When Software Piracy is OK

Software piracy is bad in most cases, especially when it involves frivolously indulging in all kinds of loot found on The Pirate Bay for the sake of simple entertainment. But what about the first-time entrepreneur who self-teaches a pirated copy of Photoshop to make a logo for her first website? Or the YouTube poster who tries his hands on professional video editing software to make his videos look better? These people might also be pirates but their impact on the organizations they pirate from is negligible at worst and beneficial at best.

They Weren’t Expected Customers

The software put out by giants like Adobe is made for a professional crowd and priced thereafter. Their customers rely on their software to make a living; buying it is an investment rather than an expense. What Adobe isn’t relying on is selling a few extra copies of its software to curious teenagers or people looking for an alternative to Windows Paint. Software piracy is only a problem if it hurts sales. Everything else is just free marketing. If {insert big company} wasn’t expecting you to buy their product (because you aren’t their customer and can’t afford it in the first place) it doesn’t hurt them. If you are using Adobe Illustrator to make squiggly graphics on your spare time you aren’t hurting Adobe’s bottom line because you would have never been a paying customer.

They Provide Free Marketing

Having people all over the world using your software without hurting your bottom line sounds like an ideal marketing campaign, and it is. Droves of people start learning your software, their peers will take up interest and you receive free brand awareness. All this knowledge and goodwill towards your company will be paid back when these people become professionals and purchase your software for their business needs. Don’t look at it as piracy, look at it as early adoption. Or even freemium.

They Become Future Customers

People who grow up around renowned pirated software products tend to stick with them in the future as well. A skilled teenage Photoshop hobbyist might turn into a graphic designer after a few years who subsequently starts a company. Companies can’t afford to risk it with pirated software and will invest in the real deal. Plus, paying for software that actually lets you earn revenue doesn’t feel like a waste of money. It feels like (and is) an investment.

Freemium is Legal Piracy

Legal piracy already exists. It’s called freemium. This model builds on everything explained above and lets the professionals pay for premium services, lets the noobs play around without risking fines or imprisonment and most importantly lets the fledgling entrepreneurs start out with minimal investment and grow with the software.

If anything, piracy is the result of incompatible world views and freemium has addressed that. Rather than making software one-size-fits-all it can now be handed out in bite-sized portions. Sample, eat one item or order the whole menu. Its fair, its modern and its here to stay.

Jira from Atlassian Sucks

Jira, the project management and bug tracking software from Atlassian SUCKS BIG TIME. It sucks so much that I had to log into my website and write this rant even though I have a thousand other more pressing things to do. Jira and it’s lack of brilliance is the most irritating piece of software I have had the misfortune of experiencing and almost not using at all since Windows 98.

I just received another pre-alpha release of my app from my developer and as you would expect from such an early-stage release it was buggy. When something is buggy you write down the bugs so they can be fixed. And this is what Jira fails so hard at doing. By the time I logged into their slow sluggish hosted solution and clicked my way through their grotesque old-world menu system and finally found that little miniscule button for reporting a bug – I had already forgotten what it was. Safe to say I resorted to the most logical thing to do at that point – I opened a Google Docs text editor and added all the bugs as bullet points with the app version number as the title (even better, I shared that doc with my developer so he gets instant updates whenever I add something. Even better again, I can add bugs from anywhere now including my phone with the Google Drive App). And that is where all my bugs will go from now on.

This is the first time I am put in front of what the industry apparently thinks is a great, useful, brilliant and overall easy-to-use “behind-the-scenes” software and boy are they wrong. If this is as good as it gets my next piece of software will be a project management and bug-tracking app that makes Jira look like the crippled mouth-breathing relic that it is.

If Jira was free this rant wouldn’t be fair. But Jira is a subscription-based $10/month extortion where you pony up the cash because you are one of the unfortunate souls that have invested in all-things 90’s such as subversion.

Enterprise software is a funny world because things like Jira and Bugzilla can exist. But that’s also a huge opportunity. Let me give you a hint: mobile software development is still a huge booming gold rush in its infancy. It is expected to be worth $25 billion dollars in 2015. More entrepreneurs than ever before will enter this booming market with limited coding ability and they will need something other than Jira. If you can create a project management and bug tracking software that is tailored for mobile app development, resides in the cloud, is accessible from anything with a screen and an internet connection, is just as easy and straight forward to use as Gmail and its related services, costs $5.99 a month and let’s a cross-functional team spend more time fixing bugs than documenting them, you might have a winner. Please put me in the credits if you do.

Update

Use Trello. It has all the features I listed above, it is free, it works on any device, it is hosted in the cloud and it is very easy to use for a smaller team.

Hiring a Technical Person

I ran into a post about software developer interviews on The Daily WTF. It was full of software developers complaining about business people and how they are stupid.

I’ve interviewed countless people and the game works the same except when it comes to software developers. If a non-tech person shows up for an interview they do their best to impress. When a software developer shows up they have attitude and entitlement issues and expect you to impress them.

When a non-tech person shows up for an interview they do their best to convey they belong on the team. When a software developer shows up you have to convince them that they belong on the team.

Software developers are dangerous. They control your assets and your access to them. Because there is such demand for them they have the upper hand. How do we stop them?

