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.