How custom motorcycles relate to software products… Part 1

To be more specific… “How custom motorcycle shops relate to software companies that create products.” For the sake of being meticulous, I’ll share my perspective on both.

I met with a guy by the name of Kevin Blake, the owner of KBCustoms in Raleigh NC, to try out a few custom cycles he’d been working on. I’m about 6'2 and needed some advice on the right bike configs for my body type and KB was willing to help me out. In the process we shared our “coming to now” stories. You know, the story where you started off in one career path then realized it wasn’t for you BUT a great learning experience none the less (hopefully).

Kevin actually started a software company with a friend but closed shop around the Dot-Com Bubble era or Pre App era(year 2000 or so). KB makes custom bikes now and loves what he does, that is his passion and it shows in the bikes he creates. From time to time people aware of his skill set visit his shop and ask him to service their bikes. As much as he would love to help with their request, often times it’s advantageous for him to say NO.

So you may be wondering, “Why turn down an opportunity to make some cash? Maybe if you do the work, you’ll gain a new customer? You’re great at what you do, it shouldn’t take long right?” Well maybe not…

Distractions cause products to stay on the shelf, and if your objective is to move product, almost never counts.

If he were a hobbyist who customized bikes on the side, it would make sense that he would stop what he was doing to fix a light, make a seat adjustment or jet an engine for that new cobra exhaust kit. But he isn’t a hobbyist. Making custom motorcycles is his business. The external request to the business doesn’t match the internal vision or mission, which is to make custom motorcycles KB style. Distractions cause products to stay on the shelf, and if your objective is to move product, almost never counts. So it’s best to stay FOCUSED(Following One Course Until Successful, Eliminating Distractions)

Keep in mind that the other supposed benefits of deviating from the mission are derived from assumptions.

1. Opportunity to make cash: On the surface it may look like you’re making profit, but there is an opportunity cost associated with putting a project on hold. Are you willing to sacrifice long-term profits for short-term gain? There are other ways to make money in the short-term. Maybe a separation of concerns is worth considering.

2. Potentially gain a new customer: If you have to barter your way to new customers, the products you create need some serious work. As a business, it’s about supply and demand. If you have no demand, you have no business. Just creating products doesn’t make it a business, people wanting the product makes it a business. So make sure people want your product and not just because you do them favors.

3. You’re a pro, it won’t take long: Small request turn into big request rapidly. What you thought would take 1 hour to complete may actually take 1 week after looking into the matter. Once you commit to providing a service, you have to honor that commitment or risk your name or your company name being tarnished. Once your good (or unknown) name goes bad, it’s hard to make it right again. Besides, do you really want another item on your TODO list? You’re busy enough as it is considering any form of product creation has a life cycle, requires focus, and substantial attention to detail.

A clear vision (that you actually believe in) keeps you on track and makes it easier to say no.

If you build software products for a living or desire too, this battle of products vs. services probably seems familiar. From my perspective, the key is in the “End Game”. A clear vision (that you actually believe in) keeps you on track and makes it easier to say no.

Creating great product is about relationship. When you create something, you want people to use it, and keep using it. That’s called retention.

There is however one exception to the rule. KB mentioned that the only time he is more than willing to provide services, is when it’s on a bike he customized and sold. In that case it’s not a no or a yes, its an OF COURSE. Creating great product is about relationship. When you create something, you want people to use it, and keep using it. That’s called retention. That term is gold in the software product space. Relationship is a recursive flow of give and receive. When that flow stops, the relationship stops.

So of course you should service the products you create. You want to know the good, the bad, and the elusive view points of your consumers or user base. And if they give you any sort of feedback, they expect a response. Notice I said response and not compliance. Even the guys at Basecamp(previously 37signals) will tell you its ok for some consumers to out grow you. You cannot please everybody, but you should be aware of all view points to make informed decisions about what direction your product or business should go.

I think that’s a good place to stop for Part 1 of this post.

Here are some take aways to keep in mind if you’re focused on creating products:

  • Define the “End Game”
  • Stay FOCUSED (Following One Course Until Successful, Eliminating Distractions)
  • If products are your core, providing services is NO or OF COURSE