What we’ve learned from 10 years of being in the software development business


Whether to work for others or not work it was the question for three graduate students and they decided in favor of going out on their own. In nine months, they made their first $1,000 and started their own software development studio in Kyiv, Ukraine. I was one of those grad students.

For the last ten years we’ve been in the business of developing web apps, and then mobile apps, and after that wearable apps. We’ve worked with European and American clients. Along the way we’ve learned something about how to do business, manage people, marketing, work with clients and so on.

NOTE: This list is not about engineering but building a company so it easily could be applied to any business.

The Team

1. Hire wisely and fire fast.

Firing people sucks so it’s better to invest more time in hiring the right one.

2. Lots of people are good talkers. Pay more attention to actions.

Keep your eye on interactions, collaborations, overall process and results. Don’t forget about soft skills for the engineering team.

3. Combine the right teams.

People play well in diverse groups when they complement each other with different personalities and skill sets. Learn more about PAEI and management styles.

4. Work only with the best people available.

It is just great when they are smarter than you — ideally they have to be so. And be sure that first-draft players hire other first-draft players for your team. Starting with second or third stringers may lose you the game. Many companies try to reduce costs this way but in the end it may have the opposite effect.

5. Help People Grow.

One of the main reasons for people to work for you, other than money, is to learn. The more experience they have, the greater their input can be. Having a mentor system can be a great motivator.

Business-model

6. Your business model matters.

A lot of innovations and disruptions happen with just a shift in the business model. There are always many models to work with your clients and earn money from what you are doing.

7. Local vs. Global matters.

To have outstanding people you always have to compete in a global market and so have to pay correspondingly.

This being the case, it would be a bad idea to pay a competitive salary to software developers and then build a product for a limited local market that doesn’t scale. The company might hit the wall and people would consider working for Google or Facebook instead.

8. Build a scalable business.

Make sure the growth of your expenses is linear while the growth of your outcome is exponential.

9. Know your exit strategy or have a very ambitious plan.

Nothing lasts forever and your brand new business will be a different one in five or ten years. Maybe you’d like to build a spaceship next.

10. Grow fast but maintain the quality of service and the quality of the team.

With speed you have a more complex system and less time to react. So be patient and don’t compromise your hiring process or the quality of the product that you deliver to your customers. If you have a great, professional team it would simplify this process a lot.

Leadership

11. Take responsibility.

Promote people who care the most and take more responsibility.

12. Delegate.

You can’t do and be everything, so be ready to give up responsibility and control to others on the team (but always find the right people first).

13. Share and communicate your vision and values clearly.

Being on the same page with everyone on your team increases overall efficiency and creates an essential anchor for making decisions for each member of the team.

14. Be transparent.

Build trust with your team, partners and clients.

15. Listen more.

Your people have really great ideas and lots of experience. That’s why you work with them, so listen more than talk.

16. Don’t build any hierarchy, keep it plain and simple as long as you can.

In horizontal structures there are fewer barriers, and more collaboration and communication happening.

17. Every system always has inertia.

Especially those made up of people. Once it is built, it should only be changed wisely, but that shouldn’t stop you from changing it.

18. Take small steps in changing a complex thing.

Don’t break it. Also, make your changes iterative with the right incentives for everyone.

Communication/Marketing/PR

19. Learn how to tell a great story.

People are more emotional than rational and with a good story you can deliver both — emotions and rationality.

20. Communication strategy and perception matter.

Invest effort in every contact point that you have with the audience: the website, email footer, your presentations, agreement templates, etc. Every single detail contributes to the first impression and your story.

21. Communicate your thoughts in texts, blogs, presentations, and speeches.

Writing helps to sharpen your mind and to structure your thoughts. Also it adds great visibility to your business and brand and helps to generate leads.

22. Be a part of the community.

It helps in finding and validating new ideas for the business. The more ideas are bumping up against each other, the more cumulative value will be created.

23. Give back more than you take.

It is essential to give back to the community and people. That’s how everything moves forward.

Doubt & Procrastination

24. There are always things you don’t have a clue how to do right.

Don’t worry about this. It is totally OK. And don’t be afraid to make a mistake because that’s the only way to learn something new.

25. Sketch a plan, decide and act.

Then measure, learn and start all over again.

26. Iterate. Over and over again.

The more you try, more chances to succeed you’ll have.

Learning & Innovations

27. Read books, they are helpful.

Forty-two percent of college graduates never read another book after college. You better be in the other 58%.

28. Innovations are necessary, but not so easy to craft.

An innovative business model, a new approach to doing an old thing or a decision to stop doing something at all — these are examples of changes that could be made to improve business results. They could come from anyone but in fact few people are bold enough to introduce and implement such changes. So look carefully for innovators within your team and support them.

Clients

29. Provide service of the best quality that you can.

Strive to be the best.

30. Sometimes you need to fire a client.

Your works define you and your business. Your clients define your work, so control whom you are working with.

Structure/Legal/Finances

31. Structure your business the right way from day one.

Incorporation, legal papers, board of directors, shareholders etc

32. Always keep your finances in order.

Learn what P&L and burn rate are and make a projection for at least the next 6–18 months to budget your time.


@StanfyMobile — agile software development studio of native apps. We help others evaluate technology, develop and deploy software systems that are designed to work in a mobile and wearable world. Drop us a line if you need technical or design help with your new and awesome technology product or startup.


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Thanks Andrew Garkavyi for review and additions to the original text of the post.