Michael Blake, Director of Brady Ware & Company and Host of the Decision Vision podcast, interviews Scott Burkett on the decision process for building an app, understanding the business problems an app will solve, working with an app developer, and more.
Demonstrating a passion and commitment to quality and process improvement, Scott holds a certification in Six Sigma, and is a former director on the Board of the Carnegie-Mellon sponsored Software Process Improvement Network (SPIN). He played an instrumental role in a key client (AT&T Universal Card Services) winning the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, as well as a 2,000+ person consulting firm achieving Ford Motor Company’s Q1 Quality Certification. An original contributor to the Linux kernel, Scott co-authored The Linux Programmer’s Guide, The New Linux Book, and Linux Programming Whitepapers. He was also a key contributor to the now legendary comp.lang.c USENET group.
Scott has been featured, quoted, or published in Money Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Computerworld, TechJournal South, Datamation, WebSmith Magazine, The Linux Journal, and TechLINKS. He has been featured as a lecturer/speaker at events sponsored by such organizations as Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), The University of Georgia, ATDC, Draper-Fisher Jurveston, NASAGA, APRA, ACPI, The Kettering Executive Network, ExecuNet, 400 Technology Connection, and i-Compass.
Incursus, Inc. is a boutique creative-design and open-source software solutions studio headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. In short, “We Create Thingz®,” as they like to say! The Incursus team focuses on four key areas: creative design, custom application development, managed cloud services, and technical due diligence. Additionally, they have a program for startup companies aimed to help them affordably satisfy their technology needs.
They do not aspire to be the biggest provider of these services in the world. They simply aim to be the best. Period.
The Latin word Incursus (which can be translated into raid, attack, or invasion) represents their attitude towards their work—with swift forward movement into projects to get them done efficiently with skill and finesse.
Female: Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast series focusing on critical business decisions brought to you by Brady Ware & Company. Brady Ware is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm that helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality.
Michael Blake: And welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast giving you, the listener, clear vision to make great decisions. In each episode, we’re discussing the process of making decisions on a different topic, rather than making recommendations because everyone’s circumstances are different. We will talk it to subject matter experts about how they would recommend thinking about that decision.
Michael Blake: My name is Mike Blake, and I’m your host for today’s program. I’m a director at Brady Ware & Company, a full-service accounting firm based in Dayton, Ohio, with offices in Dayton; Columbus, Ohio; Richmond, Indiana; and Alpharetta, Georgia, which is where we are recording today. Brady Ware is sponsoring this podcast. If you like this podcast, please subscribe on iTunes, and please consider leaving a review of the podcast as well.
Michael Blake: So, today we’re going to talk about building an app, and not just the process of building an app. We, probably, won’t talk a lot about the process at all, but rather a decision of getting an app. So, lots of companies, now, are thinking that they’re kind of left out. They’re not in the cool kids club anymore if they don’t have an app. And so, everybody kind of wants one. But is that really the right — Is that the right decision? Is that the right place to put management time? Is that the right place to make investment? And is it really all it’s cracked up to be?
Michael Blake: So, how do we go about making that decision? And to help us with that decision, I’ve invited my good friend, Scott Burkett. Scott is a 30-year veteran of the technology industry. He’s the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Incursus Inc., a boutique creative design and open source software solutions studio headquartered in Atlanta. Incursus focuses on four key areas: creative design, custom application development, managed cloud services, and technical due diligence. Team Incursus, also, recently launched ticketburner.com, a web-based platform that focuses on customer service delivery by helping companies automate their business processes.
Michael Blake: Prior to founding Incursus and TicketBurner, Scott served as a Chief Technology Officer for several companies, including MFG.com and Apto Solutions. Scott was also the founder of wwetcanvas.com, a large online community for visual artists, which is now owned by F+W Publishing, one of the largest privately-owned media groups in the country. Additionally, Scott has been very involved in the Atlanta area startup community for the past 15 years and was a Co-Founder of startuplounge.com, one of the early advocates for fast-growth entrepreneurship in the southeast. So, it’s my great pleasure to welcome to the program and recently released from prison-
Scott Burkett: That’s right.
Michael Blake: … Scott Burkett.
Scott Burkett: Thank you. Thanks for — Thanks for being here, Mike.
Michael Blake: Well, I’m [crosstalk].
Scott Burkett: But the StartupLounge is here when we had our podcast.
Michael Blake: This is sort of a role reversal. We did that podcast, you sort of drove this, and I was the foil. So-
Scott Burkett: Well, that’s okay.
Michael Blake: How does it feel to be Dean Martin now?
Scott Burkett: Weird. I’m like Dean Martin without the drink.
Michael Blake: Well, if you say so.
Scott Burkett: Yeah, exactly.
