When is a tech company not a tech company?

I have often wondered why so many companies are called tech companies, when in fact tech has been here for centuries already.

During the Industrial Revolution, the world changed at a pace never before seen. Transportation, manufacturing, mining, and agriculture all saw rapid developments in speed and efficiency. The World became mechanized and new tools and equipment helped companies transform from small-scale operations to the large-scale industries that are still visible today.

One machine that made this possible was the steam engine. We used it in everything from mining to textiles and from transportation to agriculture.

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Photo by Russ Ward on Unsplash

The diversity of applications allowed entrepreneurs to take the technology and shake up their industries, to become the disruptors of their time.

For example, steamships imported more cotton to the UK than ever before. Mills in the North of England could spin and weave cotton into fabric faster than ever. At the same time, farms became mechanized and increased the amount of produce they could grow. Steam trains made traveling more comfortable, cheaper and more readily available to the general population. The World started to shrink due to the influence of the steam engine.

The steam engine had its problems, however. The manufacturers needed to make sure that their engines were built to be safe. After the delivery, they needed maintenance. Even a minor issues could lead to the engine exploding with fatal consequences.

So the railway companies, mills or coal mines that used steam engines had to understand how the machine worked and how to get the best out of it. It was, however, only an enabler that allowed new businesses to grow out of old ones and new ideas to develop.

While 200 years may have passed, the similarities are evident. We looked at the steam engine as the heart of the industrial revolution in the same way as software is central to the revolution of the internet era.

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Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash

Companies today are using the power of software to enable them to offer products or services that challenge the status quo in ways that would have been unimaginable only a decade ago. Companies like Netflix, Uber, Deliveroo, and Airbnb took on the existing players in the same way the railway companies did to the stagecoach industry 200 years ago.

While the steam engine enabled new companies to disrupt the status quo, they needed to understand the technology they were using. But their core business was not the steam engine.

While the internet enables new companies to disrupt the status quo, they need to understand the technology they are using. But their core business is not the internet.

Tech companies have been here for centuries. They are the ones who stand out in remixing ideas on the platform that is already available to them.

The underlying human preferences have not changed that much. We still want the transportation, entertainment, logistics and hospitability as we’ve always wanted.

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Photos like these flood the Airbnb today (Taken by Luca Bravo on Unsplash)

And principles of delivering these haven’t changed either. It still needs a sprinkle of wow and awe in it to have an impact. Be it a software or a steam engine; it even needs to be designed and tested that it’s safe and reliable. And it still shouldn’t blow up. But remember this.

The most significant thing that actually has changed is that the new platform we call the internet is free.

Your competition is continuously in the making. Today anybody can go out and get sh*t done.

So for your tech business to thrive tomorrow too, only one question remains.

Is your sh*t outstanding in execution? And does it serve safely and reliably what you set out to deliver?

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