Ronald P. Loui
Associate Professor of CSE
Washington University in St. Louis
The text below is copied from an email I sent to a discussion list for Web developers. One of the other list members expressed concern about cut-rate competition in the post-dot-bomb world. A number of readers have suggested the letter is worth sharing with others, as it can be applied to businesses in nearly any competitive environment, so here it is.
Date: Mon, 03 Sep 2001 16:52:27 -0700
Things related to the Internet (and more so when Internet 2 goes public) remain likely to be the most significant growth industries to occur in our lifetime.
Most other culturally-significant technologies involve diminishing the role of geography from human affairs, from shipping to rail to telegraph, and the Internet is the most immersive and immediate yet. And it's still so young, so primitive, so nothing like it will be in fifty years.
The only bad thing dot-bomb shakeout is that it didn't happen sooner. Nearly all of the dead companies were those who thumbed their nose at the only thing that has mattered in business for several thousand years: providing true value to the end-customer. Somehow a lot of otherwise-smart people started funding the most absurb business plans, and Ma and Pa investor jumped in along with them (and lost their retirement accounts along the way).
The good thing about the dot-bomb shakeout is that we don't have to wonder if everything we knew about business was somehow wrong. It isn't, and the failed companies allow us to confidently rely on thousands of years of knowledge about how markets work. With the shakeout nearly over, we can all get back to the business of business.
The ironic challenge facing US internet companies like yours and mine is that the very technologies we deploy for our customers uniquely require us to compete globally. Breaking down geographic boundaries not only opens up new commodities markets, but new labor markets as well.
Two years ago industry leaders went to Congress to increase the number of H1b visas in the tech sector. Today, they don't need that: they can broker labor online directly from the source, and they save travel and US housing costs. From Bokoshe, Oklahoma to Bengal, India, there's likely someone to do commodity work for less than it costs to live in Los Angeles.
But there's the clue about finding your own value: don't do commodity work.
There's only one Hillman Curtis in the world, only one Jared Spool. And, at the risk of quoting Barney, only one you.
Find what most excites you, and you're likely to find what differentiates you from any other provider on the planet. Whether its graphic design, information architecture, usability, programming, project management, marketing, writing -- somewhere there's something you can do uniquely well, and nobody can touch that. :)
In Praise of Scripting: Real Programming Pragmatism
Scripting: Higher Level Programming