Open Business is Good For You

The tutorial I recently published on this blog about Flex, Spring and BlazeDS was really successful and attracted litterally thousands of people to this site where I had only a few tens of visits a day before that. So first of all, I’d like to thank all the people who gave me feedback and allowed me to improve this article, up to the point where I was contacted by James Ward to republish this article on the Adobe Developer Connection (which should finally happen very soon). This leads me to the main point of this new article.

The reason why I wrote this tutorial is because I am working on a personal project where I need to access a Spring backend with a rich web user interface in Flex. So I invested some time and effort in reading and understanding technologies I didn’t know. And obviously I would have had to invest much more energy into it if I hadn’t been helped by Velo and the amazing work he did on flex-mojos. So of course he invested a lot of time and effort in his Maven plugin too. And the chain can probably be very long. Yet this tutorial is free and under Creative Commons license, and I gave Adobe the right to republish it for free. And someone might be working on a product very similar to the one that forced me to investigate about Flex/Spring/BlazeDS, someone who can now reuse my work for free and maybe get the job done faster than me. Am I taking a risk by sharing this information and letting others benefit from my work without getting any money out of it? Some might think that. But for me, the answer is no.

This project I’ve been working on with a bunch of friends for the last couple of months is TagSpot. And a few weeks ago we have started to publish some article on the project blog. Some of this information would be considered as critical in most startups, with business people running all over the place begging for us to keep our secrets. But the truth is we are no startup (yet?), and there is no business-man running around. We are four people in my appartment on the third floor (garages are so nineties’!), working on our spare time with our own money, on a service that has the potential to change the way you use your mobile phone.

So yes, Orange, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, they could all read our blog, steal our ideas, throw their millions of dollars and armies of engineers at them and do it faster than we will ever be able to do it. Or not!

It’s always funny for me to realize how things can sometimes evolve very slowly in the business world, especially the ideas that involve adaptation to global and long-term changes in the way things work. One of those ideas is the commonplace that what you know defines what you are. The belief that, as a company, your body of knowledge about yourself and about the market is your main competitive advantage, and that, as such, you have to protect it at all costs. Well, this may sound naive, and after all it can be idealistic since I’m still young and I don’t pretend to be an economist or even a business person, but I think… this is all bullshit!

First off, with the birth of the Internet and global communication networks, it’s so easy to share information, to spy and disclose, that if your business strategy is based for an important part on protecting your data, then you may have not realized yet that you are in a very weak strategic position. If you keep your employees only because nobody knows who they are, then you might be surprised to see many of your people gone by tomorrow morning, just because your employee database has leaked. The same for your customers, the same for your features.

Second, in front of a changing situation, you can always try to prevent thoses changes or you can adapt to them, embrace them. Tell that to the music industry. And by embracing change, you might realize that it can actually be more interesting for you to use the full power of this new mindset, rather than fighting against it. On TagSpot, sharing information about the features we intend to implement will allow us to gather user feedback, to involve independent developers in our work, and it will allow us to spread the buzz. Only on one condition: our product has to be good.

And that’s my third argument for Open Business. From a philosophical standpoint, an business that relies on secrecy and information retention is not a good business. It’s like noble people in the Old Regime who kept their power not because they deserved it, but because they had it when they came to existence. Nowadays we’ve become accustomed to the concept of meritocracy in politics, in our scholar systems, in our social society and even in the way people are managed in some of our companies. And yet, on the marketplace, there are still things like software patents, non-disclosure agreements, non-competition clauses that eat the system alive from the inside out.

The truth is that a few months ago, I wanted to go the usual way about TagSpot. I thought it was an interesting idea that could lead to a business, so I started writing a business plan so that I could speak to investors in order to create a structure, inside which we could have started to develop a new service, and so on. Until I realized that not only did I miss some knowledge to go down that route, but also it was just not the way I wanted to do things, because it does not correspond to what I believe in.

I believe in Open Business because I think that we are not what we know, but what we do. Because I think that our approach to things, the way we treat our users and customers, the way we adapt to changes and innovate while not reinventing the wheel constantly, the way we keep in touch with the world and keep our passion strong along the way, I believe that all of that defines who we really are as a business.

And yes, big competitors with big balls could try to use my ingenuousness against us and cut the grass under our feet. But if they do, will they keep the same open and virtuous approach. Well if it’s the case, and if in addition to that they have all the money to make it a success in no time, then I’ll be glad to surrender. But if they don’t, I just wish them good luck. And if they prove me wrong and succeed while I fail, then I’ll just be gracious to have learnt this lesson, because it will mean that it’s not enough to do business in a different way, and you have to throw money and people at it to make the whole system evolve. But we’re not there yet, are we?

As a conclusion, let me just tell you that
If you agree with what is written in this article and you’re willing to help us realize this vision, we will soon be looking for talented mobile developers (iPhone, Android, JavaME, Windows Mobile, Symbian) to help us improve TagSpot support on a variety of phones. And of course we are looking for testers willing to provide us feedback and help us improve the overall service. So if you’re interested, you can just have a look at our project blog or contact us at [email protected].

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