Many of the things I think about when considering new software systems revolve around a central concept of connecting the value software provides as close as possible to the user consuming the value. In my opinion, anything that stands between the code executing and the user enjoying the results of that execution is “friction”.
There is a concept that many small software start-ups, and non-software start-ups oftentimes do not think about in their first few years of business. While there are many things a small budding company needs to think about and usually only 1 or 2 people available to think about all of those things, having confidence enough in yourself to think about enormous scale is very important and can result in incredible cost-savings later on.
Designing a company with scale in mind can seem unnecessary when you only have 2-3 customers, especially because sometimes scale can mean having to give inconvenient news to customers like them having to log into a system to download an update.
The phrase “Distribution Friction” is a very important concept as it relates to how software products actually arrive to the user. In the software industry today there are a lot of developing movements around removing as much distribution friction as possible. Distribution Friction to me is anything that makes it slower for software to be used by the user.
Examples of things that usually contribute to distribution friction are:
Direct Sales Having direct salespeople is very personal and can results in great relationship-building, however it also means software takes longer to reach lots of users because individuals can only support a certain number of prospects at any one time. Companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft have all empowered developers to cut out the physical salesperson by offering mechanisms ot bring applicatons to users. Apple””s App Store and Microsoft””s XBox Development Program are great examples of systems designed to bring millions of apps to users directly without having to rely on physical salespeople at retail stores. These systems can “sell” 24 hours a day anytime and anywhere.
Download Updates Websites Websites online that offer the ability to download an update to software installed on your system slows down distribution enormously. A great example of this are Microsoft IE Browser Updates. Windows Update from Microsoft is terrific but many users don””t use it and so wait to experience a bug, then resort to eventually downloading the patch online. Google””s Chrome insists on delivering updates to the user behind the scenes so the user enjoys the value of the update as fast as possible.
Installation Checklists Many of our support teams who install our software products have these checklists that tell them about the “gotchas”, manual tasks, and settings they need to make sure and check during an installation to ensure the software was installed correctly. These checklists, and the time the installation person is taking to do them is friction and only causes the customer to wait further before they can begin to use the software. It also introduces a manual set of tasks which introduces risks in the stability of the installation.
Software developers need to consider this and to ask others to perform as few manual steps as possible when deploying their software. The importance of great installers is a hugely important topic and is best spoken abotu in another article.
At Passageways, one of the most valuable systems I wrote in our first year of business was LiveUpdate. I did not want to think about having to call each customer and manually update them each time we released a patch or fix. At the time, I was responsible for quite a bit of daily operational tasks and I simply didn””t have the time to update customers. I did however want them to get the updates early and with as little chance of failure as possible. LiveUpdate is a system that behaves very similar to Windows Update in that any of our financial institution customers can “scan” their corporate portals anytime. The system, launched from a website we control, calls home to our servers and figures out what updates are needed. The IT Administrator can elect to apply certain updates and away they go. Today, these systems are commonplace and expected.
This single innovation at Passageways has enabled us to develop a large number of news products, keep our development staffing low, and has allowed us to deploy updates anytime to any portal located anywhere. That is a very scalable system and one that has proved over 5 years that thinking ahead can dramatically reduce your distribution friction.
Anyone starting a new business should think about scale from day one. Everything from the format of your purchase agreement numbers to your software distribution systems should be thought of in terms of hundreds and thousands of customers, not just 1 or 2. Once you establish these inital systems, you will be surprised how long they remain untouched in your company and how many many people come to rely upon them.
Be Passionate about Your Company, Your Life, and Yourself! Reduce that friction and provide the smoothest path for your customers to the value you provide!