The start-up inside

Over the last few years, I’ve been grappling with a completely different problem from anything I’ve dealt with before:

How do I get an idea off the ground inside a large company?

My background is all startup. And, when I say startup, I mean three, five, or eight people, not 200 — that’s a fully functioning business in my mind. I sold my last one to salesforce.com, which is from where I’m drawing my experiences.


Don’t Worry About Scale

One thing I always hear in big companies is: How are you going to scale that? In fact, it’s an obsession. The reality, however, is that “scale” is often the last problem you have, especially in a large company.

You need to build scale. It doesn’t just happen.

What do I mean by scale? Rather than working with the marketing team to make some materials for you, make them yourself. Rather than trying to find ways to train the professional services teams on something that hasn’t yet been released, release it yourself and work the rest out later. Rather than worrying about training the global sales team, work with a small team and get busy working with customers. That may sound irresponsible, but it’s actually the right thing to do.

I see so many initiatives fail because no one really wants to get down and dirty to make things happen. They want the organization to adapt to their way of thinking — jumping in with both feet. It is incredibly challenging to build enough consensus to “train your company” to listen to you and trust that you have the right idea.

If you want it to work, make it work, and leverage the organization to fill in as it grows. That’s where you get scale. You have an organization at your disposal to grow the idea, with a lot of professional people. Leverage that on-demand.

If it doesn’t grow, they were right. If it does, they’ll make it right.

The trick, and one I’m slowly mastering, is keeping enough people on your side to support you — a team below and beside. “Executive air cover” above is also critical.

Which leads me to…

Every Answer Is The Right Answer, But Customers Are Always Right

Everything is a shade of grey when you have as diverse a customer base as most large companies do. Every market is the next big thing, every idea is the next big idea, everyone is full of ideas for right ways and wrong ways of doing things.

The trouble with big companies is that everyone has a different perspective — and very few people come from the same one. Clearly, different perspectives can be a strength, but too many creates division. Also, you may be wrong given yours. Remember, your company is doing a lot more than you can comprehend holistically.

However, the ideas I’ve seen succeed are always based on strong and well-understood customer references. This is by far your biggest trump card — in meetings, in discussions, in validation. Not stats, not research, not opinions, but customers.

If you can show customer interest, that is the most powerful answer.

But this is no cake walk…

Be Prepared For Battle, But Win With Leadership, Not Bloodshed

I’ve never heard of anyone successfully creating and launching an idea fueled by the power of consensus. Lots of people are going to hate your idea, hate that you’re leading it, and hate that it’s ruining the work they’re doing. No matter what you’re doing, you’re going to be stepping on someone else in the process. Get over it.

However, remember that growing a company is a team sport. You will never be successful if you don’t have people above, below, and beside you that want you to succeed. As a result, make sure you’re not “running around with sharp sticks” and creating an all-around blood bath. Be positive, be respectful, but be clear and focused with your intentions.

Everyone likes clarity and purpose. Make sure you’re providing it.

And that’s where the next observation comes in…

Don’t Flip-Flop; Stay In Position

Iterating and developing an idea with others can often be perceived as “flip-flopping.” That is to say: You’re uncertain in your position on the right answer. In most startups I’ve worked for or run, transparency is key, and iterating and refining is the name of the game.

You need to work to a long game (which could be years), “triangulate” to get a depth of understanding, share ideas with a small group of trusted colleagues, and then start the relentless campaign to win.

Do not change your position.

Whether you know it or not, people will start to come on board, or not, with what you’re saying. If you change the story, you’ll lose trust as people will no longer understand what your position is. Remember, they’re not paying nearly as much attention to this as you, so you need to keep things simple, clear, and constant. Even if you see problems arise in your approach, maintain the lock on your target and just keep going.

But move fast. Once you start pushing, you need decisions to be made quickly to show momentum and endorsement.

Especially as…

No One Cares; It’s A Job

Don’t assume that people are listening to anything you’re saying. Many decisions are made simply because people like and trust you. Others will agree with you simply because they don’t have an opinion; others because they just want you to shut up and go away. What you can be sure of is: Very few, if anyone, really cares.

