It’s a Barrier to Entry Thing

I recently went back and visited with one of my old engineering professors.  He seemed happy that I had started my own business, but the whole time we were talking I could sense a bit of skepticism.  Then I said “I went into industry for a while after college but didn’t like it”.  He looked at me with sort of a puzzled look and bluntly said “why?”

Here’s the thing – product development and web development are very similar.  At their core, each is just a challenge in problem solving and that’s why I love both.  Hell, gun to my head I’d probably say that product development is more interesting than web development:  there is more freedom and the problems you can solve are more diverse.

But – and this is a big but – the barrier to entry is far more difficult in product development.  The project I was working on developing in late 2005 as an engineer still hasn’t hit the market yet…and it’s not a complex product (it’s the equivalent complexity of a web mashup that you’d build in a week).  A simple product, but we needed to do several rounds of prototypes, scout out manufacturing facilities, do consumer safety tests and other QC testing that takes months, negotiate deals with our customers like Walmart and Target to stock the product, etc.

In the entrepreneurial world, it can take five or ten years to get a product to market compared to five to ten weeks to get a website to market.  The barrier to entry costs less and takes less time, and that is why I prefer web development.  I’ve been able to get every single “great” idea I’ve ever had to market in the web world – I was able to get Music Alerts online in a weekend.   Some of the stuff has been a success, some of it hasn’t been – but I’ve been able to find out in a matter of a few years what would’ve taken fifteen years in the product development world.

Imagine spending years patenting a device, finding a capable vendor, getting a contract to sell it in Target…and then finding out consumers like your competitors brand better.  It happens all the time, and it would suck to waste $500k and 5 years to find that out.  Now, spending $2k and 2 months isn’t so bad.  I crave the ability to throw a lot of shit against the wall and see what sticks, and the web world makes that possible.

11 comments on It’s a Barrier to Entry Thing

  1. Eric says:

    The shit/wall thing is a good strategy 🙂

  2. Adam McFarland says:

    Haha thanks Eric. It’s just more fun that way 🙂

  3. Gordon says:

    Totally agree with you. I don’t like things that take too long to get done or have too many moving parts. Heck, I’m afraid of a site with products, inventory and customer service….let me create things with few moving parts that people like and that are easy to run and I’ll be happy….

  4. Tim says:

    Adam,

    I have to agree with you. I get nervous during the 2-4 month development of a website that someone will come up with my idea and get it up and running before I do. No way I could deal with that uncertainty for 5 years!

  5. Agreed says:

    Blunt but true.
    Web has set a pace that corporate engineers need to take up. It has to be fast & it has to be cheap. You need to be able to fail & forget about it in a couple of months by which time you’ve failed twice & have one clear shot that could hit the mark.

  6. Adam McFarland says:

    To that point – I’d love someday to get back into product development and try to shorten that cycle, but that would cost $$ so it wouldn’t happen anytime soon.

  7. Hobbes says:

    I am in the semiconductor and really love the work. But being an entrepreneur in this field involves high capital and that is why I have been thinking if I should move into the web. Your blog reaffirms my thoughts and encourages my direction. Thanks!

  8. Adam McFarland says:

    Hobbes,

    Glad my blog has helped. The semiconductor industry is rapidly changing and has always been fascinating to me as well, but as you say the required startup capital is so high that it’s not really feasible as your first business.

    I always wonder what I would have done 20 years ago without an internet. I think I probably would have had to go the product development route and seek angel/venture capital and hope for the best….which isn’t that appealing to me considering the opportunities the web offers.

  9. Adam Holland says:

    Totally, Mac… If you just wanted to test to see if a product would sell 20 years ago you’re doing consumer surveys, poling people, blah blah blah…

    Now its as simple as checking to see how many people search for it on Google and Yahoo, putting an adwords campaign together, and seeing if it drives some traffic.. it’s alot cheaper, and you can get results pretty damn quick…

  10. Adam McFarland says:

    Holland – that’s one thing I didn’t even mention. Search engines provide market research in minutes. Do some keyword research and test some ads, and you’ll know if you have a winner or not. You can even do that before developing the site – just send the ads to a splash page that captures email addresses of anyone interested in your product/service. If you get a lot of interest, THEN develop it and your first marketing tactic is to email your laundry list of people who were interested enough to click your ad and sign up.

  11. […] line: the other day I said “I crave the ability to throw a lot of shit against the wall and see what sticks, and […]

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