When an Idea Alone Isn’t Enough

When an idea alone isn't enough

My seven-year old daughter had a fabulous idea the other day. I could tell from the way she was hopping around the living room with her little hands waving that this was an idea she was excited about. She had a vision for a building she wanted to make and by her description it was going to be grand. It would have elegant turrets and balconies, staircases and a load of fantastic architectural features to boot. With little delay, she tackled the project with her set of wooden blocks and was soon on her way to building this extraordinary structure. It soon became clear, however, that there were problems: The base was too small for the weight of her envisioned building and the features she wanted to add were far too complex for her to implement. A few hours after starting, her structure collapsed, effectively reduced to an unassuming little heap of bricks in the middle of our living room.

A Great Idea Does Not Equal a Great Product

My daughter recovered from the disappointment of course, but I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to a business scenario more than a few entrepreneurs encounter. Much like a kid impatiently cobbling together a structure with little planning, businesses can and often do approach a business idea with similar unchecked impulses and lack of discipline. While we encourage children to experiment and learn from their mistakes, a young business’s unchecked enthusiasm to rush a product to market can be costly. Too often businesses confuse a great idea with a great product. Flush with cash from venture capitalists inspired by promising concepts, the temptation is to grow quickly before the foundational product has been fully developed. The product is pieced together quickly, using today’s “minimum viable product” theory, with just enough features to meet minimal standards. Many of these companies then rush the product to market before it is fully baked in the quest to generate a revenue stream and gain market traction.

The Costs of a Hasty Patch-Up Job

For the sake of simplicity, let’s say we are talking about engineering software. The software development field is complex and difficult, and without focus groups, design specifications, customer validation, code reviews, unit testing, and more, the probability of constructing a product that does not meet or satisfy customer requirements is highly likely. Software development is a dynamic and iterative area and is such that the “tweaking” of one application can create a flaw in another. Companies can be tempted to ignore flaws that unexpectedly surface during the process and table them for a later “quick fix.”

CivilGEO could have done this as well. Within six months of the company’s inception in 2010, we had an arguably “workable” product. We could have packaged it up, created some slick marketing campaign and sold it to customers with most, but not all, features in place. We could have rushed our software to market, no holds barred, like so many other companies. Instead we adopted what I like to call a thorough and deliberative approach and our investors backed us up. We were serious about developing a product with real lasting power and not another “flash in the pan” product that disappears after some time.

The Payoff from Good Process

CivilGEO knew that exhaustive market research was necessary to create real value in our engineering software. We regularly collaborated with major engineering firms and asked them not only what they needed from the software, but how our test versions could reflect their needs. We knew that this kind of feedback was absolutely key to developing a radically new product. Our development standard was high when we started and it remains high. We’ve incorporated state-of-the-art technologies, including cloud-computing, cross platform architecture (i.e. AutoCAD, MicroStation, ArcGIS), virtual reality and much more. CivilGEO’s primary goal is to create a product that users love. When our product was ultimately introduced to customers, solid customer satisfaction was the outcome and solid competitive differentials were the result. We blew the competition away.

A premium on high quality at the outset reduces the unpredictable costs of replacing and rewriting software down the road. Revenues are reserved for innovation, creative refining of applications customers already appreciate and development of new features. Product and customers are front and center at CivilGEO, always. Sustainable, intelligent growth is based on a solid product that customers love.

About the Author Chris Maeder

Chris Maeder

Chris is an experienced civil engineering and software technology leader, with over 30 years industry experience. With proven expertise in global software development, he has built engineering teams that adapt quickly, focus on what’s important and, most importantly, deliver. He is a licensed professional civil engineer with extensive experience in water resource engineering. He has performed and supervised engineering projects in urban stormwater drainage, transportation and roadway drainage, storm sewer design, detention pond design, stormwater quality, green infrastructure, watershed management planning, wastewater sewers, water distribution networks, pump stations, FEMA flood studies, bridge and culvert design, bridge scour and armoring, dam failure analysis, seepage and groundwater modeling, and environmental permits.