They’re going to get paid regardless of your success or failure. The one thing that does motivate decisions is their career (and yours too, by the way, or why else would you be doing this? Really, I mean, dig deep now… If you really cared, you’d do it as an actual startup). Make sure you’re respectful of their career.

There’s another side to this. If you, like me, tend to get passionate about things (or put more accurately, stubborn), be careful. If you push too hard, you’ll end up alienating others from you and being seen as someone who “doesn’t play well with others.” I’ve noticed people generally won’t push back, even when they completely disagree with what you’re saying. They don’t push back, because they don’t care, but they’re doing you damage.

One thing you can be certain of, however, is that everyone likes a clear vision and mission. Clarity and purpose are your most valuable alignment tool.

Which makes me think of one more important alignment tool…

Acquire A Focus

I came into this education via an acquisition. Acquisitions are a great way to create a focal point and gravitational force around which your idea can grow. I think people often don’t realize this. They think that acquisitions are purely to fill a skills gap or accelerate a product. The reality is that many acquisitions simply give the company something to focus on.

Buying a company creates a nucleation site for your vision. If you’re a beer drinker like me, that’s the place in your glass where the bubbles grow and create the fizz.

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Silicon Valley gives no !$#ks

It’s time we put the infatuation with Unicorns to bed — why? It’s creating bad companies that are going to fail. It’s creating a focus that’s bad for our industry — and bad for our economy.

Sure — there are a few Unicorns that have transformed the industry: Facebook being the most notable. But these companies are exceptions to the rule — they shouldn’t be treated as “standard practice for success”. These days, there are simply way too many Unicorns (by valuation only) and they’re going to struggle to fill the boots they’ve created. Forget IPOs — they’re impossible.

But ultimately I don’t care about valuations, IPOs or the financial vehicles that make this crazy tech boom work. What I care about is the lack of focus. What I care about is the lack of focus on two things: customers and employees.

Trust

You might say I’m part of the Marc Benioff start-up cloud. He has been a mentor to me and Salesforce invested in ManyWho to help it succeed. For all the big personality that is Marc Benioff, one thing is unwavering: customer success. I remember very early on after my company was acquired by Salesforce, Marc saying: “Steve, it’s all about our customers. Focus on that. That is the only thing you need to focus on. Customer success.” Wise words.

But the focus on customers goes beyond success at companies like Salesforce. It’s about trust. While at Salesforce, that trust was that we would look after customers’ data. It was always the number one value: trust. Absolutely always. Now at ManyWho, our customers trust that we will look after their workflow applications. They are betting their success on us. We take that trust very seriously.

Silicon Valley seems to have lost this focus. Customer data is being abused and it appears the business model is: the customer is the product. Giving a service away for free attracts high valuations if it can show high user growth to investors. Your trust is not important. Your data is being sold.

Customers

Balmers “developers, developers, developers!!!!” mantra should be replaced by “customers, customers customers!!!!”, though unfortunately, it seems it’s now “investors, investors, investors!!!!”

I never get asked about customers and revenue growth anymore — out and about in Silicon Valley. I only get asked how many employees we have, how much we’ve raised, and how much we’re worth. I see blog posts about the growth from $10m, $100m, to $1b (the fabled unicorn status). They’re not talking about revenue — they’re talking about valuation! Quite frankly — who gives a #$it how much you’re worth. How are your customers doing? How much success are you bringing to the industry and the economy. How much trust should customers be placing in your business model?

After customer success and revenue growth metrics the most important number I’m interested in is revenue per employee. We raise money to make sure we can manage growth — and the best run companies don’t need to do that very often.

I think we need to remind ourselves that many of the world’s most successful software companies grew because of customers, not investors: Microsoft, Salesforce being two big names.

