I don’t get too many professional bragging moments, but seeing as how I just had my first one in a few years, I’m taking full advantage of it. Here is me doing the “Told Ya So” dance.
(Okay, actually that’s not me … but I’m almost as hip and smooth.)
It seems a while back, at a former place of employment, a salesman and I were handed an assignment to hock the company wares at a client. Our employer called themselves a custom app development shop, but really they have one product, some legacy stuff built by talent no longer there, and a bunch of smoke-and-mirror markup services like “social media management” (which every company and college dropout offers) and SEO consulting (which nobody really needs because your sales all come from Klout anyway, right?). Anyway, our employer really needs a new product, particularly one from the 21st century, since everything they currently charge $60-80K for can be easily obtained for free from a variety of services and web sites — which your 16-year-old kid can point you to if you think to ask him.
The meeting was what we liked to call the “jerk-off/bake-off.” This is where a potential client brings in three or four companies to express their unique, diverse vision for the future of the client’s industry, their original ideas for taking the client outside the box and building an cultural paradigm-shift that will firmly establish the client as the thought-leaders in their field, and to demonstrate the particular expertise and talents they have acquired through years of research, development, training, and certification. The bid then goes to whichever idea was cheapest.
Halfway through the presentation, it was completely obvious that we were going to be too expensive and too far off the needs of what the client wanted. They were already using free alternatives to our core product, which was the only thing we could sell them that had margins high enough to be worthwhile. Meanwhile, it’s blatantly obvious, to me anyway, exactly what the client needs to be doing — and it isn’t anything remotely like what they are asking for or what anybody was pitching. Normally, this is a golden opportunity. We could get outside the box, pitch an idea that I was certain the client would jump on, develop a new product for our arsenal that we could sell industry wide, and create that paradigm shift for how these people do business. That night, I did a few screen mockups, sketched out a preliminary project timeline and budget, and presented these ideas at the 8:00 AM debriefing the next morning.
Of course, the salesman didn’t care, he got paid to sell our core product, and was actually miffed when I pointed out they didn’t need our core product. The owner liked my idea, to his credit, but not enough to warrant pulling developers off their current assignments (which consist mostly of making minute customizations to the core product until their brains melt from boredom). My supervisor accused me of going off on wild tangents and wasting billable time working on stuff I shouldn’t have been working on — after all, a business analyst’s job is to fill out work orders for customers, not to … you know … actually analyze customers’ businesses.
So, you can now imagine my elation when someone forwarded me a lovely writeup from an industry trade magazine this morning. Turns out that company just spent a butt-load of money rolling out a new paradigm-shifting product. One that was about 85-90% of the idea I wanted to pitch to them, but got shot down on. In fact, the screenshots in the article, looked almost suspiciously like the ones I had hastily mocked up that night. Strange, since they bought it from a competitor. The article goes on to praise that competitor for their forward-thinking in designing the product and revolutionizing the industry, blah blah blah.
I used to get angry when someone else gets rich off an idea I had. Half of SalesForce.com’s functionality and business model? 2MI was pitching it years before they had it. HTML/XML? SayTech used a markup language called RISE that was transmitted between computers over DTMF tones back when 9600BPS was considered blazing fast. Toothpaste in a pump? Pitched that during a PEAK Brain Game competition in 1981. I don’t accuse anybody of stealing my ideas, I’m just saying these so-called innovators aren’t out-thinking me — and likely they’re are many more like me out there who are never going to be in a position for any of our ideas to be first to market. To my forward-thinking brethren, I offer this advice: When you read praising articles like this one, just substitute your name for the competitor’s in your head. It will silence the other voices.