Saturday, November 19, 2011

Liveblogging IndieConf: From Consulting to Product (Panel Discussion)

Joe Audette, Laney Dale, and Nathaniel Talbott 
The next session is entitled, "From Consulting to Product" and is moderated by Pat Howlett (@PatHowlett).

Panelists: Joe Audette (www.mojoportal.com and @joeaudette), Laney Dale (Appuware.com and @LaneyDale), and Nathaniel Talbott (spreedly.com and @ntalbott).

Joe: Been doing .net development for a long time. He contributed to the Rainbow Portal project. After the project got some adoption, he decided to build a business around it. He did some consulting for awhile. After a while, he realized that there is a risk of copyright infringement when he wrote similar code for different customers. He finally got into the product development. His time with the mojoportal (content management system) is balanced with other projects.

He still feels like he is the small guy. He didn't borrow any money for the business and feels great about having that control and freedom. Being able to work on what he wants to work on. If he sees something that he likes, he can add it to his mojoportal product. Still, he stresses, that he is accountable to his customers and what they want.

In addition to product, he also makes money on affiliate marketing. Web Application gallery on the Microsoft site provides new customers.

Laney: He moved to North Carolina in 2007. He began as a freelancer in PHP and mobile development. He had a couple apps out there in iOS space. He got tons of calls about developing mobile apps. They would offer 10% of a HUGE idea. He heard this all the time. This was the last straw for him.

He then decided to build his own business. He started by buying a domain name. He found a partner and they built a web site. They received tons of ideas for projects. They were very successful in getting people to their site, but received few ideas. They started by charging $5 per submission. Babysitting apps were popular.

Other app ideas were FREE with ads. It made a couple dollars. Then came Appuware. This is where developers give them $10. They worked with the Startup Stampede (in Durham). However, developers didn't know who they were, so they didn't get very many payments.

As freelancers, there is very little time. You either sell or build. You have to have a solid balance between the two to make money. When you decide to build your own business, it will take time to make it happen. To build a business, you have to talk with venture capitalists and other business tasks. He has had to return back to consulting to make ends meet.

Nathaniel: In 2004, he wanted to try out living as a full-time employee (cubicle and all). He was excited about working for a startup. The CEO stood up and said, "We are a large small company!" Nathaniel said he wasn't interested in working for a large company. Within 11 months, he wanted to get out of the rat race. They build valuable products, but they never say additional money for making the business money.

He talks about a guy who helped build Yahoo! stores. As a result of the essays, he decided to consult startups. On the good side, you get experience with startups. The bad side was that startups don't have a lot of money. This was not sustainable.

Out of many conversations, billing was a constant. Nathaniel believed that he could come up with a better solution than anything that was out there for billing solutions. This led to the birth of Spreedly.

Nathaniel was more on the tech side of things, so they needed someone with business experience and understanding of the technical side as well.

Questions from the Audience

How do you balance the plans of long-term goals? 
Joe: It is a challenge. Things happen every day that can take you away from your plans. Must be flexible to opportunities that arise. His community can steer him away from long-term plans. Priorities change often. Although, you can't go off on every whim.

Laney: The advantage of a two-person shop, is the balance of work. He can go off for a day or two while his partner continues work. The other thing is the constant bugging to keep him on track. 

Nathaniel: Having co-founders / partners allows you to balance each other out. Switching between long-term vision and getting lost in the weeds.

How do you see yourself different now from consultant to a product developer? 
Laney: Having an IT audit background, it's about being careful about the projects they take. A poorly chosen project can seriously sidetrack the business.

Joe: Once I made the decision to develop products, he stopped with consulting. Today, he refers people to he trusts and believe in. He doesn't think he would have developed fast enough had he still consulted.

Nathaniel: Once you go product development, you no longer try to market yourself. You have to choose between consulting or development, you can't do both.

Laney: It is really important to select the right partners.

What are some really great things that you do? What would you change?
Joe: Being a one-man band can be a good thing. Developing software is a creative position. Like a musician, you are always creating. Building a business or long-term project is FUN!

Laney: The biggest benefit is creating something on your own. It's your work and you can live or die by it. Working for someone else, the product is theirs.

Nathaniel: Spreedly helps to power startup with their payments. Every new customer gives a kick that another startup trusts them.

Joe: You will make mistakes. Also getting negative feedback really hurts. It can take the wind out of your sails, especially when it's done in the public eye.

Laney: Trying to raise money is tough.

Nathaniel: Having a product company means that you're there. It's your city. When something breaks, you have to fix it. Yes, you're not trading hours for dollars, but sometimes you invest and get nothing in return. Downsides can also be an upside.

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