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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

Making out your not a "one man band" ?

Just curious what people's thoughts are on how they present their one-man companies.
Do refer to your company as "we" or "I"? Without actually stating untruths, do you think its a good idea to let the impression ride that you are a bigger company that you are, or are you upfront about the fact that its a one man show? What would be the pros and cons? Would the answer be different if you were targeting consumers or business?
Matthew Fender Send private email
Friday, January 25, 2013
I'm really embarrassed at my incorrect use of "your" versus "you're" in the thread title. Sorry guys !
Matthew Fender Send private email
Friday, January 25, 2013
> I'm really embarrassed at my incorrect use of "your" versus "you're"

(Bah!  Small potatoes!  (or whatever one says in Australia).  Call me when you have a few "our/are", "do/due" (or even, once, "to overdue"!), "he through out" under your belt.  I think I have made even worse, but I don't dare go find those dark emails.  I've found there is an interesting positive correlation between sleep debt and homophone error probability)

FWIW, I recall seeing a discussion of this topic of we vs. I when referring to the company on the OnStartups Stack Exchange Q&A site as well.
Racky Send private email
Friday, January 25, 2013
I don't consider we to be deceptive when speaking on behalf of an action on behalf of the company you own as opposed to something you yourself personally are saying.

"We'll get that shipped right away" is fine even if you're driving to the post office personally to mail it, when you're talking on behalf of your business concern. When you are talking about mailing your mom back the book she left during her visit, you want to use "I'll get that mailed right away."
Scott Send private email
Friday, January 25, 2013
Obviously this is not carte blanche though, there's a line that could easily be crossed. Like if you said "I can't issue you a refund without my boss' approval." or "I'll have to run that past the board of directors." or such, anything involving giving someone the run around.
Scott Send private email
Friday, January 25, 2013
Scott OK so apart from the issue of deception - let's assume no outright lies are involved - do you think there are any advantages either way to appearing to be more than a one man show?
No particular reason for the question - just curious.
Matthew Fender Send private email
Friday, January 25, 2013
Well I'm not really one for deceiving customers, so when I was a one man band, I didn't try to hide that, and it's always been clear this is a small company, and I even might think of that as an advantage, people know they can contact us for help and someone will get back to them.

My comment is kind of limited to:

1. It's OK to use 'we' when speaking on behalf of company.
2. It's not OK to mislead customers.

The second one is a general principle that's larger than this one issue.

I don't think you have to go out of your way to call attention to your size either though.
Scott Send private email
Friday, January 25, 2013
In practice if you have a company name and a beautiful website and software titles, most people are just going to naturally assume there's a bunch of people there. So you don't really have to mislead them, it's the default assumption. Most people don't know what sort of work goes into building software. You hear about things like there's some team at Microsoft working on a single project and there's 10,000 developers on the project or such  numbers. If your company is called "John Doe, Programming Services" though you're going to look like one guy.
Scott Send private email
Friday, January 25, 2013
You people really seem to not know your own language real well. I have been suspecting this for quite some time but more and more I'm getting truly convinced in it

The more I get familiar with English myself  the more I see that you are not at all 100% certain of the correct way of speaking it ...That is why you have to learn it in school, and why some of you even go for a Ph.D. in it... you want to learn it real well

But on the positive side it seems to be the main reason why English is so popular in the world nowadays. It simply is very robust and can stand all kinds of uses and misuses,abuses, and other S's
Like Lego blocks -it is simple enough to use at basic level and have so many possible connectors/connections that you can go on and invent your own words/constructs if you plase so and they will still understand you all over the world...even if it is wrong,incorrect,harsh, whatever...
That having said I still think way it is better than old Latin was or  French is...
Understand you did,haven't you?, I say :)
alexandar Send private email
Saturday, January 26, 2013
I think "we" is perfectly acceptable when talking about your business. Actually I think saying "I" when talking about your business can be unprofessional and make could make me think you take things too personally.

But that's just me, I prefer hotels to B&B's because I mostly like a professional distance and that applies to most customer service interactions for me.

Even when someone is blatantly the only person involved in the business I wouldn't bat an eyelid at them using "we".

For instance I walk into "Amy's flowers", there's only one person in the shop & her name badge says "Amy". It's likely she's a sole proprietor.

I ask "can you order in 24 red roses for me", she says "yes we can, they'll be here tomorrow".

In that sentence her saying "we" is fine because she's referring to the business. I don't think software businesses are any different, I usually say "we"; as in "we can fix that bug in the next week".
Jonathan Matthews Send private email
Saturday, January 26, 2013
Here's what I do:  I'm a one-man band, but my wife (Wendy*) does the family budget.  Also, I ask my father (Fred*) a lot about my product ideas and get him to look at it.

So on my "About" page of my website, I state "we" everywhere and that: I am the founder and lead programmer, Wendy handles sales and finances, and that Fred does quality assurance and bug-testing.

All these statements are in fact true, with no lies.  I feel comfortable saying "we" as such and that it's justified.  Maybe you could, too.

* Names changed.
Harry Phace Send private email
Saturday, January 26, 2013
I don't think you should feel bad about saying we.  There's almost  always someone else involved even if tangentially.

That being said, I'm making a conscious effort to promote our businesses using "I" these days even though there's more than just me contributing.  I want users to know they are talking to the person who matters, the person who can solve the problems, and the person who listens.  Not some faceless support drone who many people assume they are talking to.
Cowardly Poster Send private email
Saturday, January 26, 2013
This topic reminds me of...

"Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial 'we.' "
                                                                      --Mark Twain
Racky Send private email
Saturday, January 26, 2013
I'm a single founder and still the only guy at my startup.  Like the other comments on the post, I have don't see any problem with use "we" when communicating about the business.  Although I'm the only "full-time" guy behind the scenes, there are many others that contribute to the product.  This, I suppose, helps me to justify the using the word.  I also agree with Alexandar that using "I" could also be unprofessional. 

