51 Steps to Startup Success – Not!

Stanislav Shalunov – one of the people I track in Tweetdeck when I’m in online network mode – tweeted an alert a moment ago to this post, “Startups – The Essential To Do List”.

Now I’m hoping like hell that its author, Dr. J. Basil Peters, was just in a fiendishly funny mood today and did this post as a send up. Dr. Peters runs an Canadian angel investment fund, has been named Entrepreneur of the Year, does speaking engagements and looks to know his stuff.

But you are better sticking a pencil two inches into your ear than following his Essential To Do List of 51 items.

“This question comes up frequently, so I started this list to help other entrepreneurs ensure they don’t miss one of the essential structural components,” Dr. Peters’ says. Let’s have a look:

  1. Build a startup team (if it’s still just you, repeat step 1).
  2. Agree on an idea (the idea is much less important than the team).

Okay, two items in and we’re in trouble.

Just as the greatest chefs in the world are not going to be able to turn mud into anything but mud, I don’t care how great your team is: a lousy idea is a lousy idea. And having a great idea – that is, finding something that people need and want – is step 1, not 2, if you think you should be in charge of either a startup, a microISV or a lemonade stand for that matter.

Onward: Steps 3 through 11 sort of make sense: figure out where you and the other founders want to be in three years, decide on a fair, equitable pan for founder compensation, equity, vesting and who gets to play with the credit cards. Not bad boxes for a checklist, but wait.

#12 is “Ensure the startup team is still in alignment.” Shareholder alignment, (unlike say tire alignment), “is all about human behavior and group psychology”, Dr. Peters says. If your team is not in alignment, Bad Things will happen. “(Get someone outside the team to do a Phase 1 alignment check. If the alignment is not perfect, consider having the first offsite strategic planning retreat with a really great facilitator.)”

Assuming you all are now facing in the same direction, pick somewhere to setup the company, your officers and corporate directors, recheck your alignment and by the way, find one very experienced advisor, mentor and/or coach who can review and confirm these steps.

Excuse me, but wouldn’t it make more sense to do that before setting up? No matter, onward:

After another strategic planning retreat with an excellent facilitator, celebrate your continued alignment. “(It looks like you really do have the ingredients of a promising company.)” (no, I did not make this up.)

Twenty steps down, 31 to go. Steps 21 through 32 cover the legal waltz known as incorporation – everything from deciding the amount of equity to give future (unaligned?) employees to hiring yourself and oh yes, doing a 12 month budget and a 3 year revenue projection before you realign in step 33 again.

Now write a business plan. Not to raise money, or even to say, plan the business, but to check founder alignment. And make sure someone can sign checks for your company. Dr. Peters thinks writing a business plan might be a bit of work: time check your alignment again (step 36) and if it’s not absolutely perfect, off you go to another punishing offsite strategic planning retreat (step 37). Don’t forget to celebrate (step 38).

No rest for the weary, so get that bank account open (39), collect checks from the founders (that’s you) and set up an accounting system (42) and learn what taxes your company will have to pay (43). Now, if it were my money, I think I’d like that accounting system in place before I hand over the cold, hard cash, but that’s a quibble. And quibbles don’t keep you in alignment. Hang in there, you’re almost done! Learn about those tax credits (apparently they’re pretty sweet in Canada), get some insurance, an alarm system (sic) and start planning how you’re going to get money from friends and family and what, if anything, your friends and family will get in return.

Got all that? “Celebrate completing all of the absolutely necessary steps in building a successful startup.” (50) Finally, “As soon as the hangover clears, start working on the product, marketing, sales, recruiting, strategic relationships and exit strategy – the fun part.”

Fun indeed.

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Bob Walsh51 Steps to Startup Success – Not!

Bits and Pieces.

Here’s a few things on the web that caught my attention recently you may find interesting:

Keith Alperin of Helium Foot Software posted his second podcast episode in his series, Mac Software Business, Year One. He and Scotty Scott, Kevin Hoctor and Gus Mueller kick around Mac specific issues and general topics like licensing, PayPal as your credit card processor with more than a little help from e-Junkie, where to find good web site designs and more. I missed episode 1; looking forward to #3. Good listening!

