Monday, April 25, 2011

Crappy little services companies

Verilab is eleven years old (plus or minus a few weeks). Happy Birthday To Us.

The three of us started the whole shebang at the top of one of the slopes at Heavenly in Tahoe, in March/April 2000. It was just as NASDAQ began its (first) bubble-bursting dive. The timing is so close I've wondered occasionally if we were the pin that did the bursting.

And from day one I have had a single, simple, consistent vision for our services company. It is, *I* think anyway, exactly what a company vision should be: an "artist's impression" of where you want to go. It's meant to inspire. It's meant to help others to, well, to envision of course. And it's meant to have some poetry to it, some music, some pomp and circumstance; even a soupçon of pretentiousness. Not for vision, the day to day practicality of "goals" and "objectives". Even the longer term aspirations of "mission" are still too mundane. Vision should uplift, and challenge, and maybe scare. And if it makes the onlookers a tad worried at the sanity of the visionary, all the better.

Perhaps most important of all, the vision should invoke the Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor Effect. It should make you go "Ar Ar ARRR!".

It should convey the message -- no, the feeling -- that what we're doing is worth doing; a good fight to be fought; a race worth running, an Alamo worth defending; a K2 worth climbing or dying trying. A man's game[1]!

My vision for Verilab is to build:

"The McKinsey of VLSI"

Now I've learned over the years that my particular choice of white shoe firm sometimes poses a problem in high tech geekdom since half the people the analogy is intended to speak to have never even heard of McKinsey & Co! (And of course the recent allegations concerning Rajat Gupta haven't helped.) But I stick with my choice.

The analogy with McKinsey tugs at several heart strings, but front and centre is that the craft of professional services is not simply one to which failed product startup wannabes go to die (or pay their mortgages). It's a reminder that the list of "professional services organizations" includes such illustrious members as: the Institute For Advanced Study and The Academy, the Bolshoi and the Vienna Philharmonic, and even the British SAS and the US Navy SEALs.

But if you want something a little more down to earth, here's a recent good article (thanks JL) on why crappy little services companies aren't always so crappy or so little.

[1] Over the years, some of our best engineers have been women.

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