An Enterprise Software Story
January 29, 2013
About 8 years ago I found myself working at a large global banking corporation doing back office type stuff. I rarely mention it to this day due to the lack of lessons I took away from it.
Except maybe for one.
For myself and about 50 other people at the office, day to day we had to interact with the CMS from hell. It was some proprietary java-based CMS that had a Windows executable you used to interact with. It powered the global website and all its little regional children, plus a bunch of intranet reports and content. It was at its core an engine that spat out a static html site, generated at admin-controlled intervals. Similar in spirit to Jekyll (which I love).
If only this thing worked.
When the Windows app wasn't crashing, the FTP upload (yes, it used FTP as the upload protocol) was failing which would also inexplicably bring down the global site. There was no versioning or roll-back, so if you messed up the upload you ended up with a Frankensteinian half-new half-old site. There were highly specific and seemingly arbitrary naming conventions for file uploads, and if you didn't follow them the system would blow up instead of failing gracefully.
Of course this was all running from a datacenter on 10 different racks (about 9 more than they needed) in a remote location meaning that occasionally we'd have some hardware issue and would have to twiddle our thumbs while an anonymous technician fixed the problem from the opposite side of the world.
A few years later, I learned that the CMS was supplied and managed by a vendor who was charging a little over $2 million per year.
Fast forward to today.
Every day, hundreds of millions of people go to work and hate the piece of crap software they have to use to perform their jobs.
Every day, thousands of startups are trying to make it easier for people to share 6-second video clips or bookmark photos of cats.
There is a world of enterprise software companies that modern startups are completely oblivious to. These enterprise software companies are making millions of dollars building the kind of technology solutions that the average startup would laugh at. It's time this changed.
In smaller, fragmented markets like South East Asia there is too much startup focus on B2C. Everyone wants to be the next whiz-bang app that gets acquired by Google for $50 million. There needs to be more balance.
As a startup, your primary goal is to survive. How long until you break even? B2C makes money at scale and through experimenting with different business models - it's not for the faint-hearted or the low-of-funds. Your payday will come much sooner and more predictably if you focus on fixing one of the infinite problems that businesses have.
Big, medium, small companies - take your pick.
They are all riddled with problems to solve.