Why we didn’t start a software company

There was a time when hardware was the business, and software was the thing that came free. The idea that you could charge money for bits instead of atoms, and build a big business was crazy. Then came Microsoft, Visicorp, Lotus. And the hardware became mostly commoditized.

As a business, what made software great was its zero marginal reproduction cost. You make it once, and the cost is roughly the same if you sell it once or a hundred times.

Networked software was an even more interesting business because it could 1) grow really fast on top of an existing network and 2) have network effects, making it hard to replicate. Low cost to provide, fast growing, hard to replicate: that’s a great business. If you find one of those, take it.

The thing is, I think we’ve reached the end of the low hanging fruit of this era. The (now) obvious networks have been built out; those sitting on top of them will wring out the last dollars. You can get paid a lot to twiddle some dials at the last great software companies, while the ad costs go up for the companies competing to place their tracking ad next to your thumbs and eyeballs.

Those companies are willing to compete against others for those ads because their own products are mostly commodities. Take one example: SMB SaaS. The expensive part of building a SaaS business isn’t building the software but selling it. You’re bidding on keywords with dozens of other companies selling nearly identical products. Stripe lists 29 different subscription management products that are compatible with its product, not to mention Stripe has decent basic subscription management built-in.

So, what’s a talented software engineer interested in changing the world to do? It’s to go back to why I, and many other programmers, began programming: to solve problems for people. I still remember the time when I had more than one concurrent user — none of whom I knew — using something I used. It felt like magic.

The most impactful thing a software engineer can today isn’t to join a software company. It’s to join a company that uses software where software has not yet reached.

Who are the users who haven’t yet been touched by software? Who are the groups who don’t have the tools or access? This is where software can make the biggest difference — and where you can make the biggest difference.

Now, software is like electricity. The most interesting companies won’t sell electricity, they’ll assume it.

So. We’re creating a new kind of purposeful work for an important underserved market. We’re hiring a software engineering lead to be our first full-time engineering hire, based in NY. I’m ready to re-hang my coding cleats. Will it be you?

Get in touch: samgerstenzang@gmail.com