Needles in the Software Haystack
A Framework for Finding Revolutionary Software
Almost 3 months ago, I wrote about Bottlenecks in Codeless Infrastructure, which argues my bearish views on the current state of no/low-code. As I've spent more time jumping down the rabbit hole, I'm looking to both (a) write a more comprehensive view on the software landscape and (b) expand on my previous conjectures and pinpoint key themes where I see large opportunity in the near term.
In 1981, Steve Jobs conducted an insightful interview on the future of Apple and the personal computer. To us today, computers are commodities. However in the 80's, they radically changed the way people work and how they go about their lives. Apple in the early days had no secretaries because they used Apple computers to complete tasks like departmental budgeting and forecasting. This allowed employees to not only complete their "work work," but also do more "creative work."
The Apple computer not only democratized access to computing but also created a whole new wedge of opportunities for Americans. It stands as one of the earliest revolutionary products in the modern era.
Revolutionary vs. Evolutionary
The exponential growth of software products in the ecosystem has created a lot of fog between the lines of what we perceive to be "revolutionary" and "evolutionary." Many tools today are just enhancements of other existing tools or tackling a very specific use case and slapping together a no-code tool for it. However, the way we should be looking for the "needle in the haystack" is by leaning on a first principle framework.
Do tools exist because of jobs or vice versa?
It's a simple yet complex question. Tools are built to make people's jobs operate more efficiently, and jobs are created when there's something that can't be performed by software. To get away from this foggy viewpoint, I turn to Jeff Stibel who creates a clear differentiation between 2 types of innovation:
"We can all think of innovations that were revolutionary in nature: the automobile, the phonograph, the Internet. Likewise, we can also think of more linear innovations that were evolutionary: better engines for cars; better sound systems for the phonograph; the World Wide Web (enabled by another incremental invention, html code) for the Internet. Evolutionary innovators ask questions based on the limitations of existing solutions; revolutionary innovators ask questions no one else has thought of."
The evolutionary tools are those that exist because of the jobs around them; tools that are revolutionary create a whole new category of opportunities.
Let's dive into Figma.
Their goal is to make design accessible to everyone in the most collaborative way possible. Before Figma was founded in 2012, contract web designers had to design full products and every new feature on products like Adobe Photoshop and InDesign. With the increase in internet jobs, designers still had a hard time finding opportunities because they either could not afford access to the Adobe tools or just no tech companies were hiring designers.
After Figma's launch, it became clear that this was going to democratize design accessibility being a cloud + web native platform where anyone with access to an internet connection could design web products online. Figma has driven companies to now proactively search for the best undiscovered design talent out there, which gave rise to a whole new category of jobs in the industry: product designer.
Since then, the developer to designer ratios at the top tech companies have increased and Figma's has risen to being the design gold standard.
Tools define jobs. Evolutions make the current jobs better. Revolutions wipe out the current jobs and create new ones.
Finding the Needles
Uncovering those revolutionary innovations in today's landscape at their earliest stages is tricky, but market trends have always given us hints for identifying them. My colleague and startup founder Matthew Hager nails it:
"The best version of a technology exists right before it becomes obsolete. It’s far better to be at the beginning of a revolution than evolving at the tail end of the last one."
Today, there's probably a software tool for almost any operation within a business. In order to make a sizable dent in the current landscape, I believe we're headed in a direction of more abstraction and automation.
There's an $8.5 trillion talent shortage that could result in over 85 million jobs to go unfilled by 2030. With the rise of turnover rates, wage competition and inflation, and lack of education, teams need to start thinking about how to stay lean. Data scientists are now needing to act as the machine learning engineer and software engineers need to also be both the product designer and devops engineer because of the poor conditions around talent.
By turning to abstraction and automation, it will enable those data scientists, software engineers, and even non-technical folks to learn and execute tasks that, before, only adjacent roles could be able to complete. Just think of Alloy Automation, a no-code ecommerce automation tool used to automate tedious tasks across the ecommerce stack.
Gone are the days where you need to hire an engineering and data science team to help build out complex fulfillment flows or create visualizations of your store's purchase data. With simple process automation that abstracts away the technical complexities, ecommerce shop owners can now manage everything themselves with high amounts of customizability, a way cheaper price, and the flexibility to stay lean.
We’re at the beginning of the next major level of abstraction.
Alloy Automation is only one example of abstraction being a part of the new revolution. Revolutionary products will come in all different shapes and sizes. As companies continue to be constrained, we'll continue to discover pockets where innovation needs to take place and who's working towards solving those needs.
If you have any thoughts about revolutionary innovation, automation and abstraction tools, or if you're building something in the space, please reach out!