When we started Bitlink, we made a decision that we wanted to focus on particular kinds of projects. As is often the case, we had a pretty good idea of the sorts of things that we didn't want to do, but it took a little bit of time and effort to figure out how to distil our intuitions into a set of rules that would help ensure that we focus on the right projects.
Pretty early on, we realised that we had a strong sense of which projects resonated for us as a group and which ones didn't.
We were particularly clear on the things we didn't want to do. If someone asked us to build a marketing web site, we'd say no. If someone asked us to build a back-of-house tool for an accounting firm, we'd say no. If someone wanted us to code up an app for their new quick money startup, we'd say no.
But then, there were projects that we'd consistently say yes to. If a university researcher wanted to build a virtual reality interface to assist in physiotherapy, we'd say yes. If a personal trainer wanted to build a tool that used pedometer data to help people lead more active and healthy lifestyles, we'd say yes. If a school teacher asked us to build a an augmented reality comic book for helping teach young people about social skills, we'd say yes.
Before too long, a pattern emerged. The things that we wanted to do, tended to have four things in common:
The Four Pillars
1. Novel Interaction
The projects that we found to be compelling would generally be something more than just an app on a smartphone or a web site in a browser. If the only way of engaging with the technology was to tap on a piece of glass or click with a mouse, then we'd tend to refer that project on.
What we look for, is projects where the technology interacts with the real world in some way, or where there is some other kind of novel interaction taking place. As a result, a lot of our projects involve interacting with sensors in the environment, tangible user interfaces, augmented reality and virtual reality.
In short, the less it feels like using a computer, the more interested we tend to become.
We also found ourselves being drawn towards projects that had a creative component, beyond the normal creative work that you'd expect to take place in a design and engineering project. We enjoy engaging with more traditional forms of creativity, not just creative problem solving.
To this end, we favour projects that include rich illustrations, voice acting, storytelling, video, animation, 3D modelling or gameplay. Not only do we find these projects more satisfying because we feel like we have the necessary space to do truly creative work, but they also provide us with opportunities to collaborate with other creative people and agencies, which is always a valuable and rewarding experience.
3. Social Good
Another pattern that emerged was that projects that were aimed solely at raking in profit very rarely captured our interest. If the primary intended outcome of a particular project was to create a whole heap of wealth for an individual or company, then we'd find it difficult to get excited about the opportunity. While generating revenue is often an essential part of the projects we work on, it's never the only intended outcome, or the primary intended outcome of the work.
Instead of focusing on profit, we focus on the people who will use the things we create and the impact our work will have on their quality of life. With this in mind, the projects that tend to make the grade for us are those that have a social good outcome as their primary purpose (though of course, many of these projects also intend to make money and build a sustainable business).
The result of this focus on social good outcomes is that a lot of our projects have a health, environment or education component to them. This narrows down the scope of work we take on considerably, but it ensures that we feel good about everything that we do.
The final thing that we look for is that there is some sort of research component to any project that we take on. This might mean that we're working directly with a university researcher to build a tool that has research as its primary function. Or, it might mean that we're collaborating with researchers to determine whether one of our own products is achieving an intended social good outcome. Or, maybe a project just requires that we do a lot of research ourselves before we're able to deliver it.
The main motivating factor here is that we want our projects to be contributing to human knowledge in some meaningful way. At the very least, we want to be learning something useful ourselves as a result of undertaking a particular project. Ideally, though, we're also helping to drive research outcomes for formal research partners, such as universities and research institutes, which will ultimately lead to publications and dissemination of knowledge to the wider academic community.
The effect of the four pillars is twofold. Firstly, it dramatically reduces the scope of the sort of work that we say yes to and simplifies our decision making process down to a simple maxim: if it fits the pillars, we do it; if it doesn't, we don't. Secondly, it ensures that we're always working on projects that we find to be satisfying and that provide value to us beyond the necessary cashflow to keep the lights on day after day.
While we undoubtedly say no to a lot of work, narrowing our scope in this way has been a broadly positive thing for the Bitlink team. It's made it easier to explain what we do to people and has made it much easier to say no to potential collaborators when it's clear that they're not a good fit for us. Instead of trying to make something up, we're able to very quickly make a decision and are also able to give clear reasons as to why we'd prefer to pass on a particular project.
The major outcome of this approach though, is that we're building depth of expertise in areas that we find to be genuinely meaningful, which is creating a positive feedback loop. The more we focus on the sort of work that we want to be doing, the more of that sort of work is tending to come our way. It's at the point now where people are coming to us with projects that we're fairly confident wouldn't even have been conceived of, except that people knew that we existed and that it's the sort of project that we'd be really enthusiastic about.
If you'd like to learn more about the Four Pillars, check out the links below. And of course, if you think you've got a project that we might be interested in, please don't hesitate to contact us.
This blog post is the first in a five-part series on the "Four Pillars" that the Bitlink team use to determine which development projects to focus on at any given time. Projects that align with the four pillars are actively pursued, projects that don't fit the mould are declined or referred on.
If you'd like to read more, you can find the other posts in the series here: