I have built over $10m worth of custom software over the years through Bixly. In that time, I have seen many bright-eyed, tech-minded people with software dreams turn into a sunk-cost standoff. I have seen millions wasted on projects that go nowhere within a company. I have seen professionals brought to financial ruin by making bad decisions for their custom software. This experience has given me hard-won insight into what type of software projects succeed, and why they do.
You might have just received a software bid with a very large number on it, or possibly a very small number from an offshore firm. Maybe you are still considering getting a bid from a software company. Before you jump into this financial commitment, it’s imperative to know which type of software builder you are. This hidden distinction is critical to understand since it defines objectives and helps you set a budget as well as pace expectations for everyone involved. These two categories appear similar but are worlds apart.
The first category is the entrepreneur that has a software idea they want to build for the purpose of making money from their software. These are Software Entrepreneurs. The second category of software builders, and who this article is written for, are the people that want to improve the company they own or work at through custom software. They are software users with a specific need, and software design thoughts on how to accomplish it. They are Entrepreneurs in Need of Software. ENS for short let’s say.
What’s interesting is software development firms treat you the same no matter which group you fall into. It makes sense from their perspective, but you need to be armed with this knowledge to get the most out of your software development firm.
Let’s go through some key differences between the two types of companies:
- Software entrepreneurs can focus on making good software full-time, in most cases. Entrepreneurs In Need of Software (ENS!) have a full-time job that is expressly not building software, since they weren’t hired on to do it.
- Building software for ENS’s doesn’t fit within the firms core competency, thus can’t be treated the highest priority. Software Entrepreneurs often quit their job, have funding, and are left with no other choice but to make their software generate income.
- Software Entrepreneurs are often investor backed and have lots of cash. Entrepreneurs in Need of Software are siphoning funds from their core business in hopes of a long term ROI.
- Software Entrepreneurs have experience building software. Most often they know how to program. ENS’s have lots of experience using software, but haven’t yet built it.
- Software Entrepreneurs can hire talented programmers, because they already know them and have their trust. Your expertise probably lies in the core competency of the company, which isn’t testing and hiring developers. Our internal testing processes takes months, costs thousands of dollars, and took a few years to really dial it in.
- Software Entrepreneurs often form a whole company just to focus on the product. ENS’s have people in the company that are interested in better software, but can’t devote too much more than their interest and a little input.
- Companies that build software have a community of developers to keep each other happy and engaged. Supposing you hired one to deliver this product within the company, he/she will be an island.
There’s also differences in the end software product:
- One has to be tested in the “wild” to gain feedback; yours only has to be tested in the office.
- One has to work on many different platforms/browsers; you can define a much more narrow scope.
- Software Entrepreneurs sometime make software on a hunch; your software has a goal that has measurable results.
- Software not built for a specific team might have to interact with many different tools; yours needs to connect to only a small set of software you currently use.
The IT manager, or whoever is the most technical might have had this thought cross their mind: since I use a lot of software, I am qualified to build custom software. Remember, this is where you are crossing the line, entering the Software Entrepreneur’s territory. This land should have numerous warning signs at the entrance, from where you can see mushroom clouds spotting the horizon. It can’t be lightly journeyed into. I know many other software professionals at my level and beyond, each with their own wounds and war stories. They have failed many times before, often at a great expense. I have also.
Coming out of that rut, learning from mistakes and mentors/teachers, proven track record with high-end clients are features to expect out of the person building your software.
You wouldn’t give your big case to the new lawyer, or the big construction job to the brand new company with no track record. I am telling you that a software project for your organization needs just as much respect. Another way to put it is that an Entrepreneur In Need Of Software shouldn’t become of Software Entrepreneur. To become excellent at Software Entrepreneurship requires years of learning and experience before you can consistently produce quality software. Think of how long it took you to become expert in your current domain!
However, there is good news! You don’t need to become a Software Entrepreneur to have great software designed for your company. I have seen it happen before and I can help you get there! The important thing to know is what a reliable software development shop looks like, and what they need from you to do their job efficiently.
First we learn what it takes to build a small, industry standard specification. This will be an ego-bruising journey through the Land of Pragmatism. I will show you how to build a specification that modern software companies can use to quickly give you a bid or estimation, and how to keep the estimation within the realm of what is practical. We would love to have a shot at bidding on your project.
By Adam Temple – CEO