Software Products Are Not Software Projects

A Great Product Idea!So you want to start your own software company? You've got a great product idea and it's a simple case of programming to get the first version together. Then you have to put up a website, and a payment system. Oh and there's a load of documentation to write. Oh and support. And don't forget regression testing, a formal release procedure and backwards compatiblity, and after all that, marketing and promotion and managing ads and…

Right, still want to start a software company? The truth is, if you have never built an actual product, that is, a coherent entire solution to a business problem, you are vastly underestimating the level of effort required to create one.

Most developers work on software projects. Custom software projects for in-house use, or custom software projects for direct clients. For this sort of work, you can provide the client (internal or external) with so much direct support that you don't need all the collaterals that go along with a software product. And someone else probably did the selling. And you'll have students in to do the testing, and so forth. In fact, if your company has any clue, they will make sure that you can focus on your job: writing code, rather than doing any of that other stuff. And it's mostly a good idea to organise things this way.

Champagne!So if this describes your situation, and you still want to create our own company with your own products, how do you go about it? Well, write a business plan, get venture funding and sit back. Oh no wait, sorry, parallel universe.

You have to learn how to build a product and you have to learn how to run a business. Learning how to build a product is easier than you think. Start an open-source project and run it as a virtual product. Believe you me, even free doesn't sell by itself. And you'll need to get the whole software product production thing down before you go off trying to the business stuff.

Next, get yourself in front of paying customers. In your day job, try to move into one of those “client-facing” roles. Push outside your personal comfort-zone here – you're gonna need to do that big time when you want to make your own money. There's nothing like dealing with customers on the front line to change your perceptions. You really should work as a freelance contractor as well, for a while at least. When you have to put your own bread on the table, you learn a lot really fast.

A Roll of the DiceAnd then comes the most difficult part. You've got to let go of all the safety nets, quit your job, fire your clients, and start trying to sell. It's very easy to get stuck at this point, with a half-developed product that will never see the light of day. Because now you have to stop thinking like a programmer and start thinking like a business owner. Keep cutting features, for a start. Remember, every feature has to be documented and tested and supported.

Product development takes ten times more effort than custom development, probably more. Be prepared.

By the way, if all this sounds like too much hard work, you can always start a web service.




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