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Should I do it?

Howdy,

I'm a 17 year old student from Australia about to start university, and I am and always will be very passionate about software development. I'll be going for a degree in Software Engineering, and in my first year I'm also going to do a diploma in small business management.

Even if I had such a resume, I have seen that it is very difficult to start a career in software development without real experience. About a year ago I created my own Web Server in C++ (http://swebs.sf.net), and I've spent the last few months developing a few PHP based web sites for businesses.

I have plans for a product that I would really like to create, using C# and .NET. It's aimed towards a developer market, mostly at programmers. Not only would I like to sell the product (at between $200-$500, because of the type of application it is), but I would also like to sell the .NET components I'll be creating when I am building it. These components perform rudimentary tasks like handling unhandled errors and submitting bug reports, providing database access to a wide range of database types, etc etc.

But while I have been programming for the last 5 years or so, I have never created a shrinkwrap product before, and I'm not sure whether it's worth doing.

It's something I would really love to create, and I think it might have a good little niche market (vertical) when completed, BUT I have no idea how well it will actually sell.

If I sold 100 copies of the end product at $500 over a 12 month period, I would be extremely happy. I also plan to sell the components BEFORE the end product is completed, so that they can be tested in the real world, and so I can get experience with selling software.

So my questions are:
1) How likely would I be to sell 100 copies of the product?
2) How likely would I be to sell the database wrapper component?
3) Does selling the components seperately sound like good plan, or should I keep totally quiet and release everything when the end product is ready (keep in mind it will take about 7-9 months to develop by my estimates).

I still live with my parents and I haven't finished High School yet, but I really feel I'm ready to get out there and make myself some real money with my software. I'll be registering a business name, getting an ABN, creating a professional website and all that, so I am very serious about going through with this. I have no day job to quit, so I really don't have anything to lose.

Then again, would my time be better spent at McDonalds?

Any information you can supply me with estimates as to how well the products might do would be wonderful. I would really prefer not to talk about what the end produc will do, because I would rather keep it secret.

I want to be an ISV
Sunday, March 28, 2004

Do it. Even if you never make any money the experience will be well worth it, and it's the kind of thing that will enhance your resume, whereas McDonalds won't.

I would be careful though. University in Australia can be quite tough, and you wouldn't want it to interfere to much with you studies.

Matthew Lock
Sunday, March 28, 2004

Do it. You'll probably won't be successful from a business
perspective, but that's not really the point. Don't worry
about school. Nobody will care about your grade point
average in the real world. I would like to see grades
eliminated so i could look at a portfolio of the kind
of work you are proposing.

son of parnas
Sunday, March 28, 2004

Do it, the best time to try to start a business is when your young and relatively unencumbered with expenses and obligations.

Gerald
Sunday, March 28, 2004

Nobody may care about your GPA (academic record in Australia), but they will care about whether you have a degree or not, so make sure you actually can pass the semesters.

Matthew Lock
Sunday, March 28, 2004

Yes, try it. Keep in mind "registering a business name, getting an ABN, creating a professional website and all" mean nothing. And to answer your how likely questions wee would need to know the product and your personality. Also, DO worry about your grades because at all places I have been employed they matter.

Tom Vu
Sunday, March 28, 2004

Be very careful about what the laws require you to do, and do them before the deadline.

This is easy if you take care.

If you don't, you probably won't submit accounting papers on time, and get fined for quite a lot of money.

So - be careful and do all that is required.

Entrepreneur
Sunday, March 28, 2004

Yeah, 100 copies/month @ $500 *should* make you pretty happy :-) You could sell much less than that and still be making a good living.

greg
Sunday, March 28, 2004

It is _extremely_ difficult to sell products to the developer market. I won't expound too much upon this, but I believe Joel made a comment about it in one of his prior essays (paper? rant?)

.
Sunday, March 28, 2004

Do it.  It will be mind-crushingly hard, but it sounds like you've got a pretty good shot at it - better than most, at least.

Listen to what people say about finding out what your legal obligations are and do them on or ahead of time.

Do not underestimate the power of marketing and advertising.  Make press releases.  Don't bother with print ads until revenue is solid.

Do your homework, both in school and in this, and you'll be fine whether or not this makes you rich.

Aaron F Stanton
Sunday, March 28, 2004

"Also, DO worry about your grades because at all places I have been employed they matter."

Tom, where have you been employed? (just wondering)

Philo

Philo
Sunday, March 28, 2004

Do it.  But keep it simple.  Don't hire anyone else.  If you work hard and your idea is decent, it's not *that* tough to make a living selling something to other geeks like yourself.  However, keep your expectations low.  The developer tools market is a lousy place to build a company if you want it to be growing big.

One of my recent articles on MSDN contains a paragraph or two where I fuss specifically about how awful the developer tools market really is:

http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url=/library/en-us/dnsoftware/html/software01262004.asp

Bottom line:  Even if your business tanks, you will have learned a lot.

Enjoy!

Eric Sink
Sunday, March 28, 2004

Go for it.  In my opinion, late teens, early 20s is easily one of the best times to start a business.  You have less obligations, hopefully less children, etc that tie up a lot of your time and require a very steady income. 

