The three pillars of an early stage start-Up
While as startups, we are bound to work within constraints, there are three discreet hats that a technology based startup should adorn. The three hats, when perform their duties coherently but distinctly, leads to the creation of an agile and scalable product right from the start.Subir Mitra
Typically there are three discreet roles that the core team of a technology start-up calls for - the owner of the Business Idea, the owner of the Product and the owner of the Development. It is immaterial of how many use cases (read individuals) are playing these roles, as long as each role is considered as a distinct hat - adorned either in a one–to-one hat or one-to-many-hats fashion.
In case of an early stage start up, if the idea is owned by an individual who has decended from a technology background, the s/he typically plays the role of the Product Owner, and in some cases, the Technology Owner as well. In many cases, the product devepment is outsourced while the Business Model and Product Design is managed in-house by single or different individuals, depending upon the competency of the latter in Product Design and Management.
Idea Owner: If the business idea resides within a technology product, then the business emanates from a comprehensible representation of that idea on the drawing board. The owner of the business idea or the Business Owner should be able define the critical path of the business and provide finite logical answers to all if-then-else conditions.. An idea for which all possible scenarios are defined helps create a robust product with appropriate case handling.
The idea owner is responsible for closing the loop for all scenarios while creating even the MVP1. In the fast paced atmosphere of early stage start-ups, the focus of the core team is often distributed across many dimensions, which may lead to an impasse. For example, if one is building a marketplace for legal services, then the idea owner should crystallize the business flow and payment milestones for a time bound transactional case Vs Legal Process Outsourcing services Vs a client awarding repeat projects to the same Law Firm.
Product Owner: Whle the idea might turn out to be a kickass success with a functionality rich product and a million users on board, the Product Owner ensures that this success is well timed. He analyses and specifies a minimum viable product, and creates milestones for subsquent enhancements and versions. While on one side he synchronizes with the Idea Owner and simulates the user mindset and their expectations from the product, concurrently he is the go-to guy for the technology team to ensure that the product turns out to be highly intuitive and provides a flawless user experience.
While this role is often ignored in early stage start-ups due to limitations on human resource, or because the Idea or Technology owner play this role interchangeably, this is a crucial role to ensure that the product is not overdone or patchy. The Product Owner should be identified before the product specificatons are created. S/He has to ensure that the success factor of the idea is acheved via a technology product (which is not a stop gap arrangement).
Technology Owner: The primary ownership of the Technology Owner is to ensure that the business idea transforms into a lightwight software product with an extremely agile architecture. S/He is expected to baseline the IT infrastructure that best aligns with the business idea. In addiion to the traditional role of a Technical Architect and Software Developer, a Technology owner in a stratup needs to create a product wherein rudimentary changes like installation of a plugin or changing a functionality should be achieved in a matter of a few minutes.
The critical factors that needs to be ensured in a software product are scalability of features and reusability of data. The Technology owner should be able to adopt the ideal platform and design the best architecture to support these factors, in line with the business requirements. He also needs to comply with the guidelines of web search during the design phase to ensure that the pages are being crawled and discovered by the search engines.
While it is not always possible to designate dedicated individuals to play the above three roles, there are a couple of points that would boost the success of these roles, and invariably of the business. First, if the Idea Owner is from a non technology background, then s/he should not double up for the Product Owner (and needless to mention, the Tehnology Owner). Second, often the Product develeopemnt part is outsourced, that leads to the Technology Owner based in a different office (or location). This often causes delays and errors during the product development phase. it is advisable to have the three roles be played at the same physical location. Third, if the technology is outsourced to a third party, then is is best to have a checkpoint with a prototype (at 10-20% of the total development cost). This provides a proof of concept as well as the alignment with the IT Partner.