Sunday, August 2, 2015

Technical Debt -- the tradeoff between Dev Speed & Cost Today vs Dev Speed & Cost Tomorrow

The words “Technical Debt” can bring chills to a board meeting.  They are usually raised by a new VP Engineering to highlight problems created by the prior engineering regime.  Everyone wonders – How large is the debt?  Will the debt burden kill the company?  As a result, the words remind me of the grim reaper.

Every startup creates technical debt by rushing the delivery of features today in order to find Product Market Fit and then accelerate early growth – as fast and cheaply as possible.  Not creating technical debt at this stage means that the company overinvested in engineering.  So, some technical debt is good!

So, I have been wondering what technical debt is bad?  In other words, how can I categorize technical debt into good and bad.

The answer depends on the technical debt’s impact on tomorrow’s development cost and speed.  For example, if technical debt can be eliminated by rewriting the code (i) for the same amount of time as it took to write the original code (ie, comparable development cost) and (ii) without impacting the development speed of other features, then the technical debt is irrelevant from a business standpoint.  The cost of an engineer is significantly lower after the startup has achieved Product Market Fit and is accelerating early growth.

In contrast, an architectural issue could be very expensive to fix and significantly slow down future feature development.  “[A] common example is where less modular design in the first release due to time constraints affects subsequent releases. Additional functionality could not be added later without doing extensive refactoring. This refactoring impacted future timelines and introduced additional bugs.”  This quote is from A Field Study of Technical Debt, by Neil Ernst,  who surveyed 1831 participants, primarily software engineers and architects.  I recommend reading the article

This insight led to the following table – What is the Technical Debt’s impact on development tomorrow, whether in future development cost or development speed:

Tech Debt’s Impact on Development Tomorrow

Code rework
No impact
Huge delay
Development Speed

In conclusion, it helps to understand the future business impact of technical debt, since all startups will create technical debt.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Evolution of the VP Sales

The ideal VP Sales evolves as the company grows.

An useful metaphor is three military leaders -- from frontiersman (Daniel Boone) to inspirational battlefield leader (William Wallace/Braveheart) to a coalition leader driving execution (Eisenhower).  In the photos, Daniel Boone is self-sufficient, William Wallace is on the front line next to his soldiers, and Dwight Eisenhower is sitting next to a top US general (George Patton) and top British general (Sir Bernard Montgomery).

Each military leader performs extremely well but for a different corporate goal, as shown in the table below:

Daniel Boone
William Wallace
Dwight Eisenhower
Key Skills
·    Explorer
·    Settlement leader
·    Indian fighter
·    Battlefield leader
·    Fighter
·    Recruiter
·    Coalition leader
·    Drive execution
·    Not a battlefield leader
Find and exploit PMF
From nothing to the category leader
Run a large, multi-business   army

In 1775 Daniel Boone blazed a trail through the Cumberland Gap inside the Appalachian Mountains to the Ohio River.  The trail helped 300,000 settlers enter Kentucky over the next 35 years and Kentucky become a state in 1792.  Boone also led one of the first settlements, called Boonesboro and fought the Indians.

“William Wallace lived in the late 13th century and played a major role in the Wars of Scottish Independence. In the movie Braveheart, he was just a regular guy who wanted to live an ordinary life as a farmer raising a family. Because of the actions of the tyrannical English king who ruled Scotland at the time, he rose up and followed the path of the warrior.  His courage and willingness to stand up to tyranny animated his countrymen. His leading by example provided them a vision of what was possible.”  This is from Lead Like William Wallace.  Wallace started by recruiting a small group of inspired warriors and courageously led by example.

William Wallace's complete antithesis is Dwight Eisenhower, who never personally fought in a battle.  Fellow general, Douglas MacArthur, derisively referred to Eisenhower as "The best clerk I ever had."  But, “Eisenhower's gift for inspiring confidence in himself perplexed some analysts because he was not a dashing battlefield general nor a masterly military tactician; apparently what counted most in his generalship also impressed the voters most: an ability to harmonize diverse groups and disparate personalities into a smoothly functioning coalition….  He was, in short, a man to be trusted, a man to make the complex simple, to do the job.”  This is from Dwight David Eisenhower: A Leader in War and Peace.

Finding Product Market Fit

Below is a recent presentation I made on finding Product Market Fit.

Some observations:
1) It is easier to achieve PMF when you know why you want PMF.  PMF is merely a key step toward accelerating early growth.
2) PMF is merely matching what the market really wants today with what the product can deliver today.
3) Since finding PMF is a data driven process, it helps to use the right framework to visualize the data.  The presentation has a suggested framework.

Monday, July 6, 2015

싸이처럼 미국 시장에 진출하라!

많은 한국 분들이 저에게 미국 시장 진출을 원하는 벤처 기업에 어떤 조언을   물어보십니다.

이런 경우 저는 싸이가 강남 스타일을 얼마나 효과적으로 인터넷 (유투브)  통해 사용자를 획득했는지를 설명합니다. 싸이는 미국 진출을 위해 현지에 오피스를 열거나 미국내 비싼 마케팅 활동으로 시작하지 않았습니다. 조금 구체적으로 설명드리면,

첫째, 최소한의 마케팅과 영업 활동만으로 인터넷을 통해 먼저 트랜드에 민감한 미국 고객 (또는 해외에 있는 어얼리어답터) 사용자를 획득하였습니다. 직접적인 만남은 없이 인터넷 (유투브)만을 통해 고객과 사용자를 획득한 이상적인 경우와 비슷합니다.

둘째, 트랜디에 민감한 미국인 고객들 (또는 해외에 있는 어얼리어답터) 열정적이고 적극적인 팬으로 전환하였습니다.

이러한 초기 단계의 성공을 기반으로 저희 같은 벤처투자회사들은 한국 벤처들이 어떻게 하면 미국에서 빠르게 성공할 있도록 지원해 드릴 있습니다. 하지만 저는 초기 성공없이 미국에 오피스를 여는 것에 대해서는 재고가 필요하다고 말씀드립니다.

저희는 유럽의 벤처회사들과도 이와 같은 전략으로 미국 진출을 지원한 경험이 있습니다.

I want to thank Jason Lee for helping me with this post.