Fog Creek Software
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Gwyn's "Why won't you show your cards?"

In
http://discuss.fogcreek.com/newyork/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=1730&ixReplies=27

Gwyn asked why Joel won't reveal how his business is doing, stating that in the UK everyone has to, and it doesn't hurt them.

In poker, you rules for five card stud are that each player gets one hole card and the other four are dealt face up in front of them. In five card draw, each player is given five cards face down.

If you're in a game of five card draw, you don't ask one of the other players to lay down four cards because it works just fine in five card stud.

The trick is that everyone is on the same playing field.

In the US, small, privately-held companies don't have to reveal their business beyond normal public filings. For Joel to show all his cards on an internet message board would put him at a massive competitive disadvantage with other businesses here in the US.

My advice - don't wander over to other people's games and insist they play by your rules. You can ask, but they can also say no. (but if you want to join someone else's game, you should be prepared to play by their rules)

Philo

Philo
Saturday, March 06, 2004

It should also be noted that in the US there are commercial resources to gather info on private companies.  In large companies, most purchasing departments will run a D&B report on new vendors if they are small and/or privately held.  D&B provides basic credit reports on companies.  I've never seen the contents of one, so I'm not sure what other info is entailed.  So, even for private companies, some information is publicly available.

Here is an example of what you can order: http://tinyurl.com/3ga7e

Nick
Saturday, March 06, 2004

Also, Joel has inadvertantly provided other information about his company.  Fog Creek employees have "Fog Creek Software" in their posts to this forum.  The only posts I've seen with the extra signature line are from Joel and Michael.

So, you could speculate that Joel and Michael are the only two full time developers, making it a small company.

On the other hand, Joel hires developers who are smart and get things done, and therefore don't waste their time in message boards like the rest of us.

Nick
Saturday, March 06, 2004

In the UK all you have to do if you're a small company is post a set of unaudited accounts.  If you aren't a limited liability company you don't even have to do that.

Simon Lucy
Saturday, March 06, 2004

"Anyone that really wanted to know the details of Fog Creek would have no trouble obtaining such information.
"

Which is yet *another* reason why Joel doesn't need to disclose information if he prefers not to. If you want to know, then *search* for it.

The real Entrepreneur
Saturday, March 06, 2004

D&B reports are not exactly accurate.  This is not a good way to evaluate how a company is doing, what their revenue is, etc, if that is what you guys are thinking of.

On the other hand, there have been various business questions asked of Joel that he has just flat out blown off. 

Example:  A (long) while back Joel ran an article on how he dumped Digital River as their payment processor / ESD provider and cooked up their own stuff.  Fine, no need to give Digital River their reseller discount anymore.

Someone asked later how they did with respect to fraud - online fraud is a BIG problem with doing your own order processing, outfits like Digital River (and their satelite companies) have skills and experience in this area, that is what you are paying for.

Not a peep.

I can't imagine Joel writing a story for MSDN about all his major screw-ups like Eric Sink did.  The guy (Joel) is a cheerleader for his own bidness, and that is about it.

Think I'll pose the online order fraud question on "Ask Joel" and see if he ducks it once again.

Mitch & Murray (from downtown)
Saturday, March 06, 2004

>>"For Joel to show all his cards on an internet message board would put him at a massive competitive disadvantage with other businesses here in the US."

Utter nonsense.  This is a perfect example of excessive paranoia masquerading as "protecting your business".  This is the same type of nonsense that has been rampant in government agencies (sepecially the federal government) for years.  The most trivial information is classified as Top Secret.

If someone obtains the source code to City Desk and starts producing a knock off product, obviously that would be bad..  But I cannot think of one single peice of information about the company that would be harmful if made public.

Please explain how revealing the number of people employeed by Fog Creek Software would put them "at a massive competitive disadvantage".

Joe on Software (Joe)
Saturday, March 06, 2004

We have a policy of not revealing any information about our e-commerce system because that would make it easier to hack. In particular I'm not going to tell you what we're doing to reduce fraud because people trying to defraud us would use it to circumvent our fraud reduction measures. Sorry. Nor am I going to tell you what bank I use for credit card processing or what software, all of which would just make it that much easier on someone trying to steal from us. (And if you were planning to rehash that stupid misinterpretation of Bruce Schneier, please restrain yourself: just because the development of new cryptographic algorithms benefits from openness does not in any way imply that the implementation of fraud detection and prevention measures benefits from publicity. We've gotten our credit card fraud rate down to zero with some clever measures that, frankly, if people knew what they were they could start defrauding us again. Yes, I'd rather have measures that would still work even if people knew what they were, but such things don't exist, so I welcome the advantage that secrecy provides.)

