Executive Corner

Zen and the Art of Taking Risks

Ready. Fire. Aim. Repeat.

That’s right — I said “Ready. Fire” — and then aim.  Then start over.

For those of you who’ve read a business management book in the past decade or so, this might not be a new concept. But for those who are just getting their sea-legs as a small business, it’s the kind of advice that can save your business, too.

What “Ready. Fire. Aim.” really signifies is the growing prominence of beta culture within many tech companies. Whether it’s marketing, sales, or development, our beta culture — and the risks we take with each new release — speed up things like research and development while ultimately making a release better.

If you’re developing a product or service, getting something together that people can see and try as soon as possible is the best thing you can do. If your product sucks, tell them not to bet their business on it yet. Be truthful and set expectations properly — but for goodness sake show them something!

And when you do, you can’t just rest on your laurels, either. Regardless of whether or not it’s in beta, once you have a live product you then have to relentlessly work to improve upon it. No one can afford to develop in a vacuum. Do you really think your customers will wait patiently for you while your competitors out-innovate you publicly? Nah, me neither.

It’s incredibly difficult — if not downright impossible — to predict the needs of your customers without their input. If you go behind closed doors for 2 years and present a fait accompli, you’re not going to have any traction on release. If you play it too close to the chest and try to make all of your mistakes in private, it’s going to be hard to encourage a flourishing user base when you’ve been seemingly out of the game for so long.

I have the good fortune of being able to work with lots of small companies every day. The most successful among them believe that if you have a good idea, you need to get it out there as soon as you can. That kind of philosophy will shepherd good ideas into the mix. It creates a feedback loop between you and the end user that becomes invaluable as your product gets more mature. Build something small and make improvements daily, in public, and you’ll get to where you want to go.

In our industry, for example, the argument between completely closed products and completely open-sourced products is a lively and perpetually heated debate. From our perspective as a hosting provider, Linux based hosting IS demonstrably better than Windows based hosting.

Why?

Because people are constantly working on breaking open systems, then fixing them. When I say people, I mean the world — the user base — everybody who relies on it to do whatever they do each day.

Of course, commercial software also has people trying to break it every day. But the difference lies in the feedback loop. When somebody does break it, perhaps somebody will send a report about it someday so that maybe somebody on staff will prioritize getting a team together to squash the bug.

In other words, the feedback loops are much smaller and more frequent with open projects. Something gets out there — a project, software, hardware, whatever– and then it gets fixed. A community contributes to it, and then it’s reviewed and improved quickly.

In other words, Ready. Fire. Aim.

In many ways, ServInt has been a historically cautious company. From a product perspective, we consider ourselves to be perfectionists, and in our 15 years of existence that has typically been a very successful policy for us. But today, businesses — including ServInt — need to be flexible, aggressive, and fearlessly innovative.

We’re working on it. You should too.

– Christian

Photo by Tambako the Jaguar

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