Employees

I talk to a lot of companies in Silicon Valley and you can see a big problem emerging. Investors are creating growth problems. Why? You can’t scale what you don’t yet know. You can only theorize and debate when the growth of the company is based on investor money, not actual customer experience and success. I see companies with 100+ employees, and less than $1m revenue — I mean — what!? Who are they working for? It makes for a miserable employee experience. It disempowers people fast under bureaucracy that was not created for customer success — but rather theory of customer demand.

Despite companies at a macro level being very similar — it’s the nuance that makes the difference between industry juggernaut and complete flop. Too many people, too fast just creates chaos. So ironically, too much money creates dismal employee experiences and with that, dismal customer success. They’re too busy working out how to interact with each other and build mature processes around immature theories of customer engagement. As a customer, you’re at the bottom of the pecking order. They’re too busy working out how to work.

So lets change the record Silicon Valley. I like the prestigious investors. I like the big valuations, fancy offices and hipster ethos…

But what I love is customer success. What I love is empowered employees to do their best work in a customer demanding environment. No unicorns required.

Steve is the CEO of the cloud workflow company, ManyWho. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and three children. When not working to better the world of enterprise application development he can be found amusing his kids with his guitar playing.

The post first appeared on LinkedIn.

Next Story — the entrepreneurs exorcism
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the entrepreneurs exorcism

For some reason the topic of acquisition has come up quite a few times recently. My last business was acquired by Salesforce.com, I now run another start-up, so I guess it’s inevitable. But I think the most interesting thing about acquisitions is not the exit event. It’s actually the bit that happens after — the bit I’m going to refer to as the “exorcism”. It’s the bit that’s left after the brief moment in time when vast sums of money exchange hands. It’s the bit about the people.

The one thing that I find quite interesting is that everyone talks about the moment of the exit, how to do an exit, how to build a company that has an exit — but very little attention is paid to the aftermath. Founders sell the company, everyone talks about how great everything is, and quietly, a couple of years later the founders leave and start something else. But what about those two years!? Or in my case three and a half…

So I thought I’d tell a little of my story as I know others have experienced very similar things.


I was reminded of a conversation I’d had with a now ex-senior executive at Salesforce who I very much admire for his unabashed opinions and tenacity. He asked me something very early on after the acquisition — which was a bit rhetorical:

What is it with you entrepreneurs? You all go through this, I don’t know, exorcism or something. You’re angry about everything.

It pretty much stopped me in my tracks. Since then, I’ve heard similar words told to me time and time again from other acquiring companies and I’ve watched other entrepreneurs go through a similar transition.

It’s… well… terrible to watch.

So here goes… I’m going to try to explain the entrepreneurs exorcism and even attempt to make some recommendations on how to manage it. I would love to hear feedback on this.

Clash of pace and passion

There’s no denying that companies have a culture. That culture may be due to something as blunt as geographic location. In my situation, there was definitely a clash between the culture of Wales, UK (cynical, sarcastic, painfully realistic to the point of negative) and Silicon Valley (overflowingly optimistic, positive, forward-only looking). There’s clearly also culture differences that result from comparative size and from where that growth came. In my situation, 15 people going into an organization of 3500. But I’m not going to harp on that bit — as I don’t think it’s actually that important. I think it’s more about pace and the attitudes that result.

Successful, small companies (certainly those bootstrapped) tend to have a very strong ethos of “get sh%t done”. They tend to be challengers and actually quite “difficult” people — as brutal honesty is normally the name of the game. There’s very little time for pandering as everyone has legitimately unreasonable expectations placed on them. The company is the priority, not any person. The mission is critical, not the “messaging”. Focus and execution are absolute requirements. There are easy parallels to draw between the military and small companies, but it’s way more nuanced than “command and control”. It’s about fueling passion to get people to do more than they would normally do. To work constantly “above their pay grade” and outside of their “role”. To see chaos everywhere, but continue to function, for everyone to continue to function. No safety nets, few controls. It’s not about dictating — it’s about enabling and empowering. It’s the shared vision and mission that holds everything together, because, quite frankly, you don’t get people to do extraordinary things by ordering or paying them to do it.

