Much of the change we have seen over the last decade has been driven by a certain type of person: part developer, part entrepreneur.
From Steve Jobs, to Bill Gates, Larry Page to Sergey Bin, Mark Zuckerberg to Elon Musk – the list is long. These people have built their entrepreneurial success on software. In doing so, they’ve changed the way we live, and changed the way we look at the global tech landscape. Part of the reason software is eating the world is because of the entrepreneurial spirit of people like these.Silicon Valley is a testament to this!
That is why a combination of tech and leadership skills in developers is the holy grail even today.
From this perspective, we weren’t surprised to find that a significant number of developers working today have entrepreneurial ambitions. In this year’s Skill Up survey we asked respondents what they hope to be doing in the next 5 years. A little more than one third of the respondents said they would like to be working as a founder of their own company.
Source: Packt Skill Up Survey
But being a successful entrepreneur requires a completely new set of skills from those that make one a successful developer. It requires a different mindset. True, certain skills you might already possess. Others, though you’re going to have to acquire. With skills realizing the power of purpose and values will be the key factor to building a successful venture. You will need to clearly articulate why you’re doing something and what you’re doing. In this way you will attract and keep customers who will clearly know the purpose of your business. Let us see what it takes to transition from a developer to a successful entrepreneur.
Think customer first, then product:
Whatever you are thinking right now, think Bigger!
Developers love making things. And that’s a good place to begin. In tech, ideas often originate from technical conversations and problem solving. “Let’s do X on Z platform because the Y APIs make it possible”. This approach works sometimes, but it isn’t a sustainable business model. That’s because customers don’t think like that. Their thought process is more like this: “Is X for me?”, “Will X solve my problem?”, “Will X save me time or money?”.
Think about the customer first and then begin developing your product. You can’t create a product and then check if there is it is in demand – that sounds obvious, but it does happen. Do your research, think about the market and get to know your customer first.
In other words, to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to go one step further – yes, care about your products, but think about it from the long term perspective. Think big picture: what’s going to bring in real value to the lives of other people. Search for opportunities to solve problems in other people’s lives adopting a larger and more market oriented approach. Adding a bit of domain knowledge like market research, product-market fit, market positioning etc to your to-do list should be a vital first step in your journey.
Remember, being a good technician is not enough
Most developers are comfortable and probably excel at being good technicians. This means you’re good at writing those beautiful codes, produce something tangible, and cranking away on each task, moving one step closer to the project launch date. Great. But it takes more than a technician to run a successful business. It’s critical to look ahead into both the near and the long term. What’s going to provide the best ROI next year? Where do I want to be in 5 years time? To do this you need to be organized and focused. It’s of critical importance to determine your goals and objectives.
Simply put you need to evolve from being a problem solver/great executioner to a visionary/strategic thinker. The developer-entrepreneur is a rare breed of doer-thinker.
Be passionate and focussed
Perseverance is the single most important trait found in successful entrepreneurs. As a developer you are primed to think logically and come to conclusions, which is a great trait to possess in most cases.
However, in entrepreneurship there will be times when you will do all the right things, meet the right people and yet meet with failures. To get your company off the ground, you need to be passionate and excited about what you’re working on. This enthusiasm will often be the only thing to carry you through late nights, countless setbacks and tough situations. You must stay open, even if logic dictates otherwise. Most startups fail either because they read the market wrong or they didn’t stay long enough in the race.
You need to also know how to focus closely on the very next step to get closer to your ultimate goal. There will be many distracting forces when trying to build a business that focusing on one particular task will not be easy and you will need to religiously master this skill.
Become amazing at networking
It truly isn’t about what you know or what you have developed. Sure, what you know is important. But what’s far more important is who you know. There’s a reason why certain people can make so much progress in such a brief period. These business networking power players command the room by bringing the right people together. As an entrepreneur, if there’s one thing that you should focus on, it’s becoming a truly skilled business networker. Imagine having an idea for a business that’s so wonderful, that you can pick up the phone and call four or five people who can help you turn that idea into a reality.
Sharpen your strategic and critical thinking skills
As entrepreneurs it’s essential to possess sharp critical thinking skills. When you think critically,t you ask the hard, tactical questions while expanding the lens to see the wider picture. Without thinking critically, it’s hard to assess whether the most creative application that you have developed really has a life out in the world. You are always going to love what you have created but it is important to wear multiple hats to think from the users’ perspective. Get it reviewed by the industry stalwarts in your community to catch that silly but important area that you could have missed while planning. With critical thinking it is also important you strategize and plan out things for smooth functioning of your business.
Find and manage the right people
In reality businesses are like living creatures, who’s organs all need to work in harmony. There is no major organ more critical than another, and a failure to one system can bring down all the others. Developers build things, marketers get customers and salespersons sell products. The trick is, to find and employ the right people for your business if you are to create a sustainable business. Your ideas and thinking will need to align with the ideas of people that you are working with. Only by learning to leverage employees, vendors and other resources can you build a scalable and sustainable company.
Learn the art of selling an idea
Every entrepreneur needs to play the role of a sales person whether they like it or not. To build a successful business venture you will need to sell your ideas, products or services to customers, investors or employees. You should be ready to work and be there when customers are ready to buy. Alternatively, you should also know how to let go and move on when they are not. The ability to convince others that you are going to provide them the maximum product value will help you crack that mission critical deal.
Be flexible. Create contingency plans
Things rarely go as per plan in software development. Project scope creeps, clients expectations rise, or bugs always seem to mysteriously appear. Even the most seasoned developers can’t predict all possible scenarios so they have to be ready with contingencies. This is also true in the world of business start-ups. Despite the best-laid business plans, entrepreneurs need to be prepared for the unexpected and be able to roll with the punches. You need to very well be prepared with an option A, B or C.
Running a business is like sea surfing. You’ve got to be nimble enough both in your thinking and operations to ride the waves, high and low.
Always measure performance
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
Peter Drucker’s point feels obvious but is one worth bearing in mind always. If you can’t measure something, you’ll never improve. Measuring key functions of your business will help you scale it faster. Otherwise you risk running your firm blindly, without any navigational path to guide it.
Becoming an entrepreneur and starting your own business is one of life’s most challenging and rewarding journeys. Having said that, for all of the perks that the entrepreneurial path offers, it’s far from being all roses. Being an entrepreneur means being a warrior. It means being clever, hungry and often a ruthless competitor.
If you are a developer turned entrepreneur, we’d love to hear your take on the topic and your own personal journey. Share your comments below or write to us at [email protected].