Safe choices aren’t always good choices

I am reading I’M Feeling Lucky – Falling On My Feet in Silicon Valley by Douglas Edwards. I thought it might be just another book about Google. It is not. The lessons are amazing. And I will come back with many things I liked. One deserves a full article, and it is about “Safe choices aren’t always good choices”. The story is covered on pages 256-258.

When Google finally recognized its failure in implementing a CRM software to manage customer emails, “composing a list of CRM vendors didn’t take long. Fewer than half a dozen major players offered stable, well-tested systems. […] Larry has a college friend, David, who would advise us on desirable features and then added, by the way, he and a buddy were building a CRM product called Trakken. […] Interested? Interested in an untested CRM product still in development with one tiny client? Sure that’s just what I was looking for – another risky technology with no support and no track record behind it. I thanked David for his help and, because he was a friend of Larry, assured him we’d be happy to send him our request for proposal. [Meanwhile they analyzed established players.] I felt confident I could convince Larry and Sergey to loosen the purse strings and do it right this time: spend money for a high-quality, stable system from a respected vendor. I hoped Larry’s friend had taken the hint and forgotten about us. [He had not] I didn’t want him to complain to Larry when his hopes were dashed. I decided to head him off at the pass by talking to Larry myself. “Actually,” Larry recommended “you should hire these guys. They’re really smart. They’ll work hard to build the product and we can invest in their company. […] They’ll be very responsive.” I could say I was stunned, outraged, incredulous, but that would be an understatement. I couldn’t believe Larry was going cheap again instead of buying reliability. When I informed the other vendors, they thought I was either corrupt or an idiot. […] “If you can believe you can build an email tool like resembling ours in thirty days, you are mistaken. It has taken us four years and twelve hundred customers.” […] I’d still be cursing Larry’s decision today if not for one small thing: Larry was absolutely right. […] Within a couple of months we had the CRM system we wanted built to our specs, fully stable and intuitive to use. […] So what did I learn from all this? I learned that obvious solutions are not the only ones and “safe” choices aren’t always good choices. I had thought that due diligence meant finding the product most people relied on, then putting pressure on the vendor to cut the price. It never occurred to me to talk to Larry not to do that. We had different tolerances for risk and different ideas about what two smart people working alone could accomplish in a complex technical area – and that is why I spent seven years working in mainstream media while Larry found a partner and founded his own company. Two smart guys working on complex technical problems, it turns out, can accomplish a hell of a lot.

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