* 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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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

What's wrong with asking people on this forum for software ideas

I have read many threads on this forum. Most people hate the threads that talk about "I need a software idea" - or - "I am stuck in coming up with a good niche".

However, many of those threads talk about looking outside software to find ideas. In other words, look at magazines, talk to people to see what problems they are having, etc.

So, I ask, is it wrong to come on to this forum and ask "What problems are you folks having that wish had a solution?"

Isn't that just a form of research, just like looking at a trade magazine?

So, I ask, what problems have you been seeing that need some sort of software solution? You never know, you may spark some of your own ideas with your answer.
Finding Ideas
Friday, April 11, 2008
 
 
Go to non-developer forums and ask what problems THEY are having... trying to make products for other developers is very limiting.
Bill
Friday, April 11, 2008
 
 
When my Windows machine pauses/freezes for a few seconds, I wish I knew why so I could do something about it.  Switching to Linux is not an option :)
Doug
Friday, April 11, 2008
 
 
>> So, I ask, is it wrong to come on to this forum and ask "What problems are you folks having that wish had a solution?"

>> Isn't that just a form of research, just like looking at a trade magazine?

It's not BAD but it's not productive. It's an echo chamber.

Programmers excel at solving problems for other programmers. There are about 10 gazillion text editors developed by programmers for programmers. There are countless wannabe "standard" class libraries, system enhancements, screen power toys, etc. that programmers have developed for their own amusement that they try to sell to someone else.

Besides all that, the nature of business is that nobody can directly tell anyone else about a profitable business to pursue. It just can't happen. Why? If someone knows about a profitable business opportunity, that knowledge itself has value and nobody is going to knowingly give away that value.
Bored Bystander Send private email
Friday, April 11, 2008
 
 
> If someone knows about a profitable business
> opportunity, that knowledge itself has value and nobody
> is going to knowingly give away that value.

I agree with that up to a point. But I think there is another side of the coin. People ask other people to solve problems. The people asking know that there is value in the ideas that they propose for solving a problem, but many neither have the time nor inclination to solve the problem.

I think many on this forum are busy with their own projects that hoarding ideas tha may help them solve a problem wouldn't be a productive thing to do.
Finding Ideas
Friday, April 11, 2008
 
 
Finding - it's legit, but realize no one is going to gift wrap your microISV and put it under the tree for you.

That said, here's two products/services I'd like to see. And if I did, I'd certainly write about them at either 47hats.com or webworkerdaily.com or both:

1. The learning from the web app. Right now, I'm learning Ruby on Rails, and there's a gigaton of good info on the net. Too much, and a lot of it applies to 1.2+, not 2.02. I'd pay money for a site that did nothing else but provided digest/narratives that would provide the context of how to learn what I need to learn. For example git is getting hot and while there's lots out there, no one has knitted this stuff together saying, "read this to start, then a then b, here's a few paragraphs summing up where this is as now." Law/Accounting/Medical professionals can subscribe to services that do this sort of thing, why not us?

2. Quicken/Money for the self-employed. These two - and the online copycats - all are geared toward people who are salaried. I haven't been one of those since 1982. Our needs are different, why not our software?

3.
Bob Walsh Send private email
Friday, April 11, 2008
 
 
What Bob said is right: I sometimes suggest ideas either from hearing other people's wants or because it just occurred to me. But it stops there: it's up to you to research the idea and decide if it's viable. One I keep bringing up is quoting software for job shops because I keep seeing requests for it, but it's not something I want to pursue.

Joel had one of the best concepts I've heard: pick any industry(*) that is supported by software, learn what the major needs and  offerings are, and improve on them.


(*) at the time he suggested software for the rubber industry, which makes me smile every time I drive by Rubber Industries Inc. on my way to work.
farmboy Send private email
Friday, April 11, 2008
 
 
You can make a program and call it Virtual Bj..

Beats to the drum of any mp3 you play..  :)  Nuff said.

