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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

"Lifestyle programmers"

I find the term intrinsically condescending and problematic. I suggest those who own their own small businesses not use this alien terminology as it is tossed around for propaganda purposes - to imply to people your company is not really serious.

Here's the implied message the public hears from this talk:

Obviously this guy is not going to get back to the customers with reasonable service since he's out surfing in Thailand 10 hrs a day. Must be nice to work 4 hrs a week and make all that money, the customers reading these articles think. I wonder why I have to support this lazy bum's lifestyle choices. He should charge less for his software and work more hours - the fact he has so much leisure is proof he isn't working hard enough. If this guy is eaten by a shark or hit by a jeepney, our company is screwed if we depend on his product. If you want real service and a company backed by someone that is going to be around  for a while, we should stick to "serious" products from "real" companies.

Same deal as the term "MicroISV", which says you are tiny, and you don't develop software you only sell it, and you are "independent" meaning you are not a solid company, which is "Microsoft", you are some guy off somewhere doing fringe stuff that might not be around in a few years.

If you don't want to fall for this nonsense, listen up.

You are the owner of a software company that develops and sells software in a market. You don't need to say you are "independent" of anyone. You don't need to say you are a vendor. You don't need to say you are a spoiled brat off surfing from the beach somewhere ignoring calls from customers.

You own a software company that makes things.
Scott Send private email
Saturday, November 30, 2013
IMHO, the audience is different.

As far as I can tell "Lifestyle programmer" is used mostly for bragging rights amongst colleagues (living the dream) and "I run a m-isv" sounds a lot better than "I work in my PJs in the basement" at a conference.

No one advertizes they are a micro-isv to the customers (most of whom don't even know what a m-ISV is anyway) and I have yet to see the product page on a m-ISV website presenting the company as the brain child of a "lifestyle programmer".

The customer comes on the website and sees the products you are selling, what it does, etc.  Where is he going to see the words "lifestyle programmer" or "M-ISV"? Besides, small companies have a far better track record than big companies when it comes to customer support. I'd rather call up "Joe" about my problems than wait for some unknown drone in a call center to pick up and ask me if my computer happens to be plugged in when I see the error message.
Sylvain Galibert Send private email
Saturday, November 30, 2013
But I'm a wizard turning caffeine into money.
Jeremy Morassi Send private email
Sunday, December 01, 2013
Reminds me of the debate a few years ago about the term 'shareware'.

Scott is correct although I find it quite depressing that we can't be honest about what we are. I can't be honest with my new customers because they would worry about ongoing support yet my existing customers praise me because my support far exceeds what theyare used to.
Ducknald Don Send private email
Sunday, December 01, 2013
Somehow I managed to come this far without even hearing the term "Lifestyle programmer."  (Though admittedly, I do need to get out more...)

Just hearing the term, not really knowing what it means (what DOES it mean?!), I feel an intense urge to roll my eyes.  It sounds gratingly self-congratulatory.  What's coming next from this person?  A lecture on maintaining "balance" in my life?  It strikes me as condescending too.  Go away, annoying person...
Emily Jones Send private email
Sunday, December 01, 2013
I think it's a reaction to the distain VC types show to anyone who doesn't want to get big fast or fail.

Here in the UK (thanks to the likes to dragons den) the term lifestyle entrepreneur is used in a derogatory sense.

I don't see a problem with this being applied to small independent software entrepreneurs who have no wish to enter the fast artificial growth mania.

Of course, I wouldn't put this on my sales site. But, who is suggesting you should?
Jonathan Matthews Send private email
Sunday, December 01, 2013
Personally, I'm not offended by the "lifestyle programmer"term. However, its quite a course stereotype. The reality is businesses come in all shapes and sizes. The benefit of being small is that its generally less stressful for the business owner. Overheads are kept to a minimum.