Speaking of listening, Mark Gladding Text2Go reached 3.0 today. Text2Go converts text to near-human quality speech with one click; 3.0 adds powerful community driven features to differentiate from competitors and deliver a better customer experience. Sheesh! I’ve been hanging around Microsofties too much, I’m beginning to speak their lingo.

Speaking of Microsoft, Kevin Merritt, CEO of web startup Blist has some advice for the 900 pound gorilla: instead of beating your chest and trying to grab Yahoo, start funding startups the way Google is rumored to be planning. Details here.

Gold discovered at One Infinite Loop, or at least in the iPhone App store for some microISVs. John Casasanta names names and tells numbers about their microISV’s iPhone products. In my opinion, the world is divided into two parts: those who own iPhones and those who will. While Apple has caught some flack about MobileMe, the $999 do-nothing app and the kill-switch, it’s laughing all the way to the bank. Maybe you should think about going along for that ride?

And last but not least, Peldi Guilizzoni of Balsamiq gives back to the community some excellent Startup Marketing Advice. Peldi has been on a tear with Balsamiq Studio, posting $10K in revenue in the first 6 weeks. Want to know how? Read this post.

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Bob WalshBits and Pieces.

Striking a balance of user needs in technology development.

Melanie Baker
Community Manager

For those of us who live and breathe tech, it can be easy to forget how different our online habits are from those of the average internet user. We at AideRSS, and folks like us, have assimilated RSS into our information processing and now look ahead at how to improve it. Bring us more of what we want to know; save our time and attention (or do those things for our audiences and customers). We talk about RSS going mainstream, though it hasn’t gotten there just yet.

And so there we are at one end of the spectrum — the innovators — already thoroughly accustomed to technology many people have barely even heard of. We know what RSS is, how it works, what its applications are, and what it doesn’t do yet that would be really, really cool.

At the other end of the spectrum are people who don’t know what RSS is, how it works, or potentially don’t even do enough online to need it. Many of those folks are what you’d call a “missionary sell” for those of us working in the space.

In the middle, though, is ripe, juicy opportunity. People with pains we can alleviate, workflows we can enhance, and time we can save. However, to borrow from George Bernard Shaw, we must get at these people through their own level of interest and experience, not ours. The techies want to know everything, but our potential mainstream audience does not.

Just make it work. Read What Matters. Okay… here’s your list. It’s important to remember as well that the corporate world often falls squarely within the mainstream based on level of interest and pains they want to solve.

As a result, it’s a strange balance our company has struck, working to build a service that is friendly even to newcomers to RSS, but at the same time working with and keeping our existing fans happy, many of whom are extremely tech savvy (often developers themselves).

Fundamentally, however, what we’ve focused on building for the future of RSS is flexible enough to be valuable at any level of technical familiarity. It’s just that some people will set every filter to “Best” and forget about it, and other people will integrate the PostRank API into entirely new applications.

Being techies ourselves, though, makes product planning challenging. We want to build bigger, better features and take on the juicy challenges posed by our techie audience. It’s hard on the ego, then, to learn that a majority of your audience may not understand or want those features.

Ultimately, though, it’s not about us. Sure, we’ll go on playing with cool, bleeding edge stuff and pushing each other to deliver ever more interesting developments. But a lot of the cool stuff will never see the light of day. And even in internet time, a lot of cool stuff won’t become mainstream potentially for years.

In the mean time we all have bills to pay. And the money? It’s mostly in the mainstream. With the average joe and the average company who are just trying to get the job done the best way they can.

My guess is that the future of RSS won’t look terribly sexy to some of us. And there won’t be just one tool that provides the perfect solution. To succeed we will need to provide the same “Wow!” moments to mainstream users that we once experienced. And, let’s face it, we can’t NOT tinker, so under the hood… there’ll still be some pretty cool stuff.