Successful large companies can’t function like that. Organizing large groups of people, with often competing and contradictory interests, is challenging. The fierceness of small company culture simply doesn’t scale to thousands and thousands of people — it would be chaos. It also takes a different kind of leader to run a large company and as most acquired CEOs find out, a different kind of leader to work in mid-ranking leadership and actually get anything done. Some do this incredibly well, others not so much. But one thing I feel certain about: entrepreneurs are not all that well prepared for executive management. It’s a different set of priorities, to a different set of rules, to a different audience. The reality is that a large organization can absorb a lot of wasted time, wasted energy and lack of focus and still be very effective in delivering to the market. Large companies, however amazing, are solving different problems — mainly people and process problems.

For an start-up entrepreneur, it’s a bit like entering an alternate universe with a crash. One minute you’re under enormous strain, you’re in the trenches, you’re battling to hold everything together… and then POP!… you’re in a board room, 90% of the things you were struggling with have been taken from you and there’s this sense of calm that comes with a completely different pace of action.

There’s a shock to the system.

The result? More often than not, the entrepreneur acts like a complete ass. I know I did. Everyone else is sitting there calmly thinking about their next move, and you’re sitting there with your head doing 360's, vomiting blood and swearing at anyone who looks at you funny.

Being “not pleasant”… basically.

It takes a while to change your frame of reference and your frame of mind. To adjust to the “new you” — that’s really the “old you” but at a different pace, under different pressures. It takes time to “SLOW THE F$CK DOWN” as I was told on more than one occasion.

Some recommendations on handling this transition:

  1. Make sure the founders are working under the leadership of your strongest executives. Sometimes this might need to be the co-founders of the acquiring company.
  2. Provide on-going mentorship and support through the adjustment. Make sure the founders have the necessary support and “executive air cover” while they find their feet. Being a great entrepreneur is not the same as being a great executive.
  3. Be super clear on goals and objectives post acquisition. Chances are “everyone was selling” and things will change once the paperwork has completed. Get potential issues out into the open early and “get real” quickly. If you can, give the founders a little time before starting the integration.

Being torn apart

There’s no denying that to build a great business you need to build great relationships with customers. But more than that you need to build great relationships with your employees. There’s a camaraderie that comes from creating something new, from seeing people do great work, to experiencing great successes and great failures together. Small companies are probably the best “executive offsite” you could have for cementing teams — if such a thing was to ever exist ☺

But when acquisitions happen, there’s a loss of trust. As the entrepreneur, you’ve sold the mission out — often from under the feet of the very team that made it happen. Your employees didn’t decide to “exit” — you did. Inevitably, some of your team are going to be very unhappy, disappointed and down-right angry.

But more than that, there’s a transfer of power away from the founders to a large group of receiving executives. More often than not, your team will no longer all report to you — they’ll have a new boss, with new ideas and new priorities. The vision and mission of the original company becomes more of a shared ideal than an actual entity. Also for the entrepreneur. Your boss has a much thinner view of your role — seeing things from the perspective of their organizational silo, not as a holistic business. However, as the entrepreneur, this new role likely only represents a portion of the issues you’re dealing with on-boarding your company into the larger entity.

Put simply — there’s often a complete breakdown of team and a period of terrible mis-alignment of expectations as people struggle for role clarity.

This is an enormous strain. While your day job might be simply “product vision”, you’ll spent a huge amount of time cleaning up the aftermath. Employees that are still moving home, dealing with their new management, their new roles. And then there were those that didn’t make it through the exit for various reasons — it’s pretty tough for them, their ego, and it can create some pretty poor behavior. There were times, quite frankly, when I simply couldn’t believe just how poorly people could act toward me. The once cohesive team, now becoming “every person for themselves”. I get it — but it sucks.

And then there are the customers. For most successful companies, there’s a trust between the company and their customers — a trust that we will make them successful. Relationships that have existed for sometimes many years. For many acquired companies, they have to watch those customers flounder and fail. Being the person responsible, but also witnessing that trust being broken. More often than not, the customer is a victim of an acquisition and it is the entrepreneur that willingly puts themselves in the line of fire to help customers through the transition.