In the end,  it all comes down to market dynamics and the specific nature of the entrepreneur. Some entrepreneurs are  empire builder types - the bigger the better! Others, are more technically driven. They are less concerned about branching out, more concerned about building the best product they can. I count myself in the latter category.
jamieb22 Send private email
Monday, December 02, 2013
Can't say I've heard the term either, but at the end of the day isn't improving our "lifestyle" what we are all aiming to do? Better a lifestyle ISV than a lifestyle drone.
Anon123 Send private email
Monday, December 02, 2013
This is funny to see indeed, I use "happiness hackers" and such sometimes. Never really in the pat-myself-on-the-back way, I just think being able to work from basically anywhere makes me a happier more productive person. I'm not being monitored by my managers, I don't have boring reports to fill, it's mostly about the work getting done, and being quality work.
I'm sorry to see people see it in such a negative way, especially if this type of thinking is propagated through potential customers.

Alex Gacichevici Send private email
Monday, December 02, 2013
Actually, I feel that "lifestyle" businesses are what most of us  should be striving for. It is really necessary to scale up operations and dominate the world? Can't we just work on something we find interesting and make enough money to live a comfortable life?

While VC's may look down on the lifestyle programmer, it goes both ways. Occasionally, we get contacted by VC's asking us whether our business needs investment.  We tell them we are not interested. Our main motivation for this is simply that we don't want stress of running  larger business, and having to meet quarterly "sales targets" and explain ourselves when we inevitably miss them.
jamieb22 Send private email
Monday, December 02, 2013
"he's out surfing in Thailand 10 hrs a day. Must be nice to work 4 hrs a week and make all that money"
In light of this post I suggest we redefine ISV as "Irresponsible Software Vacationer"
cn Send private email
Monday, December 02, 2013
jamie, what you describe is called owning your own business.

"Lifestyle" is a propaganda term being pushed around with this image of a guy who is farting around and not taking the business seriously, 4 hours a week, ignoring customer inquiries, etc.

This label is being pushed, as you have fallen for just now, as an appropriate label for small businesses.

Result - your small business looks like its run by a clown and customers should be ware. Buy IBM instead, it's safer. That's the message.
Scott Send private email
Monday, December 02, 2013
First of all, I've never heard anyone call themselves a "lifestyle programmer", so I'm not sure where this comes from.

I have seen the term "lifestyle business", used to describe a business that is not scalable, usually as it depends too much on the founder(s). When I was consulting, I billed around $600k a year, which is a classic "lifestyle business", as it was just me.

I guess it is related to the µISV tag, which is not useful at all and should be avoided at all costs.

In the end, if you are in business, you shouldn't have to explain yourself like this and these terms are harmful.
Scorpio Send private email
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
"lifestyle" is a vague term that different people use to mean very different things. I used it in a recent blog post ( http://successfulsoftware.net/2013/11/06/lifestyle-programming/ ) to contrast with the investment-fueled "Google or bust" approach that is so prevalent in the media. It was deliberately provocotive (which worked, it made the first page of HN). It isn't a term I would use to my customers.
Andy Brice Send private email
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
Thanks for the link, Andy. I guess that's where it started.
Scorpio Send private email
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
Most small business owners I know, run hardly what one would describe as "lifestyle" businesses. From  a pure work hours perspective, many small business owners work far harder than their salaried corporate counterparts. For example, we almost never work less than a ten hour day. In that respect, its not what you'd call lifestyle supporting operation.
jamieb22 Send private email
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
Can anyone elaborate what the definition of a Micro ISV is? Is a ten or  twenty five person company considered a Micro ISV?
jamieb22 Send private email
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
Eric Sink first coined the term "microISV". IIRC he intended it to mean a one-person software company.
Andy Brice Send private email
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
I think the issue of labeling and naming of this occupation - which means,  independent software businesses  - is a huge challenge, due to the prevailing culture.

I'll describe the exact issue. "Most" people - most business people, most average wage earners - don't comprehend that a software business can be small. They believe that only an Oracle or a Microsoft can be a software vendor and can create and sell software. This is in exactly the same vein as the "average person" or mid level manager now believing that absolutely all Indians are gifted genius super-techs.

In other words, most people follow the mass business media, which instructs them on what is and is not plausible. A small software business is not plausible to most people - because you need Bill Gates or some Indians to write your software. (After all, before Indians wrote software, Bill Gates wrote most commercial software in the US - fact.)

