If you are following me on Twitter, you might have seen a change of content in my tweets. It’s more about making money and value. There are a ton of reasons why this has happened and I’ll try to explain some of it.
Before I get into it, a disclaimer: It is not my intention to offend somone or someone’s work. It is solely about my personal journey and the reason why I’ve been doing things in a way I have chosen. Almost all of it will be no surprise to people knowing me closer.
What I’ve been doing all the years
My first product has been an Intranet application for LAN parties. I had started the work on it with the age of 14. The following three years had been a really wild time: The application had been widely used all over the world, I coordinated an international team with the age of 17 and got invited to do on-site support on large events here in Germany and Austria.
I loved working on the product because everything felt just right: The people, the energy, the ideas, happy customers, the support work and so on.
During the following years as a professional software developer I did a bunch of projects, primarily in the automotive sector. I realized early that doing software development work on a project basis is not what I am standing for. Our team’s constellation provided the energy to realize our own product vision and not only doing other’s product visions.
Over the years I’ve seen the following two tactics a lot:
- Almost every software development contractor can be exchanged for another, cheaper contractor.
- If one of the developers has a special domain knowledge and he’s already working on-site, just poach him. It’s cheaper in the long-term.
From a business PoV this is totally fine and I fully understand it. But for myself I concluded the following:
- If I am doing working on my own, it’s my decision with whom I want to work with.
- If I am employed I implement my employer’s vision and not the vision of my employer’s client.
- If I am employed my employer’s office is my workplace and not the workplace of my employer’s client.
Boom. “Arrogant dude. Just do the job and stop whining”. Totally agree. Had some fun talks with my CEOs about it. But I’ve been there, it did not make me happy and I definitely did not love it. In return, I’ve been a loyal employee for over fiveteen years and declined a lot of job offers with definitely more money.
Now comes the good part: Not doing on-site client stuff, I moved away from a software developer role. I finished my computer science studies, I transitioned into more teaching my trainees, doing software architecture consulting, have been the go-to person for talking about software-development and networking problems and pushed our own software products.
Software products, yeah!
Oh man, I really loved to push our own software products. Everything I was responsible for made me happy: Fixing ominous bugs, talking with our customers and our team about features which bring business value, writing documentation, doing remote support. Awesome!
I spend even a lot of my free time to improve our products, including a complete migration from our own Dependency Injection framework to Spring. It was fine, because I loved it.
Missed opportunities by not focusing enough
During these years I missed atleast one product opportunity. During my studies I developed a web application for my statistics course. My professor had been pretty enthusiastic about it.
Fast forward a year later: I read in an IT magazine that an SaaS with exactly the same idea had been sold for a seven-figure amount of money. You can not imagine how pissed I had been at that time.
The reason why I’ve missed that opportunity was my missing focus. I did not publish the software because I had another idea and started working on it. I guess this is a trait a lot of software developers have: We start a project for “trying out a new technology”. And then we abandon it because of thinking no one would buy it or another fancy technology comes the way.
Money, money, money
This is a topic on its own, but I want to give you the larger picture. I am listening to punk rock, I am pro taxes for the rich, I am pro basic income, I am pro general health insurance, I don’t care about optics or fancy new stuff. Nowadays I’d be probably called a “left-leaning radical” in the USA.
And now comes the bummer: I love money. Money gives me the freedom to have time to do the things I love. And what do I love?
- Improving my products, besides having more time for my family and friends.
- Empowering other developers to build their own loving products. This aligns in a way with teaching my trainees.
Believe it or not: It gives me so much joy hearing developers talk about their own, awesome product ideas and visions. But it deeply saddens me if they don’t have time for it because of implementing the ideas of others.
This is the reason why I am pro basic income. It’s not about being lazy but about having time to do things. In the last years I’ve reduced my weekly work time from 40 hours to 30 hours to have more time.
Besides that, I also believe that the Kurzarbeitergeld (short-time work allowance?) here in Germany due to the pandemic can be a big chance. But that’s worth another blog post.
Doing development stuff for free
I can’t and won’t argue with that. If you are doing development-stuff for free and earning money and you are happy, I am happy 🙂
After having published and contributed to open source software for many years I am personally tired of it.
I am not able to dedicate my own time to fix bugs or implement features of my own projects, nor have I even time to clean-up my own PRs. This stresses me out. As a result I have to do something I don’t like and even get not paid for it. I am definitely not happy with it.
Doing open source work on my employers time is another thing: He pays for the time I spend on it.
