Every field has its experts. These fall into two categories. There are the actual people who have risen from being amateurs and have reached whatever accounts for success in the field over time. Then there are the hacks.
The business of starting and running a software company is no different.
While I’m not going to mention any names (those of you in the field would know them anyhow), the business of software has its experts as well. And while a very small number of these people (who choose to give out advice publicly) are worth listening to, most of these people are hacks (some without even realizing it).
This post is in direct response to a recent thread on the Business of Software forum.
Folks want to start software companies for the same reason folks want to start any small business. They’re either sick of working for someone else, or they have an inherent spirit of an entrepreneur and have always assumed that starting and running their own company (or twelve) is the way to go through life. I am one of the former.
When one is just starting out in any field, it’s natural to want to gravitate toward wherever the experts hang out in order to partake of some of the wisdom in the air, either through absorbing direct advice or through a sort of osmosis. For people starting a small software company, blogs and forums are a natural place to go to seek such advice. Unfortunately, due to both the anonymity of such mediums, as well as the viral nature of the internet, hacks have a much easier time appearing as true experts (which also, by the way, has the adverse affect of having the true experts back off into the shadow – the playing field is just too crowded – it’s just not worth it).
If you stand back and watch the interaction, it’s almost depressing.
Some expert presents an article outlining an interesting, albeit perhaps not unique, idea. It goes unheard. It’s not dugg, redditted, del.icio.us.ed, or slashdotted. No one cares.
Except that after a while, a few hacks read it, and run with it full force – writing blog posts, starting forum threads, doing podcasts, etc.
As the hacks copy the idea all over the place, it morphs (remember playing telephone as a kid?), and turns into a grotesque unrecognizable notion of the original.
And the amateurs looking for any scraps of useful advice eat it up!
“The long tail” – A fine article. Well written. It took three months for every blog out there to disseminate and mutate the idea – presenting it as a never before seen stroke of brilliance. Here it is: more shelf space means a product can be on the market longer. If you’re running an internet business, you have unlimited shelf space. So your product can be sold indefinitely. Ta da! Brilliant? I’d bet you there are people out there right now charging $1000.00 an hour to do conferences and talks about the long tail.
Same thing with every other ‘brilliant idea’ – “Don’t even think about starting a software company if you are the only founder – if you can’t get another person to believe in your dream and join you, you will fail”.
Bullshit. Antair was founded by me. It started with $1000 from my own personal bank account and never took on outside investment. And now, two years later, it’s finally making enough money to support my family. Perhaps it’s not a one billion dollar company, but it’s a hell of a lot better than starting with five founders, going through stupid squabbles along the way, blowing through thirty million dollars of VC funding, and going bankrupt with no customers and ten million lines of source code.
“Don’t bother writing desktop applications — web apps are the only way to go — it’s the future!“.
Yeah…and we won’t need programmers in ten years because business managers will have smart, pluggable components that they can just put together to get whatever they need to run their companies.
People who started their small software companies at the same time that I did are all over the place. Some have yet to have a single sale, while others are doing better than Antair by several orders of magnitude.
There are no patterns. There are no tricks. Stop listening to the experts. Don’t listen to me either. If you want to start a company, seek the advice of a lawyer and an accountant as far as legalities and formalities are concerned, and then start listening to yourself. This is not rocket science. It’s not brain surgery. Build a product, market the product, sell nothing or sell a million units, figure out why it failed or why it succeeded, learn from the experience, and repeat until you reach whatever defines success in your book.