Blurb: AideRSS, Inc. is a Canadian startup located in Waterloo, Ontario. They launched the service in July, 2007, allowing everyone to tame information overload by ranking and filtering their RSS feeds to Read What Matters. AideRSS’ algorithm is based on the “5Cs of social engagement” providing a PostRank score to blog posts, news articles, and other forms of online content based on how much audience response sites’ content received. In addition to the service on its website, AideRSS provides a widget, a Google Reader extension, and has released an API to allow developers to add PostRank functionality to their own applications.

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Bob WalshStriking a balance of user needs in technology development.

The law is the law.

…and you are far better off knowing the laws as it applies to IT about copyright, trademarks, domain names, software patents, trade secrets, NDA’s, NCA’s, open source licenses, consulting agreements, SLA’s, beta test agreements, EULA’s, SaaS TOS, commercial distribution agreements, privacy, digital content agreements, videogame publishing agreements, foreign distribution agreements, and what happens if you try to sell your encryption software to a Denied Person.

Oh my aching head!

Fortunately, Gene Landy has summarized all the above and more into language understandable by people not attorney’s, added 38 juicy contracts and forms and authored a book you need, now: “The IT / Digital Legal Companion: A Comprehensive Business Guide to Software, IT, Internet, Media and IP Law”.

I’ve been reading up on Software as a Service, chapter 13, and in 24 pages Gene did an excellent job of summarizing what you need to know about SaaS from a legal point of view. This book, published in June, is very up to date, logically organized and includes the seasoned judgment of a practicing IT attorney.

Now the Legal Companion is not a light read in any sense of the word: at 1,204 pages and 2.5 inches thick; you are not going to whip through this before lunch. But if want a good EULA, a software consulting agreement that favors you for a change or want to understand open source duel licensing or any other legal topic you’re likely to run across as a developer, startup or microISV, you need this book.

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Bob WalshThe law is the law.

Do it in front of other people.

37liveuse.jpgI and over 800 people sat down this afternoon and had a cozy 1-to-1 with Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals.com, courtesy of online video streaming company ustream.com.

Now if you’re not a 37signals.com fan as I am, or Basecamp/Highrise/Campfire/Backpack user, you could care less, right? Wrong. Developers, startups and microISVs, I have seen the future, and the future is television.

Not the kind of tv you grew up on, or one of those videos of questionable moral rectitude that ping pong around the old cube farm. You on television, because the cost, complexity and general hassle has dropped to zero and video byte for byte remains the most persuasive medium we’ve yet come up with.

Video streaming companies like ustream.tv, viddler, myshowroom.tv and livecast want to make you and your startup or microISV a star with your very own channel. You get their infrastructure for free; sponsors and advertisers foot the bill.

Two things impressed me about 37signals live: it was “good tv” although the sole prop was the backdrop consisting of a brick wall in Jason’s house and that at one point 890 people were popping questions and comments at the Dynamic Duo.

While some of those comments were what you’d expect from video couch potatoes (my favorite was “Some people call me the Space Cowboy” over and over), most of the comments were serious, engaging questions that Jason and the redoubtable DHH fielded. For example, their sequel to Getting Real is done; they’re shopping it to traditional book publishers presently and it’s much more about starting a small business than web development.

For exactly zero dollars, 37signals was able to reach out and converse with their customer base, something that small ISVs of whatever stripe absolutely need to do if you want to succeed. It would be interesting to know what either Jason or David thought of the experience.

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Bob WalshDo it in front of other people.

Product blogs don’t have to be boring.

tugboatuse.jpgOne of my clients, Tugboat Enterprises, launched its “Rising Tide: Tales from The Land of Selkie” blog last week, and if you’re wondering about some of the finer points of doing a product blog, it’s definitely worth a visit.

When you get there, you’re not going to find a blog extolling the wonders of Selkie Rescue (which is actually pretty hot stuff, if your primary box is a PC and you want to have a hope in hell of recovering your data when it dies).