We have a policy of not revealing sales figures primarily because we believe it would attract entry (i.e. competitors).

We don't publish the number of employees that we have for the same reason, but you're welcome to come to the Fog Creek open house and count 'em yourself.

In all these cases, there's a difference between "if you ask me I'll tell you" and "if you ask me I'll publish it on a web site." For example, I wouldn't be happy if someone decided to hack Fog Creek and intercept all our credit card payments, redirecting them to their Swiss bank account, and I sure as hell do not need to give them a map, available with a conveniently high Google page rank, explaining how we process credit card transactions and making it just that much easier to steal from us, but again, come up to me at the open house, introduce yourself, and I'll happily show you the whole process and give you references for all the vendors we use.

Just because we don't like to provide a complete online reference describing every aspect of Fog Creek's operation, doesn't mean we're obsessively secretive or hiding something. We don't have that much to hide, anyway. Occassionally some snarky troll says, "why should we listen to what you say about software development if you refuse to divulge how much money Fog Creek makes?" as if that were the only way to judge whether the contents of my writing on the web makes sense. Judge what I write on its merits, not on whether Fog Creek makes money or has lots of employees. I'm not sure why these snarky trolls can't just judge whether my ideas are valid or not on their own, without reference to external sources of "authority."

And finally I have generally found that when somebody asks for something you're not planning to tell them, you're much better off ignoring them than just outright refusing to give them the information, because you wind up in stupid arguments like this one which can easily be avoided by not engaging the trolls.

Joel Spolsky
Fog Creek Software
Saturday, March 06, 2004

Sorry if you think it's stupid, Joel, but I felt that the "why don't you reveal everything about your business when everyone in the UK does" was an interesting mental disconnect worth addressing.

And Joe, you can't compare what governments do with what small businesses do - the question is "who are they accountable to?"

Philo

Philo
Saturday, March 06, 2004

I posted this in the other thread, and I'll post it here too:

I think maybe Joel has decided to let his actions speak louder than words about the internals of his company.  His company has two products, one of which is on version 2 and the other of which is on version 3.  This gives a very strong indication that his company is self-sufficient.  He clearly states pricing for the products.  A bored Sunday reading through the archives or a search will yield this post http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000026.html dated December 2, 2000.  That's over three years out of date, and if you add to it the fact that his company recently had new office space created to their own specs and is hosting an open house, I'll think you'll find that he's doing fine.  The exact internals are not necessary.

Aaron F Stanton
Saturday, March 06, 2004

"Sorry if you think it's stupid, Joel, but I felt that the "why don't you reveal everything about your business when everyone in the UK does" was an interesting mental disconnect worth addressing."

Philo - that's a bit kiss-arse isn't it? I don't remember you proposing it like that! It was more a defence of why Joel shouldn't reveal it and your presumption about why that might be. I suspect that, in a global market, it might be interesting so see how all the American companies hiding their information might be adversely affecting UK companies that don't have that luxury.... or maybe not eh?

Joel, that was quite some rant. Looks a little defensive maybe but well done anyway! Two "snarky trolls" and a plain old "troll" just for me. Although "snarky" means "irritable" and I suggest you actually meant "irritating".

> I'm not sure why these snarky trolls can't just judge whether my ideas are valid or not on their own, without reference to external sources of "authority."

I think it's fair to say that your ideas are generally presented as a statement of fact. So you have to accept being challenged.

> And finally I have generally found that when somebody asks for something you're not planning to tell them, you're much better off ignoring them than just outright refusing to give them the information, because you wind up in stupid arguments like this one which can easily be avoided by not engaging the trolls.

Actually not true. You may end up in a different (possibly interesting) discussion about why you wouldn't tell someone something but it's a competely different message you send by saying "I don't reveal that because..." rather than ignoring it which comes across as "Oops, that's an awkward question"

I personally don't buy the "it would attract entry" argument. You mean when people find out how successful you are that they're suddenly going to decide that there's money to be made in bug tracking systems or content management systems? Hmmm. But that's just my view.

People in the public-eye professions (like actors or musicians) often whinge about the amount of public attention they get but, hey, get over it, that's part of the package. And likewise, when you sit yourself up on a public pedestal (for whatever reason you choose) you have to accept that part of that job is to deal with the awkward questions. You don't have to like it but you shouldn't be surprised that it happens.