Put bluntly: it’s not a lot of fun for anyone, and long standing relationships are often irreparably damaged.

Some recommendations:

  1. If it’s possible, keep the team together as a business unit. If it’s not possible, keep the team together for as long as possible until the “heat” has dissipated from the acquisition.
  2. Give the founders time to mentor their employees into the company and provide them with mentorship and strong leadership to ensure their success.
  3. Be decisive on expectations with employees and customers. It’s better to handle difficult situations quickly and in a focused effort.

And finally, say goodbye to your vision

If you’ve been successful in building your company, chances are you did it because you had a strong vision. However, so did the company acquiring you. Inevitably, there will be a difference of opinion on how the new “joint vision” will be realized. But more than that, it’s often the case that your vision is simply a very small part of theirs. It’s not what drove them to their success (or they’d have built or acquired it already!). It’s not the number one priority — and as a result — many of the people working with and around you will not be feeling the same sense of passion, mission, and focus as you had coming in.

But more than that, some people won’t like your vision at all. Despite having acquired your company, I can guarantee you that not everyone will be overjoyed with the news. One of my colleagues at the time put it this way:

You’re a foreign object. And just like any foreign object that enters the body, the anti-bodies work very hard to get rid of you. It’s just something you need to get through.

So it’s time to let go. Yes, you know way more than they do about the subject. Yes, you know way more about the customers and market than they do. Yes, you know way more about how to take this product from x to y revenue. However, you know very little about how to do that in this new environment. So it’s time to stop driving and start listening.

Some recommendations:

  1. If you’re a founder, change your focus from vision to relationships and delivery. You don’t own the idea any more and it’s more important to build a new network of trusted relationships than go single-handedly into battle.
  2. For acquirers, make sure the founders have a bit more protection and that everyone is clear what the remit is. Without clarity on the objectives, success is extremely difficult for everyone.

So if you’re looking to make an exit or you’re looking to acquire. Hopefully this gives you some insights into the “post” acquisition afterlife.

Next Story — Design like Apple
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Design like Apple

I think Apple has done a lot more for design in computing than people think. I know, that’s a crazy statement isn’t it? There’s an on-going fascination with their hardware design and obsessive attention to detail, but Apple has done more for the industry than design beautiful hardware and amazingly intuitive software. Apple has focused maniacally on the users. And that attention to detail has made a big impact on how they approach complexity. One proof point of their success?

Children, grandparents, business professionals and high-end software engineers all love the Mac. That’s one crazy community.

The reason? I believe it’s because they engage with different users at different levels — at the right level for them to be amazingly productive. So here are a few design principles I see in how Apple approaches software and operating system design that I think everyone can benefit from.

1. Build on a rock-solid foundation

Though many people don’t know this, Mac OS X is actually based on UNIX; a tried and tested operating system that has worked for enterprise IT for decades. A bit crazy really. That super cool modern user experience sits on top of one of the oldest operating systems. Why? Because it just works… always.

But more than that they put in place a foundation of strong configurability, API access, security and enterprise readiness. This left their design team lots of time and lots of budget to focus on user experience and design, but without sacrificing quality. Result? It’s super easy to use for a novice, but developers love it because it works the way they need and expect.

When I look at many agile development platforms I see this mistake made again and again — agile meaning “quick and dirty”, not designed to last, but built for change. Despite making people super productive with “no code” or “low code”, the platform MUST have a solid foundation that will pass the test with your CIO and enterprise architects.

Agility without a solid foundation is just plain wobbly.

Anyone can produce applications quickly — it’s the “how” that really counts.

2. If it’s straight-forward to understand, make it straight-forward to do

And the inverse of that, if the concepts are complicated, then it’s OK if it’s more complicated to achieve. Though they do get an undue amount of abuse, you can see the difference in how Microsoft approached Windows. You can do WAY more using point-and-click tooling on Windows than you can on Mac OS X. There are dialogs for pretty much every and any setting. But therein lies the problem. Though you can simply tick a box or select from a list of menu options, the amount of understanding you need in order to simply know which box to tick or option to select is huge. The fact that it’s in a dialog is actually a distraction at best. It needs a qualified professional to act. But qualified professionals don’t need to wade through hundreds of point and click dialogs when they can simply enter in a simple command using a terminal window. Remember, they do this kind of stuff all the time!

