Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer’s Guide To Launching a Startup

I recently read ‘Start small, stay small: A developer’s guide to launching a startup’ by Rob Walling. The preface states:

“This book is aimed at developers who want to launch their startup with no outside funding. It’s for companies started by real developers solving real pain points using desktop, web and mobile applications.”

Many of you are probably already familiar with Rob’s work, including: a blog, a podcast and the micropreneur academy. Rob’s approach has been to develop a portfolio of niche websites as a solo founder (for example, funding it with his own capital and outsourcing work where appropriate. The intention being to have a business that produces a decent income, but allows the founder a flexible lifestyle. He uses the portmanteau ‘micropreneur’ to refer to this approach. It is not a term I care for, with its awkward shunting together of Greek and French. But I guess it is no worse than ‘microISV’. He develops on these themes in the book, with a particular emphasis on the early phases (as implied by the title).

The chapter headings are:

  1. The chasm between developer and entrepreneur
  2. Why niches are the name of the game
  3. Your product
  4. Bulding a killer sales website
  5. Startup marketing
  6. Virtual assistants and outsourcing
  7. Grow it or start over

As with Rob’s blog and podcast, there is plenty of insight and actionable information based on real experience. Some of the writing is taken straight from the blog, but I believe most of it is new. There are links to useful online tools, some of which I hadn’t come across before. It even includes some of that rarest of commodities – real data. He also dispells a few myths – for example: that creating a software product is a quick and easy way to riches and that Facebook and Twitter are all the marketing you need.

The book is particularly strong on market research – a subject I haven’t seen covered much in the context of small software companies. He includes a step-by-step methodology for measuring market size. It also covers other useful subjects such as: pricing, choosing web vs desktop vs mobile vs plug-in, website design, SEO, mailing lists and buying and selling websites. The paper version of the book is 202 pages long. There isn’t a lot of unecessary waffling or padding, so you are getting a fair amount of information for your money. An index might have been useful. Perhaps for the next edition?

While the book will have most benefit for those first starting out, I think even experienced software entrepreneurs will probably find some of it useful. The book is available in paper, electronic and audio formats from $19 at Given its niche market, I think this is good value.

Full disclosure: I recieved a free (paper) copy of the book from the author.

10 thoughts on “Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer’s Guide To Launching a Startup

  1. Bob

    I have the book as well, not yet finished reading. While most of things I read so far aren’t new to me, I still think it’s well worth the money. Far better than reading general business books, and good for noting action points.

  2. Smart Company Software

    I have the book and I believe it has huge value for independent software developers. There is so much specific information in the book that you just won’t find in general business books. It’s a book that will be well thumbed and in some places is a great motivator to move forward with an idea.

    If you are a software developer working on your own then this book should be at the top of your reading list this year.

    Check out Rob Walling’s blog because there is a wealth of information along the same lines.

    1. Andy Brice Post author

      I was a bit surprised about that including “stay small” in the title. I am assuming he means “stay small” in terms of head count rather than in terms of revenue. Rob, if you are reading this, care to comment?

  3. Rob Walling

    The phrase “Stay Small” is intended to be counter-intuitive as softwarecandy mentioned. I wanted to make people think twice about the title, since the content of the book goes against the traditional startup track of coming up with a grand idea, finding funding, and shooting for the moon.

    But taken literally, I’m implying that you should aim to stay small in head count and not hire people just because you feel like everyone else is doing it. I believe wholeheartedly in staying lean.

    Thanks for the great review, Andy!

  4. Chuck Brooks

    Not having to deal with stockholders and partners is part of ‘small’ that makes the effort more than worthwhile, but it takes some strong self discipline to peel off a product or line when ‘big’ starts to happen. Many of the Angels, and probably all of the VCs, may consider this ‘merely’ a lifestyle business, but I’m pretty sure I get to the beach a lot more than any of them do.

  5. Chris

    Hi Andy,
    I read Rob’s book when I saw a link to it on the business of software forum. The book appealed to me for the same reason your blog does. The book and your blog give concrete actionable advice to developers for starting a micro ISV. Working full time and raising a family leaves very little time for day dreaming about starting the next Twitter or Facebook. I need real world advice from veterans who have climbed the mountain (so to speak). My wife recently gave birth to our son 5 months ago. You can only imagine how the amount of time I can devote to my startup was impacted. But, I had Rob’s book on my Kindle and it kept my mind focused on the prize. So, I had the baby in one arm and my Kindle in the other. I am going to make it up the mountain … I just need some practical advice.


    1. valeriu

      Courage, Chris…

      My second is almost 3 months old. And for few months I’m in a serious “startup mode”. Having a day job this means that “startup on” is at 10 PM when both kids are sleeping and ends somewhere 1-2 AM. Some sleep, then a sleepy day and then another productive evening…

      The hardest is the discipline – each evening you have to seat down and write some code/work on product’s site/anything on startup. But each day you *should* do something for your dream.

      It’s hard at the beginning, but after a month or so it’s getting easier. Your habits are changing, sleeping less doesn’t hurt that bad, and family is more comprehensive. I’m trying to keep up with the family and maintaining my body in good shape. Usually I spend my weekends with my girls, trying to sleep more and get out on my bike. It helps then to work intensively during next week.

      Don’t give up, ensure that family is with you and keep working…

    2. Rob Walling

      I have a 6-month old and have been doing the exact same thing…my iPad (which I also read with one hand) and my podcasts have been invaluable to my sanity during this time.

      You’ll have more time for your startup/microISV as your son gets older; for now best of luck with your climb.

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