Abby Sorensen, Chief Editor
When we were in the process of launching Software Executive magazine I spent a lot of time on the phone with executives at software companies to get feedback on our editorial direction. I wanted to learn what they struggled with and where they turned for advice. Now that I’ve wrapped up my second trip to the annual Business of Software (BoS) conference, I’m convinced this is one of the best places for software entrepreneurs to find that advice – whether that advice be about product roadmaps, culture, remote work, or just about anything related to running a successful software business.
This event – and the community of attendees that stays engaged year-round beyond the event – provided a long list of takeaways for everyone fortunate enough to attend. Here are some of the high-level themes I took away from my three days in Boston.
Focusing On Customers Isn’t Enough
I’ve yet to come across a software company’s website that says, “We only somewhat care about our customers.” Everyone claims to be customer-centric, but that assertion isn’t enough to sustain a business. Paying the most attention to the customers that pay you the most doesn’t guarantee future growth. Simply knowing which customers are best suited to use and get value from your software isn’t enough. Boasting about a high NPS score doesn’t cut it either. You have to talk – actually talk – to customers. Get them on the phone. Visit them and watch how they use your software. Foster communities – either virtually or in person – to bring your customers together.
One of the best talks from Business of Software 2018 came from Rahul Vora, founder of Superhuman. He spelled out a four-question survey to help you understand which customers matter most. These are the customers that ultimately help you gauge your product-market fit. The first question asks, “How would you feel if you could no longer use our product?” The response options include: very disappointed, somewhat disappointed, or not disappointed. Find out who those “very disappointed” customers are – they are the ones getting the most value from your software, and they are the ones who should drive your roadmap.
GDPR Is A Four-Letter Word
Over and over again, I heard people say they are tired of talking about GDPR. Sure, software companies still think it’s important to protect users, ship compliant software, and run a credible business. But the uncertainty, a lack of a central ruling authority, and misleading vendors and consultants offering “solutions” is beyond frustrating. I won’t continue explaining why the software world is tired of GDPR because, well, we’re tired of it.
Bootstrapping Is A Viable Way To Grow A Company
Despite what the mainstream tech headlines might suggest, the majority of software businesses are not working day and night towards an IPO. Many founders are not pounding the pavement looking for VC dollars. I talked to more bootstrappers at BoS than I did companies with funding. I did think it was telling that one VC-backed company had a hard time explaining to investors why it was worth the time and expense to attend this event in the first place. That particular VC only wanted the company to attend customer-focused events, not events where they could learn about improving their business.
Managing People Is Harder Than Managing Your Codebase
It’s not very often that I get to meet face-to-face with the people I interview for Software Executive and SoftwareBusinessGrowth.com. That’s exactly why I was so happy to see Carl Ryden, CEO and cofounder of PrecisionLender, at this event. Ryden is a brilliant engineer who helped build a high sophisticated AI-driven pricing and profitability software solution for the banking industry. It’s not bugs in the code keeping him up at night – he has a team of 40+ developers to work on that. Instead, it’s people he worries most about, which is why the story we published about PrecisionLender focuses on the lessons Ryden has learned about hiring.
He’s not alone. I had conversations with CEOs, founders, and managers about things like:
- Building a culture among remote employees
- Keeping developers engaged
- How hard it is to fire employees
- Managing across multiple generations
As David Cancel said during his talk on the first day of the conference, “Dealing with people is more complicated than dealing with bits.” Another attendee reminded a table of peers at breakfast, “If you want bug-free software, don’t write any code. If you don’t want people problems, don’t have any people.”
You can’t code your way in to being a strong leader and a good people manager, and that’s exactly why you should invest in professional development opportunities like the Business of Software conference. It’s a fitting segue to remind you to block your calendar for September 16-18, 2019 so you can join me and a few hundred extremely bright, passionate, insatiably curious software entrepreneurs in Boston.