While I was in uni (way back in the early 90s), I remember not worrying too much about bills, getting home on time so I could get up for work/class on time and having a great time living on 10-15,000/year.  All of my peers were also living on peanuts so it was not that hard. 

Also I had the stereotypical programmer jobs, working 60 hrs/week in the summer months for crap money and then getting a real job also working insane hours to prove myself.  Man I wish that I had invested that time in starting up my own company.

I am in the process of boot strapping an ISV now.  I think it is probably harder now that it would have been 10 years ago.  I need to work full time to cover financial obligations (mortgage, insurance, cars etc) and also balance time with my wife and child and then find more time to spend on the company.  There are steps that I could take to alleviate some of the financial stresses but I'm not at the decision point for the going full out on the business yet.

Hope you find some value in my ramblings.

Billy Boy
Sunday, March 28, 2004

BTW, even though Eric did not mention it directly, have a quick read over his series of MSDN articles on starting an ISV.  They should promote some questions in your mind that you will need to answer.

As well, it helps alot if you have a supportive family.  Have you mentioned this to your parents?

Billy Boy
Sunday, March 28, 2004

Everyone has been saying 'go for it', and I agree so much.

Do you still live with you parents? If so, stay living there, make life as cheap as possible and throw 2 years into getting life experience.

Not only will you gain some great experience while you are young, and 2 years is nothing.
But also when you finally do go to university you will be two years older and have a far far greater understanding of everything (not just because you will be so much more mature then all the fresh-out-of-highschool seventeen year olds).

As for grades, I am an Australian and all the employers I have interviewed with have mentioned gpa, but then if you start university with a two year working history you will have the jump (and probably some subject exemptions).

Aussie Chick
Sunday, March 28, 2004

Don't do it. Developers won't pay for little things they could do themselves. If they can't do it themselves, they won't understand why your thing is useful. It's a very tough market.


Sunday, March 28, 2004

Alright, I'm definately going to do it! I'm doing accounting at school, and my mum is a small business advisor and my dad runs his own small business, so I know I can get a lot of advice from them with handing in my accounting records. School will come first and I'll make sure to pass and get the TER (Tertiary Entrance Rank) score I need to do my courses.

Even if it doesn't work out financially, like you said it will be damn good resume material :)

Thanks for all the input guys!

Wants to be an ISV
Sunday, March 28, 2004

Ooops, forgot to add:
I've talked about this to my parents plenty of times and they are in full support of it (so long as it doesn't get in the way of school of course). And I've already read all of Mr Sink's articles on MSDN (plus a lot on his blog), along with the while JoS archive, before I even bagan thinking about this.

Wants to be an ISV
Sunday, March 28, 2004

Don't try to read too much into the fact that Mr. Sink is an inauspicious title for anyone running the ship.

Special Ed
Sunday, March 28, 2004

No, don't do it. You're 17 years old and about to go to University, which can be the best time of your life if you want.

Concentrate on meeting pretty girls and taking interesting classes. You're only young once.

Matt
Sunday, March 28, 2004

>Your only young once

Exactly, now is the time to throw caution to the wind and just have a go. The girls will come later, so will exams and the pressures of life.

Aussie Chick
Sunday, March 28, 2004

Dear 17 year old student, there was a survey out recently that said there is 18 percent unemployment among Australian programmers. Even higher for new grads.

You might want to keep your options open at uni.


Sunday, March 28, 2004

The best way to avoid being unemployed, in my opinion, is to be self-employed.  If he has a business of his own he won't have to worry about finding someone else to employ him.

Listen to Aussie Chick on the women part.  She's Australian and female.  I would suspect she knows how that bit of your society works better than a male non-Australian.

Aaron F Stanton
Sunday, March 28, 2004

I recommend focusing strongly on only the stuff you need to do today to create a product and *start* selling it.

So, worry about:
a. the problem you're solving
b. how you'll "advertise" your product to your target audience

Keep your BURN rate (overhead costs) low until you've got things figured out.

You'll probably have to modify your approach to the business a bit before you get the "formula" right.  So, best to figure all ("prototyping" your business) cheap and dirty. 

Here's a GREAT article on BOOTSTRAPPING.
http://www.inc.com/magazine/20020201/23855.html

And, also the articles from
http://www.DEXTERITY.com
(developer section)
are GREAT.

Mr. Analogy
Monday, March 29, 2004

Nobody understands women, especially women.

Realist
Monday, March 29, 2004

University is the last time in your life when it doesn't matter if you have money.  Essentially the government is giving you an interest free loan and telling you to go study things you find interesting, while hanging around with young guys and girls for about 4 years of your life.

This is the last chance you will get at that, whereas I know many people who are in their 30's, 40's, and 50's, deciding to move out onto their own and become entrepreneurs.

When you are on your deathbed, will you look back and say "I wish I had spent more time coding," or "I wish I had asked out that pretty girl in my English class."

Look, somewhere around 90% of startups fail. That implies you have a 1/10 chance of creating a successful software venture.

Your job is to weigh the risks against the rewards.

