Thursday, November 17, 2011

Things I Wish I'd Known

Rod Johnson (background info) of SpringSource discusses some things he wish he'd known when he ventured on the business (dark) side of things with his start up.

Rod Johnson

Most software developers are quite good with technology; for this reason, Rod's keynote focused more on business than technology. In business, especially in start ups, there are some intense highs (e.g. financial success, changing the word) but equally painful lows (e.g. layoffs, not taking a salary, years of obsessive).

So, if your planning to do a start-up, you need to ask yourself: where is the opportunity? Remember that technology must come first! There must be an opportunity for disruption. Where is there a market gap? Did everyone else fail to see something? Did someone else screw up?

Sometime, the question are complicated and the answers are simple. Try to prove yourself wrong. Be your toughest critic. Why is there a business here? Is it less painful to abandon a thought experiment than a business? There will always be a better idea.

Do NOT start writing code... it's addictive if you're any good at it.

Once you've validated your business idea, believe it! Vision must matter to you at an emotional level. Align you team on the vision. Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. Just think of Steve Jobs. Are you prepared for success or failure? Success means years of obsession which has a big impact on family, friends and hobbies. You lifestyle can be reduced compared to a normal job. And what about failure? There are ranges of outcomes. At best, improving a personal brand or at worst, significant financial impact and wasted years.

Being an entrepreneur means a lot of risk. Many successful entrepreneurs have repeated failures but have bounced back. You can and will get things wrong. Some you can get away with for awhile since you can't get everything right the first time. So long as you are ready to change, this will help you. Some things, however, you cannot get wrong such as legal aspects of a business.

A great team makes a great company; This is what investors are looking for. Building a team is about complementary skills. First, you need to understand yourself and know what things you are good at and what things you suck at. Assemble individuals who possess the required skills and agree on your vision and ambition. Remember that you cannot afford to have different goals. In essence:

"We’re all a little weird. And life is weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness—and call it love—true love." - Dr. Seuss

On investment, if you're starting a software company, you probably think you need more money than you think. A great investor will lift you to another level. A poor investor won't help and will exploit you. You will be married to your investors so choose wisely. All investors are not equal. A good trick to pick out good investors is due diligence. Find out a bit more on the person you want to do business with before signing a the contract.

Finally, a few mistakes you shouldn't do:

  • Don't piss people off, it will come back to bite you
  • Don't let customers drive your product roadmap

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