This is my first blog post on this blog and since it is new I thought it appropriate to write a little about myself and the experiences of starting Mindscape in the first place. The intention of this blog is to document a little about the experiences and things I’ve discovered while setting up and running Mindscape. I’ve always enjoyed the stories from other software company founders such as Eric Sink, Joel Spolsky and Patrick McKenzie – each has their own style of writing and shares different types of information but all are interesting. I’m not going to suggest I’m even remotely as good as them in terms of writing style, advice, humor, looks, body odour, etc but hopefully you’ll still find this blog interesting and subscribe to my RSS feed.
The earlier years
Several years ago I used to work for a brilliant company – Intergen. They are a services company based in Wellington, New Zealand. When I finished university they offered me a job after I applied for their graduate program.
Rewinding further, back then I used to operate a computer repair business while studying – I would drive out to a person’s place and fix their machine for a reasonable rate. I built up a nice income stream and a lot of repeat business (lesson learnt #1 – repeat business is easier to get than initial business if you’re good at what you do and provide actual value. Old guys also appreciate that you don’t make a song and a dance about the fact their computer is screwed up because of the porn sites they tried to sign up on!).
I was tossing up if I should try giving the repair business a real go or if I should slot into careersville and see how that went. I decided on the latter as I expected that it was probably better to see how a “real company” operated before trying my own seriously. That turned out to be a good decision in retrospect in my opinion.
Despite thoroughly enjoying my time at Intergen and meeting a fantastic bunch of people I eventually decided it was time to push out on my own. This was a few years after working there and gaining a bunch of skills:
- Getting comfortable with public speaking
- Networking better – both in the office and outside the office
- Meeting fantastic people who are core to my friendships and networks now
- Understanding how to deal with clients – both at pre-sales stages, through to delivery
- Gaining some team lead skills
I felt that these skills, coupled with having put some money in the bank had adequately prepared me for striking out on my own. There were a couple of guys at Intergen that I thought would be absolutely fantastic to start a business with – Jeremy Boyd and Andrew Peters. I approached each of them individually about the idea of doing something in partnership with me. I also asked each who they thought would be an excellent addition to start with and both named the other – always a promising sign.
We then all met over beers (many beers…) at a local pub and discussed what we wanted to create. We all had similar opinions and what came of that was Mindscape.
Opening the doors
We had several catch ups and decided that we should focus on software products. We all liked the idea that products were more scalable than trading our time for money. There is also the benefit that you get to focus on trying to really build something awesome – you don’t make profit by just being “good enough” and delivering under the hours you estimated. We were passionate about software development as a craft and wanting to help other developers build better solutions – it was also a domain we were intimately aware of.
However, products take time to build – common approaches for companies wanting to build products are:
- Get somebody to pay for you to spend six months building stuff
- Save up some cash and build it while living off savings
- Do it part time in your evenings over the course of six to twelve months
None of these particularly appealed. The reasons were numerous:
- Taking money off people seemed more risky than just doing it off our own backs
- We wanted the freedom to pick our direction and make decisions ourselves – fast.
- We wanted everyone involved to be working on the business full time
- We didn’t want to just burn our savings and be stuck if things didn’t go to plan as fast as we hoped
- Doing things in the evenings can work out well but can be challenging if doing it as a team
- All getting an office together and focusing on the work ensured it was at the forefront of our thoughts
- The list goes on…
We each invested $10,000 to cover initial costs of rent, desks, chairs, some shelves and some monitors. We all used our existing laptops and hauled in our development books from home. Doing things as cheaply as possible was a very good idea and something I would advocate to anybody starting out – no matter how much money you could potentially invest. I have very fond memories of our very early days – the sense of adventure was fantastic.
So we set about with a hybrid model – doing some services work but only really to the extent of funding the product development. We knew that if one or two people were working full time (out of the three of us) on services work then we would have enough cash to cover the product development work. The intention being that as product income grew, our services income could drop back and result in being able to invest more heavily into the product development resulting in a virtuous cycle (improve products faster or release more products sooner results in more income, more income results in less need for services, results in improving products faster… you get the idea!). There’s much more to our business model than this now but that’s for another post
BackgroundMotion, Microsoft and our kick start
Microsoft New Zealand came to the party – we had existing relationships with the guys in the DPE team and they heard we were off to start something new. They got behind us by providing us with a project to do for them – BackgroundMotion. They kindly agreed to partly pay in advance to ensure our business had some cash and we set to work. This lead to us to being profitable extremely quickly in our life and gave us a great start – I’m not sure they realise how helpful they were.
We all worked feverishly on BackgroundMotion – it was a great way to really get the business pumping. Late night coding, sometimes ordering in pizzas and tracking everything on whiteboards was a blast. I’m an absolute fan of getting a bunch of devs together and just going hard – you can really feed off each others energy which is awesome.
We delivered the goods with BackgroundMotion and got some press within New Zealand. It was open source and even now we still spy folks around the web picking it up and being very impressed with what we came up with.
The cash from the work we undertook helped in re-instating our salaries earlier than anticipated and covered the development of our LightSpeed O/R Mapper Version 1.0.
Happily ever after?
This post covers up to about the first six months of operation – up until about two years ago. We’ve had our share of ups and downs since then – there is plenty more of the story to tell – employees, product releases, trade shows, new offices, the list goes on. Hopefully some understanding about Mindscape’s start in life will provide value to others thinking of doing their own thing or just interested in the beginnings of the company.
On a more personal note, I have an absolute fear that the moment you start thinking you’re successful, you’ll fail (or at the very least everyone will think you’re a tool because you get arrogant about it . I know a bunch of people consider me successful, but frankly, until I’m taking my private jet to my own island and lighting cigars with paper money, I won’t.
What’s next on this blog?
I plan to continue posting tidbits and things I’ve learnt but more importantly, I’d like to hear what sort of things you’d like me to write about. For all I know this has been the worst blog post I’ve ever written – if so, tell me
I get a buzz from engaging with people – it’s why I love hearing from our customers so much – so if you have something you’d like me to cover drop a comment on this post and I’ll do my best to discuss it.