“You should double your top-line revenue by making your products more awesome, not by doubling the size of your sales department.”
That was one of the insights shared during a technology roundtable held this week in San Francisco. Called “The Developer is King,” the discussion was moderated by Don Dodge of Google Ventures, formerly a startup evangelist at Microsoft, and an engineer at such diverse firms as AltaVista, Napster and Groove Networks. Also on the panel: John Collison, founder of online payment site Stripe; Tom Preston-Werner, founder of GitHub; Suhail Doshi, cofounder of Web analytics firm Mixpanel; and Lew Cirne, founder of app-monitoring firm New Relic.
The atmosphere around the panel was filled with pithy aphorisms about why so many developers are succeeding as entrepreneurs. For example, “Developer aren’t just techies, they are artists who create things,” and “A good startup founder is someone who doesn’t live only to write code, but who likes to solve problems.”
What made this conversation particularly interesting is that not only are these founders all developers, but their customers are also developers. The panelists offered some true words of wisdom for anyone targeting developers:
• Developers are hard to please. You have to build products that just work; you can’t create success through whiz-bang marketing.
• Developers will see your product and think they can build it themselves. It’s often not hard to duplicate your product, so you have to focus on the customers, ecosystem and simplicity.
• If you are building a commercial offering atop open-source software, show that you help developers get their work done more easily than the open-source version.
• Tools are quite viral; developers are great at telling their friends what works for them, and what doesn’t work for them.
• Focus on the initial user experience, and make customers more productive immediately. Contrast your offering with big platforms that require a lot of work to install, configure, train and use before the customer sees any benefit.
• The way to innovate is to try lots of things, creating a culture that tolerates failure.
• When hiring, a cultural fit beats anything on the resume. You can teach skills; you can’t teach character.
• Don’t set out to build a company; instead, start out creating a solution to a real problem, and then grow that into a business.
• Don’t get hung up on analyst estimates of market size. Create markets, don’t pursue them.
• You shouldn’t build a company by focusing on a current fad or gold rush. Rather, figure out where people are frustrated or having problems. Make something that people want. Figure out how to make people happy.
What do you think? Write me at email@example.com.
Alan Zeichick, founding editor of SD Times, is principal analyst of Camden Associates.