Probably will become a millionair overngith..  But probably need some hardware to go with the software.
Virtual DJ
Friday, April 11, 2008
 
 
> If someone knows about a profitable business opportunity, that knowledge itself has value and nobody is going to knowingly give away that value.

Kind of echoing a bit of what Finding Ideas said, the above there isn't always accurate.

There are things that can make money that I simply can't execute on. I don't have the resources to do it, or it's too time intensive for me, or I don't have the skills for it, or... Giving away ideas in that space is easy as I have nothing to gain from them.

It all depends.

There are lots of ideas that I wouldn't want to do. 

Just for example, someone good with stats and data mining skills could use a financial services feed to collect information and deliver insight into it for people doing trading at home or for professionals. Extending it, one could add in foreign stock exchanges. There's certainly a market for it. Not something that I'm interested in doing...

Ideas are a dime a dozen. Being able to deliver on an idea is a different thing.
Ryan Smyth Send private email
Friday, April 11, 2008
 
 
Well you have to know what your talents are.  Personally I don't know anything about being self employed so the self employed finance idea is not the best fit for me.  Since I have never met you before Mr OP how do I know what you are good at?  How do I know what you are willing to persevere for?  You need to look with in not to others for such answers.
Brian
Friday, April 11, 2008
 
 
Doug
Friday, April 11, 2008
 
 
Here, I'll give you my four best ideas as a demonstration of what's wrong with asking for ideas on this forum:

  1) a cross-platform task scheduling system. Schedule jobs
    on multiple machines based on various trigger conditions
    (periodic time/date, completion of other jobs, creation
    of files, etc.). Monitor user-defined trigger conditions
    on multiple machines. Provide both GUI and programmer-
    friendly management and control interfaces.

  2) a scriptable network server/client that allows you to
    process streams of data on network connections the same
    way AWK can process file data. Support both TCP and UDP.
    Support both textual and binary data. (for extra credit,
    do the same thing with data queries)

  3) a simple drawing proram with an interface a-la MacDraw.
    (for extra-credit, make this a javascript module for
    use in web applications). The program should be able
    to import MacDraw, MacDraw II, ClarisDraw, ClarisWorks
    and AppleWorks documents.

  4) a simple painting program with an interface a-la MacPaint
    (this one is, pretty much, only for Mac OS X, which no
    longer has a simple painting program, just Adobe Photoshop
    clones of varying quality. Windows already has the Paint
    accessory, which is pretty good for the price.)

Now, if you can get cracking on any one of those projects without further input from me, then you probably didn't need to hear my ideas in the first place. I'm betting that you'd need to get a LOT more input from me, however, before you could really start working on any of those ideas in a serious way. The problem is that ideas that can become good products are much deeper and more involved than most people realize. There's all sorts of assumptions in the idea that even the person who originally had it doesn't know about, until they start to work on it. Asking for our ideas just isn't going to develop the kind of involved and extended conversation that would be need to transfer all the underlying knowledge that would be required just to let someone else understand WHY the idea is good, much less how to even start to actually WORK on the idea.

Heck, I've got sizable requirements documents written for all four of those ideas, and I still bet you wouldn't be able to start work based solely on the requirements. There's a lot of stuff either still locked in my head, or inadequately thought out. Any one of those projects is going to take months of work just figure out what the requirements really mean, what requirements are actually bugs (mis-designs based on too little thought or bad assumptions), and what the "correct" way to do things really is.

Pretty much, in order for me to actually tell you everything you need to know about my idea in order to start working on it, I would have to spend nearly as much effort as it would take to write the program myself. I haven't got the time for that, and I doubt that you find my ideas all that interesting. So the best course of action is to come up with your own ideas: ones that you are interested in, and will be able to persue with verve and determination.
Jeffrey Dutky Send private email
Saturday, April 12, 2008
 
 
@Doug

Have you tried switching to Linux? :)
Richard Corsale Send private email
Saturday, April 12, 2008
 
 
My comment "If someone knows about a profitable business opportunity..." wasn't presented really well, I admit. The comment made by Bob Walsh - "no one is going to gift-wrap your mISV" - comes closest to what I meant.