Michael Blake: So, let’s talk about, even the word “app” is kind of a new term in the English language, right?
Scott Burkett: Right, yeah.
Michael Blake: So, let’s make sure we have the right vocabulary when we start. What is an app? And when you think of an app or one of your clients thinks of an app, what are we talking about here?
Scott Burkett: Well, generally speaking, when you hear someone use the word “app,” they tend to be referring to mobile devices, right. Your smartphone, download this app, download that app, or whatever, or maybe even your tablet or something like that. But I’m a software engineer by trade, so it kind of irks me when I hear app only being used that way. A lot of folks will refer to an app that way, but an app can be anything. It can be a web-based software product. It can be a desktop app, an application for your desktop. So, it’s a pretty broad term, but, yeah, it tends to get more love on the mobile side these days.
Michael Blake: And so, is that where that’s now headed? Is every app a mobile app, or-
Scott Burkett: No, not at all.
Michael Blake: … do you see that there’s not an end for apps on a more conventional sense?
Scott Burkett: I think, it’s hard to argue that the growth of mobile hasn’t played a role in this, right. I mean, there’s more mobile devices, phones, laptops, whatever, tablets than there are desktops. Just people aren’t buying desktop. They’d rather buy a smartphone and a tablet than buy a desktop. Unlike I’m a hardcore gamer, as you are as well.
Michael Blake: You’re more of a game historian, I think, at this point. It’s true.
Scott Burkett: But I still play them.
Michael Blake: Long live Atari, baby.
Scott Burkett: Exactly, but I’ll still have a high-end gaming rig at home and use desktop stuff, but most of the work that we do is on laptops or mobile devices these days. So, that’s a big shift.
Michael Blake: So, when somebody comes to you and says, “We think we want to have an app for our company,” did you kind of walk them through the process? Is that the right path for them to go? Or how do you find the clients who are thinking about that? What does that decision tree look like?
Scott Burkett: Well, it’s complicated because every situation is different, right. The first thing that we try to do at Incursus is dig into what the business problem is they’re trying to solve with it, right. We were talking at lunch here earlier about the cool factor behind apps. And that’s certainly out there, but the reality is 99.9% of our clients are going to come to us and say, “We need to build something to solve this particular set of problems.” And it could be to extend a web application to the mobile device, or it could be just greenfield app itself on a mobile device.
Scott Burkett: So, you want to understand those business problems, right. And once those things line up, then you can kind of dive into what’s the next step. How do we prioritize these? How do we dig into them? And to make sure that their understanding of what a return on that investment is going to be is the same as your understanding of it because, at the end of the day, it has to drive some sort of value and trying to put that-
Michael Blake: You’d like to [crosstalk]-
Scott Burkett: Yeah, back to the-
Michael Blake: Although it is cool just to have my logo on my phone.
Scott Burkett: You have the light saber app, don’t you?
Michael Blake: I do.
Scott Burkett: I do, yeah. Hey, it’s at sword fight mode. We could actually-
Michael Blake: We could, but it doesn’t work as well as audio.
Scott Burkett: Yeah. I was going to make a bad crossing swords joke, but I’m not-
Michael Blake: That’s all right.
Scott Burkett: Did I just make a bad crossing swords joke?
Michael Blake: It’s not that kind of podcast.
Scott Burkett: That’s right. Family-friendly.
Michael Blake: So, every sort of situation is different, which is kind of what we expect. So, is it fair to say that there are kind of two categories of apps? One is kind of outward-facing. You’re trying to have an app that is client-focused, client-facing, maybe let clients interface with your company a different way. And then, kind of, an internal app, something that makes the way your company works or operates more effective and more efficient. Is that a fair distinction?
Scott Burkett: That is fair. The thing with the App Store is it’s a public utility effectively at this point, right. You go into it, and you find what you want. You pay for it or you get it for free. You download it. Most companies are probably not going to want you to download their internal applications from the app store, but we do see both. We do see both.
Scott Burkett: I think, the biggest trend over probably the past, I’d say, the best decade, really, as the shift to mobile happened was you had successful web applications like Facebook, for instance, or LinkedIn, those kinds of sites, social media type sites in general that didn’t, initially, have a mobile app. And the mobile adoption is a lot greater now than it was when those companies were founded.
Scott Burkett: So, the mobile strategy kind of came in later for them, but that became a way to interface with a larger platform on the desktop effectively. It’s the same product, right, but you’re limited to a certain set of features and certain experience on a mobile device that’s a little smaller in footprint than what you’d get on a desktop, for instance, right. But, yeah, that shift is definitely there.
Michael Blake: Are we at a point now where you can realistically have an app that doesn’t have a mobile companion?
