Almost 5 years ago, on August 15, 2013, Data Geekery was registered in the trade register of Zurich, Switzerland. What a great ride it has been since then. And what an exciting ride will come in the near future!
You may or may not already know me as a person, the developer behind jOOQ, e.g. from conferences where I had a few talks. After 5 years, I still run this company alone, with no employees (although, I have plans to change that), and I’d like to share 1–2 insights into how that worked out, and why I made many of the decisions I did — including the occasional mistakes.
For the occasion, I’ve decided to do something I have wanted to do for a long time. Create a new, personal, business related blog. The jOOQ blog is doing great with its all technical content already. It is the primary source of inbound leads for jOOQ, while adding tons of value to the community — or so I believe.
Being a one man show who does all the marketing, sales, maintenance, support, development, legal, product roadmap, coffee, etc., writing a tech blog was a wise decision. But more on that in a future blog post.
In the past, I’ve tried to sneak in a few business related posts, like
- What we Need is Standardised Non-OSS Licenses (105 reads in 2017)
- With Commercial Licensing, Invest in Innovation, not Protection (28 reads in 2017)
- The 5 Golden Rules of Giving Awesome Customer Support (35 reads in 2017)
And I think those were great blog posts, but they were aimed at a different target audience than the rest of the blog, which contains articles like these
- Finding all Palindromes Contained in Strings with SQL (2,100 reads in 2017 — Deep but not very popular)
- The Difference Between ROW_NUMBER(), RANK(), and DENSE_RANK() (106,113 reads in 2017 — Simple but popular)
While the target audiences might intersect somewhat, quite probably, the intersection is rather small as you can imagine. Needless to say, they’re not in the top 10 list of posts of the jOOQ blog.
I have also published some guest posts, e.g. on opensource.com, which is run by Red Hat
- What to consider when transitioning your open source business to a revenue-based model
- 5 lessons for any open source business transitioning to a revenue-based model
But having a personal blog will be more interesting in the long run, hoping that it will help connect with interesting people out there.
Why even blog?
I do believe that “No man or woman is an island”. So much of what this business journey has given me was only possible thanks to the many sources of inspirations that are my customers, my friends, fellow entrepreneurs, old coworkers.
In many cases, I’ve learned so much from other entrepreneurs who were sharing many details of how they ran their businesses, regardless whether I actually met them in person, on Twitter, or not at all. Great examples of books or blogs are:
- Mark Benioff’s Behind the Cloud
- Jason Fried’s and David Heinemeier Hansson
- Alex Turnbull’s GrooveHQ blog
You’ll find many more, and it doesn’t really matter which ones you read, they are all very valuable. I’ve been reading a lot, and now I want to give back.
What am I going to blog about?
I’ll blog about the experience behind running Data Geekery, a tiny company that tries to monetise on (dual licensed) open source software. This is…
- A company that has no venture capital.
- A company that has no management, meetings, deadlines.
- A company that is purely innovation driven, without any need to report to anyone.
- A company that adds tons of value to its customers’ businesses.
- A company that survived for 5 years without any pressure for growth.
- A company that uses the word “survive” to describe a 300,000$ one man show business. (Feels great to be open about that, btw! Another topic for a blog post soon)
- A company that sells a product in a market that everybody believed to be “saturated”. (Hi Hibernate)
- A company that allowed me to take off almost 2 months with my wife and 2 kids, when they were born, each.
- A company that allowed me to do exactly what I want to do.
- A company that allowed me to meet the most interesting people in our industry.
This is how Data Geekery came to be. During those 5 years, I have met many people who wanted to create their own Data Geekery. Something that works well for them. For their clients. Something they can be proud of. Nothing big. Yet something that adds value to their customers’ business.
While content marketing has become very popular among growth oriented, VC-backed businesses (how could it not, it contributes so nicely to growth), I have noticed that there is not enough talk about us bootstrappers’ businesses. There are conferences like Micro Conf — which I can highly recommend, if you’re thinking of starting a business — but we small businesses are clearly underrepresented in the blogosphere.
That’s our own fault, so here we go.
What the next few posts will be about
I’ll try to publish around one post per month. Some topics I have wanted to discuss for a while are:
- Growth is not the Only Goal
There are tons of ways how to run your business. Many of them are focused on growth, because after all, that’s what a business should be about, right? I don’t think so. Your business should be about what you want to do in your professional life. Growth isn’t a goal or necessity per se, it is a means to an end (e.g. to dominate a market, to reach a better exit, etc.). But do you want that? Maybe not.
