10 Lessons on Starting a Software Business

Photo by Samuel Foster on Unsplash

Last year I started this software business, Q5. We build software for clients, as well as our own products. We do 6 figure contracts and we’re approaching $500k in revenue. We have strong opinions on how a business, especially a software business, should be run.

These are our ideologies and things we’ve learned.

  1. Overpromise, and overdeliver.
    - I hate the saying “underpromise and overdeliver”. Don’t lie to yourself and lie to your customers by “underpromising”. Promise them the world, and give them something more. You’ll be glad you did as your clients keep giving you work & refer you to other work.
  2. Meet one new person every week.
    - The most consistent way we’ve found ourselves able to get clients is by talking to many people. Whenever we’ve just sat back and just did engineering, our deal-flow stagnates. By meeting one new person every week, we make sure we’re always talking to someone new. You never know if this person will be your next client, or lead you to your next client.
  3. The hardest part isn’t the engineering, it’s finding business.
    - If money doesn’t come in, you’re dead. Don’t worry so much about being technically optimized, worry more about finding customers who will pay you money. Our clients care if you can solve their problem and build their product. Writing 5% better code doesn’t make the difference to a client, being able to deliver the product does.
  4. You better be a damn good engineer.
    - But you need to be able to write damn good code otherwise who is gonna give you money? You gotta know how to build the frontend, backend, and put up a server. You’re probably hired to build a full product instead of what you were doing — building small features. Get to learning.
  5. You better be a damn good product manager too.
    - You also need to know how to build a product and design a user experience. App looks like crap? No one is gonna use it, and no is gonna hire your team to build it.
  6. Think you’re charging too much $$? Charge more.
    - Ah money. I told a client that we would charge him $50k a month, and then I heard back from my friend who worked with the client that we were “not expensive at all”. Become expensive.
  7. Be prepared to lose friends & lose sleep.
    - This is something I struggle with & sometimes regret. I haven’t been able to make as much time for my friends as I want. If you lose your network, you lose a bunch of potential first users, referrals, and just damn cool people in your life. Try not to lose these people.
  8. If it’s not the toughest thing you’ve ever done, I’d hate to be you.
    - We were supposed to land a $150k contract last week. We turned down other clients to prepare for it and it would’ve been huge for us to land it. Everything was signed off and good to go, until it wasn’t. The company ended up pulling funding for the project, and now we’re out looking for a new one. To make matters even worse, we launched a new product last week and the launch sucked.
  9. If it’s not the best thing you’ve ever done, I’d hate to be you.
    - We control our own destiny and are building something from literally nothing. How cool is that? We get to choose who we work with (cool & smart people!) and we get to work on a variety of projects. Hopefully soon we’ll get to say we broke the $1m revenue mark for the year. And we built that ourselves.
  10. Life is more than your business.
    - My business is my life, but my life is also more than my business.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember this. We’ve been working really hard these past few weeks, doing great work for our existing clients, trying to land the big contract, and launching our own product. A couple of these items didn’t go as we hoped.

I felt terrible telling the team that we didn’t land the $150k deal. I felt terrible when our launch didn’t make the right splash. Would our company be able to make it?

My first instinct was to keep working, work harder, and work more hours. Make sure our company doesn’t die.

I did that for a couple of days, but it didn’t really help. I didn’t get more done, I just felt worse.

I was at the dentist in San Francisco yesterday, and I didn’t have my car. I was going to Uber home to Berkeley, but then I started talking to a 72 yr old lady named Lizzie.

It turns out she was also going back to the East Bay so she gave me a ride. She told me her story of living at national parks from 2010–2016. She rented a camper and just went. She was planning on going for longer, but then she got sick and barely made it out alive.

We talked about graduate school — she dropped out of 3 programs, programming — she worked at IBM in the 60’s, and a program called the Atlas Project.

Through this conversation, I realized I hadn’t taken a step back in a while. Almost every waking moment I would think about my business — how to grow it, where to push it, how to succeed with it.

This conversation and this step back showed me that even though my business is my life, my life is more than my business.

That yeah we lost that $150k deal and had a bad launch, but we’ll have more deals and bigger deals. And we’ll have more launches, and better launches.

That no, our company isn’t going to die, it’s just getting started.


In the next coming weeks, I’ll be writing more in depth on each of these commandments. Follow our blog to be the first to hear about them.

I’m reachable at patrick@quantfive.org. Feel free to send me a message — but follow our blog first!