The power of building from scratch

July 23, 2020 . 4 min read




Table of contents


The case for building from scratch. A couple of thoughts why you should consider it.

Most people will not agree with me and for the most part they are right. It is not easy to build from scratch. There are so many risks, so many challenges to overcome. For most cases it makes more sense to build something by leaning on to assets that you already have.

However, if you really want to create something new, carve a new market and trully innovate it is very unlikely that you will be able to do it while dependent on a asset that you don't fully own and control, specially if that asset if central to your value proposition.

Last couple of weeks I have stumble across two fantastic podcasts from Recode Decode - no, they are not new, but I just listened to them a couple of weeks back. The first one is with Sridhar Ramaswamy (ex-SVP of Ads at Google) and the second one is with Jason Fried (CEO at Basecamp) and it is fascinating how much they have in common.

A search engine from scratch

Let's start with Sridhar (feel free to listen the entire episode)

There are a couple of very interesting points here:

  • Unix was born in a innovation lab (there is hope)
  • Most of business, when they start, don't have a business model
  • The more information from customers the better (enter third-party cookies)?
  • Perfectly good decisions (made by smart people) can lead to not so good outcomes
  • Personal information is and should be personal
  • You need to start with a clean sheet of paper to truly change something

So many nice gems in here that it is hard to start.

The conversation revolves around the notion that having a lot of information about a customer is not necessarily a good thing. Because of that, when customers search on google they aren't necessarily getting the best result for their query. They are getting the best bidder in context of their query.

Bear in mind that Shridhar is biased, he is the CEO and founder of Neeva, a new search engine that will not have ads, will be focused on the product and where the customer will pay a small fee.

Personally I don’t think this new product - a search service where you are not tracked and where your personal information is not gathered and exploited - would have been possible within google. The value incentives are aligned in such a way that gathering your personal data is super important for displaying the highest bidding ad in your search page.

I am super keen to test this new proposition.

The email reinvented

Moving on the Jason Fried (go ahead and listen to this one as well)

Interesting points:

  • Porting the office work online doesn't work, WFH is different
  • We don't need to turn everything into a real time conversation, enter asynchronous chat
  • People need long stretches of uninterrupted time
  • Email is broken
  • When was the last time you were excited about email?
  • Hey (the new email from Basecamp) was build from scratch

The podcast starts with the current situation and topic of WFH (working from home). For those that don’t know, Basecamp has pretty much coined the WFH acronym way before working from home was a thing. Jason started Basecamp a couple of years ago and was built with Ruby invented by David Heinemeier Hansson.

Similarly to the conversion with Shridhar, Jason mentions the issues of personal data in email, the fact that anyone can know if you have opened an email or not, what links have you clicked and most shocking how anyone can have access to your email and reach out to you.

He wants to change all that and more with Hey! In order to do that he mentioned that he needs to build and own the email stack as this wouldn’t have been possible by just sitting on top of any email provider.

Sometimes if you are really looking for a new business model and design a new value proposition there is a strong case to build everything from scratch.

What business models are you changing? Are you building from scratch?

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