understanding the web and how it can work

In the mid-90's at the beginning of the technological revolution around the web there were a surge of businesses built.  It had the feeling of a gold rush.  Everyone was absolutely giddy.  We were changing the way we lived our lives and creating value. 

Oh the businesses that we saw.  So many of them were just duplications of brick and mortar businesses hanging out on the internet, others were creative and cutting edge.  We grew and grew with ridiculous valuations and some ridiculous business schemes before the bubble popped and everything kind of skidded to a slow halt.

ImagesFast forward a few years and businesses start to peculate again.  The next iteration of the web is called 2.0.  What is interesting about the second generation is that many of the people building these companies grew up with a computer in their home.  The web, in essence, is an extension of who they are.  They don't need to study it…it just is.  Not surprising that many of the businesses built have been so disruptive as the entrepreneurs had an uncanny understanding of what we could do with this technology.  Then many other businesses layered their ideas on top of the big disruptive ones. It has been incredible to watch and be part many of those businesses. 

I recently met with someone who pitched me on their idea which in all honesty after 30 minutes I still wasn't sure I got it.  What I got is that they had gone out to all the corporations that want to touch the consumers and were willing to create deals with them prior to the roll out of the company.  Doesn't cost them anything so why not although it certainly costs time and energy.  I am pretty sure that the consumers out there are not going to jump at this idea or model that is being built for them.  I could be wrong but it is just my gut reaction.

I was thinking about that meeting and it occured to me that the digital divide is no longer about the rich vs the poor in access to technology but rather about understanding how the internet works or not.  Not understanding the technology puts you on the wrong side of the digital divide.  

When the company left my office after their pitch I realized that they might understand brick and mortar businesses but they have no idea how to build a product on the net.  Maybe it was age, maybe it was perception, maybe it was not having the ability to start small and really get it.  Who knows.  All I know is that there is a big divide between those who get it and those who dont. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. Rohan

    That’s an interesting observation.Isn’t that true about most things in life, though? Many things and concepts (like happiness, work, relationships) have been around for much much longer. Not sure if that translates to a huge number of people who ‘get it’…Maybe I’m reading it wrong..

    1. Gotham Gal

      never thought about it that way but yes..you are reading it absolutely right. that is true about most things in life.

    2. Guest

      I was working for a boutique hedge fund once and one of the managing partners said,  “I thought I had achieved a lot in my life.  But this weekend I went to my friend John Doe’s house.  He had an indoor hockey rink.  At that moment I realized I had not achieved that much.”  I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to laugh out loud but was able to maintain my composure.  🙂  

      1. Gotham Gal

        that is hilarious.

      2. Rohan

        Hahaha.. 😀

  2. RyanComfort

    Great post.  As time has evolved have you seen a change in the profile of people who “get it”, not just based on their age, but also by expertise?  Specifically, not just people with computer science backgrounds, but instead those with business or non-profit backgrounds?I ask, because the role I’m playing with my current company would likely be very challenging for a traditional programmer.  I’m working with a large community with various stakeholders (end consumers, non-profits, government agencies, foundations, etc).  This requires a tremendous amount of listening, big-picture understanding and ability to consider and incorporate a wide range of interests. Honestly, communicating what I need to programmers has been the easy part.  So, I’m curious whether this is part of a larger trend… where people who have a deep understanding of how things can work, but don’t necessarily know how to program, are developing more on-line businesses.

    1. Gotham Gal

      You bring up a really good point. There is something to be said about having a deep understanding on how things work as we move into the web world. Perhaps there is a trend here. I have certainly noticed a line drawn in the sand…and btw that line could have been drawn in the past too in regards to any industry shift.

      1. RyanComfort

        Thanks. I was initially just going to ask for you to elaborate on the line drawn in the sand and whether there you think there are two different lines, one for general experience with the web as a consumer and another for founders with specific programming experience.  Then, I re-read the post and got something extra out of it this time.  In your title alone there are two parts “Understanding the web” and “how it can work”  I think that each of those can represent different approaches to developing web-based solutions to problems.  1) There is having a deep understanding of the web and identifying NEW technologies that can push it further (this is most likely to be identified the computer science, traditional programmer.)  Then there is (2) knowing “how it can work” to solve a problem.  A founder could take this angle by first gaining a deep understanding of the off-line problem and then utilizing existing technologies to create solutions.  This founder could be less tech-savvy, as long as they can clearly articulate “these are the goals, here are the features and this is how it needs to work.”  They do not necessarily need to innovate on the tech side, but instead apply it in a unique way that solves a core problem.Obviously, it’s not so cut and dry and many traditional programmers have started from a problem to find the solution.  They are lucky, they can go from both angles… identify problem and/or breakthrough technologies.  Us, biz people, are more reliant on focusing on solving problems through application of existing technologies.

  3. Erin Newkirk

    Interesting perspective, Joanne. I like this post a lot.It’s truly incredible when you open your mind to all of the things technology can elevate/solve/do. Layer mobile on to web + you go further… 

    1. Gotham Gal

      You go further into the future

  4. rebeccastees

    also, the line iswhether people can pitch in five- ten minutes

    1. Gotham Gal

      ha. so true.

  5. Lisa Mogull

    The technological divide surely exists but in this instance it isn’t the only problem.  If it takes someone 30 minutes to explain something then they don’t understand what they want to do.If someone can’t explain the problem and outline a solution it doesn’t matter how well they know technology. If they understand the problem and have a solution it’s possible to do the research to figure out if the technology exists or if it needs to be designed/invented/innovated.To build a product or a company you need to have a clear vision and strategy that can be explained before it can be executed. That’s universal.

    1. Gotham Gal

      ha. for sure.

  6. William Mougayar

    Very telling story. the web has gotten a little more complicated in its inner working, but a lot simpler and fun on the outside. If one wants to build a web business, they need to understand its inner workings. Being a user doesn’t guarantee one’s necessary understanding to form a web business.It’s easier to be a lover of food than it is to run a restaurant or cook like a chef does.

    1. Gotham Gal

      you are spot on. just because you use it or eat it doesn’t make you an expert. nothing is as simple as it looks.