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January 2007
February 2007

2007-01-01 »

NITI in Retrospect

In the last little while I've been working at setting up a new company, having found myself in the odd situation of having easy access to financing even before I had an idea that needed financing. While convenient, that means I have a lot of responsibility, so I've been very careful not to take advantage of it until I know for sure what I want to do. Thus, I've spent the last few months trying to figure out what exactly that is.

During that process I've spent quite a bit of time discussing various options and theories and philisophies with a bunch of different people, and especially thinking back to the early days of NITI: what did I do last time I started a company? How did I know what was right or wrong? What mistakes did I make? What mistakes didn't I make? And what changed as NITI became more mature, so that what seems perfectly natural now in a mature company is completely the wrong choice when you're starting again fresh? The past seems like a good place to start. So I've decided I'll do a series of articles about decisions I remember from the early days of NITI, and their outcomes. I think you might find them interesting, and in any case I'm going to get a lot for myself out of writing them down.

True Love

Let's start with something relatively recent. In 2006, I went to the IBM Lotusphere conference to investigate and discuss the possibility of what is now Nitix for Domino. When I came back, I did a presentation to our developers that I titled "True Love," in which I described something important I learned at that conference.

At Lotusphere, there were two kinds of products being pushed by IBM. First, there was Lotus Notes/Domino and its addons. Second, there was the "IBM Workplace" series of applications. The former group had religiously addicted, passionate users who understood both technology and business needs; the latter had boring presentations and had been adopted by businesspeople who didn't know anything about technology. Incidentally, and you can quote me on this, the IBM Workplace technologies all suck rather massively. Lotus Domino, in stark contrast, only apparently sucks.

And this was my big revelation. Lotus Notes/Domino is rather famous among techies like me for having a gratuitously horrible user interface, for being slow and hard to install, and so on. All these things are true. But they have lots and lots of passionate users anyway who are in love with the product. Why? Because the core of Domino is so beautiful; I don't have the space to explain in detail right here, but at that conference I started to understand what that meant. The people who love Domino love it for very good reasons. When you use it to solve your weird business problems, it just works in ways that no other existing product does.

At the risk of sounding mushy, that revelation goes a lot deeper than my experiences with a random software product. What it taught me is the real difference between liking something, and really liking something, and being truly in love with something. I realized that being "truly in love" is a feeling that's not only reserved for that one special person in your life. But even when it's applied to a product, or concept, or company, it's exactly the same feeling. So in a slightly absurd way, Lotusphere 2006 is where I learned the meaning of true love.

By this point in the presentation I suppose I had alienated pretty much my entire audience, so I made a few jokes and drew diagrams with coloured balls and tried to make some kind of point about making our customers fall in love with our product. But the really important conclusion that I was drawing is that I had only ever been in love once before in my life, and it wasn't with a person. I was in love with my own life's work of more than eight years, namely NITI itself.

As I post the other "NITI in Retrospect" articles I plan to write, it won't sound exactly like a love story. But it is.

I'm CEO at Tailscale, where we make network problems disappear.

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