TIPS - Warren Buffett’s Coronavirus Advice for Product Development

by Lou Steinberg

When Warren Buffett said " fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful," he was talking about investing in equities, not product development.

Still, his oft-quoted advice works for product owners too.

Like many tech start-ups, Authoriti has seen a shift in customer activity due to the coronavirus shutdown. Some prospects are concerned about fraud with remote workforces, others are looking to deploy solutions that quickly cut costs as their own revenue is uncertain, but many have simply frozen all activity while they deal with keeping the lights on.

What's a company to do? Our sales team needs to focus more than ever on those customers who have an immediate need to reduce opex and fraud risk. For our product team, it's time to be greedy. Not greedy for money, but greedy for the one critical resource they never have enough of: time.

While we manage our own costs through the downward part of this cycle, we can also focus and invest in these four areas:

  1. Refactor to remove technical debt. We want to emerge from this downturn with code that can nimbly be evolved to meet the needs of the new market. All code gathers debris over time from fast implementations or features that weren't adopted. We are planning a sprint to remove design debt and make our product as agile as our process.

  2. Design the next big thing. Whether it's a new customer portal or a feature that has been waiting in the wings, now is the time to work on the design. Fewer new customer trials means being greedy with available time when we have more time to focus.

  3. Talent acquisition and retention. Lots of companies have reduced their headcount due to fear. Being greedy means it's time to build relationships with stellar talent who might not otherwise be available. We might selectively hire, might farm out some specialty work on a contract basis, or might simply start a conversation about the cool things we are doing.

  4. Experiment. While we are likely to be consumed with the above, larger organizations have a different kind of opportunity. If you are using your operations staff to keep the lights on, and have an underutilized product team, start a series of hackathons. These work great when people are remote -- they go heads down and build stuff. Implement a couple of simple guidelines such as "build anything you want that will make our product or company stronger," and let each hackathon run one or two weeks (like sprints). You just may find the next big product, feature, or efficiency to operationalize.

The genius of being greedy when others are fearful is simply in being contrarian. You can be greedy with time and invest while your competitors are frozen, exiting this cycle stronger and nimbler than you went in.

If you are a CISO or CFO looking for help, you have our full attention. If you are already a customer, expect us to use this time to become even more responsive.

And, if Mr. Buffett wants to drop some more wisdom re: product strategy, I'd love to have a conversation (see point 3 above)!

Lou Steinberg is Chairman of Authoriti.