Don’t Delay

…delay is loss

The year was late 1998. I was part of the team leading the efforts to migrate systems into the new millennium. No doubt many of you will remember the famous (or infamous) Y2K.

We approached the CEO of the company I was working for and suggested we incorporate efforts to initiate development of systems and applications to take advantage of the emerging technology phenomenon called “The Internet”.

Here is a summary of his reaction as I remember it:

No!! This is nothing but a fad, a flash in the pan. We’ve just come off some of the best years in our history. We’re spending money now on refreshing systems and hardware for Y2K. We’re going to wait and see what happens with all this. I am not spending a dime on this thing now.

By March of 1999, the .Com bubble burst, and burst BIG. That burst convinced our CEO even more that the Internet was nothing but a “flash in the pan”.

In September of 1999 we lost one of our biggest customers- a large- very large technology firm. Believe me, you would know the name. Why?

Here again is my recollection of what they told us:

Your prices are the best, your customer service excellent, but we are a technology company; you have no Internet presence, you don’t even own a URL with your company name yet. We can’t be in that position. Think how that looks to our customers and employees when we are banking our future on online applications and technologies.

Our competitors started taking even more customers – not just the tech firms.

Things changed then.

Yet, it still took six months for us to hire knowledgeable people, ramp up, design, and implement systems to service customers and consumers (very different roles in the healthcare business) – via online sites and portals. It was almost another year before we had any Internet presence that was substantive.

Don’t be too hard on our CEO; his thought process was sound, he was charged with prudent stewardship of stockholder resources. The Internet seemed like a playground of games and seedy sites at this point, and those businesses based on the web were going under or losing money – fast. Amazon started up in 1994; its first quarter of profitability? 2002. And in 1998 & 1999 Amazon was losing money at a rate you could hardly comprehend as a CEO of a Fortune 500.

But when does “prudence and wisdom” morph to become “fear and over-caution” and how do we know when to move, spend, invest, or pull back and wait?

How do you make those decisions? How do you know the difference?

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