But I meant in addition - nobody is going to give their best ideas away to a stranger.

Here's the essential problem with the OP's request. You're asking a bunch of people engaged in exactly the same business as you are, what they believe that you should be doing.

There is going to be no diversity of viewpoints from different areas of business here. And without new ideas, no money flows into an isolated group of software developers.

Asking other programmers for mISV ideas is similar to the old economic paradox of taking in each other's wash.
Bored Bystander Send private email
Saturday, April 12, 2008
 
 
How about Bingo Card software? The hallmark of the disingenious and the copycat around here.
The Luggage
Saturday, April 12, 2008
 
 
I suspect the subtext here is "a good idea I can implement easily that is guaranteed to make me a lot of money".

Big surprise.
chewey
Saturday, April 12, 2008
 
 
@Richard -- my uISV sells Windows B2B software, so I need to stick with the business.  There have been a few posts here confirming my gut suspicion that _selling_ software to Linux types is hard.

One other idea: Wish I had a way to track/limit my kids' video game playing time.  It needs to work across home-networked machines and also track their time on XBox and Wii. I've seen a partial solution that used a special card swiper that they had to use to enable power to the XBox and Wii.

OK, lots of ideas.  I'm waiting for each one of them.  How soon can I expect one of them?
Doug
Saturday, April 12, 2008
 
 
@chewey,
You are way off base. At least I am not one who is expecting or necessarily needs a lot of money. So you are wrong in your subtext assertion. I am doing research in a bunch of areas. I am talking to people, reading trade magazines, etc. THis is just another vector of research. Actually, I think I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn't ask the question here.
Finding Ideas
Saturday, April 12, 2008
 
 
My take is that we (developers) are all too often focused on the technical execution side and not the underlying problem. We love to build software to solve problems, or things we think are problems, but are we equally excited about following up on an AP clerk's comment about how hard it is to cross-reference form A9b with a client ID code? My point is that we need to start thinking of ourselves as problems solvers who just happen to use computers to do so. Then we can start to focus on where the real value is created by software (selling out to google) no, removing pain points. Nobody on this forum, or in a trade magazine is going to give you that, because they don't know what it is, or they're already trying to soothe the pain. It's going to come from (i) personal experience or (ii) someone really close to you. Either way you need more than a superficial understanding to solve the problem.

Saturday, April 12, 2008
 
 
I've been suggesting this for YEARS.

Web history searcher

How many times have you said "I know I read a web page solving this problem, but I can't remember the name". Wouldn't it be GREAT to google your own search history.

There are a couple of companies doing this (google desktop comes to mind -- although it doesn't work right, see below).

This *seems* like a straightforward program to write. But maybe not :-)


Everytime I post the above everyone starts talking about "all you have to do is TAG everything you want to remember". While I am a Tag convert after using Picassa, I don't want to tag 100% of the sites I visit just so I can later find the .05% I want to see again.

Google sort of does this now, but it only works if you search thru google AND click on a search result.It ONLY 'remembers' sites you've clicked on thru google search.
Mr. Analogy Send private email
Saturday, April 12, 2008
 
 
"I have read many threads on this forum. Most people hate the threads that talk about "I need a software idea" - or - "I am stuck in coming up with a good niche"."

IMHO it's not so much what's being asked but how it's asked - here and other places. Time and time again we do see the old "what program should I write that will make me sqillions?  Oh - and I need to write it within two weeks."

This is what gets peoples goat I think (it does mine). Re-phrased a question like "Do you think there is any room for a program that does  xyz, but in this way not like the other program zyx?" would draw less flack and generate better replies.
Scott Kane Send private email
Sunday, April 13, 2008
 
 
> "Do you think there is any room for a program that
> does  xyz, but in this way not like the other program
> zyx?"

