Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Business Lessons from Tom and Gary

When I talk to folks about their ideas, I often suggest they try the following mental exercise:

Think through how you would implement your idea if you had no money to work with. Now imagine you've got some money (say, $10-20k). Now imagine you've got millions of dollars. What can you learn from each solution?

The goal behind this exercise is to help individuals let go of the some of the "musts" that they think their software needs, and help them realize that they can do amazing things with less.

I don't expect folks to choose the zero dollar solution, but I often want people realize that it *is* possible. You can have huge impact with a free Blogger account, clever use of Twitter and a handful of marketing books from the library. Over and over I learn that what's important isn't how sophisticated the software is, but how meaningfully it solves real people's problems. Deliver value, and almost everything else will take care of itself.

As you can imagine, I love finding examples of this in the wild. Which brings you to my new favorite discovery: 150 Boom Boxes and the Best Dance Party You’ve Never Been To. That link points to a recent Wired article which features Tom and Gary's Decentralized Dance Party.

Tom and Gary wanted to make an impact in the entertainment world. They could have gone the standard route, and opened up their own dance club, or put together some sort of dance party service. Instead, they came up with their own notion of decentralized dance parties.

The technology is wonderfully simple: an iPod connected to a radio transmitter, and whole lot of cheap boom boxes tuned into that frequency (and locked in with Duct Tape, of course). To top it off, the setup is "controlled" by a Nintendo Power Glove. And by controlled, I mean that it's warn for dramatic effect.

Sure, this isn't truly a Zero Dollar implementation. But for all intents and purposes, it really is. They deliver true value, and in return, folks don't care that the setup is rough around the edges. In fact, that roughness only adds to the effect.

You want to change the world with your idea. Let Tom and Gary show you the way. Solve a real problem, deliver real value, and do it with less. Or, do it with more. Whatever. Just do it!


  1. Zero dollar solutions generally result in good solutions, in part because technical quality is allowed to seek its own optimum. This is the secret behind things like open source software, and R&D efforts like IBM's Watson. (Watson being zero dollars in the sense that the end result for the engineers was a technical goal rather than a business return.)

    Of course, a lot of zero dollar projects fail and you have to be prepared for this.

    But I don't know of any data showing that zero dollar projects fail at a greater rate do million dollar projects, and in the former case, the average rate of return is, by definition, infinite.

  2. Well explained TechNeilogy - thanks!