IT in the Age of VUCA
Move Fast and Break Things
If Yodle stuck with its original business model eight years ago, it would have failed. But today, it's a $130 million marketing technology and services company that thrives on blowing things up to get them right.
"That was actually one of the driving forces behind setting up our systems and processes," says CTO John Merryman. "It's the case for many tech startups: You don't know what comes next." In other words, VUCA is just business as usual.
Groupon, for example, started as an idea for fundraising and turned into a business built on group coupons, Merryman points out. Facebook is still tweaking its revenue model. "Trying lots of things is how you end up with better answers," he says. "Doing the same things better won't solve the problem."
In a nutshell, Yodle is the digital world's answer to the old Yellow Pages. When the world went online, big companies could afford to build and run their own websites. Small local businesses couldn't. Enter Yodle, which has built a technology platform with which it can quickly provision websites for local businesses.
But first, Yodle set out to be an online business directory, launching a service called Yodle Local.
"Our idea was about having a direct consumer relationship and developing leads. We tried it and there were some promising signs, but then Google changed their algorithms in such a way that they tended to decrease the ranking of directories. It wasn't working nearly as well," Merryman says.
So the company quickly switched business gears. It also decentralized IT as a way to stay agile.
"As you scale a nimble organization, and every startup is nimble, there are certain inflection points at which you have to change," he says. "One thing we've done that I think is critical to agility is decentralize the process of building products and servicing business units."
To this end, IT at Yodle doesn't have "one big priority list."
"That leads to a whole lot of discussion about the relative priority of things that are incredibly hard to trade off, like achieving audit compliance versus building a new product feature that might make the company $100 million," Merryman says. "People spend their time arguing rather than getting work done."
Instead, IT at Yodle is divided into feature teams, each of which is responsible for a particular business constituency.
"The relative spending on business areas doesn't change much, but what does change is how [money] is spent. In the services marketing area, for example, there are all sorts of ideas that come up all the time, and because they have their own priority list, they're free to quickly shuffle priorities around," Merryman explains. "They're innately familiar with the business challenges in that area; the engineers know the customers because they're on calls. They get it."
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