Pencils of the Digital Era.
March 19th 2021
Blind spots in IT Industry: Do They Still Exist?
Judging from the number of startups that try their luck every year, and the overwhelming number of new platforms that pop up and fight for your attention, one might think that every possible business niche in the IT industry has already been occupied. The Y Combinator’s online course for startups welcomes about 40,000 new participants twice per year! Not mentioning all the other courses and accelerators working in IT. So, is there IT space so packed that there is no space left for a bright person with ideas? Or perhaps, there are still some blind spots in the IT industry, peacefully waiting to be discovered? Hell yes! Plenty of them.
All These Millennials and Z Generation Kids!
Young generations of professionals consist of Millennials, who are now in their twenties and thirties, and Z Generation, who are now starting to enter the job market. There are some mental differences between the two. For example, Millennials tend to be more individualistic than Z Generations which focuses on building communities in the global village. However, these generations have many commonalities.
For instance, since the average standard of life today is much higher than it used to be when generations X and Y were young, the Millennials and Z Generation can actually focus on the upper parts of Maslow’s pyramid as everything else is already covered. For instance, on the meaning of life. Thus, what they have in common is an idealistic attitude to life and the desire to make a meaningful contribution to this world.
This natural desire is strengthened by the media even further. Namely, the media is burdened with the winner’s bias and only presents individuals who are influential in some way – all from politicians, through famous entrepreneurs, to social media influencers. It creates an impression that building an influence and following is the default and expected model of life. In other words, if you don’t do anything influential in your (professional) life, it means that you didn’t develop to your full potential and that you disappointed the whole of humankind.
Of course, this attitude results not only in the common depression among young people but also in a number of weaknesses that today’s young people have. Some of them were ruthlessly exposed for example in the (in)famous story about the FYRE Festival. It turned out that the premise of meeting Instagram celebrities was a reason good enough to spend thousands of dollars to embark on the journey… to nowhere.
How the Desire for Impact Makes You Blind in Business.
This desire to be influential among youngsters also transpires to business. 99.99% of the startups knocking at the investors’ doors aim to save the world or at least a large part of it. I’ve been to all the possible business meetups in the Netherlands, and I’ve met lots of startup-ers through online gatherings such as the aforementioned Y Combinator startup school, and other online platforms, and every single time, I see the same obsession.
I mean, there is nothing wrong with solving problems. In principle, you need to solve someone else’s problem in one way or another, otherwise, you don’t have a business case. The problem starts when you start getting obsessed with the thought that you also have to change someone’s life. Well, that’s not true at all. We like to think about ourselves this way – as heroes and saviours.
Yet, in times when everyone wants to save the world and inspire people, the biggest businesses are often quietly built around the simplest yet the most useful features that none of the “visionaries” has ever thought about. The underdog projects that Forbes or The Times will never mention, as they don’t sound cool enough. The pencils of the digital era.
I wrote this blog post as ever since I started building my own company, I was constantly getting shocked by the lack of services and features that I needed. I was also shocked to discover that these seemingly non-complicated solutions were often worth a fortune. In this post, I’d like to mention some of them. Perhaps some of my remarks and ideas might be useful to anyone who likes to program, doesn’t have much capital at the start, and is not obsessed with changing people’s lives. Actually, if only I was a better programmer, I would probably put some of these ideas to life by myself 🙂
Examples of the Winners.
The first example of the happy pony land of pencils of the digital era I’d like to mention is HelloSign. The company offers digital signatures of documents: you can load your PDF, pick the clots on the document where the signatures should be placed, choose your collaborators and invite them to sign. HelloSign advertises their e-signatures as legally binding. That sounds cool, but what does it mean in practice? From what you can read on their Legal page, this “legal bonded-ness” boils down to “authenticating the signatures” which boils down to sending invited collaborators emails with invitations to sign. That’s it.
One smart and enthusiastic developer could build such a custom solution from scratch in a week or less. Maybe even in a day. The joke is: that the company received 16 million dollars in venture funding, and currently makes more than 23 million dollars in revenue. They offer the service at a monthly rate of 15 dollars for individuals and 40 dollars for businesses. And people pay!
The second example I’d like to mention is Yoast. Yoast is a very popular WordPress SEO plugin that helps website owners to make their websites more understandable and trustworthy to Google bots. In the paid version, the yearly subscription is in the range of 100 dollars.
At the moment, Yoast has about 65 employees and brings ~13.6 million dollars in profits per year. These numbers might not sound as impressive for an IT startup at first glance. After all, the yearly revenue at the level of 145,000 dollars per employee is not uncommon these days. However, their results become much more impressive when you learn more about what the company actually does.
Namely, what the company does is, in principle, offering a very rudimentary text analysis such as counting the number of words per sentence, recognizing active versus passive tense, or checking the distribution of headers and keywords through the page. The logic behind it is so simple that almost any programmer with the ability to create WordPress plugins could write such a set of features in no time.
The third example I’d like to mention is Titlecase.com. Just as the name suggests, this website offers nothing else than converting your text to a title-case format. That’s it. Every student of computer science, or even a teenager interested in programming, would be able to create such a page in one evening. The joke is, that so many people write blogs, books, and other documents that require putting titles in the text, that the traffic at this website is so huge that the site generates quite a lavish passive income solely from the Google AdWords campaigns.
Examples of the Blind-spots Still to Be Taken in IT Industry.
These were just examples of hundreds of trivial solutions that make millions online. Below, I’d like to drop a few simple ideas that came to my mind that might be of help to someone looking for inspiration:
1. An intelligent signature editor online.
If you need to create a digital version of your signature by hand, you will have a hard time, as open online services don’t offer any good solutions. Most of them don’t use any automatic retouch to smoothen your signature so it will look the same as your mouse movement – edgy and ugly. Apart from that, options are very limited; usually, there is a limited selection of ink colours one can choose from, and these colours don’t even resemble natural ink colours. I’m tired of looking for a good signature editor every single time; if one good editor appears, it might attract millions of visits monthly.
2. Pomodoro timers.
Similarly, millions of people use the Pomodoro technique to organize their working day, yet, there are no good online Pomodoro timers. Most timers only allow you to set fixed 25 minutes for work and 5 minutes for breaks as it was done in the original version of Pomodoro, while most people (including me) have their own preferred rhythm. Even if some of the timers offer that option to customize slots, they usually have a very poor graphic design and no additional options.
There are also applications such as TimeOut and Stretchly, but they are also inconvenient to use (for example, in TimeOut, your working scheme must start from a break unless you buy a paid plan). I feel that no one took this opportunity seriously yet, and no one sees potential in creating this tool (used by millions of people daily!) in an attractive and engaging way.
3. Hundreds of missing WordPress plugins.
Given that almost 30% of all the websites in the world are created in WordPress, it comes as a surprise that there are still hundreds of simple and useful functionalities not covered by any plugin. I was recently looking for a few functionalities for the backend of my own website, especially specific payment options.
In the end, I had to order custom solutions because I didn’t find anything suitable in the plugin database or on StackExchange. WordPress plugins are usually priced in the range of 80-120 dollars per year. Thus, if you solve a problem for 1,000 clients, you can live a good life; if you solve a problem for 10,000 clients, you become a millionaire in a year or less.
In a summary, there are thousands and thousands of millionaires who built businesses and realized their business development plan around very simple solutions that could be coded in a day. While others are too busy saving the world and building a following on social media, these folks are becoming wealthy in the comfort of their own homes and away from the public eye. Producing pencils of the digital era.
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