An mISV is in an extremely uncomfortable niche in the economy because the niche isn't understood by most people to even exist.
Profit and Loss Send private email
Thursday, December 05, 2013
"Bill Gates wrote most commercial software in the US - fact"
No. Bill Gates "bought" software written by Americans in the US.
cn Send private email
Friday, December 06, 2013
I was being sarcastic about the ignorant narrative that most US people have adopted. Bill Gates wrote most software the same way that Steve Jobs designed and built Apple computers himself.
Profit and Loss Send private email
Friday, December 06, 2013
@Profit and Loss
“A small software business is not plausible to most people”

Increasingly, a small any type of business is not plausible to most people. In the past 35 years, US population has increased by about 33%.  In the same period we went from 10% as the max market share of any one retailer to over 50% - Walmart.  25% of grocery shopping is done at Walmart. It accounts for 11% of US trade deficit to China.

I am not ranting against the Man. I am just saying this is not a software specific issue. 50 years ago opening a new pharmacy, hardware store, eye glasses store, toy store, etc. etc. was very feasible.  Not so much today. Not impossible-just much harder. You have to be something special.  If you think software is hard try brick and mortar. That is a bloody battle.

Andy’s article about “life style programming” was a life style of many people in different occupations, not just programming. It was not odd to buy shoes from a mom and pop store on main ST. Brand recognition and cost efficiency is a hard combination to beat.

Here is another stats:
The number of startup jobs per 1000 by US administrations:
Bush Sr.: 11.3
Clinton: 11.2
Bush Jr.: 10.8
Obama: 7.8

I am saying there is a bigger picture here. Society, for better or worse, chose “too big to fail” as the evolutionary path.
cn Send private email
Friday, December 06, 2013
Big companies increasingly give away software to sell their physical good. App stores are forcing down prices. I wonder if we're coming to the end of a golden period for small, independent developers.

Or maybe the ubiquity of software and devices means the best is yet to come. I have no idea.
Andy Brice Send private email
Friday, December 06, 2013
No one can predict these things really. Certainly not me-not smart enough.  But we do know that low prices and selection is a powerful combination. Just look at Walmart and Amazon. App stores are about the same thing-Low prices and selection. You must have something really unique, cute or hard to do to compete there. The thing about cute is that it quickly gets commoditized. This all assumes single person company. For example assume you are a smart math phd who can also program. To sell actuarial modules to insurance companies, you would still need a team and connections-with big credentials. Then you are no longer an ISV. You are at the very least a “firm”. The only advantage that we as independent developers have over big companies is the face to face, hand holding service, with live customers. At least that is what worked for me to some degree. Big Corp doesn’t like to fight in the trenches-just big guns from a distance. But even then the race to zero is on baby-for everybody. Welcome to globalization.
cn Send private email
Friday, December 06, 2013
"thanks to the likes to dragons den) the term lifestyle entrepreneur is used in a derogatory sense"
But that's all part of the game.  You have an audience of unhappy cogs in the wheel, who envy the few who sacrifice lifestyle security in order to operate their own business.  These "reality" shows can't show how difficult it is to actually be a successful new business  and they can't show how poor the batting average is for these designated dragons of commerce, because that would ruin the fantasy for the audience.  They denigrate the contestants because virtually all of them will fail and the audience needs simple excuses for their failure (like the entrepreneur was too busy surfing) or the illusion that anyone can be a successful entrepreneur if they wish hard enough will be broken.

"You own a software company that makes things."
Being able to insert "successful" between "a" and "software" is the invisible elephant in the room.
Howard Ness Send private email
Saturday, December 07, 2013
"'too big to fail' as the evolutionary path. "
Bang on.  There is no market for craft goods (goods manufactured by craftsmen, not goods for use in making crafts).  but there is a market for craftsmen who can use those goods in ways that the owners of capital can't.  The disconnect on this board is that we come here because we don't want to be herders and carpenters anymore.
Howard Ness Send private email
Saturday, December 07, 2013

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