Below I list some books I have read that I think might be of interest to microISVs and other people in the software business. For each book I have included a very brief review and rated them out of 5 for ‘relevance’ (how useful they are for microISVs) and ‘interest’ (how entertaining they are). The reviews are ordered with the highest scoring at the top. Obviously the scores are subjective.
Click through to Amazon for more in-depth reviews and to buy. The links are affiliate links – if you clickthrough and buy, I will get a few pennies towards my next book purchase.
Please feel free to add your own comments on these books, or other ones you recommend (or don’t recommend).
‘Eric Sink on the Business of Software’ by Eric Sink
Various writings on the business of software from Eric’s excellent blog, which I found very helpful when starting out. Covers topics such as finance, marketing for geeks, finding a product idea, product lifecycle, tradeshows, magazine advertising and pricing. All written in an engaging style and aimed readers with a programming background.
‘User Interface Design for Programmers’ by Joel Spolsky
An excellent overview on how to design easy-to-use user interfaces.
‘Don’t make me think – A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability’ by Steve Krug
How to design for ease of use. Includes a useful chapter on how to carry out usability tests. 90%+ of the content also applies to desktop software.
‘Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality’ by Bob Walsh
A good overview on how to start your own microISV with lots of useful information and interviews. Aimed mostly at downloadable software. I am one of the microISVs interviewed.
‘Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer’s Guide To Launching a Startup’ by Rob Walling
Lots of actionable information on how to start up and run a small software business. I have done a more detailed review here.
Buy it from startupbook.net
‘Anything you want’ by Derek Sivers
Derek Sivers talks about his experiences growing CD Baby to a $22 million company. Rather than the usual ‘growth at any price’ approach, his philosophy is to concentrate on being happy and doing the right thing by your customers. It is a slim volume, you can read it one sitting.
‘Joel on Software’ by Joel Spolsky
A selection of insightful and well written essays on the software business from the Joel on Software blog. It covers diverse topics such as: unicode, functional specs, interviewing developers, business strategy, bloatware, crash reports and much more.
‘Don’t Just Roll The Dice – A Usefully Short Guide to Software Pricing’ by Neil Davidson
A short and sweet guide on how to price software, covering some economics, competition, site licences, free, network effects and lots more. An easy read considering the subject matter. Also available as a free PDF.
‘Predictably Irrational’ by Dan Ariely
Ariely takes a fascinating look at the irrational ways that people make decisions, backed up with experiments. The chapters related to pricing are particularly interesting for entrepreneurs.
‘Founders at Work : Stories of Startups’ Early Days’ by Jessica Livingston
Fascinating stories of the early days of some well known software companies in the words of the founders. Interviewees include: Steve Wozniak (Apple), Caterina Fake (Flickr), Mitch Kapor (Lotus), Max Levchin (PayPal) and Sabeer Bhatia (Hotmail). It is noticeable that few, if any, of these successful companies got it right straight away – feedback and iteration were the key.
‘The Pragmatic Programmer’ by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas
Some high-level thoughts on how to improve your software craftmanship.
‘The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing’ by Al Ries and Jack Trout
Trout and Ries talk about strategic marketing concepts such as leadership, positioning, focus and candour. The examples are rather out of date – it is amusing to note that these marketing gurus advise that Microsoft would be unwise to take on Lotus in spreadsheets, Harvard Graphics in presentation graphics and Word Perfect in wordprocessing as “When you try to be all things to all people, you inevitably wind up in trouble”. Each chapter is short, so it is a quick and easy read.
‘Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion’ by Robert B. Cialdini
Cialdini investigates 6 principles ‘compliance professionals’ (e.g. door to door salesmen) use to persuade us to say ‘yes’, often against our better judgement. I don’t advocate crossing the ethical line between persuasion and manipulation. But this book will certainly help you spot when you are being manipulated.
‘In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters’ by Merrill R. Chapman
A catalogue of the marketing disasters made by companies such as Lotus, Ashton Tate and Borland over the years. Quite instructive in telling you some of the things you shouldn’t do. A nostalgic read for anyone who has been in the industry for 20+ years.
‘The 4-hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich’ by Tim Ferriss
A controversial and provocative look at changing your lifestyle and work. The title can be taken with a pinch of salt (I don’t see any microISV sustaining a business long term on 4 hours a week) but there are some interesting thoughts on outsourcing, market testing, travel, time management, lifestyle businesses and a variety of other topics.
‘Programming Pearls’ by Jon Bentley
A great introduction to some of the more important concepts of computer science, such as algorithmic complexity.
‘Peopleware – Productive Projects and Teams’ by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister
The classic text on how to manage programmers. The authors even manage to back up their words of wisdom with some real data. A must-read if you plan to grow beyond microISV.
‘Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything’ by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Number crunching and economics applied to diverse topics such as: cheating in sumo wrestling, why real estate agents sell their house for more than they sell yours for, childrens name and the economics of drug dealing. Not strictly relevant to microISVs, but it shows how much you can discover if you get the data.
‘The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It’ by Michael E. Gerber
This slim volume was so dull I couldn’t finish it. Possibly of use to someone setting up a hamburger franchise, but of very little relevance to microISVs.