Time for thinking big

Layoffs, conference cancellations, doom and gloom – all just another day in the life of the tech world, right?

After a early morning phone conversation with my old partner-in-crime Andre Durand, I’m reminded of the 2001-2002 time period (when Andre and I started working together). You know what we did during that recession? We thought BIG; we dreamed BIG. We started an identity conference when it made absolutely no sense to do so. We started working on a problem (identity) that was so big that we were literally innovating from zero.

The best startups I know right now are focused on two simultaneous paths: 1) get to profitability fast; 2) focus on the next big problem in their space. Number 1 is obvious, and everyone immediately nods in agreement. Number 2 often leaves boards and bystanders going “huh?”

The truth is that THIS is the time for innovation. Two years ago, when every business plan was a “me-too” wasn’t. Two years ago was the time to really drive toward profitability. Not that you don’t want that now (you do), but don’t forget that innovation is best done when your entire environment is a wasteland. Now is the time to go “crush it” (hat tip to Gary V.). Where “crushing it” isn’t simply a sale process; crushing it means figuring out what your customers will want before they know it. It means opening up new markets, not simply tapping existing ones.

Why is this true? Because innovation takes time. Lots and lots of time (sweat, blood, tears, etc). If you wait until the economy turns to innovate, you’ll miss the next cycle. If you wait to *create* the next great software market, you’ll be launching as we enter the next recession. You need to start RIGHT NOW. Then, 2-3 years from now, you can look up and know that you’re well positioned to take advantage of the next cycle.

And yes, it is ALL about cycles. Success in the software industry is as much about riding cycles as anything else. Cycles are easy and predictable. Step one: if everyone thinks something is a the key to the “next cycle of innovation” it isn’t. Step two: dare to dream big. Step three: create your next market and ride the cycle (by altering your original vision as the market kicks back in). Step four: when people start talking about how “it’s different this time” (real estate, private equity, web 2.0, whatever), prepare for the downturn. Step five: repeat.

So, what is one of the next big cyclical trends? Glue.

The premise is really quite simple: everything (inside, outside and around the enterprise, as well as the consumer software space) is going to move onto the web as platform over the next 10-15 years. Yes, everything (see, I’m being bold and thinking big). When everything moves to the web that creates a ton of problems from both an infrastructural and architectural sense.

From an infrastructure perspective, it means that companies like Mashery and Gnip and Boomi (all smart Glue sponsors; Glue sponsors are, by definition, smart) are going to focus on the severe problems that “living in the API” brings. We can’t even begin to quantify what those problems are yet – but we’re smart enough to know that it’s big and it’s there.

From an architectural perspective, it means companies like Socialcast, MindTouch, and Ping Identity (and other Glue sponsors) are going to be trying to figure out how problems of data integration, context across apps, and *true* web oriented architecture will change EVERYTHING about software (and architectural deployment) in the enterprise. From purchasing to business process to implementation, nothing will be untouched. Nothing.

Big statements. Lots of black and white, right? Don’t mistake “big black and white statements” for certainty. That’s not it. Rather, it’s a recognition that there is a train coming down the tech tracks that is unstoppable. You can get on board, or you can get run over. Getting on board doesn’t mean that we’ve solved anything. It means that we collectively understand the problem, and that that problem is the fertile ground of innovation.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in the cloud business, the data integration business, the identity business, or whatever – the truth is that the changes that Glue outlines provide the “hope and change” that will drive the real innovation of the *next* cycle.

Either you can step aside and ride this current cycle down. Or you can realize that a new one will begin, and help us define what that means. Don’t wait for someone else to give you a moniker for the next go-around. Come and join us over here today. 😉