GBP Austin Dimmer | Building a Software Company is Hard

In this guest blog post Austin Dimmer, CEO and Founder of Effective Computing shares the difficulties he has faced trying to create a sustainable software business.

I’d like to set out by letting you know that creating a successful software business is extremely hard.

I personally suffer from a rare disability that means I am not able to operate computers with traditional keyboard and mouse, as you can imagine in an age in which “software is eating the world” it is very frustrating to be physically limited in capabilities. A number of years ago I was advised by a leading doctor not to work with computers and to seek an alternative career.

I am not one to accept these limitations and thus I have devoted the last 10 years plus of my life researching Ergonomics, User Centered Design and in particular Voice Recognition Technology. The result of my research is that I have created a software program that enables me to control most of the features on my computer using voice control. The product I have created is extremely complex and even after this long period of intense R&D (6 years of 7 day weeks, longs hours and with few holidays) I have limited customer traction, no investors and I have now exhausted almost all of the goodwill of my closest family.

I live on the edge of a war zone in Ukraine. Life pretty much sucks.

I feel that I am living on the “Long Slow SaaS Ramp of Death x1000” that Gail Goodman so inspirationally talked about. Over the course of the last year the great Ukrainian people prevailed and ousted the corrupt government during the revolution. As I write this blog post, unable to accept the will of the people Russia is waging a war against Ukraine, murdering thousands and destroying the lives of many hundreds of thousands. It is against this backdrop that I attempt to maintain my optimism and belief that by creating great (software) businesses we can make this world a better and safer place for our children to grow up in. As one of the female residents of Donetsk asked her rebel leaders during the summer.

“You may kill me for asking this. Who exactly is our enemy? Our enemy is not some imaginary fascist in Kiev or some foreign lands. Our enemy is poverty.”

My Ukrainian friend and aspiring Tech Entrepreneur Bozhena Shermeta said the following about the current situation in Ukraine:

“Yet. There is no time for grief and panic. These are not the instruments to win the war. We need to learn how to go on, how to help and support each other. There is no other way to figure out how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have. Be strong, guys.”

She is right. In my attempt to stay strong I have found that one of the best strategies is to keep focused on being productive in some way. Today my goal is this blog post.

The reason why I ended up as a raving fan of the Business of Software conference, yes I admit it, is because my company is a customer of Red Gate Software.

One day whilst reading the RedGate website I came across Neil Davidson, the co-CEO and co-Founder of RedGate. Hoping to pick up some tips into how he had created a successful software company I began to follow him on Twitter. He was tweeting about the Business of Software Conference and in October 2012 I tuned into the live stream of the event. I was literally blown away. I recall watching phenomenal and inspiring talks given by Bob Dorf, Gail Goodman , Adii Peinar  and Paul Kenny, Dan Pink. Kathy Siera, Dharmesh Shah, and others. I learned from Bob that the Business Plan I had taken months to write was better sent to the creative writing department than being useful as a strategic document. I also found out later that Bob was an advisor to the Happy Farm Incubator located in Kiev. Small World.

Link to all the 2012 Talks

One thing really stood out to me about the conference. Towards the end, some kind of social media storm had broken out accusing one of the speakers of sexist behaviour or language. The host of Business of Software, Mark Littlewood, got up and apologised for any misunderstandings that may have taken place. He mentioned that he had a young daughter and that he dreamt that one day perhaps she too would be able to create an amazing software company just like the speakers and attendees at the event. Sexist behaviour was not acceptable and was an issue that was taken very seriously. Wow, these guys have great values and ethics I thought to myself. Bravo Mark, you should be a proud father!

Interesting post: We don’t have a women in tech problem at Business of Software Conference

I was truly inspired. I hatched a plan to get myself in person to the conference in 2013.

At BoS 2013 I was lucky enough to see Kathy Sierra present her more deeply researched and refined ideas about creating the Minimum Bad Ass User, I watched Des Traynor (https://angel.co/intercom) mesmerize the audience with an awesome lightning talk about product strategy. Then there was Greg Baugues very moving and personal talk about developers, entrepreneurs and depression, Dharmesh filled me in on the importance of Scaling Culture, these are issues that as a hardcore engineer/coder I had not given enough thought to. My personal favourite from BoS 2014 was Scott Farquar talking about Leadership in Crisis. A few months after the conference I read news that Scott had sold his company Atlassian for $3.3 billion. Wow. Just Wow. That is living the dream, for real.

[NB. The company was not sold for $3.3 billion, there was an investment into the business that valued it at that sum].

I came away from BoS 2013 feeling inspired and wanting to work harder, to learn and to implement some of the new ideas. But I also felt a bit intimidated by the conference, a kind of nagging feeling that I would never reach the great heights of success that the speakers clearly had.

2013 Business of Software Conference Talks here.

For BoS 2014 my cash strapped company Effective Computing was lucky enough to win one of the Avangate BoS Scholarships. We were deeply grateful to Avangate for selecting us.

I found Brian Massey (http://conversionsciences.com/) and Joanna Wiebe http://copyhackers.com/  to be most excellent speakers and they provided me with highly actionable material that I plan to use over the coming months as my company starts to roll out our product offerings. I took the after conference workshop on Landing Page Optimization with Brian Massey and this helped round out the information provided in his talk and practice the techniques on our own sites.

Brian Massey (The Doctor/Professor) in action!

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I found the talk by Joel Gascoigne from Buffer to be inspirational. At one point Joel was talking about how his company had opted for the remote working model and that enabled some of the Buffer employees to be able to work from home. This enabled the employee to spend less time on the commute and more time with his young family. What a fantastic thing.

