“The conventional wisdom in our business is that you have to grow and keep moving to survive. We never grew, always stayed tiny, and it served us very well over the years, allowing us to pick and choose projects, and keeping our financial independence from our clients.”
-Stefan Sagmeister (link)
“Watching nonprogrammers trying to run software companies is like watching someone who doesn’t know how to surf trying to surf. Even if he has great advisers standing on the shore telling him what to do, he still falls off the board again and again.”
-Joel Spolsky (link)
“In the abstract, freedom of choice is desirable. But the arts, including the culinary arts, function more efficiently as dictatorships. Down with interactivity. Readers do not really want to decide what happens in the next chapter of a novel, and diners are happiest submitting to the iron will of a good chef.”
-William Grimes, former restaurant critic of The New York Times (link)
“I never think about the audience. If someone gives me a marketing report, I throw it away.”
-Wall-E creator Andrew Stanton (link)
“Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.”
-Jeffrey Zeldman (link)
“Our sound is defined by what we left out and didn’t play, as much as by what we did. I think in a loose way the idea of keeping it minimal goes beyond just the music. It’s my whole approach to everything. Don’t say too much whenever possible. We’re just trying to get the most impact out of the least amount.”
-Glenn Mercer of The Feelies (link)
“Early unsuccessess shouldn’t bother anybody because it happens to absolutely everybody.”
-Philip Johnson, Architect (link)
Jared McFarlandon 02 Jul 08
I agree with just about all these quotes, though I find it surprising Andrew Stanton doesn’t pay attention to marketing reports.
I don’t know that Stefan Sagmeister’s quote is really that profound. It seems to be a growing trend these days, and not just on web development/design/software. Smaller, more agile companies that can produce quicker are gaining in popularity.
Joel Spolsky’s, Philip Johnson’s and Jeffrey Zeldman’s quotes hit closest to home for me.
johnon 02 Jul 08
the Joel Spolsky one is great… I was laughing my ass off as read that while one of those walked by.
Ericon 02 Jul 08
“So?” – Dick Cheney
Markus Prinzon 02 Jul 08
@Jared: The link to the quote sort of clarifies that what Andrew Stanton was referring to isn’t the audience, but the reports he gets from the marketing people about the audience.
Jon Victorinoon 02 Jul 08
I printed that Zeldman quote out to hang it on my wall at work.
Jimon 02 Jul 08
Awesome! Someone else knows about the Feelies (my favorite band).
Roscoeon 02 Jul 08
Where’s the Ayn Rand quote?
Here’s a real story about Andrew Stanton not caring about the audience:
Anonymous Cowardon 02 Jul 08
@Markus Ah, thanks for that.
Matt Radelon 02 Jul 08
I’m with Markus – Stanton has to think about the audience. No matter how big you are or what success you’ve had in the past, you can’t create something in a vacuum – especially if the creation is something that is intended for worldwide consumption. I would say that Stanton has the luxury of producing something that appeals to a very wide audience, therefore I’m sure he doesn’t really need a marketing report that targets specific chunks of people.
Also, Zeldman is a hardass.
Jared McFarlandon 02 Jul 08
@Matt I don’t know the guy, but after all the success he’s had making movies for his target audience (families), maybe he feels he knows the audience well enough to discard the information the marketing reports provide.
Haroldon 02 Jul 08
I think this one in particular is relevant to the field of design today. In the rush to create a “incredibly designed site” it becomes easy to just over design and forget the content all together.
Historically the designs that seem to have the most impact or long lasting affect are the ones that hold to Zeldman’s principle.
Bradon 02 Jul 08
@Roscoe: Actually, your link reflects Stanton’s concern for his idealized audience rather than a marketing team’s “sample” audience. The two are not the same. Every creator is thinking about their ideal audience as they work. The story just illustrates that Stanton was reassured when he found a real-world audience that matched his ideal, not that he catered to any real audience.
What’s more amazing about the story is that Stanton needed to be reassured at all. Pixar exhibits the same mob-mind sensibilities that propelled the early Disney animation factory. Very little comes from them that hasn’t already been pre-market-tested at the water cooler, rendering traditional market-testing obsolete. Remember, this is not Sam Peckinpah we are talking about here.
