Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Spirit of New England

I'm a New Englander -- born and bred. Everyone hates our weather. Then again, some say we're the happiest people in the world because no matter what the season, we can't wait for the next one.

New England's highway infrastructure, like Europe's, preceded the automobile. So, our roads follow the topology of the land rather than a grid. Perhaps you're familiar with that old New England expression, often given in response to a request for directions, usually spoken with a thick downeasterner accent, that goes, "You cahn't get the're from h'ere." New England is comprised mostly of a collection of small towns that contain roads that run spirally out from a village center. Indeed, we get so excited when two roads cross at right angles, we usually call those intersections "Four Corners" (they're generally far and few between).

New England is a bunch of hills, all roughly the same height. Just about the only places around here that are flat we refer to as ponds or lakes, of which we have many. We do have some hills higher than others, like the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Green Mountains of Vermont, the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, and perhaps the prettiest peak of them all, Mt. Katahdin up in Maine. Our beaches are second to none -- from the rocky coast of Maine to the sandy Cape Cod dunes in my home town of Wellfleet that still look pretty much as they did when Thoreau traipsed over them more than a hundred years ago.

New England's got our beloved Red Sox, our adored Patriots, and the pride of our Celtics (unfortunately no ursine Bruins have been spotted around these parts for awhile now). Some say that no place possesses a higher density of student populations, what with Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Boston College, Northeastern University, plus scores more smaller bastions of educational excellence. Perhaps it's these institutions that provide the seed that ignites the spark of entrepreneurial spirit that characterizes this region.

Politically, Massachusetts, my home state, has also always been a feisty, rebellious, little revolutionary place. Back in 1775, it was the Massachusetts Minuteman militia in Lexington and Concord who fired the "shot heard round the world." Throughout the 19th century, it was Massachusetts which led the movement to abolish slavery in America. It was Massachusetts that became the first and only state to ever send a non-WASP favorite son to the White House -- JFK. During Nixon's Watergate scandal, the citizens of the Commonwealth proudly displayed bumper stickers that read, "Don't blame me -- I'm from Massachusetts," referring to its status as the only state that cast its electoral votes for George McGovern. Even last week, Howard Dean, ex-governor of Vermont and presently Democratic National Chairman, in a speech in Boston provided a quote that pretty well says it all:
"It's a delight to be in a state with two Democratic senators, ten Democratic representatives, and a governor who's never here."
[Note: Massachusetts' Republican Governor Mitt Romney is testing the presidential waters for a possible national run in 2008]
Politically, let's just leave it that, like most New Englanders (especially those of us from Massachusetts), I think America needs a better slogan than "Our torture is not as bad as their torture."

Perhaps it's because I live here, but regardless, I tend to believe New England has a higher than normal zeal for entrepreneurship. I know that I personally have twice jumped in to create new businesses. My current venture, Flashmap Systems, was founded back in October 2000. I guess I couldn't have picked a worse time to decide to start-up a new IT-related firm. Our first couple of years in business coincided with a period that marked the worst recession in the 50+ year history of the computer industry. We had the poor misfortune, timing-wise, of delivering our flagship product, FlashAtlas, on September 21, 2001. Nevertheless, we've persisted and survived. I'm happy to report that today we have lots of satisfied customers that, if I were to name them, would read like a Who's Who list of prestigious, well-known, highly-respected brand name firms.

Our forte is that niche within the field of enterprise architecture that specializes in technology architecture, portfolios and standards. I don't believe anyone does a better job of providing tools that help IT organizations communicate to the diverse constituency of people who use, develop, purchase, or manage information systems and applications.

Right now is an especially fascinating time for us. We're just about to launch two brand new products.

The first, called ITguide, is virtually ready now, having just completed six months of successful beta testing. ITguide is revolutionary in terms of its pricing. No enterprise is ever going to be able to again say they can't afford to establish, communicate, and enforce IT standards. The benefits couldn't be simpler -- save money through consolidation and standardization.

Our second new product, ITatlas, coming very soon -- it's just about ready to begin its own beta testing -- represents a complete new implementation of our current FlashAtlas offering. Based on the lessons we've learned during almost four years of supporting FlashAtlas customers, ITatlas will include some phenomenal new features and functionality that we're pretty certain IT architects are going to love.

So now, or at least very soon, we're about to find out where we stand in terms of what Seth Godin refers to as "The four curves of want and get." Godin is a bestselling author, entrepreneur and agent of change. Below are four graphs that he says describes a product launch.


Ideally, when you launch a product, you want graph A -- a steep launch curve followed, after the dotted line, by a steep acceptance curve. Graph A is the curve of the unserved market by the perfect product.

Often, according to Seth Godin, you get graph B, which looks the same as graph A for awhile, but then it stops. Graph B stops when a product isn't for everybody. In other words, when curve B stops, it's probably because a product has a small but eager market of early adopters, just itching to try something new. But then the market quickly saturates and the product stops spreading.

Graph C is the most likely curve of success, not A. Curve C is the remarkable product that takes a while to find its footing. Then, the idea starts moving through communities and slowly builds, until, yes, this product is remarkable and you've got a hit.

Alas, soon after launch, there's no way to tell graph C from graph D, is there? Graph D is the curve of the dud. Most launches are duds and, as Seth Godin points out, there's "not a lot you can do about it."

So, with two new products about to hit the market, we here at Flashmap Systems will anxiously await the evolution of our product's launch curves. One obvious challenge will be deciding where to put the dotted line. We'd hate to kill off one of our new products too early, or celebrate too early. Then again, if we wind up with two D curves, I guess I can always try to get a position at some local New England college. I remember an old saying I often heard back when I was a doctoral candidate that went: Those that can, do. Those that can't, teach. And those that can't teach, teach others to teach.


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