How to Be a Billion Dollar Company

It takes a lot to build a company worth $1B, but according to Amos, doing anything less is irrelevant. A billion dollar market means that even with a reasonable market share, you can still have a sizeable company that can make an actual difference in the world.

Of course, a billion-dollar company needs a multi-billion dollar market, and those aren’t lying around like gold nuggets on the ground waiting to be claimed. Those markets are discovered, disrupted and replaced by new paradigms that usually sweep the unsuspecting incumbent market players by surprise.

What does it take to build a billion-dollar company compared to a multi-million dollar one? Both take a good team, hard work, economic decision-making and a corporate culture that attracts and retains good people. The differences are 1. imagination, and 2. to not listen to customers.

Yes, I said NOT listen to customers. Sounds crazy, no? Stay with me for a bit here.

Every viable company has to listen to its customers. Companies that lose touch with the customers and prospective customers fail.  The ones that succeed follow this mantra: Listen. Build. Sell. LBS is a sound strategy and many companies run profitably using it, often highlighting how importantly and attentively they listen to the voice of their customers and how much their customers appreciate getting the features they ask for. They are good companies, and provide goods and services to their satisfied customers, and inspire careers and create financial support for many employees.

But it’s not the way to build a billion dollar company. The mantra for these companies is the one Creo adopted: Imagine. Create. Believe. ICB is far more powerful a motivator that LBS, one that risks verging on arrogance and creating a cult-like corporate culture. Whenever you tie into the human belief system, you are playing with powerful forces.

Let’s unpack the mantra a bit.

Imagine: World-changing companies imagine what is possible, imagining a possibility that requires a technological breakthrough, and sometimes meets a historically un-meetable need. It’s not the imagination of the science fiction writer, it’s a grounded business logic with the added spice of imagining the creation of a thing that has not existed before. It takes a leap of faith.

A world-changing company knows that the vision of a market where this imagined device exists has to be achievable by sustainable economics.

For Creo, the economics of computer-to-plate digital laser imaging didn’t come from the customer. It came from observing the business of the customer, identifying where they spent (and wasted) money, and providing them a solution that saved them many times the cost of the equipment. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, it’s not our customers’ job to define what they want, they are busy trying to make money with their existing systems. Not listening to customers doesn’t mean ignoring them, it means going beyond listening to asking questions, observing what they really do (vs. what they say they do, or what managers think their staff does), to find the economic value that your product or service can save.

It’s up to us to have the technical imagination to know what is possible, and to understand our customers’ business so well that we can develop and deliver products with a return-on-investment that our customers never imagined were achievable.

Create. Because our imagination is audacious, and our customers may not recognize or understand the technology that we imagine, we have to demonstrate viability. In hardware or in software, that means prototyping, testing and verification. Forward thinking customers may fund these early prototypes, and secure their early production systems once they shown to be viable, as RR Donnelley did for Creo. Crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter have popularized this reward for pre-production funding on a large scale.

Believe. Who is that needs belief? Certainly the development team does, the sales and marketing team does, and the investors and employees all do. Why then put belief at the end of this mantra instead of the beginning?

It’s because the one-day-billion-dollar company already believes they will be that company long before they get there. It’s part of their DNA. The company’s belief system and culture is stoked to change the world with their offering long before the first beta versions hit the streets. They know they have a great product, and that the challenge is now to convince the world.

That’s why Believe is at the end. To become a billion-dollar company takes the evangelical passion of hundreds of believers to imagine the solution, have the faith, conviction, talent, and skill to bring it to fruition in the real world, then the energy to make believers of enough of the world to make a difference.

metabadge reunion

We convened a metabadge reunion event, shared a toast to our recollections of one of the best teams we each had ever worked with – high expectations, an adaptive process (including estimating, and unit tests!) and an amazing outcome of a voice-based pda at least a decade ahead of its time.

metabadge team at Seasons in the Park. April 23, 2017

The Power of Story in Agile Development

Stories have been part of our human experience since the discovery of fire. We use stories to teach, entertain, convince, empathize and inspire. As engineers and software developers we can greatly improve our products and customer experience by incorporating stories – of our customers, and of ourselves – into our Agile software development process.

Here are the slides for the Agile/Product Management Meetup at Hootsuite  Thursday Jan 28.


Prinergy’s Legacy

On October 6 2012, Prinergy was awarded a first-ever “Must See ‘Em” Legacy award at GraphExpo in Chicago, the largest print and publishing trade show in North America, for being “the most widely integrated and automated product on the market … it’s a fixture in the industry.”

Over the 14 years since its introduction, Prinergy changed the way printers managed the prepress aspect of their workflow, from customer to the printed sheets coming off the printer.

Dave Introducing Prinergy at GraphExpo 1999

I’m immensely proud of being the first Product Manager for Prinergy, and seeing it through many of its transitions, technically as PDF evolved, and from a business sense of being through acquisitions and mergers with a product that complemented Creo’s game-changing computer-to-plate hardware, and made a name on its own.

The Demo Doctor

Interaction design is about creating experience for users of technology that enhance their lives. The best interaction design, like other design objectives, tend to disappear and get out of the way of the user trying to accomplish their goal. At its very best, it anticipates use cases the user hasn’t discovered or articulated yet, but when they try it, they feel supported and encouraged.

That’s what makes people love the products they use everyday. They’re designed for humans, by other humans, and the care comes through.

For over 20 years, working in areas as diverse as telephone switching systems, voicemail, satellite imaging, 3d computer graphics, and digital prepress, I’ve combined designing much-loved user experiences with a kind of wholistic approach to Agile product management. The result – exceptionally profitable products that users love to use (and their managers happy to pay a premium for!)

As the Demo Doctor I have successfully demo’d and sold millions of dollars of products, by working the features and story down to its wabi-sabi roots. The elevator pitch is so 90’s – now you have to demo your product in that narrow time window in a way that shows both your accomplishments so far, and the promise of upcoming capabilities. I can help you do that.