sizeable business with, at most, one accounts manager and maybe just one clerk. Like how a company using Luca could handle the same amount of transactions, both in terms of dollar volume and the number of vouchers processed, as another company which had almost five times the amount of staff. And this actually did happen.

But imagine the accounts manager (whose company is using Luca) attending a (wedding) dinner, say, where she happens to find her friend who is the financial controller for that other larger company (at least in terms of staff strength but, remember, the two companies do almost the same amount of business, but who at the dinner table would know that?).

Imagine how she feels when she says she has just one person reporting to her and the other could mention five or six. That's why her friend has a better title - she has more people reporting to her.

So the idealism that went into the design (to get the work done in the most efficient way possible) gets undermined in social situations like these.

This is similar to the challenges Apple faces with the IT departments. (In passing, read Rob Enderle's latest column and you can see why Apple may never be able to get past the biases and entrenched interests - "... the market likes standards and Apple isn't one").

If you're starting a company, it pays to watch Apple and learn from its trials and tribulations. You're never going to be able to take a Microsoft-like posture because it's going to be pain, contempt, despair, and yet more pain. Watch Apple and see if there's method in its madness and whether some of it could work for you.

Posted at 4:14PM SGT | permalink


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