What you’ll find is a mix of topics that are in part about the product, but much more about the people, passions and values of Tugboat. It’s those things that readers will remember and respond to and respect.

Want four pointers to effective product blogging? Here goes:

  • Never, ever “market”. Marketing has its place in the scheme of things; your product blog is not that place. Instead, focus on the where your interests and passions and the the interests and passions of the people you want to be your customers intersect.
  • People are interested in guess what? People. With the exception of sites that feed our inner child – like Engaget – blogging is about people. Sometimes the people you hate, or you love, or that anger you, or that you wish you were. It’s a conversation between people. What that means for your microISV blog is that posts about moving from 1.0.3 to 1.0.4 are fine, but posts about who your customers are and what they’re doing with your product are better.
  • Be remarkable. That means, have opinions, say things you care about even if some – or most – of your customers may not agree. If you’re blogging about the right things your prospective customers will soon figure out you are on their side. If they don’t because you’ve watered down all the passion in an effort to be “businesslike” or worse still, “corporate”, you lose.
  • Don’t be afraid to show off and have a little fun. I love Tugboat’s film noir/Raymond Chandler promo they have in the middle of their blog. It’s funny, cute, hokey and self-effacing. It works. Besides, if running a startup isn’t fun now and again, why are you doing it?

It was a lot of fun working with Judi, Emma and the rest of the Tugboat gang helping them find their voice for blog. I guess they thought so too:

“Bob Walsh’s knowledge of the world of blogging helped guide us in getting our company’s blog, “Selkie – Musings from the Island of Misfits” up and running. We found his insights and advice valuable, and reading his book
“Clear Blogging” was very useful as well.”
– Emma Larocque, Sales & Marketing Coordinator – Tugboat Enterprises Ltd.

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Bob WalshProduct blogs don’t have to be boring.

12 Tactics to stop stealing time from yourself.

thetrees.jpgMy post Monday, Stop stealing, garnered 66 comments – definitely a record for me. As I said Wednesday, there’s both strategic ways to take control of your attention, focus and productivity, and there are plenty of tactics that can improve your productivity.

In fact, there’s too many. Way, way too many. Take for example this and this and this and this post. You can liquify your brain with productivity tips on the net. So here’s one “pre-tactic” before we get to my personal top dozen: print this post, check the ones you are actually going to try, cross off the ones that don’t interest you and do something more than just read these tips.

So here goes. Some are major, some trivial, all work. Be sure to read #12 if nothing else.

#1. Work for yourself first. Spend two hours each workday on whatever you make money doing before checking email/twitter or other communication channels. If you’re a programmer, code. If you’re a web strategist, strategize. Unless you model, you’re not getting paid for your good looks, you’re getting paid for what you produce. Hard to do? Start with 15 minutes and work your way up, kind of like this program.

#2. Set communication expectations. Set your email client to append it or add it to your standard salutation: “(I check email several times during the business day.)” – by resetting the expectations of others, you cut yourself some much-needed slack.

#3. Use a timer. Buy yourself a kitchen or kickboxing timer, stick it next to your Mac or PC. When you have to do something you don’t want to do, set it for 10 minutes, telling yourself you can do anything for just 10 minutes and then do it. When you’re in the mood to just chat or surf or whatever, set that damn timer to remind yourself you’ve got other things to do and move on. When you do your work day in and day out, alternate between 48 minute bursts of focused work and 12 minutes to move around, defocus and reorientate.

#4. Write your next post before you publish today. Two weeks ago I hit upon this quite by accident when I started blogging here again. Want to really increase the number of posts you write? Always have one post in the can. By doing that, you dramatically turn down the pressure on yourself. If something comes up and you want to write about it immediately, great! If not, you’ve already got the next one ready.

#5. Pay Jacquie Lawson $10 a year. It’s been a good five years since I’ve sent anyone an actual thank you/birthday/holiday card because that’s how long ago I found this superb British illustrator’s animated e-cards. They’re eyecatchingly impressive, extremely well done and added to frequently enough so you always have a new e-card to send.