Joel Gasgoine CEO of Buffer at BoS conference USA

As a father of two young boys I even clapped at this point and thought what a great company Joel has. I did not manage to talk with Joel in person at the conference but hopefully someday we will hook up for a chat. Joel and I made a brief connection later on Twitter.

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Joel also mentioned that he was looking after himself and he looked very fit up on the stage. As a long time fitness enthusiast I admire the example Joel is setting here. Running a very exciting company and also keeping himself in good shape. Since I have been sitting down coding like a maniac for the last six years, I am not as fit as I once was and I have put on quite some weight. Partly thanks to the inspiration Joel provided I have managed to haul myself at least 200km in each of the months since attending BoS. Thanks Joel!

Austin

After the conference I read some of the blog posts Joel and his colleagues made about the early days of their company and how they networked and made contacts in San Francisco, if you need this kind of insight the buffer blog is an excellent place to go. A few months after the conference I noticed Buffer was trending on AngelList with a $60,000,000 valuation. Again impressive stuff.

During one of the lunch breaks the lunch tables were assigned conversation topics. Given my background in Ergonomics I thought I’d attend the conversation topic “Hacks for healthy coding and coders” During the conversation an employee of Axosoft was talking about the idea of trying to be the healthiest company in their state. That idea and concept is something I find really inspirational. I also noticed that a group of folks including the same girl from Axosoft were in the Seaport hotel lobby ready for a run. These folks walk the walk. Impressive.

At one point in the conference Greg Baugues was sitting in the auditorium alongside another man who was from Haiti (sorry I did not get his name). [Jonathan Marvens?] I had met Greg and his wife the year before in the Whisky Priest bar so I wanted to say hi and find out how things were going for him. His wife was expecting a baby in the near future and all seemed well with Greg. This was great news given the battles he has been waging against depression. I mentioned to Greg and his colleague how I was having quite a terrible psychological struggle at the conference. I was worried about what was going on back in Ukraine whilst simultaneously trying to keep optimistic about doing my best to build a great software company. It was a very strange dual reality that I was and still am living in. Although I am not a religious person, I have great respect for all religions. Greg and his colleague offered to say a prayer to wish for peace in Ukraine and for my family to stay out of danger. This moment of the conference was very touching and I almost had a tear in my eye. I was a great moment of connection and I am very grateful to both Greg and his colleague for their support.

Did I mention how great the attendees are?

I hope this story highlights some of the deep compassion that is present in the BoS community.

Michael Skok gave a very impressive presentation and I have been inspired by him to deepen my understanding of what he talked about by working through the excellent materials he makes available on his site.

Whilst BoS 2014 was taking place the HubSpot Inbound conference was also taking place across the street. You could feel the energy and excitement from Inbound spill over into the BoS conference. Dharmesh Shah one of the founders of HubSpot has been a favourite speaker and loyal supporter of the BoS conference and you could almost feel that everyone at BoS was full of pride at what was taking place at Inbound. Quite remarkable really.

The Avangate Dinner held in honour of the Scholarship winners was a very pleasant experience. I got to meet with quite a few Avangate employees. I found them all to be very smart and listening to them was very interesting. I even had the chance to share a Whisky afterwards. A great night of networking was had by all.

For me BoS is a multi-year journey of Business and Self Improvement.

Action items I am working on as a direct result of having attended BoS include:

I have no doubt that the techniques and wisdom obtained by absorbing this material will be of immense benefit to me and my company moving forwards.

Have I achieved my Goals by attending BoS?

My goals were to

  • Find potential customers
  • Find potential employees/business partners
  • Continuous and never ending improvement.

I have a few conversations open on the first two items on this list and I think that the last one is certainly a work in progress with great strides already made. After attending BoS I did have a very promising inquiry from what seemed like a prominent and legitimate investor, alas it ended up coming to nothing. Those awful emotions of rejection, disappointment, self loathing, feeling like a maverick a charlatan yet again reared their ugly head. But this is what I signed up for right? This is the journey of the software entrepreneur? These are the inevitable highs and lows that will be encountered as we travel the path? Armed the knowledge and experience acquired by attending BoS I feel that I have given myself the best chance possible to overcome these demons and build a great software business moving forwards. Being strong is the only choice I have.

This time instead of feeling intimidated by BoS I came away feeling “Yes, I can do this”.

Going to BoS is like being “Out With Legends”. Thanks again to Avangate. It may be a struggle for me to get to BoS 2015, if I can find a way to be there I will be. I thoroughly recommend going and do hope to see you there.

https://businessofsoftware.org/2013/10/business-of-software-conference-what-attendees-got-out-of-last-years-conference

“It’s like being hit on the head with an anvil forged of start-up culture, ideas, and values.  Something that will forever change the way you think about business, software, and organizational architecture.”

“An awesome collage of people, ideas and information that will help bootstrap your software product company into a BADASS software business with wildly ecstatic customers.”

“BoS is a software, technology, and business focused TED. And, because of that, for me, it might be better than TED.”

“Imagine a dream world of full employment, meritocracy, innovation and success, abundance, respect, and happiness. It’s real, and it’s going on all the time in the unbridled world of software, and the Business of Software conference is your window into that world.”

“Every time I come to BoS I feel like I’ve found my “tribe.”  Fellow techie entrepreneurs who are dying to roll up their sleeves to get a business going.”

“I’m not one to create and execute on specific takeaways as a result of any conference.  But, I’ve come to realize, after several years of attendance, the ideas and skills I’ve learned have somehow seemed to ‘leak’ into my organization anyway.  My organization is better as a result of the ‘tools’ that BoS has provided to me.”

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One response to “GBP Austin Dimmer | Building a Software Company is Hard”

  1. …you’re the BoS!