Jerry Nixon @Work: I had a dream. And, I was in charge!

Jerry Nixon on Windows

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I had a dream. And, I was in charge!

The way Microsoft acquires companies to solve niche problems is very interesting to me. It’s equally interesting to me how Microsoft determines what products and features to build and discontinue. I started considering how this might be streamlined. Yes, it’s just a dream, but isn’t it compelling?


The idea around KickStarter is that crazy and nascent ideas get crowd-funded into reality. It’s cool, really. You want to build a better mousetrap? People not only agree with you, but put some skin in the game (it varies with every project) to get you started. It’s like encouragement, but it’s real money.

What if software companies worked like that. Have you ever had a product or feature idea you knew would be awesome? Google, Facebook, Apple, Intuit, Intel, Twitter. What if companies like Microsoft had a product or feature Kickstarter? You make your case, you make your pitch video, and you solicit supporters. Just like creating a better mousetrap.

Then, what if you only asked for $1 from supporters with a $1M threshold? Can you imagine reaching your goal? That would be the proof in the pudding, a sincere case that your crazy idea for a product or feature with potential. The software company might even donate the $1M to charity as part of the deal. And, of course, you get $10,000, a free license of whatever you dreamed up, and a high-five from the CEO on his corporate yacht.

Could you imagine that? A kind of Kickstarter for good ideas? Influencing the product choice or feature stream of an existing product? Seems cool to me.

Request for Company

Here’s another thing companies do. They build stuff. But around the edges of their products other software companies, partners, or independent software vendors build complimentary stuff. Many companies extend Windows. Many extend Office. Many extend Visual Studio. It’s its own ecosystem.

Then, from time to time, Microsoft (or any other company) sees value in adding that third-party extension to Azure, Dynamics or something in their portfolio. They don’t have to build it, they just buy it and integrate it. Presto.

This seems backwards to me. when I am knee-deep in a technology, I know where it is going, and I know what it needs. Why wait for a company to build out extensibility that may or may not be how I would have designed it?

Now, work with me here.

I think it would cool if there was such a thing as an RFCO. An RFP is a Request for Proposal. An RFC is a Request for Comment. But what about an RFCO – Request for Company.

Here’s how it might go.

You run Microsoft Azure and realize you need a great Disaster Recovery solution. Do you build it yourself? Maybe. But you might also create an RFCO! You are basically challenging the partner community to build the feature.

Participants must wrap all the work in a self-contained corporate entity that you could easily acquire. You provide architecture guidelines so solution integration is simple and fast, business guidelines corporate integration is cheap and painless; and, you might even give a deadline, say, 2 years or you build it yourself.

Do you require some initial sales to prove the solution? Fine. Do you make any promises? Nope. Your risk is low if you can entice the right partners to accept the challenge. But you risk they will all screw it up, too.

To minimize that risk you insist participants have regular architecture reviews, share testing results, and whatever else they need. They submit their patents as part of the acquisition. The more participants, the better the final solution.

Could you imagine? It’s like a product or feature incubator for corporations and on steroids! The challenging company could provide the business infrastructure, like accounting software and so on – to make sure they remain easy to acquire.

I also think you could make it a win-win for the other participants. I am not sure how the losing participants aren’t shafted their investment. That’s motivation to win, I suppose. But there’s bound to be a way to make everyone win – at least a little. If nothing else, there’ll be another challenge.


Please note: this was only a dream. A daydream, in fact. Perhaps it’s crazy. But wouldn’t a product or product feature Kickstarter be cool? And wouldn’t an RFCO be more intentional when large companies realize what they need to build? This sort of thing already exists, of course. No question. But I’ve never seen a feature Kickstarter before. And, I wanted to be the first to coin RFCO! :)

Best of luck!