Category Archives: Uncategorized

Advice for programmers wanting to start a product business

I only have a few minutes to write this right now but I want to get something out there because someone asked me. I might expand it later.

If you’re a programmer and you want to earn some “passive income”, here’s my advice:

Write an e-book. Make that your first business, a business that sells an e-book.

For the e-book topic, find something that lies at the intersection of “narrow enough that I can be the dominant voice on the internet on this topic” and “popular enough that I can actually make a living selling things related to this topic”. I think Angular + Rails is a good example of a combination that lies at this intersection. The best situation is when there’s a lot of demand for information on the topic but not a lot of existing information fulfilling that demand. This was the case with Angular + Rails when I stepped in.

Before you write the book, register an SEO-friendly domain name (like angularonrails.com) and start writing blog posts there. Write posts that are a) incredibly specific, b) target toward something you believe people are googling for (e.g. “angular rails heroku”) and c) long and definitive. Use WordPress for your blog. I HATE WordPress but it really is the best tool for the job. Use WP Engine to host your WordPress blog.

As part of your site setup, register a Drip account, set up an opt-in form in Drip, then drop that form into your WordPress site so that you get an opt-in form on every page. Offer a lead magnet that you’ll give people in exchange for giving you their email address. Call it your “Free Guide to Getting Started with “.

Once you have a few hundred people on your list, use Gumroad and a Jeff Walker-style launch to pre-sell your e-book. Sell it for $49. Offer to deliver it in two months. If enough people buy (for me, “enough” was just seven people), write the book and deliver it. Do another Jeff Walker-style launch when the book is done.

If your launch goes well, turn your book into a video series and then launch that (again, Jeff Walker-style). Sell the video product for $99.

What comes next? I don’t know. I’ve gone through the preceding steps myself and I’ve made an average of a little over $700/mo for the first 9 months that I’ve made money on my e-book and video package. I can’t tell you what to do next because I myself haven’t done the next thing yet. My plan at this point is to focus on traffic and keep cranking up traffic until I get a sign that I should chance focus to something else.

Why I Want To Work With Toptal

The name of my consulting business is Ben Franklin Labs. The thing I like about Ben Franklin is that although his genius extended all the way from hard science to diplomacy. It’s my aim to emulate Ben Franklin in the sense of having a well-rounded education and skillset. I don’t want to serve clients as just a programmer but as an equal partner helping them achieve their larger business goals.

I started programming professionally at the age of 16 in the year 2000. Since that time I’ve worked for a lot of different employers and clients, and I’ve also hired a number of people to work for me. I’ve also started a number of my own (failed) product businesses. These experiences have taught me what tends to work and not work in software projects and in business in general. Most importantly, these experiences have taught me how to view the world through the same lens my clients do, so I can anticipate and empathize with their needs.

Among the most important lessons I’ve learned are that clients value clear and frequent communication, proactive behavior, and dependability. I’ve heard clients say that they’d rather hire a dependable person who’s just a mediocre person rather than a “rockstar ninja” programmer who’s a flake. I like to think I’m a strong programmer at the technical level but I also go out of my way to be a super clear communicator.

I feel like I have too much to offer the world to spend my career working for just a few employers for years at a time each. I would rather help a relatively large number of clients. Plus, by working with a variety of clients, I can gain that much more perspective, meaning that as I go, I can help each client that much more.

Right now I’m working as a Senior Software Engineer (that’s my title) for a local software agency. I committed to a year with them. I’m done with that in August 2016, after which point I plan to go freelance again like I was before I started. Before August I’d like to spin up some side work to get some momentum going before I go out on my own again.

My hope is that the feeling is mutual and that Toptal would like to work with me as well so I can help Toptal’s clients benefit from my experience and skills just like the clients I’ve served in the past have. In addition to doing programming work, I’m also interested in potentially writing for the Web Programmers Community.

How to get free help from me

A friend of mine once said, “I’ll help anybody with anything for free except what I do for work.” I generally have the same attitude, although I do sometimes help people with programming for free.

The challenge is that I don’t have any “free” time. All my time almost already has a job assigned to it, and any new activities have to take a bite out of prior obligations. So I’ve come up with kind of a system that I feel like allows me to provide the maximum amount of free help to people without making any promises I can’t keep.

If you’d like free help from me, here’s what to do: post your question on Stack Overflow and send me a link to the question. I’m very happy to try to help if time permits and I’m knowledgeable on the subject. The reason I ask that you use Stack Overflow is that a) if I can’t help, maybe someone else can, and b) if and when the question is answered, not only do you benefit but the whole community does as well.

If you have a question for me that’s not a detailed technical issue but rather a high-level career question, just send me a regular old email or tweet me. Just please don’t be offended if I take forever to respond. I’m terrible at email and getting worse!

My email address is jason@benfranklinlabs.com and I’m @jasonswett on Twitter. Looking forward to hearing from you.