Scott Burkett: Well, in that context do, we talked about web applications, right. On the B2B side, if you’re successful, you need to have a mobile app. It’s just your users are going to demand it. In fact, if you don’t eventually have a mobile app in your B2B type web application, your customers are going to go find another solution somewhere else because mobile’s that important in the enterprise now, right.
Scott Burkett: My UPS guy who comes to the house and drops off packages, first thing he does is he pulls out his mobile device, and he’s got access to all this back in functionality at UPS that he’s like flipping around and doing all this stuff. I try to sign my name, it looks like my kindergartener signs it when I do my finger, but all that functionality is all on a mobile device. That’s a great example of an enterprise application on a mobile device right there. Not something you can download from the app store, but they have it. So, yeah.
Michael Blake: So, apps, I mean, back in the old days, we used to call them software applications or programs. So, the words changed, but what we’re creating is largely the same. Does an app have to be something grandiose, like PowerPoint or Microsoft Word? Is this something that can be fairly slim? Walk us through that. Does an app have to be big, and hairy, and complex to be valuable? Are there ways to do something relatively quick and painless?
Scott Burkett: I can tell you that 99% of the stuff that’s on my smartphone, my iPhone here, was put there by my kids. And the vast majority of things that are on there are simple silly things that add zero value to my life. So, the short answer is it doesn’t really matter, right. There’s an app for anything these days, you want to track your weight loss or whatever. And you’re still doing all the work, by the way. It’s not like you stand on the iPhone-
Michael Blake: I don’t need an app for that by the way, but the math there is not that complicated or fast.
Scott Burkett: You don’t stand on your iPhone. I want to write a trick app that it’s a scale for your iPhone, and you just stand on your iPhone, and I wonder how many people would do that. But there are apps for everything, small, large whatever. I don’t think people have to have a vision of something being grandiose or lightweight. I think they have to have a vision that their app — And I’m speaking more in a business context here — solves some kind of problem or fulfill some sort of need in a marketplace, right.
Scott Burkett: So, it could be a game. It could be just pure entertainment or just a boredom breaker kind of a thing. And those things tend to be kind of lightweight. But when we start talking about business-to-business enterprise type integration, those things tend to lean towards the hairy side just by their very nature, right.
Michael Blake: Got it.
Scott Burkett: So, yeah.
Michael Blake: All right. So, somebody comes to you and says, “Scott, we think we want an app. We’d like to have you build it.” Open the hood a little bit, what does that process kind of look like?
Scott Burkett: Well, the first thing I do is I get out my incense burner. No, I’m kidding.
Michael Blake: No, that’s what we do in valuation.
Scott Burkett: no. The interesting thing about technology is that while technology has changed a lot over the past 20 years – let’s just say 20 years. It’s really longer than that. About 30 years, I guess, at this point. God, we’re getting old – the process by which you build it has nominally changed, right? Certainly, we have faster tools we have better tools, and libraries, and integrated environments that we can build all these great things in.
Scott Burkett: And that’s condensed the timeframe for delivery of building something like that, but the process is still largely the same. You got to understand the requirements. Are there requirements? What are you trying to build? If you just have an idea you’ve got a lot more work to do. You could come to me with an idea, that’s great. I’m happy to help you walk through kind of flashing that out.
Scott Burkett: But, at some point, you’ve got to put pen to paper, or well, we used to do that, but put your fingers on the keyboard, as it were, and type up your requirements. Well, what are the problems it’s going to solve? How is it going to solve? What are the benefits to the user? What are they going to reap by using this particular application? And it doesn’t matter if it’s on the web, or if it’s on a desktop, or if it’s a mobile app, the same principles still apply.
Michael Blake: Now, having known you as long as I have, I know you’re a very creative guy. You’ve done-
Scott Burkett: A few things, I guess.
Michael Blake: You’ve done literally done art websites.
Scott Burkett: That’s true, that’s true.
Michael Blake: So, when you have that conversation or when somebody — I want to depersonalized a little bit. Is it reasonable to expect that if I’m looking for someone to help me develop my app, is the app developer going to, then, maybe interact with me and help flesh out what the business case might actually be, suggest additional functionalities, or is it more like an order-taking process where, “I need an app that does A, B, C, and D,” “Here it is, go”?
Scott Burkett: Well, to the latter, there’s a million people that can do that, right? You can go to upwork.com, find a freelancer offshore somewhere, send them a bulleted list of stuff that you want to build, and they’ll build exactly that.
Michael Blake: Okay.
