Being Fast in a Fast Space

I had an interesting meeting today with Harry Simpson, the head of marketing at a startup out of suburban Denver called Roving Planet. Roving Planet makes software to secure and manage wireless networks. The three-year old company started selling its products last summer and already has 75 enterprise clients and is in full hypergrowth mode. "We need to be fast in a fast space," Simpson said. "With wired networking, it took customers 15 years to figure out what they wanted and needed. With wireless, it's going to happen in four."

With that in mind, Simpson told me the story of how the company closed a couple of its marquee deals that it's done this year, one with the Philadelphia public school system, the other with Notre Dame University. During the sales process, both indicated that they wanted some additonal functionality in the product before purchasing. Roving Planet's engineering team turned out prototypes of what they were looking for, the customers realized how responsive Roving Planet would be to their needs, and that helped close the deal.

Roving Planet could do this using what's known as "agile development," turning out a batch of code every two weeks. This process and this attitude has better served its customers and has let Roving Planet triple the size of its deals this year and differentiate it from its competition, which had been in the market before it.

Roving Planet has responded to its fast-growing WiFi market by upping its metabolism. What are you doing to get faster?

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  • Chad

    Sean - I see exactly what you're saying. I could have worded my response a bit better. The open source community has in general pioneered a lot of the implementations of agile methodologies, and is usually where I look to first when I'm looking for good examples.

    David - I figured that's what you were trying to say. As someone who's been on some successful agile projects, I'm always trying to make sure everybody's got the right idea about what's going on. Coincidentally, the company I last worked with doing agile development was also based in Denver. There's a very active Extreme Programming community there, and it seems to be a real hotbed for all of the various agile flavors.

  • Sean

    I guess what I was trying to say was there are lessons to be learned from the open source community in regards to fast feedback loops and frequent builds. Deciding whether or not to make your code an open source project depends entirely on the situation.

  • David Lidsky

    Chad, good feedback. Such is the nature of blogging that I wasn't as precise in my language as I should have been. The code Roving Planet produces every two weeks is functional, if not necessarily always ready for general availability. It's usually in the form of new features, patches, or prototypes. But I like your idea and will look into it further.

  • Chad

    I always find it interesting that so few people really know what "agile development" is. "Turning out a batch of code every two weeks" is not agile. Turning out functional code every two weeks is closer, but agile development encompasses so much more. Maybe Fast Company should look into shops that do all of their development in an agile manner, using Extreme Programming (XP), Scrum, etc. It's a development process that works very well in the software world.

    As far as having to use open source to be agile, that's not the right approach. Many of the core aspects of XP, for example, outline daily (or more often) builds, constant integration, automated unit testing, etc. Open source tools are available for these tasks (jUnit, AntHill, Ant), but the product being created in no way needs to be open source.

  • Sean

    What could I do to get faster? Make my software open source. Some open source projects, FireFox for example, have nightly builds; that's what I call "agile development". And of course every time you sign up a user, if they know a thing or two about programming, you could be adding a potential developer.

    But then you have to figure out how to make money, and that's a different question all together.