Is Software really Cheap?

By cheap I mean anyone can do it? And I mean literally anyone? Even people who can’t seem to do anything else? I am of course referring to awesome folks who made Islamabad City App. It made me feel ashamed of being a human. And BTW, I think the review from Pro Pakistani is equally bad1. But the question is, what are the implications of everyone doing software on the industry itself? Nothing hurts the credibility of the industry than bad products. Again this is worse in Pakistan but we are definitely not alone. Apps Store and Google Play Store, and especially Google Play Store, are filled with crappy apps.

The phenomenon is not unique to software though. It has happened to every new technology. When Nicole Tesla proposed that cars can be run on electricity, everyone started making them—or at least they tried. It’s hard to imagine today but back in 1910, there were at least two dozen electric car companies. Of course, all of them failed because Henry Ford found a better way to do the exact same thing. In the hindsight though we now know that electric cars are the future. But it took us a century to finally get them right. And by us, I mean Elon Musk. What went wrong hundred years ago? A lot of things but primarily everyone thought that technology alone will be enough. Except for Henry Ford who focused on making sure that he understands his customers.

In 1980s everyone started making PCs. The remaining number of PC manufacturers in the 90s were only a handful compared to just how many started in early 80s. I don’t have the exact information but I am sure exact same thing had happened to Printing Press. And almost every new technology for that matter. Add to that, all these businesses were fundamentally hard to bootstrap than a software company today. Starting a software company is ridiculously inexpensive. Hence the total number of businesses today are far more than we ever had in human history. What that means is, we will have far more crappy businesses than ever but far more successful ones too. And since software is more disruptive, IMO than every other technology in history, the successful software businesses will be bigger in magnitude as well e.g. Google, Facebook etc.

So how to know if you are on the right track? How do you know if you are doing the right thing? Because getting a review on Pro Pakistani the kind of which City App got entails failure in itself. So how to get it right from the get go? Focus on the customer and not on technology. It’s a fairly simple statement which is often forgotten and painfully difficult to execute upon. You know who is forgetting this today? Almost everyone talking about their new VR, AR toys without knowing what jobs they will be doing for their customers. These include, not limited to, Google, Oculus (hence Facebook) and Microsoft. Yup, it’s that difficult line to hold on to.

So next time before you think about changing the world because you realized you can learn Kotlin2 over the weekend. Think again, because it doesn’t matter.