In my regular gig as a systems/software analyst, I have to wade through a lot of material each day just to keep up with current trends. While my RSS reader has helped me gather it an order of magnitude faster, the reading of the material itself often remains tedious. (The speed reading class helped, but now I have to clean my monitor more often.)
Every now and then, however, I pick up a tidbit like this one, which I found was also very useful in another context, like, say, alt.space…
It’s a rant about the signal-to-noise ratio in the software industry. The author, a real, honest-to-God programmer, discusses his frustrations in trying to convince customers to buy his product on its actual merits. His product solves a customer’s specific problem. He has actual code that actually ships. Custom onsite configuration is also available as part of the service.
However, more often than not, he finds himself competing with firms who have only vaporware to sell – but their “software architects” come a-calling with a slick PowerPoint show replete with color, animation, and impressive buzzwords. So the poor guy gets caught up in the trap of trying to explain meaningless “architecture” questions asked by the potential client’s pointy-haired boss, rather than allowing him to explain how his very real, shipping product would actually solve specific problems and make end users more productive.
I find there is a strong parallel here between the rantings of buzzword-spouting “software architects” selling vaporware, and the unquestioning, romantic worship of future-boy rocketry by the alt.space crowd. They can create or join one startup after another; they raise funding from naive angels by selling the Dream, fall flat, reinvent themselves in another enterprise, raise money from still more naive angels, fall flat again, and keep doing it over and over.
Like “software architects”, they are teflon when it comes to failure – they’ll never admit to it, except, when pushed, in terms of blaming others or unique circumstances beyond their control – like the regulatory environment, failure to raise sufficient capital, or the blunders of key partners. They never mention, however, how their now-failed product or service was laced with 6 degrees of unobtainium, or violated the laws of economics (sometimes even physics).
The only thing they’ve ever launched is a PowerPoint show, filled with thrilling 3-D animated effects of their new/improved launcher/spaceship/what-have-you, declaring they’ll be taking passenger reservations/client orders in only two years. And every two years that self-imposed deadline keeps getting pushed back. But undaunted by reality, they press on.
They go to all the “right” conferences, make sure they are photographed with luminaries such as Aldrin, wave their arms on panel discussions, and quote liberally from all the books on space and aviation history that festoon their offices.
From now on, whenever I’m confronted by these people, I going to chant to myself the following mantra:
“Rockets launch, payloads fly;
Rockets help customers
Do their work in the sky.”
Then I might be able to sit through another annoying PowerPoint show without my breakfast threatening revolt.
I’ve said this on more than one occasion, and I’ll say it again: Entrepreneurial enterprises – of whatever kind – are created to solve problems, offering unique or innovative solutions that inspire customers to buy. This is their primary value proposition, and it’s what makes such enterprises potentially worthy of 3rd-party investment. This is the biggest contrast I see between presenting firms at a conference like SmallSat, for example, and those that attend many space advocacy conferences. The SmallSat firms understand the concept of solving problems for customers and adding value – as a result they prosper. The others sell mostly dreams, promises, and vaporware.