Most of these same tenets apply to selecting a web designer or writer for any project, big or small. After looking at a few resumes, the lists of people whom you are open to hiring can get short — although hiring somebody who has at least a few big projects on their resume might make sense if there’s some technical mystery to solve, or a project that required interaction with a very obscure algorithm.
Perhaps the strangest thing about the current tech revolution is how resistant it is to simple rules of thumb. During the Great Depression, all sorts of rules were suspended, and even the biggest companies — Standard Oil, for example — stuttered to survive. But as recently as the late 1980s, Microsoft was known as a series of sporadic, corporate bungles, not a masterful piece of entrepreneurial craftsmanship. And as recently as 2000, in the throes of a recession, the Internet still seemed like something we hoped to get out of, not another source of immense wealth and power.
Why then have the Internet’s pioneers triumphed?
Largely because they had, at the very start, a few rules: Work with open source. Keep development modest and realistic. Build without end users in mind. The odds of success — the last one — were high.
Now, though, these rules are still dominant, but the generation of startups that built them is changing, and the rules are changing. Sometimes the rules are less and less important. (One way in which the rules have changed is that the little guys are bigger: if you had to make a bet on which new tech company will be the next Facebook, I’d bet on Swiftkey or Urban Airship. I think that other startups — let’s say Slack or Akamai — will end up being held up as pillars of the post-PC economy, but I don’t have any good reason to think that at this point.)
If you want to know whether a particular online business model will work for you, though, you have to do some thought: What does the product look like? Who will make it? What kinds of hardware will be involved? What will it use? How long will it be in operation? How will the company handle growth?
Startups can be trusted to solve those kinds of questions. But the flip side is that new startups often become, after a while, overwhelming challenges — not just to them, but to anybody else whose livelihood depends on them.
What kind of business model do you want? Whom do you want handling growth? Which websites should be used? How much bandwidth will you need? Which applications, and how? What will you need in order to access those sites? How much time do you want to devote to managing your software and infrastructure? Do you want a post-purchase service to ease your transition from the browser to the local device? How much do you think you’ll need to hire to make it happen?
So you need to have a vision, a baseline commitment to the software and the hardware and the systems necessary to make it all work — not just to be able to project forward, but to be able to make a commitment now.
You don’t want to have to hire, then, a developer, and be embarrassed at the cost, and cope with long delays. You also don’t want to rush something you don’t really have time to plan for. On the other hand, you don’t want to sell out at the start, so you need to plan for both scenarios.
By having an intellectual framework that you can use, you’ll be able to see the opportunities, and the barriers, better. And if you don’t, then you will regret your decision at the first sign of trouble.