The impact of this decision? Point and click configuration options on a Mac are simple and clean. Users feel comfortable with the concepts being presented to them. Need to do something complicated? You’ll need to enter commands into a terminal — but chances are — you’re a developer or sys admin and that’s your preferred approach. With Windows? The business user has no idea what they’re clicking and developers have no idea where to find anything. Both are in foreign territory!

This is a huge omission in many agile platforms. They forget that it doesn’t matter if something can be “point-and-clicked” if conceptually it’s way too complicated to understand.

No matter how many UX designers you throw at it, you’re never going to make polymorphism simple for business users.

So when you’re looking at an agile platform, make sure they understand this. The reality is that productivity is about engaging with the right users to do the right things. Allowing users with the right knowledge to act in a way that is familiar to how they work. It’s not about “one size fits all”.

3. Finally, don’t walk users off a cliff

Making things simple should not mean compromise. When you look at Apple software and Mac OS X, you can see they’ve paid a huge amount of attention focusing on the features that the majority wants. However, and this is super important, they have not limited the software or their operating system to ONLY support the simple things.

For example, I can set permissions on folders simply by ticking a box. But, I can do the same using the command line. And using the command line I can set much more granular permissions to extend the permissions I set using the tick box approach.

Though this may seem obvious, it surprisingly isn’t for much software. For many platforms, you can build stuff quickly using tooling, but when the tooling fails, you need to re-do all the work you did, but now in code. That’s what Salesforce calls the “declarative cliff”. It’s the point where you can’t manage the complexity through declarative (or point-and-click) tooling and must resort to code. But rather than simply coding around the work you did using the point and click tooling, you must re-do all of that work in code. The result being that you loose the ability to configure everything simply. You have, effectively, walked off a cliff. Simplicity and agility are gone.

For quite some time, vendors have berated code. For example, vendors such as Pega Systems or Appian have talked about “no code” development. But the reality is that this is a silly idea!

Why?

For all the reasons above. Because sometimes the best way to manage complexity is to use code! It’s the right way to engage with users to get the job done. Sometimes, you need a developer to ensure the project is successful and code is the absolutely best tool for the job. But, critically, your platform must not be “no code” or “all code” — it should be able to manage the transition from stuff you can do quickly and easily with “no code”, but also extend seamlessly into situations that require code without needing to throw anything away. In other words, we’re seeing the rise of “low code” platforms ☺ Everyone maintains agility — the users that point and click, and the developers that code. It’s easy to say, surprisingly difficult to achieve!

Final thought…

So why does this interest me so much? Well, I’m all about enabling customers to get more from technology. About making technology more accessible, more powerful and more engaging.

That’s meant I want to see software development “democratized” so business people can build software — not just use it. Or put another way:

If we can truly bring the business into the beating heart of software, to drive the value, the meaning, and the purpose, amazing things will happen. If you then allow developers to radiate out that beating core by extending, enhancing and crafting, truly stunning things can happen.

Games do truly get changed.

Steve is the CEO of the cloud workflow company, ManyWho. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and three children. When not working to better the world of enterprise application development he can be found amusing his kids with his guitar playing.

This story was originally published at manywho.com on April 7, 2015

Next Story — You don’t want a mobile app
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You don’t want a mobile app

I spend a lot of time talking to customers about mobile applications and platforms. Here are 6 questions every customer should ask when evaluating a vendor for their mobile app.

…but before I start, the biggest point I want to make is this:

You don’t want a mobile app

What you want is technology that’s going to make you successful in mobile. Anyone can build you a mobile app. However, some vendors will have a better approach than others. In the days of desktop computing, a badly architected app was a pain. In this next generation of mobile enabled apps, a bad architecture will kill your business.

