Just ship it
Let me start with a story. There was a group of friends, somewhere in the fog that was 1997. They had a common interest - computer programming. But not any kind of software, no, they wanted to see how far they could push hardware back then. They were doing the kind of stuff that today you only see in video games. They traveled to various competitions around Europe, having gotten some good placements with their entries. Real time rendering of animation, ray tracing, 3D graphics, music,… and meeting people who shared their interests.
I was one of those people. Since before I considered software to be a business I was shipping software to tens, sometimes even hundreds of people. Thousands of people in the community had access to what we made together. And let me tell you, we had our own share of failure.
Life goes on. I’m still alive and kicking. The thing about software is that it’s not permanent. You can ship a half-product. You can have bugs, everybody does. And, like with the demoscene, you go home, you reflect, you fix the critical stuff and let it live in the world.
In the last 10 years I had the fortune of working with top tier clients in many industries. Energetics, Finance, Pharmaceuticals, Tourism, VoIP Telephony, Media,… but somehow never for myself. I wrote and shipped BI, CRM, HRM, Warehousing, Call center,… and many other serious products, but fell into the “service” trap. All the products are custom built, all the products have a low level of replication - practically all can’t be marketed and I am in a place where the current clients are using up the biggest asset I have - time.
So, one thing which has changed from the demoscene days is that I just don’t ship things anymore. I don’t make them. Sure, my github profile might be filled with some projects, some projects which are useful for me even today. But in my wake lie a bunch of dead self made projects which never saw the light of day.
The biggest excuse of all is “I am a programmer, I need someone to sell things.”
You don’t. You need paypal. You need stripe. You need a limited liability company. You need partners which are enablers and not disablers. You need to align your goals with your personal wishes. You need to ship to see if there’s interest. You need persistence to build a following. You need many things, but in the end you need to just do that one thing. Put yourself out there. You are your product.
I am proud of Pieter Levels. I don’t know him but his idea of 12 startups in 12 months is inspiring. We (or I should just say I?) pushed years of development into dead-end projects and almost all of them never even left the ground. And with the few that did, I can only do a basic post-mortem: We never had a market fit. We just had a few clients which was more a stroke of luck than any kind of indication of a viable market.
Sometimes a person with good connections would find a good fit between you and a client, but we always faltered when we shoud somehow get the second client.
So, not to despair, but I am aligning my actions with my wishes. I want to ship more. I want to build value for clients. I want to have many clients to whom I can bring value at once. What I make for one client, all of the clients benefit.
But, what product is so interesting I can immediately get two clients? Three? Twenty? I don’t know - but that’s the point. I will never know until I ship.
First step: I shipped Filedrop, a temporary file sharing application. If you need to send a file to somebody, upload it, email a link and the file will delete in 72 hours. It’s not a permanent file storage like Dropbox, Google drive. There is no quota and most likely somebody will fill up all the disk space. But it’s out there. It’s shipped. It works and some people already use it. I can improve it.
Breaking the status quo is scary. But wasting time searching for perfection is not going to bring you clients. You need to show something in order for them to see something. Shipping is not an option - it’s the only way.
While I have you here...
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