Value vs Hype Explained

Marketing is considered important by most people. If you are an entrepreneur chances are that you spend a serious chunk of time on it. But can really great marketing fill the gaps of a lackluster product? It depends on if you are selling value or if you are selling hype.

Selling Value

If you have a real product or service that could benefit users in some way, you are selling value. Your repeat business will happen because your product or service is what drives sales and your marketing is only there to support it. Your products do the talking and your marketing prompts customers to listen to what they have to say. In other words, a successful company involved in selling widgets doesn’t make money because it has such nice ads, but because its widgets result in repeat and new purchases and the ads remind people of that.

Most big names in products and services are big because what they sell creates value for their customers. Examples are IKEA, Apple, Toyota, Samsung, Microsoft(?), Oracle, [insert big company here], you get the point. They all have fantastic marketing but it’s their products and services that do the talking and drive people to come back for more.

Selling Hype

There are a few good examples of products being sold thanks to marketing despite being good in any way at all. Those things usually come out of multi-level marketing pyramid schemes, get rich quick schemes and other deceptive marketing channels such as TV Shop. Yes, these products sell but they are not the cash cows of most of these business models. Multi-level marketing makes money on its membership fees, TV Shop actually makes money on their products thanks to their audience who are watching TV when most of us are working (read into that however you want) and get rich quick schemes make money on selling you expectations rather than results/tangible products.

So you can make money if you focus on marketing and hype, but you better be one of the business models above. If you are a business who believes in improving the life of your customer, selling something that doesn’t result in buyer’s remorse, and generally deliver an extraordinary experience, put marketing aside for a second.

The Correct Approach

If you are in the startup trenches, don’t waste your time and money on marketing before perfecting what you are actually trying to sell. Make sure your friends and family like your product or service. Test it out. Narrow down its functions to its core value proposition. Is it a good concept? Will people like it? When it’s ready, launch small and gauge reactions and feedback. If you have a winner, then full speed ahead into marketing and promotion. But remember, if your product doesn’t live up to your marketing, you create hype, buyer’s remorse and ultimately failure. It’s better to let your marketing do the introduction and your product do the talking.

Ideas vs. Execution vs. Vision

Ideas, execution and vision are big words in entrepreneurship. They constitute what most success is made of. Even so, people rarely mention them in the same sentence and tend to play favorites. “Execution is more important than ideas” is a common notion held among certain business people.

The truth is a different story. To create something of extreme success you need to give each of them equal importance. Ideas, execution and vision are in fact interdependent and because of that they can result in some amazing synergy. A good idea cannot hold its ground on its own, but combined with equally good execution and vision the resulting combination will be worth more than the sum of its parts. Let’s take a closer look:

Ideas

Ideas are important. Everything around you is the result of ideas: your car, the Internet, the way your music sounds, the stitching on your IKEA couch, maybe even the air you breathe if you have an air conditioner. Then there are the more subtle things like language, social structure and even your thoughts in some very rare instances (North Korea is a candidate here). Ideas are the essence of what makes us human and what everything created by us is founded upon. This makes ideas very important.

 Execution

Execute your idea with your vision in mind and build for the future; create the foundation for what your users would want your concept to be 5 years from now.

If everything around us was based on ideas then execution is what made them real. Ideas are practically useless without execution. Only thinking about ideas gives them no real value and they will remain a fragment of your imagination. Execution on the other hand is pointless without a great idea and will result in something mediocre at best. What you want to do is put your effort into executing great ideas.

Good execution takes a lot of effort. If coming up with a great idea is hard then executing it is even harder. You will need to distribute resources, develop a strategy, hire talent, learn the industry or field and work with real-world constraints. The idea might be dead simple to you while it is in your head, but imagine taking it out and placing it in front of you. While building a one-man space shuttle to take you to Mars and back might be a great idea in the future, chances are high you will be disappointed if trying to execute that today.

In addition, if your idea is complex it is likely that you do not possess the necessary skills yourself. This puts an even greater strain on execution since you need to bring in outside talent. To summarize this and quoting myselfideas are nothing without execution, and execution is nothing without ideas.

Vision

Vision is sometimes overlooked when talking about the importance of ideas and execution. This is unfortunate because vision is what binds your ideas and execution together and completes the package. Vision is like the entrepreneurship professor who asks you uncomfortably pointed questions about your idea to make you to think:

What if someone copies you? What if demand skyrockets? How will you respond to change? What if your concept is not well received? Does your value proposition stand a chance against competition? Are you future proof?

Having vision helps you look ahead and create a long-term strategy. It also encourages you to plan for contingencies if things don’t go as planned. To create a long-term vision you need to take a step back from the smaller details and consider what type of experience your users will expect from your concept in the long run. Execute your idea with your vision in mind and build for the future; create the foundation for what your users would want your concept to be 5 years from now (the time frame depends on your industry of choice).

As an aside, Paul Graham suggests setting weekly growth rate targets. This allows you to measure the effectiveness of your strategy and reallocate your resources if they do not contribute to your growth and in effect your vision.

Summary

Putting great ideas, great execution and great vision in the same box results in some impressive synergy. Each element is of little value on its own but together they are worth more than their sum. To conclude:

  • A great idea is needed to draft up anything of value.
  • Great execution is needed to deliver anything of value.
  • Great vision is needed to sustain anything of value.