Focusing on one topic
Almost ten years ago we have identified the largest threat to my employer’s business: Just being a software development company. Here in the region there is almost no differentiation between one software development company and another: same client, same programming languages, same pricing model, same pricing range. The only differentiation is the company’s culture. All companies competing within in the same worker market, including the main client.
This is the reason why I had started nerdhood.de. I wanted to see, which company is doing only contracting work and which does support local events and has their own products. During my research it made me really happy to see some cool software products coming from the region 🙂
Again: Doing contracting work is a total valid business model but it’s risky and broke my former employer literally the neck. Our team has been and still is great, but there were no unique selling points and we did not make it to find our niche.
I remember as if it were yesterday when everthing came together. I stumbled upon the YouTube channel of TheFutur. Jonathan Stark has been talking and I was like: WTF? Even when coming from another slightly different direction (smaller company vs. single-person) I could relate with everything he was saying and did my conclusions:
- Find your niche.
- Do something you love and want to do the next years.
- Don’t do hourly billing. Which is pretty impossible with our region’s largest client.
His talking points highly resonated with my own observations. The upcoming months my co-worker Thomas and I identified our own niche. Basically, our target customer market has been in front of us the whole time: Other software vendors and developers who want to release their products faster. We both are still developers and know the pain points.
We had to put our plans for dreitier on hold, due to Corona. But we have a mission and vision.
In parallel, I took a look into my personal projects. Motivated by Jonathan’s podcast, I published a product on Gumroad and made my first sales. After that I dug into Gumroad’s history. Reading Sahil Lavinga’s tweets and listening to him had been so inspirational.
And now comes the funny part: By using Gumroad and listening to Jonathan Stark, Thomas and I realized that there is our missed opportunity:
- I like WordPress and WooCommerce but subscription handling and new distribution of releases is a PITA.
- Gumroad is for content creators but not for the niche of software developers.
- All the years we have helped our customers in the process of software distribution.
In particular, this is the reason why we are building ninkik: To productize our specialization we have identified in the context of dreitier.
How does dreitier and ninkik fit in the big picture?
If you look at this whole thought building, there might be questions. Atleast the following two questions came into my mind.
With dreitier, you would do client work – it’s contradicting your principle.
If I am employed I implement my employer’s vision and not the vision of my employer’s client.My second principle.
For me, there is a difference between implementing someone’s vision and doing strategic/tactical work to support others to implement it. With dreitier it’s our mission to enable software vendors to get their products shipped fast.
You love building products, why do you not skip dreitier and go all-in with ninkik?
There are two answers to this question.
- It’s about risk. We are both having own real estates and a family. This brings a lot of responsibilities. We can’t simply effort to take a one-year pause to bootstrap the whole platform. To be honest, the current pandemic situation gives us a chance.
Both dreitier and ninkik would be perfectly candidates for venture capital. But this is something we are incredible afraid of, due to previous experiences.
- It’s about derivation. Our mission and vision for dreitier are in alignment with my personal principles. For a large portion, both mission and vision are derived from it. ninkik is the just the productized derivation of dreitier.
My personal mission “Make software developers happy by enabling them to sell their own stuff” is also just a derivation of dreitier’s mission.
To use the most software developeresk visualization of the relationships, I build this diagram:
- There is a cylcic dependency between myself and dreiter because of the point in time when this all developed and because I am part of dreitier.
- A vision for myself is missing because it aligns with dreitier. ninkik’s vision also aligns for a larger part with dreitier’s vision.
I’ll be totally transparent. At the moment my whole life is a mix of so much motivation and excitement, paired with a lot of anxiety:
- Does this all work out? Thomas and I we both have real estates and a family.
- Is our niche too narrow? Developers tend to build their own stuff instead of purchasing an already solution. Jonathan Stark would probably roll his eays, reading this.
- Do other people believe me when I am saying “I want to make developers happy”? Or do they think I am just an arrogant retard?
- I really like writing stuff but standing in public is the last thing I want to do. I even don’t like phoning. It stresses me hard.
I thought a lot about all of these things. But for me it’s like I’ve gone through a door and can’t get back – in a good way.
Summing it up
Writing this blog post alone has been a journey. There are so much thought processes going on right now by just writing up all of this. I’d derive my sum up as follows:
- Narrowing down from being a generalist to a specialist by finding our niche.
- Money = Time for things I love.
- I want to make developers happy.
- Sell your side projects. To: Have money. To: Have time for things you love.
Thank you for reading all of this! If you like, you can drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.