Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

"Really" Starting a Small Business?

Has Joel ever written an article describing how he bootstrapped Fog Creek Software from essentially nothing? Or *was* it nothing? I'm always in search of models of business development that I could apply for my own business.

Sic: most people in this field who have achieved some success speak from the mountaintop and let you know that a miracle occurred and they were blessed of the Almighty and they're so great and special and that worms like me, by their sights, had better forget about it because we're scum... :-) I can't imagine Joel getting anywhere near pompous, though.

IE, a few bullets:

Was Fog Creek's first product or offering CityDesk?

What supported Fog Creek while products were not selling yet?

Did Fog Creek and/or Joel have preexisting relationships and arrangements that were leveraged to get CityDesk's name "out there?" Or was the "brand" developed slowly and organically as with any shareware or small commercial title?

I'm curious especially about how much money and what types of effort to exert in publicizing and marketing a new software product.

Don Wallace
Wednesday, February 5, 2003

The first product was FogBUGZ, followed by CityDesk. We did consulting pretty much from day 1, although that has now tapered off to zero since we can be profitable from software. Brand development was "organic" and we haven't spent anything more than pocket change on advertising or marketing yet.

So, yeah, it was bootstrapped from nothing.

Joel Spolsky
Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Yup.  I would love to read about this type of stuff as well.

Don Wallace wrote, "What supported Fog Creek while products were not selling yet?"

Don't quote me, but I believe Joel mentioned a while back that he (and his employees?) does consulting work to supplement the commercial product development work that his company is known for.

One Programmer's Opinion
Wednesday, February 5, 2003

FogBugz pre-dated CityDesk by 1-2 years.

There are numerous outlets to getting a product like FogBugz and CityDesk "out there". An outfit with follow-through has a big leg up in the marketplace. There are dozens if not hundreds of bug tracking and content management products but most creators lose interest and never follow-through.

Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Joel, thanks.

It's especially interesting that you haven't paid significantly for advertising. That's good news because most new businesses are cash starved, and I really don't like throwing out wads of money without a clear way to see payback.

FWIW, I have been doing contracting for the last 10 years and it's getting pretty old to march to someone else's orders and build their business for them. My dissatisfaction with this niche predates the tech bust. Contracting doesn't scale well as a business, either.

Don Wallace
Wednesday, February 5, 2003

The great thing about contracting is that it gives you an in-depth window into the needs of a large range of customers. The product at my company was developed from this sort of "market research" (the kind where the subject actually pays you) and we've done pretty well.

Wednesday, February 5, 2003

>> The great thing about contracting is that it gives you an in-depth window into the needs of a large range of customers.

A large drawback in this regard can be doing contracting to develop companies' products. The problem is generally that you're bound by non compete agreements from using your knowledge elsewhere.

This is not so much the case with end user type clients (which I think you're referring to) but a lot of people you wouldn't expect seem to believe that their idea is a potential gold mine and they should hold all the rights in perpetuity.

I'm pretty well convinced that I'm going to have to find the next Great Product Idea on my own and disregard my client based projects.

Don Wallace
Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Don Wallace wrote:

"It's especially interesting that you haven't paid significantly for advertising."

Advertising is highly over-rated.  I've posted this link before, but here it is again:

I recommend the book that's referenced toward the top of the page.

Alex Chernavsky
Wednesday, February 5, 2003

I would also like to cast my vote for an article detailing a high-level view of how Fog Creek came to be.  There seems to be a lacking of good "Starting a Software Company", type of information out there.

Tom Davies
Wednesday, February 5, 2003

I too love to know about how businesses were actually started and gotten off the ground.

I'm personally most interested in the financial aspect. Joel, how'd you pay to get it all started? Loans, other investors, right out of your own savings, etc?

I know it is almost taboo to talk about such things (sort of strange, when you think about it), but I think the detailed business story of Fog Creek would be really interesting. It'd make a great article, and would be especially useful to all those poor wage slaves and independent contractors out there that are considering starting their own business, and wonder how you successfully did it.

