Eric Sink’s posting, The Game is Afoot, is an enjoyable read for anybody who works for an ISV. I was struck by the creativeness of his metaphors. After having just posted about my own writing fantasies, reading something like this discourages me because I can’t imagine ever being this creative.
Despite the discouragement, I connected with the Rugby section of his post. If you didn’t take the time to read Eric’s analogies, go there now and at least read the Rugby section. In reading the Rugby section, a couple thoughts came to mind.
First, there is the issue of identifying a need, determining that the market is viable, and then filling that need. This is something my employer certainly strives to do. Our product doesn’t seem too different from numerous other general business and accounting packages. But when you get into the details of the business, we strive to optimize the workflow. Our optimizations make us different, and it is why we have become a dominant force within our market segment.
I think there is a related topic that can go with Eric’s points about segmentation. ISVs need to consider the breadth of the market. Several years ago, I attended an SSPA conference where the keynote speaker was Geoffrey Moore. Mr. Moore wrote the classic book, “Crossing the Chasm“.
In the keynote speech, Mr. Moore described the stages a product goes through. If your market is broad enough, innovative features eventually become commoditized. As more features become commoditized, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep being different. There is a chasm over which a company must leap to make the transition from mosty innovative to mostly commoditized. Most companies can’t make this leap.
There is an exception to this metaphor. If the market is small and specialized, the commoditization process is less likely to occur. Companies that get themselves into a niche market can enjoy a lot of success. Do you think that marketing Mathematica or Finale has changed much over the years? These products are sufficiently narrow in their market that they don’t attract too much competition. Unless they really screw up by abandoning their market, like some people think RoboHelp did, they should continue to be successful.