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What would you do differently?

September 3rd, 2009
Photo credit: Robbert van der Steeg
Photo credit: Robbert van der Steeg

… if you had to start your software story again?

As a software industry enthusiast, I am curious to know how others see their business development and what they would change, in hindsight and with a set of brand new 2009 eyes. 🙂

Neil on Business of Software Network asked the community a similar question (If you could wave a magic wand…) related to the marketing of software. Answers such as focus on usability, better knowledge of customers poured in (the discussion is still open).

Some even expressed their wish to get into their customers heads completely, or even in their competition’s financial reports, to see if it’s worth outrunning them anyway.

When asked the same question, some ASP members mentioned for example the need to have had a team right from the start or outsource the skills they did not have, instead of doing it all by themselves.

If I were to start my software business again, I would find teammates and split the ownership. Or, I would have come to the realization much sooner that my dream of bootstrapping my own sweat investment into a good rate of return was not succeeding” – Mark Walsen, from Notation Software.

S Gupta from SSGIndia agreed on the necessity of partnership and even stated willingness to find such partners inside ASP “I would have started with partners with equal stake, commitments, diverse capabilities and Networking abilities“.

Riaz Faride from UpClick also stressed some interesting points on the ASP discussion lists, such as the need for community building even before the product launch and better security assessment:

I would start working on a thin client less than 5MB in size, which will be managed by a central network (same as Cloud Computing approach). The thin client would be distributed free of charge. All the features of the software would be subscription based or pay-per-use based. In this way, I would’t have to worry about protection, because we all know that no matter how hard you try securing a software, crackers always find a way around. Most importantly, I would be able to generate recurring revenues“.

I think the “what if” question is useful even if all it does is making you stop and evaluate where you are or if it makes you admit your mistakes along the way.  Some of the mistakes and pieces of advice I frequently hear from some ASP members or other software business professionals I have interviewed are:

  • Bob Walsh mentions problems that microISVs often have, such as not having a clear USP (Unique Selling Proposition) on their website, the lack of customer testimonials, being coy about the price and not presenting real contact information on the website;
  • Eric Sink‘s advice is to make sure, first of all, that your software is needed out there, that people will want to talk about it and that the current customers are your top priority, even before getting new ones;
  • Dave Collins warns about the failure to focus on marketing. He also recommends software authors to outsource the activities related to graphic and website design, press releases, SEO, AdWords, accounting and so on and to concentrate on development;
  • Marty Cagan says that the biggest mistake is confusing customer requirements with product requirements and often speaks about good product management – I recommend taking a look at his articles from time to time.
  • Nico Westerdale as well says one of his regrets is not moving faster in business development from the beginning and mentions the need to take high risks.

Andy Brice, another ASP member, even got a full presentation on the top 10 mistakes microISVs frequently make, that I warmly recommend watching.

So, what would you do differently if you had to start your software story over again? Please share your experience and lessons with us. It would be greatly helpful.

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  1. September 3rd, 2009 at 10:30 | #1

    It started out for me as just a side-line (back when I was selling Auction Sentry). I didn’t think of it as a “business”. My site was amateurish, I did my own graphics work (I’m terrible at it) – in short, I didn’t out-source anything. If I had thought of it as a business from the get-go I would have been more open to paying others to do the things I was poor at. If I had known how much the business was going to grow I would have automated things right from the start (payment processing, license issuing, key distribution, etc.). One last thing I wish I had done from the start: I wish I’d joined the ASP years before I did. The access to information and advice from seasoned professionals would have helped me avoid a lot of the mistakes I made early on.

  2. Tom Brennan
    September 4th, 2009 at 00:12 | #2

    Same here… I wish I would have started out with more of a mindset for business rather than for fun. I did a lot of programming, but it was just for me or just to learn. I should have been looking at the business side right from the start.

  3. Steve Faleiro
    September 4th, 2009 at 12:43 | #3


    You have summed it up excellently! Entrepreneurs rarely make it big the first few times around, but after a few mistakes, and lessons learnt, they strike gold. Speaking for myself, my software is still in the initial stage and I will always giving it out as freeware for non-commercial users, but have got some pretty good ideas on how to monetize on it in the long run.


  4. January 29th, 2010 at 06:17 | #4

    The message is clear, we new entrants need to be led down a well lit path – florescence is good. My first version was a total mockery and flop which cost serious money in both development and marketing. If there was a stupid assumption floating about, I adopted it. Scratching about ASP wasn’t too helpful as I simply didn’t know how to ask the right questions and to whom to address it. In hind sight I would have benefited so much had there been a road map that showed the suggested process and the correct timings.

    Once the product is built there should be a generic ASP checklist that covers things like artwork, icons, keyboard shortcuts, Vista mouse-over icon effects etc.. Perhaps there should be links to approved artists and experts who may be called upon????

    By timing I refer to a guideline as to when and whom should developers contact to facilitate issues such as Legal Matters, overcoming cracking of executable files, the PADGen, License Generation and Product Keys, pros & cons to collecting payments through own arrangements with banks or using resellers and so on. With this, provide lists of individuals and organizations that fellow ASP members are comfortable to recommend.

    There is so much misleading information and deception on the internet and I have little doubt that I have stumbled over the same dark and rocky paths as have many before and since I joined ASP have. In my own product, now that we have totally rewritten a version 2, I have so many things that I remain unsure of how to approach. The old hands have been there and got the T shirt. Please can we be given the road map even if the flowers and the height of the grass along the side of the road are different.

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