Scott Burkett: Okay. And it will be cheaper. By and large, it will be cheaper to do that. The problem is if your development team isn’t completely aligned with your business drivers, and in those sessions, and on the white board, and trying to understand how your business is evolving, and not just in a bulleted list, these are the things that are important to us, but understanding your customers and what they want. You’re going to paint yourself into a corner as a founder. You’re making an investment. Ostensibly, it’s a chunk of your savings, or you’ve raised some money maybe in a seed round or something like that, and you’re trying to build something. The last thing you want to do is know that you just wasted $100,000, or $50,000, or whatever it is by giving somebody a bulleted list because you think you’ve got all the answers, and you think that’s all they need. There’s always more to it than that.
Scott Burkett: If I took a pile of building supplies and dropped them off on a lot that you owned, and said, “We’re going to build a house.” And you came to me and you said, “Okay. Here’s what I want. I want three bedrooms, and I want two baths, and I want a sunken den. That’s all it. That’s my main thing. I just got to have these things.” We’ll build it. We’ll build the house. It will have three bedrooms, two baths, and a sunken den. And then, you’re going to realize that you wanted brick, and you wanted one bedroom upstairs, and not all three. You didn’t want a ranch house, right? So, the house is still built. I did my job, right?
Michael Blake: Yeah, yeah.
Scott Burkett: And so, you run into situations like that. And more importantly, you run into situations where you realize you can’t add an extra room to your house because of the way the house was initially built, right? It wasn’t built to be extensible. We took up all of the real estate on that lot by building this house, right?
Michael Blake: If we add here, that’s a support thing.
Scott Burkett: That’s right, that’s right. That’s a load-bearing wall. We can’t take that down. So, you think about that from a development standpoint, developers, there’s something called technical debt, which may come up later in the show here. But technical debt is one of those things where it’s the — You’re familiar with monetary debt, right?
Michael Blake: Of course.
Scott Burkett: So, it’s financial debt, right? It’s very akin to that. When you’re building an application, and a developer takes the easy route, if you give me a bulleted list, I’m taking the easy route and implementing all this because I don’t know what you’re going to want to do a year from now or two years from now because I’m not in line with your business. So, I’m going to build those things, and I’m going to take the easiest fastest way for me to accomplish those tasks, and I’m going to do it. Okay.
Michael Blake: Just satisfy the statement of work.
Scott Burkett: That’s right, just satisfy the statement of work. So, fast forward a year from now, your business is pivoting, or you’re changing, you’re getting into a new market, you got a new partner that you want to integrate with or something like that. And all of a sudden, you realize you can’t do that because you have technical debt. You have to now re-factor, and take all the easy stuff out, and do it the right way where you can open those doors into integration with other companies and things like that in your code.
Scott Burkett: So, when you think about giving someone a bulleted list, if anybody’s listening to this that is in that mode, don’t do that. Don’t give someone a bulleted list and a check and say, “Let me know when you’re done.” That’s absolutely the worst possible thing you could do.
Michael Blake: So, one of the decision points, then, is do I, as a person who wants the app, do I have enough time myself to engage in this process, so that I get what I want? When you put an addition in your house, a great way to make sure you’re unhappy is just send the contractor off.
Scott Burkett: That’s right. That’s right.
Michael Blake: Not oversee the work, not get progress updates.
Scott Burkett: That’s right.
Michael Blake: It’s sounds like it’s the same thing there. You can’t just throw it over a wall.
Scott Burkett: There’s basically there — I guess, three ways of looking at building an app, or three reasons, or drivers behind it. One is you’re writing something for yourself, which happens a lot with techies. Us, geeks, like to write tools that we use, and we think are cool. And that’s fine. You’re the only user of it, and you’re happy. That’s a success, right? Or you’re trying to monetize it, and actually grow business out of it, and turn it into something that’s a little bit more longer lasting than just you using a tool. And then the third one is the hobby market. You’re making something for other developers to use or other tool builders to use as a part of their applications.
Scott Burkett: When you look at the second one, that example that you just gave about, “Am I going to have time to engage in this?” Well, if you’re writing it for yourself, and you don’t have time to engage in it, then I don’t even know what’s going on there. The third one is a hobby. It kind of falls back to the first one, which if you’re not willing-
Michael Blake: You either do it or you don’t.
Scott Burkett: Either do it or you don’t. If you’re trying to monetize it and build a business around it, you either find the time or you don’t. And if you don’t find the time, you’re just wasting your money.
Michael Blake: Okay.
Scott Burkett: Right? You have to engage. I think you absolutely have to engage with your developer. IT people and techies are not the same as they were even 20 years ago. They have business degrees now. They understand sales and marketing. They understand how companies work, at least, on the surface, right? They can understand those business drivers and apply them to how are we going to integrate with those partners in our app down the road. Things like that are going to open up for them. So, I think you absolutely have to find the time to engage with your development team no matter what you’re building.
Michael Blake: Okay. So, I mean, apps sound great. It’s the way of the future. It’s all cool. Why doesn’t everybody have one?