The Who’s Who of the Micro-ISV World

When I started Snip, my scheduling software for hair salons, in 2011, I considered it a startup. I thought there were two ways to make money with software: a) have a regular job or b) start a startup, nothing in between. I understood, thanks to 37signals, that a startup could be bootstrapped, but it wasn’t until much later that I discovered for myself that there’s a “middle way” of creating a successful software business, and that kind of software business is known as a micro-ISV. (ISV = Internet Software Vendor.)

It turns out there’s a large and active body of “soloproneurs” – single founders – bootstrapping their way to micro-ISV glory, and they can be found in places like the Business of Software Forum or, more recently, the Bootstrapped.fm forum. There’s even a book called Micro-ISV that contains dozens of interviews with micropreneurs at various points in their micro-ISV journeys.

I’m here to tell you, in case you don’t already know, that you don’t have to start a startup to escape having a job. You don’t have to get VC funding and you don’t have to assemble a team of geniuses. You can start a successful software business by yourself, in your spare time. And there are a ton of people out there who can help you along the way.

Here’s my list of who’s who, in no particular order:

  • Patrick McKenzie (@patio11): Okay, I said “in no particular order” but I put Patrick first on purpose. Patrick (AKA patio11) is not only a successful bootstrapper but also a prolific producer of actionable advice, presented in an impressively lucid, entertaining style. Plus he’s just a super friendly and helpful guy. I advise you to go sign up for his mailing list and start reading the shit out of his blog.
  • Rob Walling (@robwalling): Rob, like patio11, is an expert marketer. An important lesson that slowly made its way through my thick skull over the course of several years is that entrepreneurial success requires about equal parts engineering effort and marketing effort. You can’t just build a product and then slap some marketing on top of it. Rob Walling helped me realize this. He also wrote a book called Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer’s Guide to Launching a Startup.
  • Bob Walsh (@BobWalsh): Bob Walsh is the author of the aforementioned Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality, and probably responsible more than anyone for my original awareness of the existence of the micro-ISV community.
  • Joel Spolsky (@spolsky): Joel is perhaps the most famous guy on this list, and I probably don’t need to explain who he is, but I will. Joel is the author of the Joel on Software blog and he runs Fog Creek Software.
  • Andy Brice (@successfulsw): Andy Brice is the author of the Successful Software blog. His micro-ISV is Perfect Table Plan.
  • Ian Landsman (@ianlandsman) and Andrey Butov (@andrey_butov): I’m putting these two peas in the same pod because I discovered them simultaneously through their joint venture, the Bootstrapped podcast. Ian’s micro-ISV is called UserScape and Andrey’s is Antair. I’ve been chuckling along with these two knuckleheads for several days now and I have to say they’re a real treat to listen to. Ian and Andrey also did the world the favor of starting the bootstrapped.fm forum, which has started off with a bang and proves to be a friendly and helpful place to chat about bootstrapping a software business.
  • Brennan Dunn (@brennandunn): Brennan is a frequent collaborator with patio11 and also a prolific educator, not just for those of us trying to bootstrap a product business but also for those of us paying the bills with consulting work. If you do consulting work yourself – like I suspect many of us bootstrappers do – I’d consider it worthwhile to sign up for Brennan’s mailing list. Brennan’s product is Planscope.
  • Amy Hoy (@amyhoy): Amy is one of my favorite people on the internet, mainly for her conversational and delightfully profane writing style. (Microsample: “Don’t bite the shit sandwich.”) I believe Amy’s main product is currently Freckle. She also runs a class called 30×500 which for some retarded reason I myself have not taken yet.
  • Ruben Gamez (@earthlingworks): Ruben is the founder of Bidsketch, a micro-ISV that he successfully bootstrapped while working at his day job. Ruben’s achievement is particularly impressive because, if I remember correctly, Ruben was not even a developer when he started out. How people bootstrap companies in this way just blows my mind. Check out Ruben’s Mixergy interview.
  • Eric Sink (@eric_sink): Eric has an interesting article defining the term Micro-ISV. I’ve been told that he was actually the one who coined the term in the first place.

Did you find any of these links particularly useful? Do you have any to add? Leave me a comment. This list is a work in progress, so please feel free to chime in.

Notes From “How to Make Your First Dollar of Passive Income” Talk

In my talk I recommended getting plugged into the micro-ISV community. Here are some resources around that:

I also talked about sales. Here are some good sales (or sales-related) books I’ve read:

And here are some good marketing books:

*I recommend these books with reservations as I question their usefulness to an internet micropreneur, but you’d probably be better off having read them than not, and both are pretty short.

Lastly, here are some uncategorized books I’d recommend to help you along your entrepreneurial journey:

Starting Over

I’ve decided to start over with jasonswett.net. I may have had a few good posts on the old site, but there was a lot of cruft there, both content-wise and code-wise, and I figured it would be a lot easier to just blow the whole thing away than to try to fix it. The main thing that will be different on this new site is that instead of writing posts to try to get traffic, I plan to write posts only when I actually have something to say. As a result, I might barely ever post anything, but I barely ever post anything anyway, so that’s probably not a big deal. Hope to talk to you soon.