I used to hide the fact that I was a one man band.  When I first launched I had different emails (support, sales, etc..), different phone extensions, and my about page made the company look bigger than it was.  When talking with people, I tried to beat around the bush with the actual size of the business. But I soon realized that when I started to open up about the "real" business, people we're very receptive.  In fact, it opened the door to a deeper relationship with my customers.  Now, I'm much more open about the fact that I'm the only guy here, and I believe this has been very beneficial.

The only major drawback of doing this is prospect's concern with support.  The comment - "what happens if there is an emergency and you have a headache one day?" - has come up a couple of times.  In this case, I point them to our linkedin customer testimonials and explain that outstanding customer support has been a large part of the success of our business and not something taken lightly.  I explain that being the founder/developer/owner, I am likely much more invested than my competitors team of support people.  BUT - they are absolutely right that there may be times that I'm simply not available to immediately answer the phone or email.  So if they are looking for support to be 100% instantly available, then I tell them that working with our company is probably not right for them.
Marty Thomas Send private email
Sunday, January 27, 2013
I was fixing some bugs last night and noticed that I have "We need to do this and that" sort of comments in the code. Since this discussion was fresh, I looked through and I've been doing that for years. I'm the only person dealing with most of the code here, and all of the code I was looking at.

I also had "I'm not sure if this or that is what is causing it."

Both sound correct to me. "We're not sure..." sounds absurd to me though, so I'm not speaking on behalf of a plural self, I speak on behalf of a singular self. It seems I use we regarding future actions where the actor has yet to be determined. So "We need to do this and that" seems to be a shortened form of "Someone, almost certainly me". This applies to the case of telling the customer we will mail their shipment shortly. Afterwards I do use "we mailed your shipment" and "your shipment was mailed", where it's kind of unimportant who did it since it's not such a critical action anyone needs to take credit.

I think am am using we as a sort of gender neutral first person singular pronoun.
Scott Send private email
Sunday, January 27, 2013
Compare to my use of I when getting a bug report: "I will look into that right away" and "I was able to get this fixed."

In those cases, it's something more labor intense and non-routine where the actor actually is important, so I use I there.

Obviously I haven't thought about this before. I'm becoming convinced that this is really something more of a topic in linguistics  than it is in company size.
Scott Send private email
Sunday, January 27, 2013
"what happens if there is an emergency and you have a headache one day?"
I assume your software isn't critical to telecommunications companies or utility companies.  Your customers need to chill out.  I am so sick of 24/7/365 "support" that can't fix or solve anything.  Give me someone who works banker hours one day a week, but who can actually make something happen, instead of offering excuses, brain dead, wrong advice or passing me off to someone else of equal or greater uselessness.
Howard Ness Send private email
Sunday, January 27, 2013
I remember a USENET thread years ago where someone was going on about box numbers and how USPS was not going to allow people to call them suites anymore.  He did not like that.

I was paying bills by cheque in the mail, and two big companies that I paid to had box numbers.  It did not seem to hurt them.  Also, amusingly, I was living in a community where there was postal service to the suburban and rural areas, but NOT to downtown.  I lived in downtown and so had a P.O. box.  Most businesses downtown would have, too.


Gene Wirchenko
Gene Wirchenko Send private email
Monday, January 28, 2013
As long as you're not intentionally trying to deceive your clients it can be written either way. Depends what dialect of English you or your audience is used to reading. Even then I don't think it's matters that much. See http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/1338/are-collective-nouns-always-plural-or-are-certain-ones-singular

I personally get concerned seeing a single persons name appear on information and documentation. I.e. billing to a personal pay pal account, emails from a personal email, etc. I have no problem with mISV's I'm one, but see it as a matter of professionalism. It doesn't cost much to have a company look like a company. Even if it's only one person. If you writing something on behalf of the company be the company.

Whether there's one person or many people, its up to who you want your customers to interface with. You or your company. If you get busy and you need help you can bring people in smoother.

If you're not striving to be a 'company' than proudly be a one man band and don't include anything of being a company. Write in the personal as it is yourself that is interfacing.
TrippinOnIT Send private email
Monday, January 28, 2013
I use "we" when I think it's appropriate, and use "I" when I want them to know that they are getting focused attention. Using "I" lets them know that there is someone responsible who they can contact (me).

If in doubt, you can switch to the passive voice, e.g., "your CD order shipped today" instead of "I shipped your CD today".
Nicholas Hebb Send private email
Monday, January 28, 2013
"billing to a personal pay pal account, emails from a personal email, etc"

Yes, that's a concern. I use Gmail as my mail provider, but I've set it up so that info@, sales@ and support@ go that account; but the customer doesn't know that. When I reply from Gmail, the reply comes from info@ etc, even if they read the mail headers. Gmail is good like that.

As for PayPal, I use that too but use a business PayPal account, instead of personal. It's still the same cost (free) and it makes you look more professional.

Real web hosting with a domain name is a must, too. None of this "www.webprovider.com/~username" rubbish for your website. That's totally unprofessional.
Harry Phace Send private email
Monday, January 28, 2013
We.  There are no "one man bands" in software.  You must have someone who has a stake in your success, who is giving your advice, moral support. At the very least, the government is your partner, hoping to earn some money from your success.
What about your payment processor?  They're in your ecosystem. Who's working for you, supplying you with the support and development tools you need to write your product?  Who prepares your taxes? Got an attorney who helped you form your LLC?

You may feel alone, but there are plenty of others rooting either directly or indirectly for your success.

We it is.
Darren Send private email
Sunday, February 03, 2013

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