We often think of our small businesses as growing and developing gradually and consistently. We look at typical business indicators, such as revenue and profit curves, customer metrics or website hits and what we see resembles a car journey. Sometimes it’s a motorway, and progress it fast. Sometimes its a windy country lane and progress it erratic, at times rapidly accelerating, at times braking hard. Sometimes you’re stuck in a dead end and just have to reverse. And sometimes you’re just parked. But it always looks like the same journey in the same car.
In the software industry, development traditionally takes the form of major and minor releases of applications. Version 1 comes out – it’s not perfect, but it’s usable. Bit by bit, the developers nail down the bugs and the functionality glitches, gradually releasing updates and patches – Version 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 etc. By 1.6, it’s a perfect app – it does exactly what it’s supposed to do with no bugs.
But any good software company doesn’t stop there. In fact, the minute Version 1 came out, they were probably already thinking “Hey, this app does x, but wouldn’t it be good if it did y and z too”. So a year or two after Version 1 came out, they release Version 2. It does more, it does it slicker, it does it bigger and it does it better. It’s not compatible with Version 1. You might even have to buy it again if you bought Version 1. It’s not an upgrade, it’s fundamentally different.
Look at how we’ve come to think of and call the current phase of the internet ‘Web 2.0’. It’s not just a geek thing either. In our hearts and minds we know something has changed in Web 2.0. Perhaps, if you’re not a techie, it’s hard to put your finger on. But back in 1999, in Web 1.0, your grandma wasn’t keeping up with your shenanigans on social networks was she? Most of the software you used was on your operating system, not through your web browser, wasn’t it? Web 2.0 is different from Web 1.0 in many, many ways. But the key is that they add up to a step change. A fundamental shift in the way we use and perceive the internet and the way it shapes society.
Now what if we were to think of our businesses this way? What if we went from major version to major version rather than just notching up an endless string of minor versions? What if your business was ‘Your Business 3.4’, rather than ‘Your Business 1.87’?
In fact, such a conceptualisation is incredibly empowering. Thinking of your business as a serious of ‘major version releases’, each of which is fundamentally separated from the previous version by a step change, can only motivate you to push forward to the next iteration. And in my eyes, step changes are not (or at least they don’t have to be) sharp jumps in metrics like sales or profits. New major versions are triggered by changes that are fundamental to what your business really is, what it represents, what it offers, how it operates and what it brings to or takes from your life and that of others that are involved in it.
I’m not going to go into details here of of my own business (that’s for another post), but just as an example, we went to ‘Our Company 2.0’ to ‘Our Company 3.0’ the day we first stopped doing the physical warehouse work ourselves and moved to a contracted-out logistics solution. This was a fundamental change for us – it changed the way the company operated, it changed what we could offer, it changed what we did on a day-to-day basis and it changed how we thought about our company and its prospects.
Major versioning is not all about the past though. Of course, with the help of hindsight, you might look back and easily determine where your major versions were, and if they were positive, or even planned. But really, major versions are all about the future, about where you’re going. Don’t ask yourself where you see your business in 5 years – who knows what shape the world will be in in 5 years. Better to visualise the next major version of your business – what it will look like, what will be fundamentally different about it, how it will change your life and the lives of others. Does it excite you? If it doesn’t, you’re jaded.
So why not get started ‘major versioning’ your businesses. Look back to the past and then look towards the future. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Starting back from My Business 1.0, how many major versions have there been?
- What major version am I at now?
- What were the characteristics of each major version?
- What will the next major version look like? How will it be characterised? How will it be fundamentally different?
- When will the next major version be?
- How many more major versions will there be? Does the project have a ‘final version’?
As an illustration, I’ll post about the history and major versions of my little company (currently The Tapas Lunch Company 4.0) soon. Until then, I’d love to hear which version you’re on and where you’re going.