Business

Busy times, we’re hiring
18 July 2007 in Business & Mindscape & Windows | Comments (4)

I’ve been a bit quiet lately with so much going on with Mindscape and life in general. The good news is that we have recently elected to expand our team to help ensure we continue to deliver (if you are interested check out the position information here).

I’ll be delivering two lunch time sessions at TechEd this year, one regarding unit testing and another about how to get up and running with BackgroundMotion. I’ve been to TechEd for the last two years and it has been fantastic and I think it will be the same this year. Unfortunately the tickets are already sold out but I’d love to catch up with anyone who follows my blog that lives further afield that Wellington :)

I’ve been up to my elbows in WPF recently and look forward to posting some of the things I’ve discovered on here soon (as a side note, Expression Blend is possibly the best V1 product I’ve ever used, it’s fantastic!).

More posts to come,

– JD

Google Alerts for better customer support
16 June 2007 in Business & Google & Tools | Comments (2)

As your business develops it’s always interesting to see what people have to say about you and your products. Sometimes this is easy because people post it directly to you or link to your blog and you get a track back however that only gives you a partial view of the world. I wanted to be able to see what people were saying about Mindscape, LightSpeed, BackgroundMotion and more anywhere on the internet.

Enter Google Alerts

I was reading through Simple and Loveable (great blog btw, I’ve been a long time lurker) a couple of months ago and noticed that Nat mentioned that she found a comment by somebody through an alert so I decided I’d have a look into it some more myself (and only just got around to “passing it forward” by writing this post…).

Overall I’m impressed, you can simply sign in, enter a term that you want to be notified about and have Google email you. You can select if you want updates “as they happen”, daily, weekly etc so you’re not overrun with email notifications and you can also configure what you want monitored – do you care if the name crops up in google news? blog search? web index? Of course you want to probably monitor all of the channels to get the best picture.

You can quickly see the benefits here. As an investor in a company (say, Xero) I can monitor the entire internet for the term “xero” and pick up what the online vibe is. This is probably quite an effective measure of the companies marketing being that they’re trying to be a Web 2.0 style organisation.

The upside to this is I can see if somebody blogs about our products or about our company and quickly go and follow up if they were having a technical issue or problem. It’s about taking that service to the next level – you should always make it as easy as possible for people to seek help but by going to the customer when they have an issue is priceless.

Of course it’s also useful in reducing the amount of time you spend ego-surfing by just having Google let you know when you or somebody else says something about you ;)

Sign up for Google Alerts here

– JD

Bootstrapping your business
30 May 2007 in Business | Comments (1)

Another topic I hear about a fair bit is regarding bootstrapping – how do you get started when you don’t already have millions? I refer to this situation as bootstrapping and it’s not as hard as it sometimes can look from the outside. Bootstrapping is far more important when you’re launching a products company, as opposed to a services company, as there will be a sizable time frame between launching the company and launching your first product.

What we do at Mindscape

When we founded Mindscape we did so because we wanted to create an awesome software products company. The challenge was that we all need to eat and live so we decided that doing some consulting work would allow us to pay the bills while still enabling us to spend the majority of our time developing products. So far this strategy has worked very well however there is a need to be careful.

Beware the “easy” dollars

I fully believe that services companies simply don’t scale in a manner that provides the right level of return on your investment. Margins are thinner, managing people is very hard and you get that all as baggage in exchange for being able to make easier money at the start. Those dollars can look attractive but if you’re not careful you’ll find yourself a few years down the track owning a services company with no products. Be vigilant and ensure you’re only providing services that you require to deliver on your product vision.

Developing a product “on the side”

Personally, I wouldn’t waste my time trying to build more than a wobbly prototype on the side of your day job. Simply put, you tend to exchange your best hours of the day for money already so you’re already giving your product a weak start on life. I’m not saying it’s impossible to do this, it’s just much harder. You also need to be careful about intellectual property with your current employer if you want to juggle your product development on the side.

What about investors?

You could certainly go and find people to invest money in your company in exchange for equity at the very beginning and many people do launch in this fashion. It is always taught that if you want to become wealthy you need to learn to utilise OPM (Other Peoples Money) however this can often be a sign that you’re obsessed with your idea more than the business itself – if you really want to see your product make it to market you’ll have no concern doing a day a week consulting to help see that vision through. There are additional intangible benefits to gain from this:

  • You build your network by engaging new clients
  • You can bounce ideas about your product off people you’re working with
  • You start building your company name and brand
  • You get paid money so you can afford to live :)

I think all too often people have a view that somebody should pay for their idea and be lucky to get a small cut of the equity. Prove that you’re really committed and willing to make sacrifices before looking for investment. Ideas are a dime a dozen, it’s the execution, the team and the business that delivers success and ensuring you don’t go out of business in the early days for lack of cash is all about executing well.

- JD

How old should you be to start a business?
29 May 2007 in Business | Comments (6)

This is a question that sometimes gets brought up while I’m within earshot – how old should you be to start a business?

I like to look at a question from another perspective and ask why it is being asked. For example, do they feel they don’t have the skills to start a business? Do they just want to feel comfortable with their choice in not starting by giving themselves what they see as valid excuses? Has somebody made them feel there is a specific age when success is more likely?

