Over the years I have heard from many founders that they have chosen the technology to be used for the development of their application, or they have architected the application themselves and they want it done exactly this way.
I think that’s great! But then I find out from many of them that they have never architected a product before, or they have never worked first hand with the technology they have chosen. Now that does not necessarily mean they have done a bad job with the architecture, or that they have chosen the wrong technology. But I do wonder why they spent time on this activity when it clearly is not their area of expertise, and there are so many other things to do when starting up a company. Maybe they were just interested and wanted to do it and wanted to learn more. That’s ok too. But when I ask them why they did it, some of the top reasons I hear are:
1. I need to know what is being used when talking with potential investors.
2. I will never get a good answer from a vendor, as to what to use.
3. I want to use the latest technology and no one will know how to do it.
Clearly Founders are not very trusting people and that is probably not a bad thing given the fact that they are trying to start a new business. But I think there has to be a better way.
I can understand why a founder would have trust issues around technology or what to do. Ask 10 different vendors (or individual technologists for that matter) to respond to your RFP or which technology to use to build your app, and you will probably get 10 different suggestions of which technology to use. Why is that? Well one of the reasons is because there are so many choices. The same business problem can be solved using many different combinations of technologies. Another reason is because each vendor (or individual) usually has their own technology area/s that they concentrate on. So naturally what are they going to recommend? They are going to recommend that, low and behold…..the right technology to use is the one they have the most experience with.
How to ask for and what to look for when you get a response to your RFP?
So what do you do if you are a founder and you need suggestions as to which technologies to use to build your new service? You need to concentrate not only on the timeline of development and the price, but also on the technology recommendations and more importantly the reason for the choice. The reason for concentrating on this is obvious; a founder needs to understand the pros and cons of a particular technology so they can determine what is best for their company initially and what will be the best for the long run.
Unfortunately there is often less concentration on the reason for the choice than there is on the overall price of the project. The question usually comes down to money, however, in order to get the best recommendations, often some money will need to be spent.
As I mentioned above there are usually many different combinations of technology that could work for every application or new service. In that case it often pays for a founder, if they are not a technologist themselves, or even if they are but their knowledge is in a limited area, to pay for a vendor or two to do actual research on different tools or different open source solutions that could be used for their new product or service. The choices and options should include the pros and cons of each choice based on the founder’s objectives for the new service;, based on its direction, based on estimates for number of users initially and in the future, etc. If for example the founder’s new service needs a video solution, this type of research project can uncover which open source solution best fits the objectives of the product, or if a paid solution is better. Another example may be a new product/service which needs a handwriting recognition solution; well there are many of them out there. To find the right one for your service could take a lot of trial and error, as well as it would need to take in to account the acceptable “minimum” of recognition that would need to be done by the new product, etc. A vendor or technologist should be easily able to create a long list of possible solutions for your new service, narrow it down to a short list of potential solutions and then run an actual test of the most likely solutions, and then present to you their recommendation. By doing these types of research projects, a founder will often be exposed to many more options than they could uncover on their own, in a shorter time period, and get more information than just the price and timeline for creating their new application. These type of projects often do not cost that much money. They can be limited in scope so that the founder feels like it will not get out of hand and end up costing them a ton of money.
But should that founder decide what technology should be used for an application, or should they want?
On the other hand, there are cases when it makes sense for the founder to make a suggestion as to which technologies to use for an application. I say suggestion because the final decision of what to use should always be the founders. It is the level of input that he/she may receive from others that is the question. Those reasons may be.
1. The founder is going to develop the initial application themselves and they are familiar with a particular language or tools.
2. The industry that is going to be served requires very specific technology to be used. In other words the potential client base maybe only uses Microsoft tools, or the target market’s main mobile phone OS is Blackberry, etc. This is something the founder as the main product manager would know best.
3. The exit strategy of the company. We have run in to companies which have come to us, after they had their initial product built out, and said they had to have the whole thing redone. Why? Because they did not own everything that had been built for them previously. There was some part of it that was a proprietary system from the vendor that built it. This was going to be a problem when it came to selling their company. In this case it is clear that the founder needs to define that proprietary solutions will or not work for their company.
If you are a new founder of a technology enabled service business, and you are facing that inevitable question, what technology to use to build your new service, how you go about making the choice is certainly up to you. If you feel comfortable making the choice yourself, or if you want to involve technologists or vendors, it is up to you. Either way, if there is not clear cut choice based on your target industry, make sure you have some information on the pros and cons of the different choices, and a good way to get that information is have a service provider conduct a research project for you and point out the pros and cons of different solutions.