Planning, Startups, Stories


Tim Berry on business planning, starting and growing your business, and having a life in the meantime.

Do You Agree? Should We Ignore These Trends? 6

I’ve posted about Gene Marks’ Business Week columns before. He writes well and he’s fun to disagree with. With everybody saying mostly the same things about tech trends these days, Gene’s contrarian view is refreshing. Of course he’s mostly wrong with this list, but that makes it more fun. Here we have Gene Marks’ Tech Trends to Ignore, with some of my commentary added. 

  • Radio Frequency ID (RFID). It hasn’t been easy or cheap. Many smaller companies can ignore RFID until the technology matures and comes down in price.

But how cool is it when it works? Just wave your card around. Have you been skiing lately in one of the bigger resorts that uses RFID to manage your lift ticket? Why doesn’t the hotel elevator know which floor I’m on? Oh, and by the way, do you have a passport? That’s got RFID in it too, at least the new ones do. And meanwhile, whether we ignore it or not, there are those hacks …

  • Virtualization. But we small businesses don’t need to run Microsoft Outlook in a virtual world. We can barely get it to work right in the real world. This technology needs more time before it makes sense for small business.

And I say hooray for Windows on a Mac. It works. It’s worth it. So I’m about to suggest that this is a counter example for Gene, but then — gulp — look at what’s two points below this one on this list. So much for the Mac.

  • Software as a Service. Software in this form makes sense for certain customers—among them, trusting souls comfortable letting other companies hold onto their data; honest, hard-working people who believe the Internet is completely reliable and that data will be secure and can be retrieved regardless of what happens to their provider; business owners who are O.K. paying a monthly amount per user that generally winds up being more expensive over time than purchasing a system outright. Then there are the rest of us—cynical, slothful, apathetic, and miserable. We don’t trust anyone—especially with customer and financial data. For SaaS, the jury’s still out. But keep an eye on it nonetheless.

I suppose, but seriously, have you seen Google Apps? Now take a look at Netbooks. And watch the numbers on how online bookkeeping is going.

Something has changed.  I remember talking to a very high-level executive at Intuit 10 years ago when they started to look at online bookkeeping. He said "the analysts want it and the journalists want it, but the customers don’t." That was then, this is now. Customers want it.

Who would you rather have backing up your data: you? your bright nephew? Or Google, Intuit, or Amazon?

  • Apple. We all agree that Intuit (INTU), the maker of Quickbooks, has a lot of small business customers. So why doesn’t Intuit sell a multi-user version of Quickbooks for the Mac? Simple. Most small businesses, other than printers or design firms, aren’t using the Mac. There’s more choice in Microsoft Windows business applications. And there are fewer IT firms providing Mac support. It takes too much effort to be a rebel. So we cave and use Microsoft. But watch out. Those Apple Store geniuses are going to have their day. Every high school and college kid I know has grown up on iPods, Macs, and other Apple products that are just plain better than products made by Microsoft. And when they run their own companies in just a few short years, what do you think they’ll be asking for? You won’t be ignoring Apple in the future.

OK now, this is getting more fun. Gene’s saying ignore Apple, but then he seems to conclude no, never mind, pay attention. My company is done ignoring Apple. We’re paying attention to Mac users now.

  • Anything Green. Do we not care about the environment? Yes, but not enough to waste money on this year’s fire drill. If you can find a technology that helps the environment and is good for your business then go for it. And please let me know too, as I’m still trying to find it.

Now that’s a real challenge. This one is so obvious that I posted A Green Challenge about it on Up And Running blog Friday. I pointed out that smart venture money and lots and lots of startups are betting on everything they can find that’s green.

So with that, I say that’s enough of my commentary. Here is the rest of Gene’s list.

  • Facebook and MySpace. Unless you’re hawking Hannah Montana memorabilia, there’s not going to be much of an audience for your product here. Small businesses should ignore these places for now. Want to join a great networking site with business benefits? Try Linkedin.com or Plaxo.com
  • Open-Source Software. Sure, open-source software may be "free," but the propeller-heads you need to actually get it working, customized, and supported aren’t. Spending time customizing a software product, just because it’s "open source," doesn’t mean that time is well spent. Business owners should stick to the boring, off-the-shelf stuff for now. 
  • Windows XP. It’s time to start ignoring Windows XP, too. Like it or not, the Microsoft operating system for businesses won’t be sold after June 30. We are going to be forced to drink the Vista Kool-Aid. It still starts up slow. It still doesn’t work with all devices. It will require a server with more memory than an elephant. But hey, now we get to see our invoices in 3D! And we’ll all feel so much more secure, too, right? Whoever said that life gets more complex the older you get definitely works at Microsoft. Goodbye XP and Godspeed. We’ll miss you. 
  • Microsoft and Yahoo. Frankly, we really don’t care about Microsoft’s attempt to buy Yahoo. Let us know when it’s all sorted out. Then we’ll Google the story. 
  • Virtual Worlds. There’s been a lot of hype around virtual societies like Second Life. Some big companies are taking this stupidity seriously and buying "real estate" to advertise products. These are the same big companies that spend big money on overpriced consultants and gold-painted corporate jets. Small business owners should ignore these virtual worlds—until they find a way for a virtual guy named "Knuckles" to beat the stuffing out of a real-life delinquent customer.
  • Gagan Kanwar

    I just wanted a chance to respond to Josh's comments as I've met Tim personally.

