I have been running my own one-man software company for 10 years today. Coincidentally it is also my 49th birthday, so it is perhaps a good time for a bit of reflection.
I did a physics degree and then worked full-time as an employee for nearly 20 years. I developed systems in FORTRAN, C and then C++ for operational research, satellite image processing, printed circuit board design, environmental modelling and distributed systems. I learnt a lot and met some great people, but I yearned to strike out on my own.
I set up my own company in January 2005. I was a techie and had very little experience on the business, sales and marketing side of things. It was quite scary.
I released v1 of my table planner software PerfectTablePlan at the end of February 2005. It was very rough and ready, but I sold my first licence in less than 24 hours. PerfectTablePlan has exceeded all my expectations and is still selling well. I have sold over 40,000 licences with revenue well into 7 figures (£) to date.
I started this blog in April 2007. It has had over 2 million hits to date and has been helpful for promoting my consulting. But mostly I do it because I like writing, when I can find the time.
I started offering a consulting service in January 2008. I have provided consulting to lots of other software businesses, mostly 1 day engagements concentrating on marketing. That has been very interesting and has added some variety to my work. It has also been helpful to find out what works and doesn’t in other businesses.
I ran a weekend face-to-face training course for people wanting to start their own software business in November 2013 and March 2014 in the UK. The course is 460 slides + various exercises. I enjoyed doing it and the feedback was very positive. But it was hard work to get enough people in one place at one time to make it viable. I could do it online, but I think it would lose a lot of the interactivity that made it work so well. I would like to run it again in 2015. Email me if you’re interested.
I released v1 of my AdWords keyword tool Keyword Funnel in March 2014. This was a commercial quality re-implementation of various tools I had written to help myself run my long tail AdWords campaign for PerfectTablePlan. The plan was to produce v1 within a couple of months, part-time. But it ended up taking nearer to 6 months. Feedback became more patchy and ambivalent as I got closer to v1. But, having got that far, I decided to push it out anyway. It didn’t sell well, for various reasons which I might go into in a future post. I also decided I didn’t want to spend all day thinking about AdWords. So I stopped selling it and took the site down. But it seems a shame to have wasted that work, so I may resurrect it later this year as a free product.
I am just about to release v1 of my visual planning software Hyper Plan. I have worked on this part time since September 2014. I am very pleased with how it has turned out. But I have no idea how successful it will be (as was the case with PerfectTablePlan and Keyword Funnel). I think a lot of people could benefit from it, but it is in a crowded market. Watch this space.
I have attended various conferences for small software businesses and spoken at MicroConf (Europe), ESWC and SIC. It is always great to meet other people in the business.
All sorts of strange and wonderful things have happened, including:
- PerfectTablePlan has been used for some very famous organizations for some very famous events (which I sadly don’t have permission to mention). It has seated royalty, celebrities and heads of state.
- PerfectTablePlan was used as part of a demonstration of the (controversial) first commercial quantum computer by D-Wave.
- A mock-up of PerfectTablePlan, including icons I did myself, was used without my permission by Sony in their ‘Big day’ TV comedy series.
- I got to grapple with some interesting problems, including the mathematics of large combinatorial problems and elliptical tables. Some of my customers are now seating 4,000 guests and 4000! (4000x3999x3998 .. x 1) is a mind-bogglingly huge number.
- A well known wedding magazine ran a promotion with a valid licence key clearly visible in a photograph of a PerfectTablePlan CD. I worked through the night to release a new version of PerfectTablePlan that didn’t work with this key.
- I found out that CDs are edible.
- An early article I wrote for the blog generated 56k hits in a day and got me a mention in the Guardian newspaper.
I employed my wife as bookkeeper a few years back. But decided I didn’t want to take on any other employees. I outsource a few things that I can’t do, but I still do most things myself.
It has been hard work and a bit of a roller coaster ride. But overall, it has been great! I wonder what the next 10 years will bring?