I have a bias towards solutions that are homemade but functional, bothoff-line and online.
When I was a kid, I had my bedroom rigged up so that I could open and closethe door while lying on my bed across the room.
Here's how it worked: I hammered a nail high up into the back of the doorand attached two strings to it. I ran one string around the perimeter of theroom back to my bed, clockwise, and the other going back the other way,counterclockwise.
The two strings met back at the bed. With key chains as weights, they hungdown the wall and I could easily reach them while lying down. Pulling on onestring opened the door; pulling on the other closed it.
I'll be the first to admit that this was not what you would call an elegantsolution. The string sometimes got tangled, and the room looked like a giantalien spider had visited it.
But you know what? It worked pretty well, and for years I was able to manageboth the temperature of the room and my privacy without ever getting out ofbed. Eighteen months ago, I probably could have gotten venture funding for thisidea.
History Repeats Itself
Today, I always try to pass along simple and practical approaches to thecompanies I work with.
You see, I think many companies encourage an unhealthy culture of perfection.When it comes to technology in general and the Internet in particular, peoplelook around at all the legitimately great and sophisticated things you can donow and decide that it has to be all or nothing. They say:
" If I can't send HTML e-mail newsletters that track how many peopleopened them and what actions they took when they did, then I'm not going tolaunch an electronic newsletter."
" If I can't afford a database-driven Web site that recognizes returningvisitors and customizes the site for each individual viewer, then I'm not goingto pay much attention to my company Web site."
" If I don't have the resources to create an e-mail program that usesartificial intelligence-based autoresponse technology for tracking andresponding to customer input, then I'm not going to encourage customerfeedback."
My philosophy, on the other hand, is to start with a low-end solution andbuild up. Here's why:
If you wait until all the stars align to get going, you'll be waiting a longtime. Things change too quickly in the online world, and that day may nevercome.
Experience with a low-end solution will give you insights into what isrequired of a high-end solution. Just as I learned a lot about pulleys frombedroom doors, you'll be in a much better position to evaluate an e-mailmarketing vendor after you've run your homegrown system for a while.
Finally -- and this is the really important point -- a good homegrownsolution will yield 75 percent of the benefit of any initiative anyway. Sure,technology can improve on your solution, but it's the thinking, planning andintegration into your business practices that yields the lion's share of thebenefits. Anything more is mostly fine-tuning and efficiencies.
Just Roll That Ball
So here's my advice: Go ahead and launch your e-mail newsletter today, evenif you start out by just sending plain text to names out of your e-mail addressbook.
Go ahead and encourage feedback from your customers today, even if you can'tyet automate the process or track the trends.
Go ahead and find ways to integrate your company Web site into your off-linebusiness practices today, even if it's not fancy or elegant.
Just go ahead now. You can streamline the process later.
The Internet is about tinkering, and the only way to tinker with somethingis to get it up and running in the first place.