Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Product Development is fun!

My first attempt at product development resulted in a great software product (a copiously hyperlinked textual database of the tax laws) ahead of its time (before computers had CD-ROM Drives, and before people knew about the Internet (I had to explain what hypertext was!), but I failed miserably at marketing it. However, I had a clear idea of what the customers liked. And when I went out to sell, I sold successfully. But if I did that, continued product development suffered.  I just could not manage both. Even now, I think managing both is very, very difficult. But what I learnt was that you need not be a big moneybag with thousands of employees to bring out a great product.  That was between 1993 and 1995.

Later, my second product was not really MY product. I was on the board of a co-operative bank as non-executive, honorary Director and during the three years there, my single big contribution was to make them believe that they could develop their own software. A small team of two staff and one consultant driven by me alone from the Board, developed a branch-level banking software (everything on liabilities side, and quite a few aids on the asset side) that had built-in linkages for centralization of data. This got implemented in 6 branches on a shoe-string budget. Then I left the Bank's Board to go on to other things.  Till this day, that Bank remains one of the few banks anywhere in India (or probably the world)  to run on its own software. Today, with RBI approval, they are selling the software and their implementation services to other Banks and this has become a profit-centre. Now, of course, the IT Dept has become as big as a small software company. This is something I had envisaged when this product was originally developed. I suspect that my Board colleagues okayed the project because, with the minimal resources I demanded, it was worth allowing me to fail - less than the cost of  software for one branch - they never expected me to succeed, and when I did, I learnt that success needs many fathers, else, the real father gets swept away in the first flush of success. (I know I am stretching the metaphor, but I think it conveys what I want to!) This was from 1995 to 1998.

Then, from 2000 to 2003, I joined a KPO (that acronym wasn't invented then) with responsibilities that covered the "D" in R&D. I developed processes that increased throughput, accuracy and allowed scaleability and replicability. I thoroughly enjoyed the daily technical challenges -- of designing services that allowed us to create more employment here in services acknowledged by our most demanding customers. 

Now, I am back on my own, and am developing a few exciting products. This time, again, I am on a shoe-string budget, but I am harnessing the sheer enthusiasm of young people by taking up projects that allow them to learn and that they are passionate about. And creating wonderful products that those working on surprise themselves. 

I also benefit from knowing up close a friend in Chennai who is successfully running multiple businesses and yet loves bringing out new products, services and technologies all the time.

What I read a few days back inspires me to improve the aesthetics of these products. It also encourages me because Jobs too has discovered that great products can be made by young people passionate about what they do. While not everyone can be a Jobs, anyone can benefit from his "methodology" and crazy attention to detail.

Watch this space for knowing what these products are!