When building products for the internet, no one builds ‘everything’ from scratch.
Web services are almost always a mash-up of existing technologies and third party services that come together to form a product.
Entrepreneurs use APIs, SDKs and hardware from a range of vendors to create their products. This might be as simple as using an existing open source software stack to launch a WordPress blog hosted by Go Daddy.
The end goal for the user is to create a blog, but they don’t want to be concerned with developing a platform to do this, or configuring servers. They just want to be able to write and publish their thoughts.
I often think about start-ups and the timing of their success with regard to the technical capabilities that preceded their services and whether or not their business could have existed six, 12, or 24 months ago.
The ability to leverage an existing technology, and build something valuable on top of this, is what I refer to as ‘technical luck’.
A good example of this is Square, a payments platform that is currently valued at $4 billion. What would have happened if Apple did not allow for the headphone socket on the iPhone to work as a microphone?
If this was the case, Square would not exist because they could not process payments via the Square card reader that plugs into this port. This tiny feature enabled Square to build a $4 billion business.
Another example is Instagram. If Amazon Web Services did not exist, Instagram would never have been able to scale to meet demand with just three or four staff. It could have been a disaster.
There are services out there that let you leverage incredibly powerful and scalable features that make it possible for entrepreneurs to move swiftly.
These examples of ‘technical luck’ make breakthrough products and services possible simply because of some pre-existing features or services that can be leveraged in a few lines of code.