Beware of the Productivity Multipliers
A few months ago, I went to a developer meetup where, coincidentally, everyone was an entrepreneur. The topic of the meetup was “System Admin for Developers”.
In the talk, the speaker showed off some hardcore system admin skills. And everyone was impressed.
At the end of the talk, someone brought up the question of what’s the point of all these system admin tasks in light of Platform As A Service (PAAS) like Heroku. This was met with incredulity. After all, one of the guys said “good developers need control”, and Heroku is too restrictive. The implication was that Heroku is for idiots.
Heroku is for idiots, or is it?
If you have tried out Heroku, you know that it’s a game changer. Heroku makes developers a lot more productive by taking care of the daily mundane system admin tasks. So, is Heroku really for idiots?
Solving Hard vs. Valuable Problems
This was a particularly interesting discussion, as all involved were also entrepreneurs. This reminded me of a talk by Max Levchin on solving hard vs valuable problems (fast forward around 19:30).
For the uninitiated, the talk above can be summarized as: Valuable problems are typically pretty hard – think Google and Facebook. But a hard problem doesn’t always translate into something valuable – think walking upside down.
The Myth of a Weekend Project
Facebook and Google solve valuable and hard problems. By solving them, they become big and successful.
So, let’s take a look at what you should NOT do – solving an easy problem or worse yet not solving a problem. Lots of Lean Startup fan boys fall into this trap. They get stuck in the weekend projects mindset.
Inspired by anecdotes of popular services like Instagram (gained 10K users over night), they want to hack up a weekend project and see this kind of traction. If it doesn’t stick, repeat and throw more shit at the wall.
Business and Value Creation
At the end of the day, a business survives and prospers by creating and delivering value to customers. If it’s so easy to hack up a project and gain server-melt traction, lots of successful businesses would have been created already.
I am not saying it’s impossible to see this kind of success. I am pointing out that with technology becoming more and more mature and barriers to becoming a developer lower and lower, it will be harder and harder to see this kind of success.
The fact that lots of lean startups fail demonstrates that there is a fine balance between solving hard problems and valuable problems.
The foundation of a successful business can’t be built overnight. If it’s so easy, someone would have done it already. Even Instagram was incubated for a long time before it was launched to the app store.
So, coming back to the meetup event, unless you want to become a great system admin, you should be focusing on creating and delivering value for your customers, not focusing on the system admin tasks.
And anytime a productivity multiplier like Heroku emerges, you should leverage it as much as you can. It’s not even a question of “IF”, it’s a question of which one of your competitors is leveraging it right now.
Productivity multipliers allow you to be more productive and more focused on building and delivering something people want.
[disclaimer] If you are looking for a social media productivity multiplier. Checkout my startup ContentDJ.