I spent 2006 consulting to small tech companies, including seven months as an interim executive. I also nearly co-founded a start-up. Come year-end, though, I find that I haven’t created a new company or joined a fledgling venture. This brings to mind discussions of commitment and “burning your boats.”
This week, there’s been a lot of discussion in the blogosphere and popular press about “crowdsourcing” — empowering crowds of amateurs to do tasks previously filled by professionals. (See Jeff Howe’s Wired story.) The next trendy opportunity for startups to offload parts of themselves onto the market. Tech Support (aka Customer Support) is on many executives’ lists of outsource-able functions. I’ve been talking with Tech Support teams at several startups, however, and see real value in a dedicated team that helps customers love you. Here’s my contrarian view on getting more out of support teams.
As early as 1961, Soviet and American space scientists planned for mid-course corrections: those tiny bursts of rocket power designed to keep spacecraft on their trajectories to the Moon, Mars and beyond. With such long voyages, mid-course corrections are crucial to keeping space flights on track with the minimum of effort – and reserving fuel for later adjustments. The high-tech opposite of this is something I’ve come to think of as the “post-course correction.” This is the panicky “oops” moment when your startup realizes – much too late – that its core strategy and assumptions are flawed. In space terms, you’ve missed the moon and don’t have enough resources left for dramatic course changes. There’s still air in the cabin…
Product managers are usually the people who “own the gap” for their specific products: identifying all of the missing or incomplete features and services and supporting processes that customers need for a successfully experience. This discussion is about elevating that concept to the product executive, who should be looking for systemic problems in the company’s end-to-end production cycle.