Let me give you one more piece of advice, don't listen to anything anybody in this forum tells you, myself included. You don't know us.

Find some people you know who are happy, unhappy, succesful or unsuccesful. Ask them what they think.

Matt
Monday, March 29, 2004

> Let me give you one more piece of advice, don't listen to anything anybody in this forum tells you, myself included.

Yeah. We're not people who have been successful, unsuccessful, happy or sad. We're just random phrase generators.


Monday, March 29, 2004

> Listen to Aussie Chick on the women part. 

Is Aussie Chick interested in chasing young women?


Monday, March 29, 2004

I guess one thing I haven't explained is that I am extremely happy with my life at the moment, and I always have been. I have a great girlfriend we plan to be together for a very long time to come (I know all 17 year olds say this, but hey), and I'm getting great grades. I won't let this venture interfere with university at all.

And even if it fails from a business point of view, at least it will give me a lot of experience, and prove that at least I'm creating opportunities for myself and not waiting to be asked.

My dream is to be the manager of my own little software company, nothing more. Maybe it will work out with the company I start next month, maybe it won't happen until I'm 49, but it's going to happen.

One last thing I would like to mention is that I won't be looking for investors, or seeking capital from anyone except myself and perhaps my parents later, so if the business does go bankrupt the only person losing money is myself, and only a few hundred dollars at that (living at home is great, no bills to pay!), so it does seem relatively risk-free.

Wants to be an ISV
Monday, March 29, 2004

No wait I changed my mind. You should go to uni.

You sound so much more mature then any of the seventeen year olds I am having to put up with at uni at the moment. I could do with a few more characters like you about.

This mob still thinks it is fun to draw on desks and talk through class, and the novelty that they are legally allowed to skip class just hasn't worn off yet!!


(*grin* okay I am kidding, you sound like you have your head very screwed on, go get em)

Aussie Chick
Monday, March 29, 2004

Really? Is that a software engineering course? Maybe I shouldn't go to uni if the students are like that...

(Just kidding).

Wants to be an ISV
Monday, March 29, 2004

---" This mob still thinks it is fun to draw on desks and talk through class, and the novelty that they are legally allowed to skip class just hasn't worn off yet!!
---"

Sound like Saudis. At least I can throw them out if they do that!

Stephen Jones
Monday, March 29, 2004

---" This mob still thinks it is fun to draw on desks and talk through class, and the novelty that they are legally allowed to skip class just hasn't worn off yet!!
---"


  Ah, the good old times when I was young and immature.  Some times I miss them.  But then I remember how I'm so much better now, ten years later... and I'm not even mature yet. :-).

Ricardo Antunes da Costa
Monday, March 29, 2004

>Really? Is that a software engineering course? Maybe I shouldn't go to uni if the students are like that...

Actually 1st year general engineering classes. It is painful, mark my word.

Aussie Chick
Monday, March 29, 2004

> This mob still thinks it is fun to draw on desks and talk through class ...

Standards are slipping. Whatever happened to paper aeroplanes?


Tuesday, March 30, 2004

If you are doing any of them right, you won't be able to manage Uni, plus a business, plus a relationship. Pick two and work your arse off for a year. Make a commitment to do nothing else. At the end of the year, re-evaluate.

From personal experience I would say ditch Uni, and keep the relationship and the business. You are passionate right now - USE THAT PASSION. Your degree can wait. You'll get more out of it with a few years life and business experience under your belt anyway. And if you can survive the first year or two in your own software business, there won't be much a degree can teach you that you couldn't learn more efficiently on your own. Particularly considering the "difficulty" of most degrees in Oz.

Some financial advice: KEEP COSTS DOWN, ruthlessly. As in, work from your parent's spare room. Eat noodles. Everything has a cost/benefit. However, don't spare expense when it comes to your productivity - spend money if it will save you time.

And one last thing: Keep your business and personal life separate. Have a separate office if you can. Don't bring work issues home and don't bring home issues to work. Keep your girlfriend happy.

There is more, no doubt others will chip in.

Rhys
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

I disagree with one thing Rhys said:

I think you CAN do Uni and the girlfriend and the business.

However, you won't be able to spend as much time on any of them. So, talk to the girlfriend and find out where she's at with this.  If seeing you 3x a week is OK, for example?

THEORY + APPLICATION=FUN
I personally really enjoy studying both theory(uni) and applying it (business). 

So... I recommend taking a very easy work load at uni, and take stuff that you can use in your business. It'sll make the business more fun and make your class more fun.

Example: you could take a intro programming class and an accounting class.

You might view the business as an ongoing class project. Try to do as much of yoru business work as class assignments, get them to dovetail. E.g. , take a marketing class and write up a marketing plan for your business.

Mr. Analogy
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Yeah my girlfriends absolutley fine with me doing the business, she's really proud of all the great responses I've had.

I'll try and mix business and uni as much as I can as you said, but uni will come first. As much as I really want to do this business, I also can't wait to get my degree.

I'll be doing my first year externally however, which means I'll still be living at home most likely, which will give me plenty of time to work on the business.

Wants to be an ISV
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

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