Scott Burkett: A lot of people don’t have a mobile strategy upfront. And we’re seeing this is a little bit different now because, I think, mobile strategy is one of the first things an investor is going to ask you, especially if you’re in the business-to-business side or building a web application that’s going to have a lot of users. What’s your integration strategy? What’s your mobile strategy? That’s one of the things they’re going to want to know. And if you don’t have one it’s going to be a strike against you. You’re not thinking big enough. You’re not thinking outright.
Michael Blake: Right, because that’s where most of the devices are.
Scott Burkett: Exactly. And that’s how we consume content, by and large, these days. I mean, I get my news from my smartphone. I don’t watch the news at night. Who does that anymore?
Michael Blake: I can’t remember the last time I watched the news.
Scott Burkett: Exactly.
Michael Blake: Do you even do that anymore?
Scott Burkett: Is Walter Cronkite still alive. No. Yeah, right. That’s the last news that I saw, right?
Michael Blake: Right.
Scott Burkett: Paul Harvey and Walter Cronkite, right? So, yeah. Someone’s listening to this going, “They’re Googling Walter Cronkite right now.”
Michael Blake: Exactly.
Scott Burkett: “Who is Walter Cronkite?”
Michael Blake: Exactly. Going to the biography channel.
Scott Burkett: How do you spell his name? Yeah. So, no, and people consume content on their mobile devices. So, mobile strategy is important. I think maybe a decade ago, 15 years ago, mobile was — I don’t want to say it was optional, but it was sort of like gravy. In fact, a lot of investors back then probably we’ll look at you and say you’re thinking too big. What’s this mobile thing? I mean, the world has changed. Obviously, it’s evolved. So, if they don’t have an app, then there’s either one of couple of obvious reasons for it. One is they don’t want to fund it. That can happen, right?
Michael Blake: Yeah.
Scott Burkett: They don’t see the value, in which case you want to short their stock, I think, at this point, right?
Michael Blake: Got it.
Scott Burkett: Certainly, if it’s an enterprise type company. And on the social side, I think any sort of social media app these days, application on the web is going to have a mobile component. If not designed kind of in counterpart with the web platform, it’s going to be built like shortly thereafter once they get all their integration points and everything is sort of in place where the mobile device can communicate to the web app.
Scott Burkett: So, I mean, when LinkedIn and Facebook first launched, they didn’t have mobile apps. This came along later. So, I don’t know how Facebook is now, but it’s probably 15 years old or something like that maybe.
Michael Blake: It’s something like that, yeah.
Scott Burkett: Something like that.
Michael Blake: I mean they went public in — Went public in — Actually fairly recently. It went public in like ’13 or something. So, looking around 2006.
Scott Burkett: Right. So, yeah. Yeah. So, there you go.
Michael Blake: So, is there kind of a tale to this? It’s one thing to sort of build an app, but I have a feeling an app is not something you just buy once and put away, right?
Scott Burkett: That’s right.
Michael Blake: You put it online, and you’ve got to maintain it. Apps tend to get updated if they’re going to be around for long. So, is that the case that when budgeting and figuring out if an app is right for you? Do you have to think about six months from now, a year from now, kind of, what long-term commitment you’re going to make to it?
Scott Burkett: Any business has to think about that. It doesn’t matter what your business is, you have to think about, “Okay, I know I’m going to raise this much money, maybe nothing. And I know that whatever I have is going to get me to a certain point at which, hopefully, I’ll have a product.” And there’s a revenue ramp. And at some point, your revenue is going to go up and then you can afford to pay the bills.
Scott Burkett: What a lot of young entrepreneurs tend to do – and I see this unfortunately more often than I want to admit – they just assumed that once they get that revenue ramp going that it’s just cruise control from there. And they just basically are printing money. And that never works. It never works. When’s the last time-
Michael Blake: It’s not that easy to become a billionaire?
Scott Burkett: No, it’s not.
Michael Blake: Oh, shocks.
Scott Burkett: It’s absolutely not, but think about your — My iPhone, I turn it on. Every day, there’s updates to my apps, right. The ones that don’t get updated are going to become deprecated over time. Users are going to abandon them, and this could be mobile, but it could also be on the web as well. It could be on the desktop as well. I mean Word Perfect went under. Remember Word Perfect?
Michael Blake: Sure.
Scott Burkett: Yeah, it was great. It was great. Well, Microsoft Office came along with its auto updates, and then everybody said, “Hey, this is great. They’re adding new features to this incrementally. It’s getting better. It’s improving.” Word Perfect went the way of the dinosaur and had a horrible interface. They never did anything to fix it. It’s an antiquated analogy, but, still, it’s one of the examples.
Michael Blake: No, it’s true. Once the old lawyers died out, that-
Scott Burkett: That’s right.
