Tuesday, October 02, 2012

On Company Transformations, Rubber Boots and Perspective

Every company that wants to survive in a competitive market eventually needs to adapt to changing environments. Examples abound – Nokia, which went from rubber boots maker to global mobile phone giant may seem an extreme example, but a good indicator of how drastic such changes can be. Other examples include Berkshire Hathaway or even IBM, which narrowly survived more than once only due to drastic course changes.

Nokia Rubber Boots
Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/27836510@N07/

Now Magnolia is far from being an aging multinational behemoth. But nonetheless adapt we must, and have done so successfully in the past, usually in a very conscious way. For instance we decided in 2006 that we shed our project business to focus on building the best CMS on the market. It was no easy decision, because projects directly translate into revenue, which is why most of our competitors love to do projects.

But this was to the benefit of our partners, who provide these services without us competing against them, and to our customers, who get software that is no longer driven by project features ending up in a product. Shedding our project business has allowed Magnolia to work on Magnolia 5 with vision, rigor and bravery, something we could not have done would we not have transformed Magnolia from a service company to a product vendor.

So here we are, transforming our company once more, this time in a subtle way, but one that is all the way more powerful. Until summer 2011, we were basically adding features to a product. The main discussions from a product manager perspective focussed on which feature to add next in order to stay relevant in a very agile, demanding and complex environment. Should we add Facebook support? Become more social? Do we need to offer a SAAS version? Should we rather integrate Salesforce or Hybris? Is personalization or multi-variate testing the more relevant feature for our existing or future customers?
People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of many of the things we haven't done as the things we have done– Steve Jobs in Fortune, Mar. 7, 2008 
Every product company has to make such decisions. At Magnolia, we successfully ignored many trends to focus on building an enterprise CMS with technical sophistication and an intuitive user interface. So in summer 2011 we decided that Magnolia 5 should be built for the "generation mobile". We dumped all previous user interface design work and started over, this time from a mobile perspective. How would interaction work if a CMS would be as simple to use as a smart phone? The outcome is spectacular.

What is even more spectacular, is how changing our perspective has transformed us from a feature-focussed company to a vendor with its own vision and impact on the market. The way we think about content management today is different from a year ago. Yes we still need to implement features in order for our software to do anything useful. But features have become somewhat of an afterthought. It is not the features that make Magnolia 5 an outstanding product. It is the overall product experience that makes the difference.

Much like the first iPhone, some people will find that some features are lacking compared to the competition in the first release of Magnolia five. But if you focus on features, you miss the bigger picture, the long term perspective, the big waves that alter history. Much like Nokia, who certainly had more features in their smart phones in 2007 than the iPhone. Or Microsoft. Or Blackberry.

So here we are, the new Magnolia, a company that re-envisions content management for a world that is mobile first and where organizations extend their virtual presence on multiple channels to interact with their customers, members and citizens. This is a magnificent transformation and I am totally thrilled by its implications and possibilities.
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