Archive for August, 2005

Day 19 - Update on the website

Posted in Daily Entries on August 29th, 2005 by Mike Taber – Be the first to comment

The web site still isn’t done yet. I’ve got a partial implementation at this point, but a large piece of the web site is missing, mainly because it depends heavily on my software being available and ready to integrate into the web site. This integration will involve allowing anyone to set up a trial account and use the software as if it were their own installation. One of the keys to making a successful software demo is to remove as many obstacles to running the demo as possible.

I interviewed once with Terra-Lycos for a Senior Software Engineer position for their Gamesville web site. During the course of the interviews, I was asked what I thought of the registration process. I told them it was far too long. It asked so many questions that really didn’t need to be there. While my interviewer somewhat conceded the point, there’s a school of thought that states that you should get as much information from your users as possible so that you know who you’re dealing with. That school of thought is run by the marketing department.

They point to the fact that if your user is a woman in her mid to late forties, you’re certainly not going to attempt to lure her to try some other product you have with a busty dark haired female image a la Lara Croft. On the other hand, if your user was a male aged 18-35 that’s something you would probably consider doing. But from what I could see, Terra Lycos took this information gathering to the extreme and placed every obstacle they could in the way of signing up. The fact is, that it was more annoying than anything else. Were I not interviewing for a job there, I would have simply closed the browser and that would have been the end of it. The end result? No marketing information at all for Lycos.

I plan on going to the other extreme. Users will enter their email address and that’s about it. They’ll be emailed login information for their trial, and that will be the end of it. No hassles, no fuss. The fewer obstacles, the better. If I could do it without even asking for an email address, I would but I don’t think that’s feasible.

So, the web site is progressing, another version of the software is nearly ready to be labeled Beta 4, and I have a second potential customer interested in the software just through word of mouth. Things are certainly looking good.

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Volume I: The Paperwork

Posted in All Articles, Bootstrapping a Business on August 22nd, 2005 by Mike Taber – Be the first to comment

Creating a new business is a lot of work. Oh sure, you can run to the Town Clerk, file some paperwork for a DBA and be out of there in less than an hour, spending maybe $35, but if you want to protect yourself, you need to do things right. That means a lot of time, a lot of effort, and most importantly, a lot of work.

There are a bunch of things that you’re going to need to do right off the bat before you even think about registering your new company. For myself, the choice to be a software company was an easy one. I’ve wanted to run my own company for more than 15 years now, very close to 20 in fact. I always knew that it was what I wanted to do. Prior to creating Moon River Software, I started a company called Game Thoughts. It was never the great success that I had envisioned, and there were a number of reasons why, which I will get into at some other time.

But Game Thoughts had everything going for it at the time. It was started back in August of 2000. Granted, this was right around the start of the bubble burst, but the gaming market was projected to explode over the next 10 years, and explode it did. We thought we were bound for greatness, and it was only a matter of time. Fast forward 5 years. While the gaming industry has indeed taken off, Game Thoughts did not.

In line with my thoughts on learning more from success than from failure, I will elaborate on the failures of Game Thoughts at a later date. This article is all about bootstrapping your business and how you need to get started.

The first thing you need to do is figure out what you’re going to be doing. The fact that you’re reading this lends a lot of credence to the idea that you plan on creating your own software startup company. Not a guarantee, but plausible of course. Now beyond software, knowing generally what kind of software you want to write will help a little bit. To the previously mentioned example of Game Thoughts, we wanted to work with games. PC games more specifically. Our expertise was not with the Mac or Linux, so they were somewhat out of the question. Similarly, console games were out of the question, as they required developers kits and a significant outlay of cash up front to be able to do anything right away.

Knowing what you want to do will help guide your future. You should write a one line mission statement, something that will guide you when the future gets a bit hazy. Ours was more of a tag line than anything else, but it worked just as well. “Welcome to the future of your imagination.”.

Once you have your mission statement, or tag line if you will, think of a couple of products that you can create. I’m going to concentrate more on business applications than games, because that’s what Moon River Software will be doing. I want you to realize, that I certainly mean more than one product. There are very few companies these days which can survive with only a single product unless they are extremely small.

Also, think about what you want to accomplish. Your high school guidance counselor would ask you idiotic questions like “What do you want to do with your life?” and “Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?” Unfortunately, these questions really need to be answered. While I’ll be a bit coy in my answers for Moon River Software, I can tell you a few details.

MRS is going to develop mainly business applications. Our first product, named Moon River Milestones is currently in beta. It is a software project management solution targeted towards small companies who want to put together complex software as quickly and efficiently as possible. Mid way through development, Milestones has become essential to the project management of Moon River Software. The fact that we rely heavily on our own software is evidence enough of the need for it in the marketplace.

Next, you need a name for your company. This will require a considerable amount of thought by you and your partners. Did I say partners? Well, lets discuss partners before we consider a name. Partners are essential to any budding corporation. Without partners, you’re going to have a hard time getting everything done. Remember that billion things to do that I previously mentioned? Well, your partners will help you burn through them a bit faster than you could on your own. Even better, most partners will bring something to the table. You might be an excellent coder, but a friend of yours is a brilliant marketer. You should choose partners who can help contribute something different to the new company.

It’s a common affliction that most people have to want to be with and around people who are very similar to themselves. This is extremely common in hiring new employees. Most people develop an affinity for people during an interview who are very much like themselves. This can be very dangerous to a new company. You’ll end up with lemmings. Everyone is moving in the same direction, but if the leader isn’t going the right way, nobody else will have the sense to question the direction and the lot of them will end up in the water. Not good.

So, make sure that you choose partners who can contribute, but aren’t lemmings.