Michael Blake: Because the lawyers were the last stronghold-
Scott Burkett: And they loved it, that’s right.
Michael Blake: … for Word Perfect. And once they died out and retired, the new generation grew up with Microsoft Office or, now, Google Docs.
Scott Burkett: That’s right.
Michael Blake: That’s what they’re using, right?
Scott Burkett: Users are going to demand a couple of things. They’re going to demand that the bugs get fixed. And there’s always bugs in software. It’s written by humans. Right? So, we’re going to have those problems. Bugs get addressed in a timely fashion. The product evolves. As new opportunities and new technologies arrive in the marketplace, your product, if it’s applicable, has to be in a position to take advantage of those things and incorporate those into your application as well.
Scott Burkett: I’m just thinking out loud here, but I just bought a device called the AirServer, which is a little embedded device that allows me to stream Chromecast, and AirPlay, and Miracast from a PC, a Mac, a Smartphone. Any sort of device, I can screen cast directly to my TV. Well, before I learned about this product, you had to have the right laptop. You had to have the right TV.
Michael Blake: Apple with AirPlay.
Scott Burkett: That’s right, that’s right.
Michael Blake: Apple TV.
Scott Burkett: Exactly, right. So, something better came along. And it’s one of those things that something better is always coming along in this day and age. I mean, my Twitter feed is full of it. Every day, it’s just 20 new things that are launching that didn’t exist yesterday. And some of those things are going to fall out by the wayside. It’s just law of averages, right? But the ones that make it, the ones that have long-lasting ability in the marketplace are the ones you have to take advantage of. And how do I integrate with it?
Scott Burkett: It may not be applicable to everyone, but when certain things come along — Like single sign-on is another great example of that, right. Interfacing with single sign-on, does your app want to take advantage of that? You see apps now that lets you login with Google or Facebook, right? Easy. You just click the button and you’re done, right?
Michael Blake: Thank God.
Scott Burkett: It’s great.
Michael Blake: Just typing all those things with my fingers on the phone, it’s a nightmare.
Scott Burkett: And it takes you eight times to get your password right. Then, you locked yourself out.
Michael Blake: Exactly.
Scott Burkett: But it’s one of those things that — Just think about this, if your product was in the marketplace, and you didn’t have that capability, it’s a seemingly inane feature. Okay. It shouldn’t be a make or break decision, but I can guarantee you, people will say, “Why do I have to keep logging into this when I can just — Why can’t I just click on the Facebook button and authenticate me that way?”
Michael Blake: Especially if it’s just a subscription to Reuters. I don’t care if somebody pirates that account.
Scott Burkett: That’s right. That’s right. You don’t really care.
Michael Blake: I’m not paying anything. I can’t post anything. It’s not a high-leverage discussion.
Scott Burkett: Absolutely right. So, I think you have to — Getting back to the question, I think, as a founder, you’ve got a budget for the incremental advancement and evolution of your app, okay. Be it on the desktop, the web, mobile device, it doesn’t matter, you have to constantly be thinking, how is this going to get better? Because that’s what makes your business better at the end of the day anyway. How are you going to evolve as a business? Well, that involves dragging your product along, hopefully, right?
Michael Blake: Yeah.
Scott Burkett: So, there you go.
Michael Blake: All right. So now, It’s the time in the program to go negative.
Scott Burkett: Uh-oh.
Michael Blake: And what I mean by going negative is I like to talk about times when people and customers or, not even customers, companies have built apps that have just failed.
Scott Burkett: Okay, sure.
Michael Blake: Why do apps fail? And what can we learn from that where maybe it’s just not a good decision on the part of that company to commission the app in the first place?
Scott Burkett: Well, we’re speaking here, obviously, in the business context. If you’re writing it for yourself, and it fails that you don’t even use your own tool, then that’s your problem. That’s not a world problem. But there’s a couple of things that it comes down to. If a company’s generating or building an app, we’ll just use a mobile app in this particular case, and maybe it mirrors their web application, right? They’re not seeing the adoption rate, for instance, going up.
Scott Burkett: Now, if you’re web app is successful, and your mobile app is not, that’s a different problem, okay. That tells you that the core product that you have is valuable, and people are using it on the web, but they’re not using your mobile app. Maybe the interface stinks, maybe the usability stinks, it’s not worth it, there could be bugs, things like that that need to be addressed.
Scott Burkett: But it all comes down, at the end of the day, to outreach and marketing, getting your app on the mobile side, the same exposure that your web application is getting in that particular instance. And when we say a business context, that’s generally what we’re talking about. It’s Facebook with a website or a web application, and they’ve got a mobile component to it as well, that type of pattern. So, they’ve got to look hard in the mirror and ask themselves why it’s not working, why it’s not getting the adoption.
