* The Business of Software

A former community discussing the business of software, from the smallest shareware operation to Microsoft. A part of Joel on Software.

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Moderators:

Andy Brice
Successful Software

Doug Nebeker ("Doug")

Jonathan Matthews
Creator of DeepTrawl, CloudTrawl, and LeapDoc

Nicholas Hebb
BreezeTree Software

Bob Walsh
host, Startup Success Podcast author of The Web Startup Success Guide and Micro-ISV: From Vision To Reality

Patrick McKenzie
Bingo Card Creator

how do you come up with a product idea?

how do you folks in software biz come up with the idea for the product that you want to sell?
TripleDots
Sunday, August 20, 2006
 
 
Well,

http://www.mymicroisv.com/?p=107

and

http://www.mymicroisv.com/?p=106

will get the ball rolling...

Cheers,
Bob Walsh Send private email
Sunday, August 20, 2006
 
 
What do you love to do?

What are your areas of expertise?

Are there areas within either or both of these spheres not yet served by software, or are you bursting with ideas about a better way to automate them?

Developing a business around something you know a lot about and you are passionate about is a much surer way to succeed than simply throwing a dart on the wall.

Good Luck!
Karl Perry Send private email
Sunday, August 20, 2006
 
 
1) Idea under development: I have a recurring task that I don't like doing so I wrote software to make it easier and realized that there are many non-technical people who have the same problem and can both afford and would welcome a software solution.
2) Idea under consideration: my wife wanted a website for her small business and the features she wants are generic enough that I'm sure other service businesses can use something similar.

In both cases:
a) a need is evident
b) the need can be met by software
c) there's a fairly clear path to market the product
farmboy Send private email
Sunday, August 20, 2006
 
 
1)  Got a request by somebody to help her out with a Google search for a bit of software to do X (where X = "print bingo cards").
2)  Found few choices and nothing compelling.
3)  Did math on expected number of people who would pay if they found my solution compelling enough.
Patrick McKenzie Send private email
Sunday, August 20, 2006
 
 
Bob Walsh > will get the ball rolling...

BTW, I haven't had time to read your book yet, but I was wondering if you knew of or intended to write a short, no-brainer article eg. "Business for dummies" with software developers as target (who aren't necessarily dummies in the absolute, but are often dummies when it comes to business issues)?

I think it'd be a good introduction to your book, and a
summary of basics to know and questions to ask oneself while thinking about striking it out oneself?

For instance:
- basically, why does experience show that a free market economy is the least bad system to create riches, and how does it work? Macro stuff
- in this context, what is a business. Micro stuff
- why do people go into business for themselves?
- what businesses work and what don't (failure rate different depending on activity, profile of business owner, etc.)
- how to launch a business, how to keep it going
etc.
TheFred
Monday, August 21, 2006
 
 
>Business For Dummies

KC is doing a business for geeks series on the same kind of themes, good stuff. Here's a link to the first installment.

http://caseysoftware.com/business-for-geeks-getting-started
Gavin Bowman Send private email
Monday, August 21, 2006
 
 
Thanks Gavin. Hopefully, he can come up with a two-page summary so get started and get a rough idea of what it means to build a business for oneself.
TheFred
Monday, August 21, 2006
 
 
A "Business for Dummies Cheatsheet" maybe, slap a top 10 list or a "sure-fire" in the title and you'll be on the front page of Digg by the end of the week ;).
Gavin Bowman Send private email
Monday, August 21, 2006
 
 
1) Monitor Joel on Software discussion boards.

2) Wait for someone to talk about their ISV in detail.

3) Copy their product.
Alan M (UK)
Monday, August 21, 2006
 
 
I completely agree with Karl Perry.

I did in-depth research into several product categories and actually started creating a product, but I found I wasn't passionate about the particular product.  It was difficult for me to push forward with something that didn't excite me.

I believe, although I don't know if it's really true, that there are a bunch of under-served niche markets that aren't particularly attractive for larger businesses, but would work well for a small ISV.  In addition, I felt like I needed to get a product out "in the wild" so that I could find out what customers "really" want.
David Duey Send private email
Monday, August 21, 2006
 
 
TripleDots, I should have added this to what I said:
Basically come up with something simple that people need and try to sell it. If you have absolutely no business experience, get a small contract and try to fill it. I have recommended RentACoder.com as a learning experience in the past (as long as you remember that's all it is) because it's so easy to get started.

From reading this site for the past year, it seems that too many developers over-analyze getting started. Business basically consists of exchanging money for a product or a service; you can learn most of the other stuff as you go along. Software isn't special: it's just a means to an end.
farmboy Send private email
Monday, August 21, 2006
 
 
I have been following the "solve a need" approach myself.

I had a problem that I needed solved.  I am working on automating that task right now for myself.  Just after I started, I realised that I am not the only one who could benefit from this product.

