Who is this book for?
This book was written as a handbook for software developers who want to start their own software business, and doing so without requiring outside funding.
Chapter 1: The chasm between developer and entrepreneur
In this chapter, the author suggests that having a product idea is a wrong reason to start a business. He explains that if you have a product idea, you might have a project/product confusion. A product is a project for which there is a market, and for which people are willing to pay money. Compare that to what we often hear: “I wish I could have my own business. If only I had a good idea!” The author advocates focusing on a market you know well, and look for needs that are still unfulfilled. THEN you look for a product idea.
He also details the different roadblocks that await the new entrepreneur, among them the absence of market, fear, lack of goals and failure to delegate.
Another concept he tackles is “dollarizing your time”: basically, estimating how much an hour of your work is worth, and ruthlessly outsourcing or eliminating tasks that will cost you less than that for acceptable results.
Chapter 2: Why niches are the name of the game
Writing software for a niche has countless advantages for a solo entrepreneur with no outside funding: it’s cheaper, more focused, easier to access and market to and competitors are smaller.
The author explains how you could brainstorm your niche ideas: by selecting hobbies/work experience of people you are close to. It could be colleagues, family or friends and also yourself, of course. That way you will have a good knowledge of what the people inside this niche need. He then proceeds to explain how to evaluate niche potential, by calculating an approximate amount of money you might expect given such variables as keyword demand, keyword difficulty, conversion rates and pricing of your application.
Finally, he describes how you should measure demand more precisely by creating a mini-sales site, consisting of a landing page, a product tour and a pricing page. With very little money, you could drive adwords traffic to your site and have a better estimation of conversion rates and whether this could be a potential good idea to explore further.
Chapter 3: Your product
After warning that you should consider outsourcing your product creation if you estimate it would take a lot of your time to build it, the author gives pricing advice and rules of thumb on how much to charge depending whether you are doing a consumer, business or enterprise software.
Chapter 4: Building a killer sales website
The author makes a point that your goal number one should not be to sell, but to transform your visitors into prospects: people who are interested in your product, but may not have bought anything yet. He advocates giving something for free in exchange of an email address. With time, you’ll collect a valuable list of prospects.
The author explains a lot of concepts in this chapter: how to understand your customer, how to establish a trust relationship, how to find your “hook”, how to manage a mailing list…
He also details which pages are necessary for a sales site: home, tour, testimonials, contacts, pricing & signup.
Chapter 5: Startup marketing
A big problem for startups is to get high quality traffic. The author distingues top shelf approaches, that you should focus your time on, and second shelf approaches, that could be a nice complement. Top shelf approaches are a mailing list, a blog and organic search. Second shelf approaches are social media, pay per click ads, forums, press releases and affiliate programs. He suggests that pay per click advertising could help you find which keywords convert better for you, and then create content to rank organically for these keywords.
He then gives a mini-course of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and why this matters. The easy part of SEO is to optimize your site for it, by using meta tags, correct keywords in the page title, and writing content targeting these keywords. The hard part is to build links that target your website. He goes over several strategies that could help you achieve that.
Chapter 6: Virtual assistants and outsourcing
VAs(Virtual Assistants) can be used in an early startup stage for almost anything. The author supports that they are a very good alternative to automation, which is something that developers would tend to prefer, but doesn’t always make business sense. He gives some advice on at what stage of a startup to seek out VAs and how to recruit them, try them out and evaluate them.
Chapter 7: Grow it or start it over
Finally, the author describes what you can do with a mature niche software product: either grow it or start it over. You could automate the whole business so that you can focus on a new niche focus while spending a minimal amount of time on maintaining your previous niche products. Or you could sell it, and the author gives some advice on how to do that.
My take on the book
- Lots of actionable advice: how to evaluate niche ideas, how to write a mini-sales site, how to optimize for SEO, how to create a mailing list…
- Useful rules of thumb: how to price your product, how much money you can hope to make for a given niche, practical rules to find and evaluate freelancers
- Lots of very useful concepts: “dollarizing” your time, finding “warm niches”, market first approach…
- Written for developers in mind: it addresses problems that are specific to developers turned entrepreneurs: too much focus on the product, insisting on writing all the code, not enough time spent on marketing and sales…
- Only a chapter index. WIth all the information packed in the book, it’s pretty hard to find something again.
- The content structure could be better. There is some duplicate information from one chapter to another, and the author could use some more summarization of points learned so far, and where we’re going from there.
Should you buy this book?
All in all, I think the book could have been better written, but the practical information, actionable advice and real-life examples make it an indispensable companion to the developer wanting to start his own business. as the author puts it in the end, “If you aren’t frantically underlining, highlighting or taking notes as you read each chapter, then I have not achieved my goal for this book.”