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Issue 5.5


Book: Business of Software

Issue: 5.5 (July/August 2007)
Author: Marc Zeedar
Article Description: No description available.
Article Length (in bytes): 5,272
Starting Page Number: 9
Article Number: 5504
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In today's digital world it really is possible for anyone to run their own software company from anywhere. You can't necessarily tell from a website if the company's a "guy in a garage" or a larger shop with dozens of employees. Being self-employed, I love that. But running a business isn't easy and the software business has it's own unique challenges. In this book developer Eric Sink shares personal experiences and advice on running your own small ISV (Independent Software Vendor).

Eric was the creator of the Mosaic web browser, which was bought by Microsoft and turned into Internet Explorer, and today Eric runs SourceGear, a leading vendor of source control tools.

Eric talks about his company being a "small" ISV, while from my perspective SourceGear is a large company (but then any company with a few employees seems large to me). I was pleased to see Eric does have several chapters devoted to the "micro-ISV" -- one- or few-man software shops which probably are closer to the ventures of many RBD readers.

The book is a collection of essays originally published on Eric's website, and he's organized them into sections on entrepreneurship, people, marketing, and sales. As I have no plans or interest in hiring employees the "people" chapters interested me the least, but even so I found the reading interesting as I had never considered how tough it is to evaluate a programmer's skill level and ability to mesh with your organization.

The entrepreneurship section covers topics related to the actual business of starting and running a business, from the mundane of accounting basics to business experiments gone awry. My favorite chapter is the one called "Make More Mistakes," where Eric reveals business errors he made.

The marketing section is not about advertising -- Eric is careful to make the distinction between marketing strategies and marketing communication. Marketing strategy is about how to position your product, ensuring there actually is a market for your product, and making sure you are distinct from your competitors. Eric says the majority of your emphasis needs to be on strategy, not on communications. And this strategic thinking needs to be done first, before you create your product -- that way you create the right product that will actually have a place in the market.

The best chapter in this section is "The Game is Afoot," where Eric uses apt analogies with various games -- from ping pong to golf -- to reveal key truths about how software competition works. For instance, he talks about how gymnastics requires expertise on various apparatus -- completely different skillsets -- and how your software marketing needs to be equally flexible and have different strategies for different markets and audiences. (If there was one chapter in the book I'd pick to have you read, it'd be this one.)

Eric does include a couple articles on the communication side of marketing -- one on trade shows and one on print advertising.

The final section, sales, covers several topics including business transparency, the complicated art of pricing your software, and connecting buyers with your product.

Eric's writing style is excellent, casual yet professional, easy to read, with obvious geek expertise yet he never talks down to the reader. His business advice and suggestions are shared with the enthusiasm of a convert, and have a ring of genuineness. Not everything in the book is genius; it's mostly common sense. Even if you've been running a software business for a while and know most of these things, the book is a good refresher. Eric's written down things you've only vaguely understood by instinct. If you're running your own ISV or considering starting a business, this book is a must read. Highly recommended!

End of article.