Trying to protect your image by only letting out what you consider good publicity is doomed to failure I'm afraid. You need a different approach.

I and another person asked you questions "Do you have any insight into working out product pricing" on the "Ask Joel" forum. You didn't respond to either of them. To the outside world it looks like "Joel knows everything" because those questions never appear but you could answer those questions with an honest "I'm afraid I can't help you on that". In the short term this may work but as a long term strategy it'll start to undermine you. Noone expects you to have all the answers. But people like other people to be honest about who they really are. This breeds trust and good long-term relationships.

Now this thread has the potential to show insight into the mind of the man who created FC and JoS. And this is interesting in itself.

gwyn
Saturday, March 06, 2004

http://discuss.fogcreek.com/newyork/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=1389

saberworks
Saturday, March 06, 2004

"We have a policy of not revealing sales figures primarily because we believe it would attract entry (i.e. competitors)."


Isn't the CMS & bug tracking fields ALREADY heavily competitive?

The Ted
Saturday, March 06, 2004

Yes, except that they have product differentiation.

They're not bug tracking. They're easy to install, simple to use web-based bug tracking. That was enough of a differentiation for us to buy it.

They're not CMS. They're lightweight site management for people who don't want to (and shouldn't have to) know HTML. Again, that's enough of a differentiation to make some sales.

"Own your market space. If you can't own the market, make a new one, and own that instead."

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Saturday, March 06, 2004

SPOON!!!

VP
Sunday, March 07, 2004

Yeah.  There are a lot of bug tracking and CMS tools.  However, if everyone knew how much bling Joel was making, they would spend $$$ to research just what people like about Fog Creek products and make a near clone with a super-marketing-must-have feature tacked on.

Almost every bug tracking software I've seen is overly feature-wridden.  I haven't used Fog Bugz, but I get the impression from the marketing that it is lean-and-mean.

Almost every CMS system out there is either just a set of perl scripts and some XML files or a huge, bloated, Java AppServer behemoth.  CityDesk falls nicely in the sweet spot.

So yeah, I think Joel's explanation holds water.

Richard P
Sunday, March 07, 2004

Google only returns 850,000+ hits for "web based bug tracking", so clearly there's room for competition. :}


Sunday, March 07, 2004

Or 64,500 if you put it all in quotes.


Sunday, March 07, 2004

Right, because the REALLY important part is that it's web based, not that it's simple to install or easy to use, right? :-p

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Sunday, March 07, 2004

Probably only 30,000 of those hits claim to be simple and easy to use.

The rest claim to be powerful and feature-packed.

:}
Sunday, March 07, 2004

"Google only returns 850,000+ hits for "web based bug tracking", so clearly there's room for competition. :}"


http://search.csmonitor.com/search_content/0227/p09s01-coop.html

Kyralessa
Sunday, March 07, 2004

Yah, I know you can't rely on google that way.

I was just pointing out that there are several web based bug tracking systems that bill themselves as simple and easy to use.  Even a lot of free ones. 

 
Sunday, March 07, 2004

As someone who is in favor of free (we use Subversion and CruiseControl.NET, for instance), I'll say that I've never EVER seen a free bug tracking system that was as good and simple as FogBUGZ. If there were, I'd be using it.

Just because they claim "easy", doesn't make them easy. FogBUGZ really _is_ easy.

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Sunday, March 07, 2004

"Just because they claim "easy", doesn't make them easy. FogBUGZ really _is_ easy"


Does the same hold true for YOUR claim?

 
Sunday, March 07, 2004

Here's the real question: does an admission that Joel is worried about attracting competitors (and thinks his sales figures would do that) mean that we should all rush out and write our own CityDesk clone even without knowing the precise numbers? Or does it mean the market is so small that a second company in the same market would probably mean both would go under?  :)


Sunday, March 07, 2004

"Does the same hold true for YOUR claim?"

Of course. You don't know me. Why should you believe my claim, when it's so simple to form you own opinion? That's what the big lump of gray is for, the stuff in your skull. :)

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Sunday, March 07, 2004

> the question is "who are they accountable to?"

In the end, the same people. See Enron and similar cases.


Monday, March 08, 2004

If you want a head start on creating your own:

"A Painless Web-Based Bug Tracking Tool"
http://www.codeproject.com/asp/painlessbugz.asp

New products are generally 'simple' and 'easy to use'.  After a few years of feature requests, then they become 'powerful' and 'feature packed'. ;)

Dan Brown
Monday, March 08, 2004

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