The Role of Technology in Entrepreneurship
The word technology is not a new one. In fact, the root of the word means to shift or to change, and was used originally in relation to changing nature. As Bacon, Locke, and Descartes recognized, this idea of man changing nature, rather than being controlled by it was essential to the emergence of the autonomous self, and eventually to the very notion of the entrepreneur. Thus, technology and entrepreneurship are tightly related.
Today we think of technology as being about electronics (computers, software, web applications, etc.), but I would suggest that smart entrepreneurs still view technology—in whatever form—as a means to an end, and not an end of itself.
Jim Collins, in his book, Good to Great, sums this up when he says, “Technology is an accelerator.” Embedded in this simple statement is a lot of wisdom. First, while Collins confirms that technology is indeed an accelerator, he doesn’t qualify the statement in terms of exactly where or what technology is accelerating. In other words, technology can accelerate both good and bad ideas, and it can accelerate these ideas towards success or failure. Think of technology as some sort of widget that sits in between ideas and the future. Whether entrepreneurs put good ideas (that is, ideas that are strategic and aligned with their core principles) or bad ideas (random acts of improvement) into the technological accelerator will determine whether or not you speed towards success or failure.
Successful entrepreneurs—those who have a clear concept of what they are trying to accomplish—leverage technology in order to help them achieve their goals more quickly. In order to ascertain which technology will align with their goals, entrepreneurs must have a very open and inquisitive bias towards technology.
What entrepreneurs do not do is bury their heads in the sand. If you desire to become an entrepreneur, and you’re one of those people that says things like, “I don’t do e-mail,” or “I can’t even program my VCR,” STOP! Technology today is not what it was even five years ago. With the advances made in programming and user interface (UI) design, today’s technology is very, very user friendly. The fact of the matter is, if it’s not user friendly it won’t stick around too long, because a competitor will come along and make it user friendly. Don’t believe me? Ask the founders of Friendster, which predated MySpace by several years, and followed largely the same guideline of creating technology that works and is user friendly. Friendster at this point is barely a footnote, while MySpace has more users than the entire population of Mexico.
Today, when I cannot think of any company where technology (either in the form of an Internet presence or just general communication) is not crucial, entrepreneurs must be incredibly tech-savvy. This is not to say that entrepreneurs must know how to code—though that can be a real bonus (I strongly believe that one of the reasons CDBaby was able to succeed at the level it has is because its founder is first and foremost a coder)—but it does mean that an entrepreneur must understand the language and the trends of technology.
To use an analogy, think of the musician who, while not an engineer, is fluent with the tools of the recording studio. She can easily and effectively communicate with the engineer and producer in order to get the sound she hears in her head on to the tape (or hard drive). It’s the same deal with tech. As an entrepreneur you will need to make manifest your vision in any number of ways, being able to efficiently convey your goals to those who will help you realize them is really the only way to go.
How do you get fluent in tech? My advice is to go to the library or online and start reading Wired magazine (http://www.wired.com/). Follow the links that you find. They’ll lead you to ideas and other sources of tech information. Then, I urge you to try your hand at starting your own blog (use a service like blogger.com or WordPress.com). The process of starting and maintaining your own blog will force you to learn the language and philosophy of the current technologies.
Throughout, it’s essential that you make sure that whatever technology you embrace has a deep and direct connection to your overall business plan.