More often than not it’s a mix of all of these sorts of points. Simply put, it is never too early to start a business. A business doesn’t need to be a hulking great multinational (great work if you can get it…) so don’t feel you’re taking on too much too early – take your time and learn. There are many lessons you need to learn when going through the process of setting up and despite having setup a few businesses I still learn a considerable amount each time. I’d strongly suggest that if you’re a young person who wants to dig deep into business then start a business just for the opportunity to learn – I did and it was one of the best things I ever did.

The benefit for being young is there is a healthy level of risk – you don’t have a family to support, you probably don’t have house payments to make and you can simply afford to live on less. This gives you both flexibility while maintaining a hunger to make some money to be able to enjoy the finer things. If you’re looking to start a tech business then all the better – young people tend to just “get it”. I’m not saying it’s impossible if you’re older but often I’ve seen older people trying to develop tech businesses that don’t realise that they’re potentially half a decade behind on what they think is new and upcoming. Embrace the fact you’re young – use it to your advantage and learn like crazy while you’re still not putting everything on the line.

Now I’ve co-foundered a company with much more vigor and certainty than before. It just feels right and I’m more confident for having experimented with smaller businesses before.

- JD

P.S. I’ve not defined “young” as everyone has a different opinion. Young to some is 30, to others it’s 15 – it really doesn’t matter what you consider “young” to be, I still believe this all applies.

Angels & Demons
16 May 2007 in Business & Events | Comments (2)

This evening I went along to the Unlimited Potential (UP) event entitiled “Angels & Demons” which informed people about various financing options that are available for new (and not so new) businesses. I’ve been to several UP events before this one but I can say with certainty this was one of my favourites. The format was great, I always enjoy it when there are several speakers talking for a short period of time, perhaps I’m too easily distracted but it just keeps me interested.

By far a huge value of these types of events is the networking afterwards. It’s very enjoyable chatting with people about what they’re up to as well as catching up with old contacts and seeing how their businesses are growing. I always leave inspired and amping to take things up a level.

At one part of the evening I was somewhat shocked in myself when I found myself talking with Andrew Mayfield (from Spikefin). How is it that it took an event like this for me to actually engage with somebody that has his office about 15 paces from mine? It was a bit of an eye opener to needing to add an extra element of networking to my day to day business activities.

The presentations were also useful – informative, amusing in parts and genuinely interesting content. All the presenters delivered well and I’d strongly encourage any other ITC professionals out there to come along to the next event. It is an asset to Wellington having such a vibrant group of people who have shared interests getting together to meet.

http://www.up.org.nz/

- JD

Mindscape becomes Castle Stronghold Partner
15 May 2007 in Business & Mindscape | Comments (0)

I’ve just finished posting about how Mindscape has become the exclusive New Zealand partner for CastleStronghold. For more information about the arrangement then check out our formal announcement at our blog.

I welcome any questions regarding this.

- JD

Internal frameworks are a waste of time
11 April 2007 in Business | Comments (1)

Just Thinking

Almost every software developer you talk with will be able to tell you that their company has some software, usually a framework, that they use internally to help develop solutions. The view is that this is done to gain a competitive advantage by enabling faster, smarter development. Companies are often hugely protective of these frameworks, many see them as containing their trade secrets, their intellectual property that nobody else knows about.

I’d argue that this business practice is coming to an end, especially in the software market. Software evolves at such a pace that maintaining these frameworks is often a forgotten task or, at the most, poorly done.

We end up with many software companies, both service and product houses, investing in themselves to build new frameworks, “better” frameworks and to up-skill staff on a non-exportable skill set. Perhaps management thinks spending money on such development doesn’t seem so bad if staff can’t use that skill to market themselves to competitors? This, of course, is a poor investment as it doesn’t only hurt your staff but makes your company less appealing to prospects as well. The market doesn’t care if your staff are efficient at using your internal framework. This clearly affects services organisations more but the message is the same.

So lets recap:

  • Many companies are developing their own frameworks
  • These frameworks cost each company to create, educate and maintain
  • These frameworks have no exportability because they are often seen as trade secret

But wait a minute, surely this is a bad cycle for everyone? No developer wants to work at the company that uses no framework or guidance. We’re all having to keep up with each other. So how can you be different?

Flip the problem around.

Take your internal framework, make it open. Allow anyone to download it, including the source. Maintain it but also allow outsiders to submit patches. Spread the word effort outside your company. If you do it right you can reduce cost and deliver large gains to your organisation. What a difference to the way most software companies operate these days.

Look at 37Signals – this company opened up their internal framework (Rails) which is possibly the largest factor in their world wide fame and success – leading to more subscribers to their software. 37Signals can now leverage resource outside the company to further develop their framework while maintaining “editorial control” over it as they get the final say on what goes in and out. They also gain because they get thousands of people suggesting features they may never have thought of as well as reviewing the code for bugs.

Clearly not every company is in a position to do this, if we had as many open frameworks as we had software companies the problems would still persist. There are many other examples of frameworks that exist that are already open (for virtually every technology platform) so before digging deep and starting your own evaluate what is already available, if nothing exists then you have a far greater opportunity than just building an internal framework – leverage it publically!

Many many software companies sit on internal frameworks as their “competitive advantage”. A competitive advantage every single company has is no advantage at all.

- JD

Great marketing for Xbox 360
26 March 2007 in Business & Microsoft | Comments (1)

I thought this story was great. I always love it when people think outside the box when it comes to marketing. I won’t re-post what actually happened, just click the link below.

Microsoft teases Sony

- JD