[ICT4D Principles] Bootstrapping Vs. Building for Scale


#1

My 2 cents.

I want to clarify the language here.

Bootstrapping, at least in the entrepreneur/startup community, does not mean what is implied here - ad hoc, small scale, targeted to a small problem.

Bootstrapping is building a business through using your own internal resources and savings until it is sustainable through revenue generated (or you quit because you cannot get there in time). Bootstrapping is a strategy vs getting investors and it follows different trajectory than investment; it involves slower growth that tends to be more responsive to the market as well as the existing skills and resources of the founders.

Generally, bootstrapped companies and products do not not the hit same scale because of the hindering factors, but they also are easy to start; they make up the vast majority of companies and products out there. And most companies and products that do get funding start with a bootstrap phase, since no one invests in an idea, but rather a proven plan (or in specific people with a track record). What is valuable in those cases is often not the technology but the lessons learned from the bootstrapped phase, as well as clients, brand recognition, and relationships.

Now, what this conversation is taking about is ad hoc vs planned technology development.

There is no shame in building and deploying a targeted tool for short term usage. We do it all the time, outside of technology, intentionally. Technology is a multiplier of human effort and sometimes we need something now.to get things done and we do not have the luxury or the need of planning everything perfectly.

However, there is a difference between doing something “quick and dirty” because we feel we do not have the time or money to do things “properly” and planning for short term obsolescence. The difference is strategic thinking and making sure the business drivers of the intervention are clearly understood and the impact of those drivers are reflected in the implementation.

The other thing too - the understanding that a good technologist is worth 10 mediocre ones- this truism comes down to the fact that to be considered good, you have learned how to do things “quick” but not dirty, to know what probing questions to ask that may impact future unstated and unrealized needs, and frankly, the ability to see around corners. Often with my clients, I get a definitive “no, that will never, ever, ever be the case” when building requirements, only to get told " oh except for…" 6 months later. Since we know this to be a pattern, we always leave ourself an out. Defensive coding?

Siobhan Green
Sonjara, Inc
Sio@sonjara.com
Office: 571 297 6383 ext 101
Cell: 703 981 9982
Skype : sewgreen

··· -------- Original message -------- From: Jean Barroca Date: 12/02/2015 4:27 AM (GMT-05:00) To: Jonathan Palmer Cc: Nathaniel Calhoun , ICT4D Principles Subject: Re: [ICT4D Principles] Bootstrapping Vs. Building for Scale

Hi,

I’m new to the list. My name is Jean and I’ve been working for the World Bank in some Open Innovation and Social Accountability projects in Africa and Latin America.

I totally fell in love with the ICT4D Principles from the moment I first saw them. First of all for its interesting guidance but most importantly because it gave a formal support to the way I believe we should be doing ICT projects in general.

I’d like to jump into this discussion and bring some thoughts about scalability and sustainability.

Bootstrapping is at the same time one of the most appealing and most risky characteristics of what we can do to solve problems through technology.

It is true that we can do a lot with very little, but too often I’ve seen people overemphasizing what can be done with ICT that totally disregard the community and organizational support that needs to be provided for projects to bring sustainable impact and change.

When I think about building for scale, I tend to think about selecting appropriate technologies but it is also about selecting the appropriate institutional arrangements for a project to bring impact at wider scales. This goes far beyond code and architectures and it also relates to the way the project works and how it involves people in the change we want to bring.

This is where scalability and sustainability are intrinsically connected.

On the other hand, it is very difficult to think about scale when our successful pilots are not linked to “scalable” funding instruments that will enable them to grow or even to transfer.

Being condemned to do daily basis management of scarce resources with a strong uncertainty towards future funding frequently leads us to reduce the ambition of the projects and to prove concepts that will enable the projects to survive.

Having a constant need to prove concepts in a short term basis and developing good scalable solutions with all these constraints is frequently very difficult to achieve.

Ideally, I would tend to think that we would need to:

  • Make people understand that investment in ICT does not totally change the rules of the game, community support and communication campaigns will always be needed. Good support to local organizations so that they can operate in new ways is also necessary. These things cost money, most probably they will cost even more than ICT development but they are crucial to have a successful investment.
  • Bootstrapping is nice but it cannot always be sustainable. ICT projects cannot always be on a short term basis expecting immediate gains. Sometimes they require strategic thinking and stability to properly plan for the impact they want to achieve.
  • Scalable solutions require this stability to have a more efficient usage of resources.
  • ICT is not always about experimenting and doing nice pilots. When you start something, you need to at least have had some thoughts about how you’re able to support it to bring it to another scale: with possible lines of funding and also in operational terms.

Sorry for jumping into the discussion. These are just my two cents =)

Best,

Jean

Jean Barroca

On 2 December 2015 at 02:25, Jonathan Palmer <jpalmer@wcs.orgmailto:jpalmer@wcs.org> wrote:
Nathaniel

One approach to manage the tension between limited budgets/need for quick iterative results and building for scale is to build on top of existing framework – whether it is web application frameworks like Drupal or DotNetNuke or open source Rich Client Platforms like Eclipse. If you have a well-connected environment you can also look at chunking up the services you provide taking a SOA approach.

If you have to build a scalable, complex platform from the ground up with a limited budgets through quick iterative releases, then you have an interesting challenge….

Best Regards

[cid:image002.jpg@01D0FDC1.FE1CCC40]

Jonathan Palmer
Director Global Information and Communication Technology
Wildlife Conservation Society
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From: ict4d-principles@googlegroups.commailto:ict4d-principles@googlegroups.com [mailto:ict4d-principles@googlegroups.commailto:ict4d-principles@googlegroups.com] On Behalf Of Nathaniel Calhoun
Sent: Tuesday, December 01, 2015 7:57 PM
To: ICT4D Principles <ict4d-principles@googlegroups.commailto:ict4d-principles@googlegroups.com>
Subject: [ICT4D Principles] Bootstrapping Vs. Building for Scale

Hello All.

I thought it would be interesting to hear some thoughts from the community about the tensions between bootstrapping and building for scale.

In recent years, the ict4d projects that I’ve worked on have had limited budget and time with which to demonstrate their viability. Prototypes have been minimum viable products and they have definitely not bee built for scale. The focus is on the user’s experience and sacrifices are made when it comes to the backend or administrative functions, with device compatibility, with appearance, with functionality and so forth.

When I imagine the opportunity to truly follow Digital Development Principle #6: Build for Scale, my brain races at all of the strategic considerations and I enjoy contemplating the possibility of sitting down with our users and coders and drawing out the grand architecture of a product that could meet our needs and grow with our community.

But, my reality is a steady sequence of small iterations, each generally enough to meet the essential demands of a new partner (new language, new content modules, branding tweaks) and too little to embark on serious upgrades to the core of the digital product. Nevertheless, we are scaling and the non-flashy requirements of building for scale are slowly piling up.

Has anyone else in this situation thought through the priorities of building for scale in a slow, granular fashion?

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