Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

Starting a Company- Questions you want Answered?

I have the opportunity to ask a bunch of small software company founders interview questions about how they got started, how they grew their companies, etc. for a documentary project I am working on for my entrepreneurship program (MBA project).

I have a list of some general questions, but I would love to hear some thoughts on what any of you might want to specifically know, or would ask, were you in my seat- considering I am not a software person, I might miss something of particular interest. 

Thanks for the help.

Not Michael Moore :)
Tuesday, March 9, 2004

1) Were you currently employed at any point passed simple "envisionment" of your company? If so, did you work on building your company (to any degree) while hedging your bet by keeping your current position?
2) How many immediate partners formed with you? How many are there today?

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Why do software developers tell jokes about MBA's?

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

What sort of market research did you do?  Did you focus on finding an untapped niche, or on providing a better alternative to products already in the marketplace?  What potential obstacles to success did you encounter in pursuing (whichever of the two you indicated)?

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

1.  Did you already have non-software familiarty with the problem your software addressed?

(I.e., did you, or someone on your team understand your target market and it's problems before you developed your software).

2. How would you rank your relative knowledge of the target market vs. knowledge of the software business? (X % vs. Y %)

I'd be very surprised if the answer to the above is no.  My suspicion is that good software has more to do with knowledge about the PROBLEM and customer than of software.

Can you post your findings on JoS?

The real Entrepreneur
Wednesday, March 10, 2004

For those that had no partners, would you say it increased the total level of stress involved in your business?

Seun Osewa
Wednesday, March 10, 2004

What is the single biggest mistake you made with regard to financing your business?

I suspect you'll find that many of them sold too much equity too quickly and have regretted it ever since.  If so, ask them how they would have handled it differently.  Saying, "I would have waited longer" requires a follow-up - how could you afford to do so and what financial risks would you have faced if you decided to delay seeking outside financing?  Saying "I would have sold less of the business for the same equity stake" requris a follow-up - for developing companies with little or no shipping product the VC standard seems to be 1 million for 10% (it's somewhere around there, I haven't looked recently), how much flexibility did you really have?

Did seeking VC hinder your efforts to develop your company the way you had intended?  or did the contacts and management team the VC brought in help you develop the company in ways you hadn't anticipated and for the better?

How quickly did you get office space - why?  How much capital were your going through before and immediately after seeking outside capital?  (It's my opinion that for small companies office space is not only unnecessary but actively harmful because of the cash sink - of course better alternatives must be available for that to work).

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

1) If you sought funding and consequently wrote a business plan and, as is standard practice, including estimates of income and earnings for your first few years of business, how close were you to the real numbers?

2) If you are talking to someone whose background is software development- how did you handle sales?  What was your original plan for sales and what turned out to be successful?  Please include in this discussion issues such as licensing and support.

3)  If you sell a software product please discuss the relative importance of the following- lack of bugginess/stability, basic features, way-cool uneccesary features so you features list looks longer than your competitions, ease of addition of new features, customer support/service, user interface usability, user interface prettiness, advertising, word of mouth, price, incorporation of buzz-words.

4)  If your software is a computerization of a "paper process" how did you convince customers to switch from non-computer work-flow, to computer work-flow.  If your software was a better mousetrap in an already computerized space, how did you convince customers to switch?

5)  If your software is a horizontal desktop application, weren't you scared that if it turned out to be successful that eventually Microsoft would do a knock-off and put you out of business?

name withheld out of cowardice
Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Thanks for all the feedback so far. There are a lot of points of focus here that hadn't occured to me.

And yes, I have heard a ton of MBA bashing jokes, though I am sure there are countless more... I promise to try hard to not live up to any of the stereotypes. :)

Not Michael Moore :)
Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Oh yeah- I will also certainly let you know the results of the interviews when finished.

Not Michael Moore :)
Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Q: Was the program based on a "paper" (non computer) version that had been tested?

E.g.,  sometimes writing a program is like filming a movie. You can write a script for the movie, or you can base the movie on an existing book. The latter option often results in a superior movie because the concept was well prototyped in the book.  That's equivalent to taking an existing, proven system (on paper) and automating it with a program).

BTW, this is related to my previous question: having strong domain knowledge (of the problem the progr. is solving) is almost as good as having a paper solution to work from. (Understanding the problem is half the solution)

The real Entrepreneur
Wednesday, March 10, 2004

If you had a million dollars, what would you do?

(Sorry couldn't resist)

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home