Stanton also doesn’t care for attribution
Steven Walkeron 02 Jul 08
Todd Webbon 02 Jul 08
I’m with Grimes. In 1999 I was taking a business school strategy class and we were discussing McDonald’s. A popular b-school meme at the time was mass-customization and everyone thought that McDs should go down that path. After listening to all the customized food ideas for awhile I raised my hand and proceeded to argue that people think they want choice but they don’t act that way. The vast majority of people who eat at McDs want the standard products, period. My classmates looked at me like I was crazy; however, nearly a decade later McDonald’s seems to be doing fine without mass customized food and BK dropped “have it your way” long ago. Guess I wasn’t so crazy.
Miguelon 02 Jul 08
““Watching non-programmers trying to run software companies is like watching someone who doesn’t know how to surf trying to surf. “
——- Didn’t 37 Signals begin as a graphic design firm?
Miguelon 02 Jul 08
Pardon me, “interface & on-line experience designers”
TJGon 02 Jul 08
The Joel Spolsky comment makes some decent points like the MBA myth reference which is a very valid point. I agree that being a programmer is a critical skill set needed to run a software company. But I think that there is much more to it than that. I think that great vision, simple/elegant yet useful design and sticking to that design vision with relentless passion are more critical. Bill does not have the latter skills.
I have been working with, supporting and using Microsoft products from the early days and they have continually produced mediocre products that are clunky, buggy. bloated and lack creativity. They have the look and feel of someone buried in the technical details and not looking at the overall design of the product.
I wouldn’t want a housing contractor(programmer) to design my house but I also wouldn’t want the architect(product visionary) to be running a muck making form over function decisions. You need both. But the visionary needs to be involved in the details to be sure that the contractor doesn’t take short cuts or become a lazy engineer. It is a delicate balance.
With the help of Steve, Bill was able to create one of the worlds great monopolies which is quite an achievement. He just didn’t evolve or adapt well much like the culture and products coming out of Redmond today.
The Economist has a great quote this week. ‘Watching Microsoft in the company of Google and Facebook is a bit like watching your dad trying to be cool.’
Davidon 02 Jul 08
That Spolsky quote is BS. Being a programmer is not a prerequisite for running a software company successfully. Does it help? Sure. Should you have a solid understanding of the role of your core employees? Absolutely.
Often the most balanced leadership comes from those with context and perspective, rather than relevant deep domain expertise.
someoneon 02 Jul 08
Non-programmers can run software/hardware companies, but they have to be fantastic recruiters who will attract great deeply technical people and put them in very, very senior positions rather than making them mere “advisors.”
They also need taste, something android business people who think all businesses are nothing more than a balance sheet greatly undervalue.
someoneon 02 Jul 08
also, it’s good that tne new york times is taking jakob nielsen’s decade-old advice and linking to older content on their site, which has tremendous value.
Damonon 03 Jul 08
“Non-programmers can run software/hardware companies, but they have to be fantastic recruiters who will attract great deeply technical people and put them in very, very senior positions rather than making them mere “advisors.””
You could (and I would) say the same about programmers running a software company.
scotton 03 Jul 08
“The conventional wisdom in our business is that you have to grow and keep moving to survive” -
It has become so conventional to buck ‘conventional wisdom’, that when companies think they are bucking conventional wisdom, they are actually just following the New Conventional Wisdom (NCW).
Interestingly the NCW is not even that ‘new’ though. “Small and nimble” has been a business strategy for years if not decades. One of my favorite interviews on the software business is from 1989. Subtitled “Dan Bricklin, creator of a prototypical hot company of the ‘80s, reflects on growing too fast, staying small, and separating yourself form your company”.
In it, Bricklin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Bricklin) says:
“growing like mad takes up an awful lot of your time, which can get in the way of all three goals [making money, learning about the industry, and having fun]. And there’s a tendency to solve problems with money and people if you can afford to. You hire people to do things you haven’t learned to do well yourself. You can’t help making some mistakes—everybody does. Then those people hire other people and compound your mistakes. That leads to waste and turnover and bad morale.”
It’s an interesting read for insight into what the software business was like 20 years ago, how far we’ve come, and at the same time – how little the business has changed. http://www.inc.com/magazine/19890701/5711.html
Paul M. Watsonon 03 Jul 08
Some good quotes though I think Joel’s is stretching the analogy. I know plenty of capable surfers who were taught from the shore. They fell off a lot at first but they learnt. Doesn’t the current entrepreneurial thinking advocate “fail fast and keep trying”?
Scott Purdieon 06 Jul 08
I dont agree with Joels quote. I think this is something most tech programmers want to be the case. Being a specialist in anything before you set up has great advantages. I think if you believe that only programmers will create great software companies, you are sitting in the past. The gap in having to be a specialist is shortening, as more tools help less skilled people execute their ideas.
This discussion is closed.