At sunrise on July 4th, 1879, seventeen thousand British and native troops lined up against a superior force of hand-picked Zulu warriors outside the Zulu capital of Ulundi. By mid-morning, around 1,500 Zulus lay dead or wounded and the powerful Zulu Kingdom was shattered beyond redemption.
British casualties numbered less than a hundred.
Zulu warriors of this period had been bred to the battlefield for generations. Their fighting qualities were renowned across Africa, and no experienced British soldier expected to survive long in hand-to-hand combat against a Zulu opponent.
Which is why the British arrived at the Battle of Ulundi armed with machine guns and light artillery. Against these, Zulu blades and muskets proved about as effective as so many overripe bananas, and the ferociously gallant Zulu paid a shocking butcher’s bill.
There are many morals to this story. Here’s one: tools matter.
After COVID descended on the world, I founded and for two years hosted an online community of military officers called RINGKNOCKER. Our main activity was a weekly Thursday night Zoom meetup, which was super successful… at least until Zoom fatigue set in and Thursday-night football returned to America’s living room.
The key to our early success was my development of the Tribify Engine, which leveraged my software engineering chops and my LinkedIn network to attract RINGKNOCKERs who had the most to offer (or the most to gain) at a Meetup. Once RINGKNOCKER began to fade, I tried offering the Tribify Engine to the business community at large as a standalone service aimed at supporting the relationship sale.
This was not a successful venture. At first, I thought the problem was me: I myself am no salesman, and I failed to make a compelling case to true sales professionals. So I ran an extensive series of tests with Google Ads and a variety of landing pages focused on various aspects of the service… and now I suspect there is simply not much of a market for the product.
Scratch your own itch is a pretty solid business principle, but clearly not the only one in play here!
I spent about half my post-Navy professional career building data management systems for big financial institutions. You tend not to build those things from scratch. Instead, you use specialty development platforms like Informatica or Markit EDM, which trade advanced data management toolboxes against stratospheric annual license fees.
When I developed the Tribify Engine to support RINGKNOCKER, what I really wanted was access to one of those familiar, general-purpose data management toolboxes. But since I couldn’t afford the six-figure annual license fee and didn’t really need to run RINGKNOCKER on an industrial-grade data substrate with a fancy custom Web 3.0 user interface, I built my own general-purpose data management toolbox, which runs in the cloud on Google Apps Script and Google Sheets… for free.
Is it a full replacement for Informatica or Markit EDM? No… but it’s close. The Tribify Engine is really just a custom-built configuration file sitting on top of this toolbox. As is the fancy crypto token analysis dashboard I am currently building for a customer here on Bali. As would be any other data management application it supports.
Different data sources. Different configuration file. Same toolbox. New code required to create a completely different data management implementation: virtually none at all.
And the ongoing cost of operation? Zero.
Can the Tribify Engine run PageRank against your LinkedIn network and find your next great customer? Yep… though it appears you aren’t likely to want that.
But if you are a small business trying to compete on an institutional playing field, you are painfully aware of your handicaps. And if your business is data, then you know what a powerful toolbox those institutional deep pockets can buy.
Imagine if you could compete on the same terms!
Maybe you have a great idea for turning a profit on other people’s data. And maybe you haven’t pulled the trigger because you fear your operating costs will overwhelm your profit margin.
If that’s the case, know that there are alternatives. You don’t HAVE to bring an overripe banana to the data management battlefield.
Want to learn more? Leave a comment, and let’s talk!
Tools matter…and how we jump from a job to running a company. And with scale.