And for us business-nerd voyeurs, we'd be especially interested too. :D ;)

Brian Hall
Wednesday, February 5, 2003

About Advertising:

To anyone in the business-decision field I cannot more highly reccommend the book "Jump Start Your Business Brain" by guru inventor and marketer Doug Hall. The man's a genius at what he does, really, and he really goes into detail in how to have vastly more effective marketing (including advertising).

It's not that advertising can't pay for itself quickly and be highly effective, it's that so much advertising is so stunningly bad and doesn't utilize any of so many of the scientifically proven findings that are available. I have trouble remembering the last TV commercial or internet advertisement I saw that provided an Overt Benefit, Real Reason To Believe, and a Dramatic Difference - which is what you need to be truly efficient and successful, thus so much advertising on TV and the internet is either a huge waste of money or is way less profitable than it could be.

One must not dismiss the potential power of advertising - but one can equally not afford to think that any old advertising will do, just as one cannot expect to be profitable with just any old product for sale.

For those considering advertising and such directed marketing efforts but doesn't have much time to figure out what they should do, I reccommend two key books on the subject that I just love and reccommend to people everytime the opportunity arrises:

1) Influence: Science and Practice by Robert Cialdini (perfect for salesmen too, which is what admen/marketers basically are)
2) Jump Start Your Business Brain by Doug Hall

They are wonderfully fascinating and informative reads, and they're pretty easy to exploit the hell out of to boost your business' chance of success and increase profitability.

I expect to re-read them many times in the future.

Brian Hall
Wednesday, February 5, 2003

" ... we haven't spent anything more than pocket change on advertising or marketing yet."

Well, that is not quite true.  JoelOnSoftware is the marketing engine for fog creek, and I would bet running this site over the years has cost a bit more than pocket change.

Just because you didn't buy an ad in Dr. Dobbs doesn't mean you aren't spending money on marketing.

Mitch & Murray (from downtown)
Wednesday, February 5, 2003

"JoelOnSoftware is the marketing engine for fog creek"

Good point. Who would have heard of FogBUGZ if it wasn't for the widespread popularity of JOS?

Joel should certainly consider hours spent on JOS a marketing investment.

Andrew Reid
Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Don Wallace wrote:

"It's especially interesting that you haven't paid significantly for advertising."

Advertising is highly over-rated.  I've posted this link before, but here it is again ..."

I disagreed with you at first, but now I have seen the light, In a seperate business I have (Insurance), based on 3 months part time experience, I would say referalls, and aquantinces work at least 10 times better in generating inquiries as advertising.

Daniel Shchyokin
Wednesday, February 5, 2003

I think the time FCS spent on JOS still pales in comparison to the thousands (at least) that other companies spend on adverts, and JOS is a sublime way to build an audience for your product, by letting them find their way to your product out of shear curiousity for the mind behind these articles.

... and yes, let's see the PBS version of the creation of the creek. Is Ken Burns available to direct it?

Steve Wasiura
Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Call it a coincidence, but the last couple of weeks (on and off) I've been searching all the archives about how Fog creek came to be.  I seriously thought that this story was covered already, and hence didn't bother asking. (duh)

I've been reading almost every article that JOS published, trying to inherit as much understanding and mentorship from it, in regards to currently building my own software business.

Nevertheless, all my searching through the past-to-present archives revealed very little "technical" aspects with regards to how Joel created fog creek.

The story so far:  (IMHO)
His time at Microsoft taught him a lot, and earned him a pretty penny too (~$500,000) through mostly stock.  With that money he took a couple of years off to do a bike trip, and some side consulting once in a while.  I assume he was slowly brewing FogBUGZ on his own spare time.  Once the product was of a mature state, the "part time" business began more seriously and I assume (again) grew into what it is today.  With fog creek turning a profit(?), he probably won't need to dip into his savings to support it.

The details though of how all that came to be and the struggles and triumphs; well, only Joel can comment on that.

Wednesday, February 5, 2003

As far as I know, MS stock options mature in about 4-5 years. I'm not sure if Joel spent that mich time there. Just a thought. I despise counting money in other people pockets.

Thursday, February 6, 2003

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