Software, Service and Culture
My joining W2O Group as Chief Technology Officer defines a pivotal point, both for the company and for me personally. I have been a tech entrepreneur since I was 14, starting such enterprises as a modem sales company in the early 90’s all the way to Pick-A-Prof and MyEdu, which served millions of college students during my 14 year run in Ed-Tech. So why, after a career of building consumer focused software products, would I be the right guy to lead the technology side of an agency like W2O? It’s simple – W2O has a vision for the future of the industry, and it centers around software products which are delivered to our clients and enable our people to deliver better services.
Coming in I knew that there was a big job ahead — big jobs are all that we have here at W2O. Bob and Jim’s vision of S2aaS is a fine example of turning a common practice on it’s head — or as we say here “pragmatically disrupting the status quo“. Once I arrived, however, it became obvious exactly how big the vision is — software is at the very core of the future of business services. And why shouldn’t it be? We are deep in the information age now, and every insight that you want to attain about a brand, product, celebrity or politician is out there, buried within a mountain of likes, status updates, blog posts and news. Businesses don’t have to guess what people think anymore — they don’t have to extrapolate from a survey panel — the truth is in the cloud, and we know how to get it.
Now the real challenge ahead of us — how do we make an agency think like a software company? My life has revolved around products, but W2O has built a practice around services — measured in 15 minute increments. We won’t make this change in a day, we have to evolve into it and prove the worth of what we build at every step. To that end, we have laid out a path for that evolution:
Development Enabled Services: This is what we do now. A client comes in and the really-smart-guys-in-the-back-room open up a blank screen and start coding. This model has served us well, but it scales linearly – it’s time to scale at an exponential rate.
Software Enabled Services: In the first step of our evolution, we turn the developers into product builders. To do that we have to change their idea of who their customers are. W2O’s customers will always be the client, but now the product manager’s customer is W2O. In reaching this goal we will build a product that enables our customer to do their job better and faster than ever before. Now, instead of worrying about their billable hours, the software developers will worry about the ROI of what they build. Ultimately the client will always drive the development – it’s their need that our customer has to fill — but now every time we build a tool it will stand on it’s own.
Software and Services as a Service (S2aaS): As we continue to build and evolve our products we will take them out from behind the firewall and allow W2O clients to access them directly, with help from their partners at W2O. The insights generated by our analysts are why firms come to us and as a result, the client will be able to drill down and understand the thinking put in by our analysts in real time using these tools.
Software as a Service: Some products will be able to stand entirely on their own — in my view this isn’t a final step for every product – it’s not a question of quality of the product, but whether or not the service should be used without expert guidance. Once a product makes this leap it can be available to a broader audience, and can have a more profound impact on the industry.
Now that you know the journey ahead of us, let’s speak to culture. Austin has an amazing startup culture – I’m proud to be a veteran of it, and I’ve had the pleasure of watching and participating as companies built up and ran the course — some great successes and some fantastic failures. To me culture isn’t built with ping pong tables and beer (although they have their place) — it’s built on growth. As we build a software discipline we will also build a culture to support it. W2O is a company of thought leaders — it’s in our DNA — and software is no exception. Through training, community outreach, and friendly competition we are building a culture of growth and thought leadership, and we will continue to be the best at what we do.