This article is part of the Building a Sustainable Business series about starting and running a sustainable business. Read all the articles here.
Startups typically take a cavalier approach to their internal software systems, often while developing applications for others that will help them organize, manage, secure, find and keep on top of other people’s data.
Having witnessed the horror of countless Silicon Valley companies as the dreadful realization dawns that they can’t find financial data that the IRS is demanding, or that the napkin with their IP clearly drawn out has gone the way of the rest of their McDonald’s detritus, I vowed I’d never get caught in a situation like that. So, one of the first things I did was to go online to see which small/emerging business ERP (enterprise resource planning) system was most appropriate for our needs.
At that point in 2009, I discovered that there was only one system to help startups grow from zero to billions. It was NetSuite, which was itself in startup mode. The cost was prohibitive for a new business: $10k for the software and an unknown amount to customize it to our specific needs. Then we would need to purchase a seat license.
How could it be that of all those techies in Silicon Valley, busily building new businesses, not one of them thought, “Hey, here’s an opportunity!” All those start-ups could themselves use an ERP system that could be installed from the get-go and expand with the company. How can you sustain a business if you have no control over corporate information?
The result of this black hole is the creation of cowboy systems. Most commonly, Olive Oyl or Popeye systems. The Olive Oyl system is made up of wimpy parts, none of which are robust enough to really do the job. Most are free, and none talk to each other. Popeye systems have one muscular function, like QuickBooks or Salesforce.com, but all the rest are, like the Olive Oyl system, wimpy and uncommunicative.