Whenever you leave a job, the most important question is “where are you going next?”. Having quit my last job in March, and not yet permanentely settled on anything, I have put considerable thought into this question. Immediately, I knew quite a few things. I wanted to work somewhere small, where my contibutions will be significant and varied, and I can learn many things. I wanted to work with amazing people, who will push me to become better myself. Finally, and most importantly, I wanted to work on something that without any reasonable doubt is a net positive for the world.
As a software developer in the bay area, especially one lucky enough to have had some great experience in only a few short years of employment, those first two criteria are not especially hard to meet. But is it even possible for a business to be sure it is providing not just something that people will pay for, but something that is “good”. Companies like AT&T and Sprint provide valuable services, but, as seems inevitable for large companies, provide terrible customer service, engage in shady lobbying and business dealings, and recieve near universal loathing even from their continued customers. Meanwhile, providers of enjoyable, but dubiously valuable services like Facebook and Twitter are essentially in the position of having to degrade their free product in order to make money, again causing incredible discontent among their users. Wouldn’t nearly any business find a way to anger someone in a way they can’t make a business case to remedy?
On the opposite end of the spectrum, well meaning people with a similar desire as myself have founded countless startups with chariable goals in mind. There must be a thousand new companies intent on educating, feeding, or providing technology for those in less fortunate areas of the world founded this year alone.
hile their goal is always noble, I have talked with many of these companies and have yet never met one with a feasible business plan, and in fact many seem hopelessly naive in their disregard for profitability or general business sense. Coming from me, this is a strong criticism.
When I first started looking for a new company to join in March, I mostly focused on consumer focused companies. B2B companies, while often very profitable, seemed quite frankly boring. While the technical challenges may be there, who wants to labor hard and long only to build better account tracking software? Even worse, many of the innefficiencies, frustrations, and restrictions that pushed me away from a comfortable job at an increasingly large company are even more prevalent, indeed pervasive, with B2B. I turned down invitations to interview at many B2B focused companies even with extremely interesting technical goals.
But as time went on, I became more and more frustrated with consumer focused startups. Most startups (even many that are well known and have raised considerable money) barely can make the case that they are making something useful, and the chances of providing this useful thing profitably is near zero. I have nothing against acquisitions, but a company that seems from the onset to have no exit other than an acqui-hire is unappearling. Converseley there are plenty of companies that make things people want, but don’t need. At best, these companies are like McDonalds: they make something no one should eat, but many claim to love anyway. At worst they are like cigarette companies.
But over time, I noticed a trend among companies I truly respect and admire, and with Yonas Beshawred’s recent post, I know what to call them: B2D companies.
And while just targeting software developers doesn’t instantly guarantee you’ll run an ethical and profitable company, there are a lot of reasons why it might be more likely. Most obviously, what ever it is you’re doing, the expectation is simple: you are selling something that can save a considerable amount of time. For pretty much every ever software developer, saving time is worth spending money. Furthermore, software developers have specific needs and they will tolerate exactly zero bullshit. Your product had better do what it says, with style, painlessly, or they will never come back. If you’re lucky they will write a critical tweet on their way out.
If the description above makes you think selling a product to software developers isn’t easy, you’re right. But really, that’s exactly the point. Like many software developers, nowhere on my list of things I look for in a job say I don’t want a challenge, indeed I require a challenge. Finally, as Paul Graham recently wrote, the best way to come up with an idea for a startup is to find a way to improve something you already know about. For someone like myself where software development is more than a job or even career, but is in fact a way of life, solving other developers problems seems only natural.
I haven’t decicde what I’ll do next, but I know I’ll be paying close attention to any chance to make something for other developers.