So, I'll market it once I get it done (still in early alpha stages).
Eric D. Burdo Send private email
Monday, August 21, 2006
 
 
Gavin, thanks for the link.

While I've been focusing on the steps once you have some ideas, I'll focus on some of those pre-steps tomorrow and later this week.
KC Send private email
Monday, August 21, 2006
 
 
> how do you folks in software biz come up with the idea for the product that you want to sell?

Go out and talk to real people with real problems.

Last week i was on holidays and by chance had a conversation with a non-tech guy about his completely-non-tech business.  He suggested me developing software to solve a painful process that people in his business have.  I didn't know even that that business existed.

I will do some research on the topic, and if i find it viable i will go for it.
/A Send private email
Monday, August 21, 2006
 
 
My main product came out of frustration and solving a need for myself. I just figured that I'd throw it out on the web after it was done, but it probably would have been better if I had been sober when I gave it a name :)
Ryan Smyth Send private email
Monday, August 21, 2006
 
 
I have an e-commerce business that sell window coverings online.  I had to write some custom software to do this.  I couldn't find anything off the shelf or anything of a professional grade so I decided to write it myself.  My first love is software so I'm in the process of taking the software that I'm using and productizing it.
Ashley Reddy Send private email
Monday, August 21, 2006
 
 
Farmboy wrote:

> it seems that too many developers over-analyze getting started

Amen to that. If you do what I did (am doing), you will:

1. Start *small*, with something you are able to write quickly based on your skill set. This enables you to "throw things against the wall and see what sticks." *Do not* spend a year writing your first product, only to discover that it won't sell. What a disappointment! Start with something you can write in days or weeks. You can always move to bigger things later.

2. Along the same lines, the first version doesn't have to have every feature you can think of. Focus on the critical few.

3. Do something that's interesting to you. It doesn't have to be your first love, but you should find it interesting.

4. Choose something that's fairly unique to your skill set. Writing my software required a combination of several skills I have, each of which may be fairly common but the combination makes it a bit more rare. That gives me a slight edge. (For me the combination of skills I used was C++, COM, Shell Extensions, Graphics programming, User Interfaces, Win32 API, C#, ASP.NET, drawing, design sense.) For the skills I didn't have, I outsourced. (E.g., there was no way I was going to write my own payment processor.)

5. Have high hopes (to keep yourself motivated) but low expectations (to keep from being disappointed).

6. Remind yourself that at the beginning, it's all about *learning* how to make and sell a product. This helps put things in perspective--if this first product doesn't sell, big deal--you learned *so much* that you will have a big head start by the time you create your second product.

7. Each time you think of a product idea, *write it down* in a "Business Ideas" folder. Do that and I predict that in a couple months you'll have more ideas than you know what to do with. I create a separate Word doc for each idea. The doc contains some combination of:
- Brief title
- Date I came up with it
- Description of key benefits
- Target markets
- Revenue model (ads? free trial? tiered payments?). Does it seem like it will realistically make money?
- Technology I should use (e.g., maybe it has to be C++ instead of C# for good startup performance?)
Brian Morearty, Ducklet Send private email
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
 
 
Oh yeah, one other thing I forgot. Regarding motivation to get started implementing a product idea once you have one:

  Whatever you do, do something.

Us programmers, we tend to overanalyze things. Lots of up-front design, trying to decide if it's the right thing to do, not sure if we have enough education yet, etc. But from what I've read about successful entrepreneurs, they are DOERS. They're Action-Oriented.

So I'm inventing a new term:

  Action-Oriented Programming: writing the damn program instead of thinking about writing it.
Brian Morearty, Ducklet Send private email
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
 
 
Do any activity. Become aware of any pain involved with that activity. Develop something to solve the pain.

That's the way I am doing it.

:-)
Aaron
Aaron DC Send private email
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
 
 
"Action-Oriented Programming: writing the damn program instead of thinking about writing it."

+1000.

It seems to me that's how most programmers start out. As soon as they decide to do it "professionally", they become over-analyzers, whether through reading through too much theory, MSDN, or taking classes too seriously.  ;)

OK, what a generalisation. That's just what happened to me. Not easy getting back into "innocence state" where productivity was oh so high and it used to be oh so much fun... I think this is linked to the "intrinsic / extrinsic" motivation stuff that Joel and Eric among others wrote about lately.
Philipp Schumann Send private email
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
 
 
/A > Go out and talk to real people with real problems.

Yup. It's probably a safe guess that 80% of software is developed to solve boring business problems. It's precisely because they're boring that companies buy software to automate those tasks and save money (people are much more expensive and - usually - less reliable).

Unless you prefer to write tools for developers, mingle with people not in the software business, ask them about their work, whether they know of painstaking tasks that could be automated/enhanced by software. Ideally, you'll find someone smart who can act as partner/tutor so you get a leg-up, and it's a problem that is hard enough that your turf will be somewhat protected (relative barrier to entry).
TheFred
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
 
 

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