Michael Blake: And that’s true on the internal side too, right?
Scott Burkett: That’s right.
Michael Blake: If you want your app for internal use, you got to make sure people know about it.
Scott Burkett: That’s right.
Michael Blake: There’s got to be an incentive for them to use it.
Scott Burkett: A policy. Crate a a policy, right?
Michael Blake: It could be a policy, It could be you remove whatever process there was before, so they’re forced to use it,
Scott Burkett: Right.
Michael Blake: But-
Scott Burkett: The worst thing you could hear as a developer, as s a software engineer, is that people aren’t using your app. They’d rather use email. That’s like the worst thing.
Michael Blake: Really?
Scott Burkett: Yeah. It’s too clunky, it does this, it’s too slow, whatever. It’s just easier to send the guy an email. Okay. So, that’s what they do, right?
Michael Blake: Right.
Scott Burkett: And email is like — Everybody wants to kill — Everybody has been trying to kill email for 20 years.
Michael Blake: They have. It’s died more often than Rasputin.
Scott Burkett: Exactly. I know, right? He’s on his 12th life at this point, right? But the reality is when that’s your fallback, your fallback is, “It’s just easier to send an email,” yeah, you got some issues with your app that you need to sort out.
Michael Blake: And that brings up — I’m not going to attribute the name. I don’t necessarily have permission, but I was at a conference-
Scott Burkett: Oh, come on.
Michael Blake: I was at a conference a couple months ago, and there’s a venture capitalist there. One thing that he said that I’ll never forget, it was a great advice, is that, “Already good will always beat might be better, or good enough will always beat might be better.”
Scott Burkett: Is there a question in there, or do you want to-
Michael Blake: No, I’m asking for a reaction. If it’s something you’ve got, like email is already good enough, something that has, now, a learning curve that has some risk to it, if it’s not clearly better, it’s just going to get dumped off on the side of the road. They’ll go back, like you said, the email.
Scott Burkett: Well, I think any founder would agree that their business plan paints a perfect picture of how things could be better or should be better. No business owner is going to say, “Well, my business plan does a poor job of telling you how great this product is going to be.” They’d probably go too far in that regard, if anything.
Scott Burkett: I think that’s applicable sometimes. I mean, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it Kind of mantra, but there’s certainly been plenty of applications that have come along that have made getting tasks done, or achieving certain goals, accomplishing something, adding value in ways that were it was easier than before. Case in point, look at LinkedIn, right. Before LinkedIn, I either knew you or I didn’t. I either could call you on the phone or send you an e-mail because I had that information. And email contacts were closely guarded, like that was your rolodex, right?
Michael Blake: Yeah.
Scott Burkett: Like the little black book that we used to have in the ’80s with all the phone numbers written down on. It was the same thing, you guarded your contacts. The business development people made a killing because they would go from one company to the next, and they bring basically their book of business with them because they had all their contacts, right?
Michael Blake: Yeah.
Scott Burkett: Well, that’s gone now. By and large, it’s gone. Still relationship-driven and a lot of industries are, but if you think about LinkedIn, if I wanted to connect with someone to ask them a question, or invite them to come on to a panel, or speak at an event, or whatever my reason is for reaching out, I can probably get to them within a day. I can probably get my message in front of them pretty, pretty quickly, right?
Michael Blake: Sure.
Scott Burkett: So, before LinkedIn came along, that didn’t exist. That capability didn’t exist. Now, imagine yourself as an investor, and it’s hard now because LinkedIn is just part of the fabric now. Everyone uses it but think about maybe 15-20 years ago as an investor, and some guy, Reid Hoffman, comes to you in California and says, “I’ve got this great idea. We’re going to connect the world on the internet.” “What? Okay. It’s a big idea. I get it, but-“
Michael Blake: No, you burn them for witchcraft.
Scott Burkett: Exactly. It’s heresy. “What do you mean? These are my contacts. I’m not going to share them with other people,” and that kind of thing. Well, the world’s changed. So, I think there’s some applicability to what that investor told you, either way though.
Michael Blake: Yeah. So, a lot of apps are now made offshore. I don’t know if your company uses offshore.
Scott Burkett: No.
Michael Blake: Not so relevant to the discussion. But if I go to a shop, and they say that they tend to use a lot of offshore labor, wherever it is, it could be India, it could be Ukraine, it could be Philippines, should I be concerned? Should that in my mind be a disqualifying feature in terms of selecting who my developer should be?
Scott Burkett: I think, it’s going to come down to one key factor here and that’s money.
Michael Blake: Okay.