    By way of disclosure, I'm currently doing my MBA at Oxford University (across the pond) and had the pleasure of meeting Tim when he came to do a talk on entrepreneurship.

    I really enjoyed Tim's talk. His stories about being a rebel at McKinsey in Mexico were memorable (still remember the peso valuation battles, Tim). And his advice about following your heart (not just your pocketbook) resonated with many of us.

    Right or wrong, I believe that inspiring and educating others towards a life of entrepreneurship doesn't require a PhD or a lot of bling. In my humble opinion, it requires a unique combination of smarts, confidence, humility and empathy. And, Tim radiated all of those qualities. I could say more but it would probably cross the line into Cheesistan.

    Josh, I hope you get a chance to meet Tim someday. I'm sure you'll come away from that meeting with a different perspective. Good luck to you in all that you do.

    Cheers…

    - Gagan

  • http://blog.timberry.com Tim Berry

    Josh: Wow. Bad day? I don't see how either of your comments are related to the post. Have you been saving that up? But what the heck, better to make them than just think them. So thanks for the comment, I guess.

    Why do I write about education? Stanford? Personal experience, and personal opinion. No apologies for either. I don't think I've ever said anybody needs education as much as I've said people who have the luxury are lucky to have it, and if you have a choice, you ought to want it. I didn't think anybody chose ignorance when they had a choice. I also think I've been comfortably cynical about the MBA degree from time to time … but your opinion is your opinion.

    What do I know about growing a business? I know there's a lot of different definitions of success. I've got a business that's been cash flow positive for several years, that has 40 employees, has never missed payroll (except when it didn't pay me), and has 70% market share in its segment, and all that without outside investment, meaning I own it, all of it (shared with my wife and grownup children) and that's not bad. You're right though, I could have sold it several times, but chose not to. So?

    Oh, and by the way, there's more than just that one company in my about box.

    Tim

  • http://cubert-codepoet.blogspot.com Charles Robinson

    I'm not ready for SaaS for things that are critical to my business, such as word processing. For that I use OpenOffice.org, which interoperates with Google Apps very easily. I do use several online services, such as box.net and blogspot for things that are important to my business.

    I disagree wholeheartedly about virtualization. I'm a consultant who does software development. I couldn't do my job without VMWare Workstation. When I'm done with the customer's software they get a copy of the VM with a fully functional development environment.

    Any company of any size that is ignoring virtualization is throwing money out the window. A single server of recent vintage can easily run anywhere from 3 to 5 virtualized servers, depending on the workload. This allows you to follow best practices in service segmentation (don't run your print server on your domain controller) while not spending a fortune on hardware.

    Finally, Windows XP is going to be a business staple for at least 5 to 7 years. The move to Vista is not automatic, either. One of my customers is piloting a Ubuntu Linux project. So far the people using it have loved it because it runs better on the same hardware than XP does. It does take a little more expertise to get going, but you're going to have to ramp up skills to deploy Vista, too. With Ubuntu this customer will save more in hardware and software licensing than they will invest in training, and everybody wins.

  • Josh Congdon

    Hi Tim-

    Your blog appears to be about start up and growth… I am confused as to why you talk constantly about MBAs, Stanford and collegiate education in general, when some of the most successful startups in history did not involve people overly concerned with college educations. Also- What makes you an expert on growing a company? I read about your company and its none nothing remarkable in 20 years? Most big names in business would have sold your company 5 times over and theyd be sitting on millions of dollars.

  • http://www.informednetworker.com/ David Mackey

    RFID hasn't impressed me thus far, but I think it has a lot of potential. I want to be able to swipe my groceries by it and be reminded when I'm getting low on x or y.
    Virtualization is the bomb. I recently upgrade a small office network and they had applications that only ran on the old computers. We didn't want two computers under every desk and we were able to get the machines running successfully in VMWare Player. Hooray.
    Well, I could write on but thats enough for now…

  • Mac

    Google Apps? Are you serious? It's technically impressive, but for real business purposes, it still pretty much sucks.

    I don't get why people still waste energy whining about Vista. I blew it off for a long time, but recently I needed a new machine… and discovered that I love it. XP instantly looked dated and clunky. A new OS needs more powerful hardware? Sure it sucks, but it's hardly news. It's time to stop whining.

    I found both sets of commentaries on "Anything Green" hilarious. My company is real-world (e.g. large and physical) not online, and from time to time we've talked about green-this and green-that. But the fact is, it's expensive, it's usually hard to find, and the payback is always near-zero or less. I'm burning $55mm to make more money, not to save the whales. On the other hand, I REALLY hope all my competitors go to great lengths to do their part, LOL.