How to Waste $150k 😱

Jun 10, 2022 2:01 pm

Happy Friday!

This week I had to kill a product. In a way, it feels like the first time I've ever done this, but when I think back there have been a lot of close calls over the years. So I thought I'd share a few examples and the lesson I've learned from all of this.

Hope can't mitigate risk.

The product I just killed has cost my client close to $150k and while I've helped find ways to pivot it, we may never come back to it again. This case, like many of the ones I was reflecting on boiled down to the same thing---the technical team ignored risk until it was too late.

In this case, like many others in my past, the technical folks either refused to read the licenses or terms of service and then just hoped nothing would happen. I killed the product to protect my client from potential lawsuits.

Now you might be asking if they could've known before, and in this case, they did know before the development started that the approach they selected was not viable because I told them. I heard that ever so-common refrain from technical teams, "It'll be fine. This is the best approach."

But let me rewind a bit too and share some other examples from my past where we were able to eventually rescue the product.

One time, the development team chose a piece of technology that had in its license a patent transfer clause giving the creators of the technology-free use of any patents we had. When this issue was raised the development team said, "I'm sure it'll be fine."

Another product that made use of text messaging had a bug where it began spamming random phone numbers with texts. When confronted the architects said, "Oh it's probably not a big deal."

At a different time, the tech lead chose an open-source database for a client product that I later found was phoning-home usage analytics and samples. When I brought this forward the response was, "I'm sure it's not that bad."

And then, there is pretty much every company I've talked to since CCPA whose chorus has been, "I'm sure that won't affect us."

In all of these examples, the common thread here is that people chose hope as their primary method of handling risks. People didn't want to know what they were agreeing to and further believed that the agreements were empty. But...

There is a huge difference between knowing and accepting risk and hope.

So, my hope is that this email might spur some of you to go take a harder look at that new bit of tech you're using, that novel approach, or existing legal cases that can inform you of the risk that everyone else is just hoping won't come to get them.