How being blunt can help small tech firms stay at the sharp end

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Navigating the corporate world in the hope of finding a fertile spot to plant a seed is far from easy. Sometimes there comes a point when the cost of pursuing an opportunity becomes disproportionate for the return. But if the return can’t be measured purely in direct revenue terms, (the opportunity is with a halo brand that would most likely, if won, trigger interest from other aspiring brands for example), smaller companies are often left with a very difficult decision: pursue or abandon?

Whilst larger companies may have the fuel – the time – to extend negotiations, the small company is more exposed to the risk associated with the cost and of course, the possibility of not winning the business. Conversely, there is the risk associated with not pursuing the opportunity. In other words, what could have been.

It’s a tough call, but one that can be made easier by gaining the full understanding of the buyer as early as possible. It’s a premise I’ve no doubt applies to all businesses but for small tech companies in particular, it’s fair to assume interest from large companies is based on the innovation the small company brings to the table.

This being the case, it is vital the small tech company gets the corporate to acknowledge, and understand, that the innovation is what provides the difference. It’s what sets companies apart.

Why is it vital? Well, unless the tech company can convey the danger to the corporate in being draconian in their demands and their terms, the commercial and legal exposure can be debilitating. To the small tech outfit, it can be the difference between survival and failure.

In short, pursuing the Big Corporate opportunity means having to quell the tendency to kowtow; it means having to state, in no uncertain terms, that by exerting too much pressure in the interests of short-term gain, the larger company risks breaking the smaller company and as a result, losing the source of what attracted them in the first place: the difference they provide.

(picture courtesy Rogue Pictures Inc)

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Cross-device publishing finally exists!

In May last year, I wrote a post relating to the abundance of systems (or rather posters and presentations of systems) claiming to represent the much-vaunted ‘content-goes-in-here-and-comes-out-working-everywhere’ solution.

At the time, I was working as Chief Product Officer at an international agency. The agency worked with many brands, all of which had a significant interest in – if the many presentations, posters and banner ads were to be believed – the myriad solutions available to them.

The problem, as it turned out after much research, was that none of the systems actually delivered on the claims. Sure, some excelled in one area or another, but none provided the ability to assemble, animate, integrate and measure the same content across the many devices our brand customers demanded. This represented a real challenge, especially as I was under pressure to propose a solution for a retail client desperate to provide its customers with an interactive derivative of their catalogue on iPad.

Working closely with the tech team, we architected a solution that drew upon some of the elements of some of the systems available. It was never going to be a scalable platform solution, and would certainly mean that processes and workflows would have to be duplicated to produce subsequent catalogues, but at least it would provide the vehicle for our client to launch an attractive, ecommerce-enabled catalogue on the iPad. It was pretty successful as well, going straight into the Guardian’s Top30 iPad apps list – much to the joy of our client. Everyone was happy. Until the second catalogue.

You see, the inevitable impact of not having a platform solution, a solution that addresses many of the repeat tasks associated with producing subsequent pieces, is that processes must be repeated. The producers on the project had to repeat tasks; Developers had to repeat tasks; Our customer’s own design team had to repeat tasks. OK, the result was going to look great but the work involved was also great. There was an unavoidable cost implication.

At this point I want to make something clear: I don’t write this blog as a means to publicize or promote. I write it purely as a commentary on what I experience in the industries in which I work. My opinions are my own and they are always considered. I feel it’s important to mention this given that I’m about to refer to a solution, a platform, in which I have a stake.

Let me explain: Having left the agency last year, I joined a small tech company with which I’d been associated a few years prior.  The company intended to launch the supposedly ubiquitous solution I’d been searching for: a SaaS-based platform providing the tools to create, animate, integrate and measure, interactive, shoppable content experiences that work across web, tablet and mobile. Sound simple? Of course not.

A few months ago, the first version was launched. We expected some hiccups and we had them. But since then, thanks to the brilliant product team and the scrum process to which they so diligently adhere, we have released no less than 20 new versions. And last night, we went live with undoubtedly the most significant version to date.

I’m not going to use this post as a feature list, or even explain the significance of yesterday’s update. All I’m going to do with absolute confidence, is say the solution, apparently ubiquitous in May last year, finally exists. It really does.

And guess what? the first live App, produced by Conran, with no need for coding whatsoever,  went straight into the Guardian Top30 iPad apps list! (This time for a fraction of the cost to the customer…)

The website is here. The product is truly impressive. And yes, mine is a thoroughly considered opinion!