The Best Advice for Software Startups

You can never be truly ready. Even if you read all the best self-help business books available, you can never be truly prepared to start your own company. From conceptualization to strategizing to planning to looking for investors, all successful entrepreneurs had to go through good old trial-and-error. Here are some of the best tips and advice from those who can say, “Been there, done that”, and thrived.

 The Best Advice for Software Startups


#1: Start with a clear mission and purpose

I know it sounds like a cliché and even borders on corny, but this is the beacon that’s going to lead you to wherever you’re going.

Here’s what Alan Johnson, Co-founder of Treehouse, in an interview for Entrepreneur, has to say:

[…] the biggest thing I’d recommend is to start a company that’s on a mission, not just a company that’s building a nifty product. At Treehouse, we’re trying to make technology education affordable and accessible to everyone on Earth, and doing that means that we’ll be working for a really long time and will likely always have more to do. Also, it’s made so many things, like hiring and other decisions, significantly simpler for us, because we can always look to our mission for help.

Here’s another morsel of thought from Rich Thornett and Dan Cederholm, Co-founders of Dribbble:

Solve a real problem that creates real value in the world. tweet this!

Focus on the problem => solution => value => profit chain of events, and try to make a pass through this sequence sooner than later. Also, be strategic. Find a competitive advantage. At Dribbble, we stumbled into ours – we were just building a side project, but it was a site for designers, and Dan is a designer with lots of recognition and credibility. As a result, we attracted a great set of initial users who posted incredible work. Things snowballed from there.


The Best Advice for Software Startups


#2: Decide how you would like your company to run.

Are you the slow and sure, or the fast and furious type? Oftentimes, how you run the company mirrors your attitude towards life. There’s no right or wrong way to do it because it all depends on you. The important thing is knowing your pace and sticking to it.

As per Bernard Lunn in

Most software companies are self-funded sailboats. tweet this!


They know their direction – north. But they can also navigate to the left when the wind takes them that way, and to the right when the wind blows the other way. They simply cannot go faster than the wind allows.

The powerboat, on the other hand, loaded with gas, goes out of the harbor in full-throttle, but is risking running out of gas before reaching its destination.

Again, the secret is in travelling at the pace you are most convenient at.

Learn a lesson or two with these three tech start up inspirational stories!


The Best Advice for Software Startups


#3: Founding teams must be balanced.


Like being in a relationship, having your own company is a matter of balance, where the teams involved complement each other. tweet this!

For a relationship to succeed, one has to be a “thinker” – somebody who relies mostly on logic and reason, and the other should be a “feeler” – one who trusts his/her instincts more than anything.

In business, especially when you’re a software startup, you need both a hustler and techie, according to Bernard Lunn in

In a consumer Web venture, the hustler/sales guy is non-core (a few biz dev deals are important but not core). But in an enterprise software venture, nothing really happens until customers sign on the dotted line. So if you are techie, find a founding partner that is a hustler. If you are hustler, find a superb techie as founding partner. The technology has to be superb to get into the enterprise. The architecture has to deal with the constant pivots and directional changes to adapt to the market needs.


The Best Advice for Software Startups


#4: Finding the right team

Sometimes, success is all about chemistry more than the individual brilliance of each member. Build a strong team to take yourself out of the critical path. If you are still spending most of your time working “in” your business, rather than “on” your business, then you are not yet ready to scale. Show that you have and can continue to hire the right people to run the scaled business without you being everywhere and making every decision.

If you like having control over your work and being involved in all aspects of a product operation, running your own business can be a beautiful thing. The flip side is that the work can quickly pile up and overwhelm you if things take off. I had the bad tendency to try to do too much myself, when often stepping back and figuring out how to outsource some of the effort is the best move.


Rich Thornett and Dan Cederholm, Co-founders of Dribbble

“Finding, motivating, and retaining good people has always been a challenge. I think we’ve done a good job at this and it shines through in Simple’s product and customer experience. I don’t have much wisdom to share beyond acknowledging that it’s difficult. One tip I can offer is to be incredibly passionate. Hopefully your passion will inspire other like-minded people who are smarter than you to jump on board.

“Hire great people… then get out of their way. tweet this!

You should strive to hire people who are smarter than you and, if you succeed, they will get irritated when you get in their way. Delegate and keep your eye on the important stuff.”

Shamir Karkal, CFO and Co-founder of Simple


The Best Advice for Software Startups


#5: Dedication and giving it your all

We’re all familiar about this, yet its importance cannot be overemphasized. Sometimes, the difference between success and failure is effort.

Your product is one of the smallest parts of a successful startup/app/company/whatever it is you’re doing. tweet this!


