13 ways to fail at commercial software

  1. Don’t bother with market research, because you just know lots of people are itching to buy your new product.
  2. Only release the product once it is perfect. However long that takes.
  3. Go into a market with very strong competition and compete with them head-on, because you only need a measly 1% of this market to get rich.
  4. Go into a market with no competition. How hard can creating a new market and educating all the potential customers be?
  5. Only think about marketing once the code is nearly complete.
  6. Write software for people who can’t or won’t buy software (e.g. 10 year olds, prisoners, Linux fanatics, people in developing countries, developers).
  7. Don’t worry about marketing, because good software sells itself.
  8. Concentrate on the technology and impressing other developers.
  9. Don’t listen to what your customers say, because you know best.
  10. Don’t worry about usability. It took you thousands of hours to write the software. Surely the customer can spend an hour or two learning to use it.
  11. Embrace bleeding-edge technology.
  12. Don’t worry about backups, because modern harddisks are very reliable.
  13. Don’t even try. Just give your software away for free.

Did I miss any?

29 thoughts on “13 ways to fail at commercial software

  1. Richie Hindle

    Fail to release in a timely fashion, or maybe at all, by getting bogged down with:

    o Planning how to scale your web app to millions of users.

    o Implementing anti-piracy measures in your downloadable software.

    o Implementing complex machinery for discounts, affiliate sales, etc.

    o Any other ego-massaging activity that could only ever be applicable *after* your product becomes a success.

  2. Joannes Vermorel

    Nice list :-)

    One more, specific of non-USA and non-China countries (aka rest of the world): build your software for the national market only, because what happen in other countries is irrelevant.

    1. M. Casas

      ¿? Sorry, but I don’t understand.

      I’m spanish, I know the spanish market, the spanish language and the spanish people a lot more than the english (or worldwide) people/market/language. So, why is an error for me to build my software only for the national market?

      I know I’m narrowing my market, but for me is so dificult to go to another market…

  3. 3blueboxes

    As developers, we often complain about code quality, but I think that a lot of companies sacrifice code quality to get to market fastest and this can be a distinct competitive advantage. If your code works, nobody cares what it looks like. If you spend all of your time building a perfectly coded and scalable product, you can end up wasting a lot of time if it doesn’t take off.

    Additionally, you’re definitely right, figuring out if there’s a market for your product and finding out how to promote it is probably the biggest challenge that you can ever face in software. Right now social media is huge with Facebook and its surrounding ecosystem of a ton of companies listed at http://buyfacebookfansreviews.com are how a lot of companies try and get traction, but there is definitely a ton of ways to promote different types of software. As a developer, going it alone is hard and having an experienced business guy that has experienced with promotion can be invaluable.

    I’m not suggesting that you ignore your customers, but you should take what they say with a grain of salt and evaluate it thoroughly. Henry Ford had the famous quote where he said something like “If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”. Many people don’t know what they want until they see it: so you have to listen to people but use your own brain to try and solve problems and offer people an awesome experience. As an outsider to a market, you often have the ability to see inefficiencies that insiders don’t recognize and have the chance to really change the way people do things.

  4. Jiri Novotny

    I just wonder why developers are listed as someone who doesn’t purchase software.

    I, as a developer, have purchased many software products, including tools specifically for developers.

    Sure, sometimes people that happen to know how to write code answer “I will just build my own” in the uninstall survey, but they are very naive.

    1. Andy Brice Post author

      It was a bit tongue-in-cheek. But I think many developers are used to getting stuff for free or (unwisely) prefer to try to write everything themselves.

  5. MM

    You missed one:
    Build your product on third party software with limited support cycle that is nearly up.

    (practiced by my employers; looking for a new job)

    1. Andy Brice Post author

      I guess that is the opposite of #11. Any third party software you don’t have the source for is a major risk. But I expect more products fail due to using ‘bleeding edge’ technology than ‘trailing edge’ technology.

      1. Jonathan Matthews

        Actually just reading the book now, although so far a lot of it seems to be the stuff we’ve been banding around for a while it really gets the brain cells firing & gave me the courage to chop of a lot of potential features out of my next v1.

  6. edraw

    Although i have done many years commerical software and have some expierence. But the article is still help me. Good job.

  7. David Scott Kane (@davidscottkane)


    One. Promote the hell out of your product prior to release, overtake the competition in SEO, garner a queue of eager testers and customers – and have a hick Magistrate whack a “cease-and-desist order” on you “pending action” for the offence of “stealing an idea” from a local.

    Don’t laugh. I’ve four months into sorting that very mess out. Wouldn’t be a problem if it hadn’t come from a citizen/developer of my own country.

    Oh… And yeah. *I know* you “can’t copyright an idea” – but as the saying goes “tell it to the judge”. I’ll win but it’ll be a financial mess before it’s done between the lawyers.

  8. Alessandro

    As humorous as some of the 13 points sound, they are quite true. Sadly, I can very well see myself guilty of half the points in this list. It’s a sort of wake up call for me. I feel like I want to take a nice print out of it and stick it on my wall, surely a few points will stick eventually :P

    #8 is the most annoying one. It’s a hard one to beat. Fighting this one means changing the group of people that surround you (the other developers).

  9. Stephen Kellett

    You did miss some:

    #1 Spend lots of money on banner advertising or Google Adwords and assume that this is good marketing. Large opportunity to waste money here.

    #2 Be cynical about marketing and assume that because your customers are smart they don’t need marketing to – they think just like you and are skeptical of all marketing. WRONG! Of all people, smart people definitely need to be marketed to (not sold to, marketed to, there is a real difference).

    #3 Think that marketing is selling. Big mistake.

    I’ve been guilty of #1 and #2.

    (Andy consulted for me a couple of years ago).

  10. Tom

    How about.

    Trying to build something that requires a massive business process change to implement.


    Trying to develop a “Platform” ( Would JQuery have succeeded if it was commercial? )

  11. Shawn

    Great list. I like number 8 and 11. It’s important to focus on technoclogy, coding standards, design patterns, etc…But not at the cost of giving the customer what they want, will use, or pay for. It seems too often developers don’t get that.

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