Startup School – Technology as a competitive advantage
Techno geeks are born with a chip in their heads that forces them to worship technology and acquire trinkets irrespective of need or value addition. I should know since I have been buying techno toys for the last 20 years. Avicena was no different.
During the initial research phase, the techno toy was Java, XML, and JSP pages. Outstanding technical tools but a complete waste of time and resources since ASP from Microsoft would have performed just as well with one-tenth the time, resources, and capital we spent on learning, working, picking up, debugging, and deploying Java. I was also on my anti-Microsoft binge and wanted to stay as far as possible from any standards sprouted by the firm in Redmond.
In the next phase, Avicena’s web and database server became the next toy. We had access to a shared T-1 and decided to put in a beast of a machine that we could show off to clients. I tried picking one up on eBay but lost magnificently to a faster typist across the street. After two failed attempts at online austerity, I bought a loaded box with enough power to serve five Avicenas.
I could have gotten by just as well with spending one-fourth the amount. As if this bit of stupidity wasn’t enough, I went out and upgraded the server to a dual processor and a gigabyte of RAM on an operating system (OS) that could only support a single processor. Since we never got around to customer site visits, or upgraded the OS or grew to five times our original size, the additional investment sat there looking pristine and pretty.
Just before the end, the toy became corporate functionality that we didn’t need, didn’t use, and didn’t get around to rolling out on the production server. But we still went ahead and built it because we thought it addressed some of the questions likely to be raised by our corporate customers.
Moral of the story:
Where is the value addition of your tech investment? If you can’t measure it or answer the question, don’t do it. Ask yourself “How long will it take for what I am buying to pay for itself?” “Can I do it sooner and cheaper?” “Is there a cheaper, preferably no-cash alternate?” Why pay PacBell or PTCL $250 to set up a commercial phone line and then $70 dollars a month when you can do just as well (perhaps better) with a cell phone?