Scott Burkett: Okay. You can certainly find a country that will build your app, probably off of a bulleted list, like we cautioned about earlier, and you save some good money if you find the right company in the right country. But I will tell you a story not so awful long ago, there was a Japanese software company that had offshored, outsourced some of its development on its key product to China. Okay. Well, China, hopefully, the Chinese politico is not listening to this right now, and they’re going to hunt me down or something, but China doesn’t really have a great track record in not stealing things. I mean, China has-
Michael Blake: Always since Marco Paul.
Scott Burkett: That’s right, yes. China has a wee bit of a reputation for reverse engineering things and just outright lifting things.
Michael Blake: Adopting them as their own.
Scott Burkett: Adopting them as their own. Look at our new stealth fighter, right. Yeah, right, whatever. So, this Japanese company was so paranoid about China, these developers in China working on their product, they actually had five different Chinese offshore companies, and they gave each one of them a piece of it. They wouldn’t give the entire thing to one company. So, what does that tell you?
Michael Blake: I think Apple does that, if I’m not mistaken.
Scott Burkett: They could, they could.
Michael Blake: They don’t let everybody have the whole formula.
Scott Burkett: The keys to the kingdom, right?
Michael Blake: Yeah.
Michael Blake: And I’m not here to say that all offshore is bad. It’s not. I’ve had some successes with offshore development in the past, and I’ve had some that were not as successful. Ultimately, it came down to the ones that were successful were the ones that were fully engaged with the team, the larger team, the business team throughout the development process. They took the time to understand the drivers behind it, and where we’re we going, and best practices. And there was a liaison on the business team that ensured that the development team were using best practices and things of that nature, so not to paint you into a corner.
Scott Burkett: So, I think, it goes without saying that you should probably go into it with eyes wide open, if you do it. But to be fair, I would approach it here in the United States as well the same way. I’d do it the same way. I wouldn’t necessarily give it to five different companies to work on like the Japanese company I mentioned did. But I would certainly — Over here, we’re protected by NDAs and other things, IP agreements, and things like that, and, of course, the US Code of Law, which helps a lot.
Michael Blake: There is that, yeah.
Scott Burkett: The minute you put it offshore — And I’m not an attorney by any stretch of the imagination. Though, I have given a free legal advice before.
Michael Blake: Don’t let that stop you.
Scott Burkett: That’s right. But I think you should probably consult maybe some fellow entrepreneurs that have had successes building things offshore, and maybe kind of learn from them, specifically, who they’re dealing with, and are they reputable. That referrals always going to go a long way.
Michael Blake: So, a recurring theme we’re hearing here is that the business side of the business has to be very closely involved with the technology side. This is not just something you hand over a bunch of nerds-
Scott Burkett: That’s right.
Michael Blake: … and say, “Have us build something.” I mean, you’ll get something.
Scott Burkett: You’ll get something.
Michael Blake: It just won’t be what you want most likely.
Scott Burkett: Or the technical would be off the chart.
Michael Blake: All right. Well, we’re running out of time, unfortunately. We could talk about this and other things-
Scott Burkett: That true.
Michael Blake: … for a long time. So, any concluding comments, anything that I should have asked but didn’t, or something else that our listeners need to know about the app decision process whether to build that app?
Scott Burkett: I haven’t even got to my belly dancing bit.
Michael Blake: Probably for the video version of the podcast.
Scott Burkett: Okay. I think when you decide you want to build something, I think you have to make a commitment to the project. It doesn’t matter if you’re a solo founder, a single founder, or you’re a small team, or you’re a company that’s looking to build an application. Again, it doesn’t matter if it’s a desktop, web, or mobile.
Scott Burkett: I think you’ve got to apply those fundamental business practices to it, take those practices, and basically force feed the development team with those business drivers because if you don’t, like you said, you’re going to get something back, but it may or may not — it may do everything on the list functionally, but it may or may not solve the problem at hand. And, I think, aligning those things is a very key factor that people should go into it with knowing that, so.
Michael Blake: Okay. Well, this has been great. I’m sure somebody listening to this this podcast will want to learn more. How do people find you?
Scott Burkett: Unfortunately, I’m fairly easy to find on the web. So, you can just Google my name, Scott Burkett, I suppose, or just go to scottburkett.com, and all my links are there somewhere. I think so.
Michael Blake: Yeah. you are not hard to find.
Scott Burkett: I’m, unfortunately, not hard to find.
Michael Blake: All right. Well, that’s going to wrap it up for today’s program. I’d like to thank Scott again so much for coming and sharing his expertise.
Scott Burkett: Thanks for having me.
Michael Blake: This has been great. I’ve learned a lot. And we’ll be exploring a new topic each week. So, please tune in so that when you are faced with your next business decision, you have a clear vision when you’re making it. Once again, this is Mike Blake. Our sponsor is Brady Ware & Company. And this has been the Decision Vision Podcast.
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