The point is that if anyone knew and the odds of success looked good, the crowd in this forum is the kind that would try to capitalize on such ideas and perhaps not tell you about it. But the more likely thing is that people simply don't know. They'll be guessing at best and mislead you.

The other thing is that people are already working around problems so they may not seem so bad to them. Or if something is obvious, there are already others working on it possibly.. Then again the vacuum cleaners' suction problem was obvious, but noone did anything about it until Dyson because keeping the status quo was better for the manufacturers.

So the bottomline is you can't "windowshop" for ideas. It won't work. You either know about problems/needs or you don't. Asking won't really get you any closer.

You can't "test ideas" in business either. You are either in 100% or you are not. You either believe that something should exist, or you don't. (I think this is one of the major reasons why most startups fail. Money is a secondary issue). That's the "risk taking" part of entrepreneurship which everyone tries to overlook. Step by step instructions only exist in books, but that's not how it really works (sells books though).
cynic
Sunday, April 13, 2008
 
 
@Cynic

I don't disagree with you.

" (I think this is one of the major reasons why most startups fail. Money is a secondary issue). "

Generally it's accepted (via folks who research such things) that it's a lack of planning and a lack of actioniong planning that causes most small business startups to fail. I've never seen any figures indicating ISV's were any different in this regard. However this doesn't preclude your comment from being added to the plethora of additional reasons they fail. <g>

Would love to see some solid figures (verifiable) sometime of ISV failures compared to success and the concluded reasons though.
Scott Kane Send private email
Sunday, April 13, 2008
 
 
> Generally it's accepted (via folks who research such
> things) that it's a lack of planning and a lack of
> actioniong planning that causes most small business
> startups to fail.

I don't know what is "generally accepted". I hear statistics all the time, but never read them in detail. I don't know who they are including and who they are excluding, but not all failures are equal.

You have to first weed out the clueless people who are in it because they got mad at their bosses yesterday.

After that, technically you don't need a written piece of paper to succeed. There is a bunch of things you need to consider and you can do that either in your head or write them down if you like. If you need money, you have to write them down and have some way to convince these people that you are worth the risk of lending money.

The business plan is otherwise for the clueless who has never considered starting a business in depth and do not realize what is involved.
cynic
Monday, April 14, 2008
 
 
"These people" obviously being banks, VCs, angels, etc..
cynic
Monday, April 14, 2008
 
 
"The business plan is otherwise for the clueless who has never considered starting a business in depth and do not realize what is involved. "

No.  I've got to disagree here, indeed that's bordering on clueless as a statement in itself. I taught startups and the plan almost without exception is what sorted the wheat from the chaff after just twelve months of their trading.
Scott Kane Send private email
Monday, April 14, 2008
 
 
> I taught startups and the plan almost without
> exception is what sorted the wheat from the chaff
> after just twelve months of their trading.

I didn't mean it shouldn't be done at all.

The process of figuring out what the business will do, how, where, when, with whom etc is definitely required.

Evaluating the answers once in a while based on real life feedback is also required.

Whether you put all this down on a piece of paper or not is optional (this is based on personality, mental capacity etc).

If you've done it once or twice before, it is even less optional.

If you need to convince VCs, banks, angels to give you money, it is absolutely essential.
cynic
Monday, April 14, 2008
 
 
should read "... it is even *more* optional"
cynic
Monday, April 14, 2008
 
 
@cynic

Your clarification makes sense.  Thanks for adding it.


Cheers!
Scott Kane Send private email
Monday, April 14, 2008
 
 
"How many times have you said "I know I read a web page solving this problem, but I can't remember the name". Wouldn't it be GREAT to google your own search history."

Very off topic, but Google Desktop does this now, and does it very well. It will search youy Outlook email, gmail, web history and files on your system all at once. And extremely quickly since it has it all indexed locally.
Red Stater
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
 
 
Google Desktop, or a search box in general, does not help to jog your memory. It's a good start if you already know what you are looking for.
cynic
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
 
 

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