What are you *really* good at, and who cares?

Last week, Wil Harris spoke eloquently and convincingly about how ChannelFlip launched. Off the shelf software, string, sticky tape, some CSS, plenty of tea and a spare afternoon* was all it took to create and get this top-notch video magazine off the ground.

That anybody can launch a successful web site or business is a common message. Just release early and often, and be embarrassed by version one, and you’ll surely succeed. But I find it hard to reconcile this with my experience that writing software is hard, dirty and time-consuming. Our Exchange archiving tool took an awesome team of fine people well over a year to build. How come?

There are a number of reasons – ChannelFlip launched into a market with few competitors; if they screwed up they had no existing customers to disappoint or brand to stain; what they were doing wasn’t technically difficult. I doubt these are accidental though – they’re the results of extremely smart choices that Wil and his team made.

But I think these reasons miss the point. ChannelFlip succeeds not because of the technology, but because of the videos. What distinguishes ChannelFlip from competitors current and future is content, not software. And like most companies, they have constraints. Every hour and dollar spent creating video is an hour and dollar less spent on technology. But – for now – the benefits of spending on content outweigh the costs of scrimping on technology.

If you think you’re in the business of software, here are some questions worth asking about your company or product:

  • Of all the things you do, what really matters? What will delight your customers? What will make you damn hard to compete against?
  • Of all the things you do, what doesn’t matter?
  • Where are you focussing?
  • Are you any good at what matters?

Maybe the answer to the first question is software – its quality, technical excellence or performance. But maybe it’s something else.

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* OK, so I’m exaggerating a bit