Engineer, Marketer and Customer: Roles a Technology Entrepreneur Must Understand

For an entrepreneur, particularly a one-man shop like a microISV, the problem of product development is one of what to produce and the feature mix it should have.

The problem is that there are different cultural values that could be represented by a product. Not just the obvious geographical, ethnic, age and gender cultural values, but values which are more subtle, and reflect an individual’s vocation and skill set more than any genetic or environmental demographic factor. These are reflected in the ways an engineer, a marketer and the customer think about a product’s design.

The Engineer
The engineer is a problem-solver. His main interest is in using his tools to build solutions.

He thinks in terms of his solution to a problem versus the previous method. Ergonomic and aesthetic qualities are not considerations for the engineer, features are. Features. Options. Variability. He’ll look to add other components to his solution so it solves a wider range of problems and is thus more useful (volume, speed, duration, size, angle, etc.). Adapting his solution for other uses though, will throw the engineer into bewilderment. “Why would you want that?”

The engineer who makes use of a variety of tools to solve his problems will build solutions to others’ problems in the same way: a plethora of tools in a variety of qualities.

The Marketer
The marketer is a persuader and influencer. His main interest is in getting his message adopted by the customer.

Because the marketing department is one of the few which are customer facing, they generally have a sense of what issues their current customers face, what they need, what price point they’ll tolerate, etc.

Due to his preoccupation with perceptions and feelings (prestige, security, intelligence etc.), the marketer’s input on product designs focuses mainly on the physical attributes (e.g., color choices, materials, textures) that will reflect qualities that bestow intangible or perceived value to the user.

The Customer
The customer is a doer and a responder: performing his routines, following his processes. He may be looking for a solution to some problem he’s currently facing (e.g., new car, faster time-to-market, rising prices). Or, as is most often the case, he may not realize there’s a problem to which someone will happily sell him the solution.

While he might rationalize his decisions with some logical arguments (takes less space, improves productivity, etc.), it is for the emotional value (trendiness, security, etc.) of owning the product for which he actually chooses.

Putting it into Perspective
This difference in perspective is vital for the microISV to know and understand in developing his products, as the tool which was developed to solve his problem is often not what the general buying public will want. Engineering a solution is one thing. Creating the want for the solution is what business is about.

In the Mac market, this conflict in viewpoints is easily demonstrated in the topic of “Delicious Generation” applications.

Many of the indie developers/microISVs developing for the Mac have criticized the arrival of apps which they have denounced as all flash and no substance. Apps such as Disco, whose designers put more emphasis on the visual quality of the product (to the extent it rendered smoke effects when burning a CD or DVD) rather than the functionality it provided, are seen as providing very little value to the consumer. These developers have a dislike for the hype surrounding these types of products, seeing them as distractions from real needs which can be solved by more functions, options, and the like.

An interesting counter-reaction was given by John Gruber in his presentation Consistency vs. Uniformity in UI Design at the C4[0] Mac developer conference, however. His description of Disco? “That’s f—— gorgeous!”

The lesson for entrepreneurs, indie developers, and anyone overseeing development of a new product: while engineers may carry the bulk of the responsibility for developing the technology that goes into your product, until machines start buying products, or your target market isn’t other engineers, you must rein in their enthusiasm to over-engineer. Think about how you’ll market the product first. Understand what the customer is motivated to want to buy. Bring them into the discussion as early as possible. Then you can engineer a solution within that envelope.

Describe. Develop. Deliver.

As I was putting the finishing touches on this entry (links, pics, and such), I came across this fabulous example.

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