Business of Software 2011
October 24-26
Boston, MA

I just arrived back home in Raleigh after attending this year’s Business of Software (#BoS2011) conference in Boston, MA.  Like last year’s event, it was really good, with an impressive lineup of speakers.  If someone asked me “Well, what did you really learn there?” I would say that the following are the basic (condensed) principals and recurring themes that I learned over the last 3 days:

You can’t outsource creativity, and it’s the one single most important thing that can completely change an industry and even the world.  Most people end up following a bunch of rules, but it’s the ones that don’t follow the conventional wisdom, the ones that question the status quo, the ones that think “why not?” that ultimately make things happen that impact our lives.  Creativity is usually lacking pretty much everywhere, even in my own organization.  But it’s this lack of creativity that provides the opening needed by those few that dare to try, that dare to be different, to have a chance of taking down an empire.  Two examples of this: 1) Blockbuster Video: nearly wiped out by Netflix, whose founders hated late fees and thought there was a better way to rent videos.  2) Encyclopedia Britannica: around for 100 years and virtually wiped out in a single year by Microsoft Encarta, which digitized it all and sold it on CDs.  Then Encarta was wiped out by Wikipedia.  Why didn’t Encyclopedia Britannica digitize their own content before Microsoft did?  Possibly because they didn’t want to cannibalize their golden goose.  They were blinded by the short term and didn’t see it coming.

This is what your message should always be…it should be honest.  No gimmicks, no BS.  It should have been this way since the beginning of time, but somehow marketing gurus and MBAs enamored with themselves instead of the industry they are in got involved and ended up spinning everything.  Who hasn’t come across a website that says “The most revolutionary XXXXX company in XXXX industry!”  What does that mean, really?  Does anyone really believe this anymore?  Is it true?  Does it even matter?  The point is, no one pays attention to headline-grabbing BS anymore.  They can see through it.  What works is honesty.  Stick to that.

Test and Tweak, Always
If you aren’t testing, measuring, and tweaking your site or software, you are flying blind and leaving things to chance.  Nowadays, A/B testing and capturing metrics associated with sign-ups, churn rates, and even if a particular widget or feature within your software is even being used can be done relatively painlessly.  Capture data, and act on that data if needed.

Just f#$%*ing do it.  At some point, you will have read enough, you will have sat through enough lectures, seminars, and conferences, and you will have thought enough about what it is you want to do.  Don’t use this as an excuse to not do something.  Just do it.  Just get out there and try something, even if you aren’t fully prepared.  In fact, you never will be fully prepared.  You can’t be.  Life gets in the way.  Unpredictable things happen.  Don’t let your lizard brain convince you that you can’t do it.  Don’t let the lack of money convince you to give up.  Don’t let the naysayers (and they are everywhere, even in your inner circle) knock you down.  Don’t go back to what feels comfortable just to avoid the fear of the unknown. Just do it.  Draw the rest of the owl, even if you don’t know how to draw the owl (this was a reference to Jeff Lawson’s awesome talk about how to draw an owl.  Twitter: @jeffiel).

Don’t Sell (Your Dream) Out
Peldi (Twitter: @Balsamiq) interviewed a soda pop store owner in Los Angeles about the troubles he had when retailers were being squeezed out in the late 1990s.  Some of his quotes:

  • “It’s really easy to make decisions when you are going broke.”
  • “Don’t invest in someone else’s idea.  Invest in your own and work happy every day.”
  • “If you quit, you defeat yourself.”

Here’s a transcript of the interview.  Definitely worth your time to read it:

Don’t be afraid of asking for the sale.  It’s actually ok to ask your prospects if your software fits their needs.  The way to do this properly is to take small steps along the way, like asking for the next step in your sales funnel, which might be demonstrating it in a web conference.  And listen.  Listen to your client and prospect.  Don’t keep bombarding him/her with more and more information.  Listen to their needs…try to solve their problems.  And ask.

Written by:
James L. Young, PG, REM
Terraine, Inc.