03 January 2011 by Published in: business No comments yet

Overall, 2010 has been a good year.  I’ve taken my iOS development company from a 0.5-man operation to one with me full-time and several contractors.  We’ve gone from Ramen-profitable to to fancy-hotel-and-a-macbook-pro-profitable.

The Good:

  • Six months ago, I was still thinking “Maybe I should think about starting a company instead of getting a ‘real job'”.  Now I know I was born to sail my own ship.  It’s just so obvious.
  • I’ve been the boss of three different people so far, and it turns out I’m at least not terrible at it, which was my fear.  Lots of people seem to think managing programmers is hard–maybe it’s easier if the “manager” is a programmer?
  • So far there’s been exactly zero technical challenges we’ve been unable to solve.  When technology is what you know, technology is what you worry about–turns out things I’m not trained to do (legal, sales) are more likely to trip me up than things I know super well.
  • I’ve been fortunate in that all my estimates have been incredibly accurate, something which is apparently hard to get right in the field.
  • Training and workflow–I seem to be a natural teacher and I tend to be good at helping developers get up to speed quickly on a platform that seems to change at least once a week and has a lot of pitfalls.  In particular, I’ve invested in extensive in-house documentation and a coding style guide that is thoroughly designed to avoid common problems and jump-start productive work.  So far I seem to be able to get new developers consistently writing good-quality production code inside three days, which is a pretty fast start.
  • In-house code — our in-house tools rock.  Plain and simple.  After you’ve done a dozen apps, you know all the pain points and you can automate them away.  Above all, they’re developer-driven, and they solve real problems our developers have.  I’ve seen an order-of-magnitude developer performance improvement through introduction of some of our tools, and I have so many ideas for more.

The OK:

  • The financials–we’re about on target here.  It’s certainly a living, but I suspect we’re doing things that leave money on the table, whether on the production side (better developer efficiency) or on the sales side.
  • Sales — this was a huge growth area for me this year–we made three order-of-magnitude improvements in acquiring clients in 2010.  I’ve previously blogged about some of our breakthroughs.  I went from being absolutely awful at sales to perhaps mediocre at sales (for our services anyway–selling software products is another matter).  I am convinced that there are at least another three more sales “ceilings” we can smash through and I have several ideas for where we can start to experiment but ultimately I am a bit of a noob at this.

The Bad:

  • While we’ve gotten really good at doing fast turnarounds and meeting tight deadlines, it turns out that clients can be really slow.  It took me a long time to realize that it doesn’t matter whether we ship feature X in one hour or two hours if the client decides to go vacation in Spain for a month.  Or sometimes the delay is legitimate–the client may need six weeks to get the artwork just right.  Until quite recently I vastly underestimated how big of a problem this really was, as it screws up everything from our vacation schedules to cashflow.  I’ve dedicated a lot of time recently to working on this problem, but I am now convinced that the solution is going to be really hard and involve every aspect of the business–from sales all the way to maintenance.
  • The long-term strategy for us is to wean ourselves off contract work and start making actual products, which scale a lot better than contracts do.  While on paper we have all these grand product plans, the execution seems to be ten times harder than we think, and our track record for finding time to build our own products this year was not good. It doesn’t help that I’m a little conservative and don’t like making big bets on big products when there are a lot of paying contracts in the sales pipeline which are “safer money”.  But I think ultimately we need to get a lot more serious about our in-house products and I hope to launch several in 2011.

I have several goals for 2011:

  • Find a permanent home.  We’re thinking about North Dallas or Austin.
  • Hire two more permanent full-time developers, and pay them competitive salaries
  • Double this year’s revenue
  • Launch at least two internal projects and get at least 15% of our revenue from internal projects
  • Solve the “slow client” problem, which will take a lot of effort and insight
  • Continue stellar our track record of developer efficiency improvement and sales improvement up the hockey stick curve

Reading this blog post, boy, I sound like an MBA instead of a developer, since everything is “revenue” and “sales” instead of “code quality” and “unit testing”.  But since my background is CS, writing great software is just super easy.  It’s the business side that I really struggle with–but I do enjoy learning it.

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