Starting a business is something I would not have envisaged myself doing 10 years ago. However, since then many things have changed in my career and personal life that has resulted in what is my third business outing.
This latest business venture MAQE (pronounced ‘make’) is something that, so far, I’m most proud of despite being in business for only 6 months.
I find that people are pretty tight lipped (although this is changing recently) about details concerning their start-up and how they get things together. So after consulting my business partner 'Andreas’, I’m going to write about the process on what, why and how we started this business, in the hope that someone will find this useful. I would have loved to have access to this information when I started out.
I had been thinking of running my own business for sometime and, up-to this point (around Oct 2011), I was unsure of what, how and when I should try. I was already running a web development arm of a UK agency in Bangkok for the last 3 years and dismissed several suggestions by friends and family to start my own business. Mainly because I thought I wasn’t ready and that there is much I need to learn about running a business. I hate sales. I know it’s pre-requisite of a business - but, simply I hate bullshitting people and putting on fake charm. It simply isn’t me.
The current job was decent. I was the country MD of the agency with a team of 7 staff building websites and web-based applications for UK based clients. But, and there’s always a 'but’, it could have been better in a number of ways that I’ll keep to myself - everyone has their issues with how their current work place works and mine was no different.
It was a lucky co-incidence that Andreas (my business partner now) have the same interests in web development and ideas. I happened by chance to recruit him via Linkedin in late 2009 as a web strategist and project manager. And here I thought Linkedin was a useless business networking site, but amazing I actually managed to connect to a like-minded individual. Fiercely independent, fair, creatively talented, and astute - he understood web development and we, more importantly, shared the same ideals:
- Building great, functional and useable websites
- Frankness with ourselves and our clients
- Control to do things the way WE think is right
- Passion in the job, without exceptions
These core tenets would form the core principles of MAQE as a company.
What kind of company?
We decided NewCo (as we aptly called ourselves at the time) would be a ”web apps” company, because that is what we do best as a team, and to be be honest, this is where we think the fun is.
But what is web app development for us (as some people have asked)?
Google defines 'web app’ as the following:
A web application is an application that is accessed over a network such as the Internet or an intranet.
OK, that’s the textbook application. However, our web app definition is more focused:
- a web-based application with a particular function/purpose (e.g. CRM, HRM, helpdesk, Project Management, eLearning systems etc.)
- a mobile app that has a dependency on a web-service derived from a web app (e.g. mobile account tool with a subset of features that integrates with a main web application)
It is not (for us):
- a web-based game
- a mobile game application
- a social media application (though this is debatable I suppose)
The next question was 'who are we building for’? Given the struggles I’ve seen, I knew that I wanted to build products for ourselves. The only problem was what kind of product. Andreas was keen to build any kind of product for a specific audience, but he understood where I was coming from.
A serviced based business is incredibly hard work. You spend an extraordinary amount of time discussing product details, budget and delivery dates - only for the budget to be one of the biggest constraints. Then, 'scope-creep’ comes up and you play this tit-for-tat with the client, trying to do the best work you can, whilst balancing their needs without alienating their business.
In the end, you compromise and loose a bit of yourself in the process, with a sometimes weaker product, less profit and a dent in your personal pride.
Of course this is probably not everyone’s experience, but for me, it’s something I experience more often than not. We’re not exactly famous yet or have a big list of clientele, so you can’t exactly be picky (apparently this is not the case for some).
Anyway, we opted to have the following goals:
- 100% service and build a war-chest in order to proceed with building our products
- Our ultimate goal: 75% product, 25% service. Why?
- Product development can get boring.
- In order to keep the staff and ourselves motivated, we should keep accepting serviced based work.
Of course if business is so good that we go 100% product - that is not a bad goal either! But we’ll make that call when we get there.
Creating pretty websites is cool and all, but we’ve been there, done that and got the t-shirts. But building a website that someone will need to use and appreciate for its functionality is an extremely gratifying experience. This means creating value, not primarily for our clients, but for the users. That said, we are doing this for ourselves.
Steve Job’s said the following (from his biography) about why the iPod won over Microsofts Zune player:
The Zune was crappy because the people at Microsoft don’t really love music or art the way we do. We won because we personally love music. We made the iPod for ourselves, and when you’re doing something for yourself, or your best friend or family, you’re not going to cheese out. If you don’t love something, you’re not going to go the extra mile, work the extra weekend, challenge the status quo as much.
Building something that no-one is really interested in or hates using is incredibly demotivating. Giving value and having people love what you do makes me and Andreas happy.
So how are we going to do this?
Good question. We need a plan, money, an office, a team and lots of clients.
I’ll explain more in my next post!