What Lurks Beneath the Surface

Giff Constable startups, technology

I’ll believe it with my own two eyes

Humans have a tendency to focus on what they can see to the exclusive of other things.

Many years ago, my wife and I lived in a shoebox in Manhattan. We couldn’t afford to buy a place in the city, but ironically we could afford to rent and buy a small getaway place in the mountains. As a first-time home buyer, I was pretty naive — I looked at the cost of the house and the taxes, but that was about it.

I could *see* the house. What I couldn’t see was what it took to maintain the house, especially since it wasn’t our primary residence. Buying another set of pots and dishes and bed sheets and linen. Paying someone to mow the grass and plow the drive. Paying someone to keep an eye out when the power went out when the pipes might freeze. Replacing the oil burner, the roof, the water pump. You get the picture. Ouch.

First-time software entrepreneurs tend to be no different. They have a vision for a *thing*. They want the thing. What they have no conception of is what happens after they create the thing.

Creating a software product is like having a baby — as long as it is yours, it will take care and feeding in order to survive, grow, and be successful.

Even though first-timers in software are smart enough to look at other startups and realize that their engineering teams only *grow* after launch, not the reverse, the human mind doesn’t let us off the hook that easy. The human brain seduces: I want my thing and I have just enough money to get there!

I was prompted to write the above because of the recent Techcrunch article on the life and death of Rando, a photo-sharing app. Now ustwo (the creators of Rando) is a sophisticated crew, and they probably knew what they were getting into, but I’ll use the example anyway. Two excerpts in particular:

The general problem for ustwo sustaining Rando is that the app has become more used than can be supported by its experimental origins. It’s an app without a team behind it now because there’s no monetisation strategy attached to it, ergo there’s no revenue to help keep it afloat.

One misstep Lövrin points out, with the benefit of hindsight, is ustwo overreached itself by deciding to release the Rando app on three platforms (iOS first, then Android and also Windows Phone). It wanted to do this to showcase its capabilities as an app development studio but, for Rando, this meant support overheads were far higher and any fixes for bugs had to be rolled across all three platforms. It’s not even a 3x overhead but more like a 5x overhead per bug fix, he says. (emphasis mine)

Yes I know I’ve written about this before… I just see it over and over.