Sun, Mar 13, 2016
In programming there is the concept of “the stack”. The stack makes up all the pieces forming your technology. Starting from the operating system to the applications which run and execute your code, the databases, web servers and so on.
In the old days of computing, if you wanted to build something, you ended up writing large pieces of this stack yourself. Then came standardized operating systems (think Linux or Windows), application stacks such as the (in-) famous AMP stack (the Apache web server, mySQL database and PHP programming language) and later frameworks such as Ruby on Rails. With each step in this evolution, building your technology became easier and less cumbersome. Instead of writing thousands of lines of code to initiate a credit card transaction, you call the Stripe API in a single line of code.
Here’s why this matters (particularly when you’re not a programmer): There are, by and at large, only two types of tech companies these days — the ones which focus solely on delivering value on the top of the stack (which today is less about tech and more about business models, customer engagement, etc) and the ones which operate in areas where there is no established full technology stack and thus create value by building technology.
Neither AirBnB nor Uber nor your next-in-line unicorn startup typically truly differentiates through technology anymore. Yes — they employ some of the the smartest technologists to keep the engines running smoothly. But their true value (and the value their investors see in them) is in their business model, customer engagement and acquisition, brand and marketing.
Chances are you operate in a model where technology has long become a commodity. In which case you better focus on the true customer focussing innovation instead of spending all too many cycles on your tech.