When I first started an Internet consulting business in 1995, I was focused on the design and marketing aspects, ignoring the fact that "Internet" meant that technology would play a major role in my company. All too quickly, the technology took on a life of its own.
Too Close To The Machine
Our first major technology purchase was a Unix server to host our sites. The initial excitement of having our own server quickly wore off when we realized that we would need to hire someone who spoke its language. Not only did it dominate much of our days and nights, but it spawned other servers that could fulfill our e-mail, file-serving and database needs. We were at the mercy of machines.
For our staff, we bought several Macintosh Quadras (they were cheaper than the latest model) to supplement my own PowerBook and Compaq. Talk about shoestring purchases. As we grew, we bought several Power Computing models. The name doesn't sound familiar? That was the company to which Apple licensed its operating system for about two nanoseconds, during which time we made crucial computer purchases. Within months, Apple revoked the license and pulled all tech support out from under us. Suddenly, we were saddled with nearly a dozen obsolete machines.
Sucked In By The Machine
Looking back, I think we were mostly guilty of starting an Internet company before there was an industry to support us. Back in 1995, the Dark Ages of the Net, there were few options for outsourcing, so we ran up our credit card bills and hired a chief technology officer.
Our tech guy was brilliant, a humanities mind with a hacker's soul. He was young, reckless, experimental and persuasive. We provided the high-tech candy store for him to run around in, and he performed amazing feats with toothpicks and dental floss. So when we realized that what our site really needed was a fully integrated community suite of tools, we turned to him. He set out to program our multifeatured community solution...alone.
He actually pulled it off in about one year, and we believed we had hit on the first full-featured, Web-based community software that would rival AOL. What we forgot in our euphoria was the fact that we were not a tech company; we were an online marketing, Web design and Web publishing company. A hard decision had to be made.
Rejecting The Machine
Eventually, our CTO left because of the lack of challenge, and we were forced to poke our heads out of the cocoon we'd formed around us. Lo and behold, there was a whole industry blooming, with solutions galore.
But parting with our precious machines was more difficult than we imagined, so to wean ourselves off them, we first hired an outside virtual tech team, which came to our rescue by providing 24/7 remote tech support. We felt a sense of liberation, of freedom from some of the day-to-day machine maintenance.
The next step: removing the servers from the premises, hosting them through another company and letting someone else deal with the machines. Relinquishing the servers once and for all would allow the company to concentrate on its core competency: Web publishing. The Internet would finally be a tool for the business, just as we'd hoped.
And the moral of the story? Don't be too dazzled by the technology or seduced by the machines. Stick to your true business focus, and let technology be your tool, not your master.
Aliza Sherman is an entrepreneur and author of Cybergrrl: A Woman's Guide to the World Wide Web (Ballantine Books, $12, 800-726-0600). She is currently working on her next book and new company.