As for the name of the company, there are a number of factors to consider. Is your company name easy to understand over the phone, will it be easily misspelled, is it too long, is it too short, does it sound too much like that of another company, is the name already taken, etc. Moon River Software was not our first choice, nor was it our second. The original name for the company was to be Bitclinic Software. Great name for an anti-spy ware vendor, but not for a business software provider. It was also pointed out that when you say ‘Bitclinic’, it’s somewhat difficult to understand what is really being said. Is it ‘Bid Clinic’? Is it one word or two?

It’s simply not clear. We purchased the domain name ‘bitclinic.com’ some time before incorporating because we weren’t sure what to go with and this was one of the options. In the end, an overnight sailing trip around Gloucester and Rockport yielded the name that we were looking for. After a brainstorming session, a few beers, some laughs, and a few days of contemplating our various results, we settled on Moon River Software.

Make sure that you have a list of your top five choices when you go to register your business. It’s quite possible that your first, second, or even third or fourth choices are taken. Some quick searches using Google will probably let you know right away whether they’re likely to be available or not, but you never know. It’s entirely possible that several years ago a company went out of business with the name that you’re trying to register.

Don’t get too attached to the name either. It’s only a name. I know that it’s very difficult to let go once you settle on one, but don’t ever forget that it’s only a name. The name of your company will have exactly zero dollars worth of value. It’s the work behind it that will make you money. I certainly don’t believe that the name of ‘Mike Rowe Soft’ would have any value if it weren’t for that other company.

So, we’ve got a rough idea of what the company will do, perhaps some ideas for the name of the company, we’ve talked about partners, the next thing you need to do is actually register the company. I would highly recommend that you seek out a suitable CPA to advise you on the type of company to register and find an attorney who you feel comfortable with to do the actual incorporation work for you.

There are several types of companies: Sole Proprietorship, S-Corporation, C-Corporation, and LLC. There are likely others, but these are the main ones. I can’t stress this enough. I’m not an attorney, and I’m not a CPA, so I take no responsibility for what you do here. But get a CPA and an attorney to keep on retainer. These guys will get you through the first couple of years. How do I know? I read it on the Internet of course. The first couple of consultations should probably be free, but once you request that these guys actually do any work, it’s going to cost you some money. Here’s where it can get ugly.

How do you pay to start up a company when you don’t have any money? Unfortunately, this is where I’m going to have to leave you. Tune in later for Volume II.

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Day 12 - The website

Posted in Daily Entries on August 22nd, 2005 by Mike Taber – Be the first to comment

So, I’m in the midst of creating the Moon River Software website. I’ve been writing web software for going on seven years now, and you would think that after all this time, I’d have a pretty good idea of how long it’s going to take to get things done.

The fact is, that I do, so long as the content is ready and most things are generally laid out for me. But a full website design and implementation is a very different animal from web application programming. There are certainly people who are very good at both of them. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people. My web programming skills far outweigh my web design skills. Fortunately, in the past I’ve not had to worry too much about web design. Now, I’m hip deep in it.

It will likely take me a couple of more days to figure out how to put everything where I want it, but once I do, most of the content should fall into place pretty quickly. Within the next 3-6 months, I’ll hire a web designer who can put a really good looking face on the Moon River website. Until then, you’re going to be stuck with the best semi-professional looking website that I can muster.

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Day 11 - Starting a new business

Posted in Daily Entries on August 21st, 2005 by Mike Taber – Be the first to comment

There’s a billion things to do and just figuring out where to start is a monumental task unto itself. Actually, this is actually Day 11 and the idea for fully documenting this process only came to me yesterday.

To give you a bit of background, I read a lot of things on the Internet (all of them are true of course), and the vast majority of the web logs I read are written by successful business people. Most are programmers, and the reason I tend to read blogs written by programmers is that we tend to have similar insight into a lot of things. I know and trust their perspective generally as if it were my own. Mind you, I’m not blindly reading and memorizing everything I see and quoting it as gospel, but I do lend a certain amount of credibility to those written by people that I may not know personally, but certainly respect.

While some have been around for only a short time, others have been around for a number of years. I gave some thought to this after coming up with the idea to document the progress of Moon River Software and realized that a central theme occurs with all of the ones I read on a regular basis.

Not one of them is written by a company that’s in the very early stages of business.

Read that again, because I think it is truly important. This isn’t to say blogs written by companies that are just starting out don’t exist of course, but I simply haven’t found them nor have I taken an excessive amount of time to search for them. Having noticed that my own tendencies tend to be echoed by others (or vice versa), I decided to create my own blog for the umpteenth time.

On August 10th, 2005 I filed with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for the incorporation of Moon River Software, Inc. In addition to Moon River Software, as a grand social experiment, I will be documenting the progress of the company, what it took to get started, and its’ progress as time goes on, be it good or bad. You see, I believe that while everyone enjoys reading a success story, we often learn far more from our failures than our successes. Think about that. You don’t always know what it was that you did correctly if you succeed on the first try.

It could have been blind luck, the stars just happened to be aligned correctly, you were in the right place at the right time, etc. The point is that perhaps as much as you’d like to think otherwise, you may not have known exactly what you were doing. Any number of successful people will no doubt tell you that they didn’t quite know what they were doing when they started out, but they most certainly figured it out.

My goal is to give the unmitigated truth about what it takes to get a startup software company off the ground. I’ll be honest and say that like 99% of the rest of the entrepreneurs on the planet, I don’t know exactly what I’m doing. The other 1% are lying to themselves. So keep checking back, and perhaps you’ll be as intrigued as I am about what’s going to happen. Paramount to this social experiment is getting the business off the ground and making it profitable. While I may not write about each and every thing as it happens, I will certainly do my best to write about it afterwards when I’ve had some time to reflect upon it and give due diligence to what it means.

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