To be successful you need to give it 110% above and beyond the product you’re building. Invest in your customers. Give the best support you possibly can. Care too much. I believe it shows, and in an world where dozens of apps shut down every day, it pays to show people you mean business and you’re not just slinging spaghetti at the wall, hoping it sticks, and moving on to the next idea.

Jack McDade, Founder of Statamic

In other words, don’t do two things half-baked. Do one thing great.

Related: The Top 5 Quotes for Kickstarting a Business


The Best Advice for Software Startups


#6: Listening to your users/customers/clients

It is good to listen to your advisers and consultants. After all, you pay for their advice.

But perhaps what most startups undervalue is the feedback from customers and clients. tweet this!

See, when customers’ and clients’ give feedback, they do it mostly in good faith, because first, they are not paid to say positive or negative things about your product; and second, in giving feedback, their only hope is to get better value for their money.

From Levi Cooperman, Co-founder and VP of Operations of Freshbooks:

Customer feedback has been critical to our success from the beginning. We occasionally would push out features that were a bad user experience and made our service worse not better and our users told us right away when something was wrong. In fact, our first version included a feedback form upon logout and that along with phone calls gave us plenty of information to learn from. The key in those early days (and even now) was to be nimble and open to feedback.

Related: 5 Ways to Find the Right Buyers for your ERP Software


The Best Advice for Software Startups


#7: Build a business plan and model that is attractive to investors.

Martin Zwilling writes this for Forbes:

I see too many business plans that are really product plans for customers, touting free services and long feature lists. It’s hard to build and scale a business on free high-support products. Scalable businesses have high margins (over 50%), low support, and minimum staffs.

If you need investors, start with a scalable idea. Just because all your buddies think an idea is cool, that doesn’t mean it is scalable. Investors like ideas based on market research from outside experts, like Gartner Research, proclaiming a billion dollar opportunity with a double digit growth rate. These are more likely scalable and investable.

Related: A Rundown of Top Payroll Software and How to Market them


The Best Advice for Software Startups

Related: 3 Startup Strategies that Also Work for B2B Companies

#8: Expect (and prepare for) the unexpected

By now, you must have had more than your fair share of both pleasant and unpleasant surprises. Life always has a way with that. While we always remain optimistic, it would be wise to know that for every one or two pleasant surprises, there’s bound to be one sucker punch.

[…] there were some crazy stuff that happened: [the] financial meltdown [where] we actually had to cut back on spending and stop hiring as a direct result of the financial crisis at the end of 2009 – it was a challenging time, but we came out the other side a stronger organization. [Then] a truck running into our datacenter [knocked us] out for almost an entire day, but were able to recover and our customers were surprisingly understanding, needless to say we learned a lot about our IT infrastructure to ensure that never happened to us again.

Levi Cooperman, Co-founder and VP of Operations of Freshbooks

One of our biggest lessons learned is that in startups, everything takes much longer than you think it will. tweet this!

We originally planned to launch a beta and start acquiring customers in 9 months. It took us more than 18 and even longer to refine that beta and get regulatory approvals to do a full launch. This is endemic to regulated industries. Plan your runway adequately.

Shamir Karkal, CFO and Co-founder of Simple


The Best Advice for Software Startups


#9: Learn from your mistakes

They say you have never truly lived if you haven’t made a mistake. Yes, make a mistake. Make as many as you can. But make sure you learn from all of them and improve in a ny way you can.

Early on we made lots of mistakes. I think that’s pretty normal, because we were total business newbies! You make mistakes, and you learn from them. You just have to make sure you’re not making the same mistake over and over!


Collis and Cyan Ta’eed, Founders of Envato

I would doubt that there is any founder who doesn’t make mistakes when he or she is starting out ;).

Of course, I made thousands of mistakes. But that’s part of the process. tweet this!

I strongly believe, as soon as you think you ‘know everything,’ and learned enough to create repetitive success, you will immediately fail. Building a company is so complex, it never will be the same. Especially in technology the markets are moving so fast, key learnings from one company are often worthless in the next.

Christian Reber, Founder and CEO of 6Wunderkinder

Related: What IT Leaders can Learn from (the fall of) Nokia


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  • Eduardo Alarcon

    Great post! I would also recommend that you add to the list Use Lean Startup Methodology! It can save tons of money to entrepreneurs. Why risk everything, when you can minimize risk, money, time and increase the probabilities of success using lean startup methodology. We use it as part of our software development process as well as part of our consulting service.

    • Barbara McKinney

      Thanks for dropping by and for adding your thoughts. And yes, I definitely agree on what you’ve mentioned. Without assurances, we can’t afford to risk everything and just lose.