- Making Money When all the Industry Wants is Free Beer
Open source has enabled a lot of business by removing infrastructure costs for a lot of things. But it has also drastically changed the market for us infrastructure software vendors. Is the golden age of the 80s, 90s over?
- The Many Hats I’m Wearing as a Founder
As an employee, I have a select few roles, my comfort zone. As an entrepreneur getting out of the comfort zone is a constant challenge. I’m wearing many different hats as I fulfil many different roles in the company
- “Persisting” (pun intended) before business picks up momentum
Whenever you find a business related blog post about how successful everything is / was, you see survivor bias. Many businesses never reach that moment where they “break even”. Many founders never get that rewarding feeling when it “pays off”. I definitely had those moments.
- Open source or not?
By publishing open source software, you’re giving away a lot of value for free. What’s to gain from that?
- Staying true to your roadmap in the presence of custom requirements
When creating products, the worst thing you can do is integrate every single custom requirement. It will make maintaining your product almost impossible, just for the quick win of easy money. But how can you still keep the requirement in mind and solve the customer’s problems with something better?
- Consultancy. Good or bad for product business?
Without venture capital, profitability is a much more urgent goal. You can only burn through this much personally invested money. The easy answer is consultancy. But it will slow down product development. Where to draw the line?
Negotiating is a craft. The ultimate goal is to create a win — win situation, and surprisingly (or not), being too low priced can lead to a lose — lose situation, where the buying party steps back from the deal, too. How can we find the sweet spot?
Speaking of pricing, how much should you spend on stuff that you purchase from suppliers? Rent? Hardware? Licenses?
- Be open
As developers, we’re used to open source being — duh — open. What is it we love about this openness? It’s not necessarily the license being open as opposed to restrictive. The coolest thing is the implied open development model. The fact that we can easily reach the maintainer and influence their roadmap, or at least see it and the reasons for the decisions being made.
- Meeting people
Few people disagree that meeting as many people as possible is important to your business. How does it help?
- Working with partners
Apart from vendor and customer, there is a third, important stakeholder in any business, and that’s the partner. In my case, one of the most important partners is Oracle, both steward of the Java platform as well as making the Oracle, MySQL, and Derby databases. How does the interaction with such a partner help your business? And how does it help their business? And most importantly, how does it help our common customers’ business?
- Competition is great
While some people find competition scary and fight them fiercely, I have always embraced competition. Competition validates the market — it means that I’m building something that people really need. And I’m constantly challenged to be better, so my customers will win.
- Being a successful introvert among people
Believe it or not, but yes. I am — by nature — an introvert. I hated birthdays as a kid (except for the Nintendo presents, of course). I liked programming as a teenager, when others went out. When you heard my talks and saw me at conferences, you may not have thought so. Being an introvert is nothing bad. It has its advantages, too. But in some moments, in business, it is an impediment. So, how to overcome this obstacle?
- How not to burn out — or, how to say no
Related to the previous topic: Learn to hear your inner voice, which is likely warning you of an impending burn out long before it happens. Everyone can only do this much. We all have our limits, and when we reach them, we need to step back. Burning out can be caused by many things, not even strictly work related.
- Alone or not? The first employee is the most difficult hire
In 2018, I will hire my first employee — after 5 years. So far, I fared very well alone. What are the pros and cons of staying alone?
- How to create a valuable tech blog
A lot of people blog, and they write cool stuff, which solve exactly the weird, edge case problem someone has 2–3 years later. But is that worth it? It depends. Deep niche content can be valuable, just as general purpose advice. Ultimately, a blog should help drive your business, so what to blog about?
- You’re not going to do it
Remember that task, feature, bug, idea, that has haunted you for a long time? Which you really want to do but never got around to actually do? There’s no secret. You’re not going to do it. Delete it from your TODO list.
- How to learn the skills
Running a business requires a lot of skills: Technical, sales, marketing, legal, PR, HR, management, and much more. How to learn these skills?
- Always remember why you’re doing it
Is it money? The technical challenge? Working with customers? The fame? Regardless of what it is, never lose touch with your motivation for doing business. “I did it my way” (Maybe some day you’ll hear me sing this song at your local karaoke bar. No regrets)
- Work from home? Or from a coworking space?
What’s the best place to work when you’re a small company or even a one man show? This is a very personal decision.
- <Your topic here>
Many of you folks already know me and have followed me for a while. Is there something you’d like to know more about? Let me know in the comments and I’ll be very happy to think about a post.
I’m looking forward to this very much. Thanks already for walking this path with me and sharing your thoughts about the business of software (which is also a great conference, btw).