Ben Langhinrichs

August, 2009
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Genii Weblog


Civility in critiquing the ideas of others is no vice. Rudeness in defending your own ideas is no virtue.


Tue 18 Aug 2009, 09:43 AM
Every few months, I get some variation of the question, usually from an overworked (according to him/her) and underpaid (also according to him/her) consultant.  The question runs a bit like this:  "I'd like to make a product out of this application (unvoiced: and start a successful product company).  What is the secret to becoming an ISV?"

The motivation is understandable.  Long, hard hours working at often dwindling rates, waiting anxiously for long overdue account receivables, competing with everyone from your friends to third world sweatshops, and often without much guarantee of work beyond a few weeks out.  Sounds grueling compared to sitting back and relaxing and raking in the sales for a product you built three to five years ago, doesn't it?

Like most myths, there is even a kernel of truth to it.  Right this minute, I am waiting on a reasonably large wire transfer for product features where the lion's share of the work was done five to ten years ago, with a relatively modest investment each year in maintenance.  That is the bright side.

The dark side is represented by the feature I was working on last night until two in the morning.  Not a sexy feature, or one that people will ever exclaim, "Aha!" over, but one of a thousand, maybe even a thousand thousand, that go into making a successful, seamless product.  I can't really tell anybody about the feature, both because of competition and because nobody would really care, but I am still sweating and swearing and missing time with my family to complete it.

The payback for this feature is likely to come in three to five years.  Actually, "likely" is an overly strong word.  Given the evolving market, the dreadful success rate on products and the terrible difficulty of determining customer demand, the word should probably be two words, "vaguely possible".  So, the payback for this feature is vaguely possible to come in three to five years.  During which, I would eat Ramen, except that three to five to ten years ago, I sweated and swore and missed time with my family over some feature that, against all odds, is paying back now.

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