MicroISV: When does the Vision Become a Reality?

February 12, 2007 at 4:18 pm | Posted in MicroISV | 1 Comment

Maybe it’s the blogs I’m reading these days but it seems a lot of people are starting microISV’s, small software companies run by a single person. It’s certainly never been easier, with every resource you need available over the net, the large majority of which are free or very inexpensive. There’s even an excellent step-by-step guide in the form of Bob Walsh’s book ‘Micro ISV: From Vision to Reality’. These factors all contribute to make the barrier to entry very low. Well, low for existing software developers who’ve spent years writing software for other companies.

One of the effects of this low barrier to entry is that there’s not a lot of risk in getting started. You don’t need to buy expensive equipment or rent office or floor space. You don’t even have to invest in expensive advertising. You don’t have to give up your day job, sacrificing a steady income or the lifestyle you’re accustomed to. The only major investment you need to make in your microISV is your time.

What this means is that it’s very easy to walk away from the business at any time. That’s great for your peace of mind. If your circumstances change and it doesn’t make sense to continue, you know you can close up shop very quickly, with very little financial loss.

The danger is that because it’s so easy to walk away, it’s also very easy to give up. It might not happen overnight. You probably won’t wake up one morning and think “Blow this microISV business for a game of soldiers! It’s taking too long. I want to spend more time with my family/down at the pub/ etc, etc.” Instead it’s likely to be more gradual. Perhaps an urgent short term project will come up that takes over for a few weeks, like building a garden fence, or perhaps you just start spending less and less time on your microISV until you get to the point where you can’t remember the last time you did work on it. At this point you can be honest with yourself and say you’ve given up on the project, or more likely, you say to yourself that you’re still working on it, you just haven’t been able to spend much time on it recently because “I’ve been busy at work/the new season of TV has kicked in/[insert your own excuse here]”.

One of the things that makes it so easy to give up is that you’ve really only invested your time and you can always justify it by saying it’s been a great learning experience. However this reasoning depends on how precious your time is. If you’ve got a family or partner, then your time becomes much more limited and hence much more precious. It also means that you’re not the only one with a stake in your microISV. All that time you’ve investing in your microISV could have been spent with your partner or family. They now have a rightful share of your microISV.

This is a great situation to be in. You’ve now got someone who wants you to succeed and see their investment come to fruition. When the going get tough, or just plain tedious, you’re much less likely to give up because you don’t want to let your partner down. Joel Spolsky, of joelonsoftware.com fame, stresses the importance of having at least one partner with which to start a microISV. I agree completely but also believe that partner need not play an active role in the business. As long as that partner has some form of investment in the business, they will provide the incentive you need to keep going. Even if that partner has no technical knowledge at all, they can still be a great sounding board for ideas and provide valuable input into business decisions. Often a non-technical perspective on a situation is more valuable than another technical perspective.

Now getting back to my original question of when you can say that you’ve created a real, live, microISV? At what point does it come into existence? No doubt different founders have different ideas on when their microISV became real to them. Some may have the confidence and belief in themselves to assert this after the first week or perhaps it’s the day they register their company. At some point along the path you reach a point where it’s easier to keep going than turn back or give up. You’ve made it over the pass and you know you’re going to do it. The finish line may still be a long way off but it’s an easy downhill from here.

I feel I’m currently at this stage now, well I hope I am. Text2Go is about to enter beta and I have a basic website that’s live. However I won’t believe that I’ve created a genuine microISV until I’ve got my first paying customer. At that point, I will know beyond a doubt that there’s at least one independent person who believes enough in Text2Go to pay money for it. It will also be the point at which my microISV takes on the added commitment of supporting customers. I’m still a little way off from this goal but it is in sight and I believe I’m going to get there.


1 Comment

  1. One factor you leave out of the “it’s so easy to start and quit” aspect is how that plays on your customers. If they know you’re a microISV are they more likely to feel less secure purchasing from you? After all like you said, tomorrow the vendor could have a change of heart and there goes future updates and support.

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