Put bluntly:

Make sure if you build a mobile app on the vendors platform that it’s not an architectural “shit show” — pardonnez mon français ☺

On to the questions…

1. Is this a mobile platform or a platform that allows me to deliver mobile apps?

Odd question — but there’s an important principle here. If you are choosing a “mobile platform” that is used solely to deliver mobile apps, you are making a big decision. You’re basically deciding that this app will ONLY work on mobile. Make sure your platform vendor can support mobile, but that the apps you create will work on laptops also. Remember — your business apps need to be accessible everywhere — not just mobile.

For example. Appcelerator is a cool cross-platform framework for mobile. However, if you build all of your logic and code in JavaScript using the Appcelerator framework, it’s going to be difficult to port that app to work on laptops and other devices. Same goes for iOS Objective-C apps, Xamarin, etc.

Just keep in mind that mobile is one of many ways your users will want to get access to the app. If you choose mobile only, make that decision consciously.

2. Can you show me how a mobile app is built?

Some vendors will allow you to build mobile apps on their service as part of a trial, others will want you to go through a sales process before you can get access to the technology. Regardless of approach, make sure you’ve either built an app or seen an example of your app before making any purchasing decision.

And when I say you’ve seen an example, I mean they’ve shown you exactly how they delivered it! DO NOT accept flashy demos and sparkly UI. You need to understand HOW they built the app. Get the vendor to walk you through the code, show you the development experience. Get them to make a change to the app. Make sure they give you access to the app so you can have a play yourself. If this platform is genuinely going to make you successful, the vendor should have no problem lifting the curtain.

You should feel happy about how they put the pieces together. It should feel like it was done well and it will be easy to maintain going forward. Get them to explain the principles of their architecture and why it makes sense.

The best way is to simply give the platform a go yourself, but as with all new technology, it can be quicker to get the vendor to show you around and give you examples than you spending time self-teaching.

3. Is the stack fully supported?

Make sure the vendor supports the end-to-end platform. Often vendors include 3rd party frameworks and development tools as part of the platform offering. Make sure they will provide support for those frameworks so if something breaks you have a clearly identifiable “throat to choke”. Mobile technology and tooling is still very new and many of the frameworks are still evolving over time — make sure your platform vendor will help you weather that storm by fully supporting your apps.

4. Does the platform have a comprehensive set of APIs? And does my app have APIs?

There’s no denying that the architecture of the internet is changing to make room for the device revolution. This architecture is changing from being about HTML to being about APIs. Make sure your chosen platform vendor takes APIs very seriously. They should offer comprehensive APIs for your apps. But more than that — your apps should be API enabled also.

Why is this important?

As time passes, you’ll want to make your app available to all the different devices and form factors that hit the market. Spent any time thinking about Apple Watch? Maybe not right now, but in 3 years you might find all of your customers want to access your app through their watch. Having API enabled apps ensures your investment is ready for the future! Don’t get pushed into a situation where your apps are hard-coded in HTML5 and nothing more than a fancy website.

5. Does the platform support offline?

Connectivity to the internet is never going to be consistent and constant. We just need to get over the idea that connectivity will be ubiquitous. Your apps need to work just as well offline as they do online. If the vendor can’t support offline, you might question their architectural approach.

The big give-away that a platform cannot support offline is when it “prints HTML” from the server. Not only is this a tired and old architecture — it’s also a bad way to support offline.

Make sure you ask this question — and are happy with the answer. If there’s lots of fumbling around the answer, you may want to re-evaluate your vendor selection. Offline support is only going to get more important with time, not less.

6. Does the platform support standard coding languages for your developers?

Languages are changing all the time, but regardless of your developer preferences — be the language Java, Ruby or .NET, make sure your chosen platform vendor can support them all.

Whatever you do, make sure the vendor is not forcing you to use proprietary languages. It makes life much harder for your developers and makes it even harder for you to find developer talent to manage your apps.

Steve is the CEO of the cloud workflow company, ManyWho. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and three children. When not working to better the world of enterprise application development he can be found amusing his kids with his guitar playing.

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