I’m a huge fan of a process known as “Dogfooding.” I wanted to share it with you.
This is by no means a new concept. It began to take flight with the 1970’s Alpo Dog Food commercials, featuring the founder of Alpo doing a commercial in which he showed that he fed his own dog with his own product. It is reminiscent of the Hair Club for Men (“I’m not only the president, I’m a client!”). The legends say that in 1988 a corporate email went out to Microsoft employees saying that Microsoft, as a company, needed to start “eating [their] own dog food.” Meaning, they needed to start using their own products more. If they wouldn’t use their own products, how could they expect to sell them?
I’ve always been fascinated by this phrase. I love it. If you make something, you should love it so much that you want to use it. You should trust it enough to make your business run on it. Microsoft creates their own platforms, and uses them. Occasionally they get busted using a Linux web server somewhere, or they get a little good will by contributing to Linux development, but all in all, they build their own tools, and use them. Typically they use those tools to build newer tools! If you work for Ford, you should probably drive a Ford car!
If there is something out there that you would rather use than your own product, how can you make your product better? Before there was Microsoft Word, there was Microsoft Works. Before that, one of the biggest names, for the longest time, was IBM’s Lotus Notes. Lotus Notes was one of the best word processors and really defined what all future word processors would be and how they would look and behave. Microsoft knew they had to take cues from IBM, and make their product better.
I like to constantly think about if I were my own customer, would I like this? “This” being any number of scenarios, of course. I remember a few years ago, I was attending a wedding. Prior to the ceremony, a few of my former co-workers and I from a job I had once held got together for a few drinks. We chatted, and talked about where we were working at the time of the wedding – many of us had moved on to newer jobs, and have of course moved since. He asked me about a service the company I was employed at was offering, and I told him the features I liked and some of the things I didn’t like about the product – he then asked if we used it internally? “No,” I responded, “it doesn’t give us the flexibility we need.”
He shook his head and replied, “you’ve got to eat your own dog food.” I nodded, but I surprised myself with a response I had never even considered: “not everyone needs the flexibility.” And there it was. I, a firm believer in dog-fooding, realized that while it is good in theory, it cannot be implemented in practice. But was that it? Did I just destroy the preached-practice of eating your own dog food?
Although I agree a company should be so invested in their own products and services that they should be willing to use them, it is important to remember the scale of your product or service’s target audience. If your product is designed for a small company, but you’re a large corporation, you’re probably going to need something bigger to suit your needs. I would bet that the people who started companies like TurboTax are probably intelligent and knowledgeable CPA who probably don’t use the TurboTax software to file their own taxes. But that should be their fuel to keep developing and improving! Maybe you aren’t your own target audience for your current product. But your next product could revolutionize your industry!
When it comes to software development, your work is never done. If you think that what you have is great the way it is, then you should be proud of what you have – but you should think about ways you can make the next big leap. When it comes to owning and running a business, no matter what it is, you should always find that drive to continue making the experience better for your client, make a higher profit, or even make your business the kind of place talent wants to work. Yes, they are broad statements, but your mind doesn’t always need to be dreaming up new ideas, just improving on old ones. Even if it’s a banana stand.