Some Thoughts On Business

In 1998, while working for an automobile bus body building company, I found myself on the outskirts of the CAD software industry by virtue of me taking up CAD programming projects that were being outsourced to India. I founded my first company in partnership with an old school mate in 1999. Later in 2004 I founded SYCODE as a sole owner company. Today SYCODE has all of four employees (which includes me) and we work from a one room office in one of the most beautiful places in India. We have customers in 83 countries spread across 6 continents (all except Antartica). We count companies like Boeing, NASA, Siemens, Northrop Grumman, Alcoa and Voith among our customers and we partner with all major CAD software vendors on the planet. More importantly, almost all our partners are arch rivals of each other and we have managed to maintain our partnerships with them, while staying clear of the conflict of interest issues that force companies to choose between one partner or another.

Yesterday we issued a press release announcing our partnership with Kubotek and the release of twelve data exchange add-ins for KeyCreator. Today we issued another press release announcing the release of four ESRI shape file import plug-ins for AutoCAD, Bricscad, IntelliCAD and Rhinoceros. This takes the number of products that we offer to a whopping 214. I leave it up to you to imagine how a four man company manages to carry out the research, development, debugging, testing, documentation, marketing, sales, support and e-commerce of 214 products.

Contrary to what this post may look like, my point here is not to brag about my achievements or that of my company. Everybody has a story and I am pretty sure that most of them will be far more compelling than mine. But before I get to the real purpose of this post let me paraphrase the foreword of a book that I read some time ago. Here goes…

Once upon a time, two recently graduated engineers met to consider the idea of founding a new company. They put their thoughts on paper, beginning with a general statement about design and manufacture of products in the electrical engineering field, followed by a startling statement: “The question of what to manufacture was postponed…“.

Jim Collins, the person who wrote the foreword, often used this example while teaching a class on entreprenuership at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He challenged his students to rate this startup on a scale of 1 to 10. Not surprisingly, the average score would be about 3. The MBA students blasted the founders for lack of focus, lack of a great idea, lack of a clear market, lack of just about everything that would earn a passing grade in a business plan class. Then he would say, “Oh, one more little detail, the names of the founders were Bill Hewlett and David Packard“.

The MBA students would just sit there in silence. This went completely against everything that they were being taught in other classes. They were being taught that they needed a clear understanding of how to create competitive advantage, a great idea for launching an enterprise, a solid business plan, etc. etc. And here they had just given a rating of 3 to the founders of HP.

The book is called “The HP Way – How Bill Hewlett and I Built Our Company” written by David Packard shortly before his death. After I read the book, my whole outlook towards business changed completely. I strongly recommend that you read it as well, irrespective whether you are an entrepreneur or not. The book outlines the history of HP and the development of The HP Way.

I could immediately relate to this story. When I started out more than a decade ago I had no idea what I would be doing apart from the fact that I would be writing software. I remember one of the first software that my friend and I wrote was an accounting system developed in Turbo C complete with Windows style menu system and block cursor mouse support. Nowhere close to CAD.

I still have no idea what SYCODE will be doing five or ten years from now. And frankly I don’t care. All I know is that we will be making software, which is precisely the only thing I knew for sure when I started the company. Maybe that’s the reason why I chose my company slogan to be something as general as “Software Made Simple”. I like to keep my options open, wide open. If at all I make any business plan it is always a short term one. As far as running a business is concerned, I believe that you don’t need a plan. All you need is a direction and the capacity and/or will to change it if required.

As Jim Collins put it in his foreword to the book The HP Way“Bill Hewlett and David Packard’s greatest product was not the audio oscillator, the pocket calculator or the minicomputer. Their greatest product was the Hewlett-Packard Company and their greatest idea was The HP Way”.