#6. Get an iPhone 3G. Want to know why I paid $299 and 3.5 hours of my life for an iPhone 3G? Two words: Visual Voicemail. Given various pursuits, there are weeks I get zip voicemail and days I’ll get a dozen. Now I’ve freed myself from the tyranny of voicemail’s interface. As a bonus, I’ve organized my email so that just the messages I need to process daily are also routed to my iPhone so I can knock them out when I’m away from my desktop.

#7. Always use two monitors. While I do nearly all my work from my MacBook Pro these days, the only times I’m without a second large monitor is when I’m traveling. The sheer luxury of having enough digital real estate to spread out my work hugely improves how fast I can work. Don’t believe me? Read this and this.

#8. Use systems that you trust, build systems if you must. Would you voluntarily own a car that worked 90% of the time? Not if you could help it. Yet if you don’t have a system for capturing not 90% or 98% but damn near 100% of the things you decide you are going to do in life, you are in the same predicament. Paper or plastic, Mac, PC, or what have you – whatever works. For me, it’s a little Red Pad that I can take anywhere as my “task in-basket” and then OmniFocus on my MacBook Pro and iPhone, but there are plenty of other products and combinations that get the job done.

#9. Unless you’ve got a better system, learn and use Getting Things Done. Period. I know of no way of managing yourself that has worked for so many hundreds of thousands of people. Believe me I have looked. If you do, I’m all ears, but if you’ve been one of those people who always tell your GTD-organized friends you’ll take a pass and you’ve not tried GTD, what are you waiting for?

#10. When you bereft of motivation, organize a drawer. Since we’re people not computers, there are times when despite all of the rational reasons you should be doing what you should be doing, you just damn well don’t want to. Fine. Clean out an office drawer. Or organize your dvd’s. Or clean the refrigerator. Strike a blow against entropy. I don’t know why, but it works.

#11. Get enough rest. Developers – especially if you’re trying to bootstrap your startup/microISV – work insane hours. There are times when 18 hour workdays make sense, and are right and proper. But week after week, month after month? No. And if it’s your boss, manager, company or corporate culture that is manipulating you into work as an obsession, the most productive thing you can do is tell them to shove it.

#12. Productivity is a means, not an end to and of itself. All of the tactics, all of the blog posts, all of the books, seminars, tools, applications and advice – very much including mine – are just the means to an end, the end being living. If you forget it’s the things you build and the people you love that are the reason for all that productivity, you’ll master the techniques but never hear the music.

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Bob Walsh12 Tactics to stop stealing time from yourself.

Join me at the Big Nerd Ranch in October.

gI_0_0_bnrlogo1.jpgJust to let you know, I will be teaching in Atlanta, GA a three day class in early October: The MicroISV/Startup Bootcamp.

When Aaron Hillegass – one of the most respected Mac instructors and authors out there – asked me if I’d be interested in teaching at the Big Nerd Ranch 20 or so developers how to break out of their cubicles and go commercial, I gave it some serious thought. Sure, I consult, blog, write about all of the stuff around your core developer skills you need to get right to get launched, but can I do the instructor thing?

I can, but this is not going to be the typical lecture/code exercise kind of class. The goal isn’t mastering the theory and APIs of being in the software business, it’s going to be drafting your Master Business Plan.

Now I could have called it a business plan and have done with it but I don’t want you to confuse it with those fantasy fiction jobs written for venture capitalists and the 3Fs of angel investing: Family, Friends and Fools. This business plan is different; no 5 year revenue projections, no glowing tributes to your management team. This is going to be your realistic plan to accomplish a real thing: Kiss your boss goodbye kind of revenue within 6 months of launching, and how you are going to get there.

You see, while a good business plan in hindsight makes success look easily, it’s really all the good decisions you make writing that business plan that gets the job done. Everything from what you care about enough to live with for months if not years to what app you’re going to structure, build and position so that others – called customers – care enough to open up their wallets.

We’re going to be covering a lot of the specific topics you need to wrestle with – 36 by my count. But we’re going to be covering them from the perspective of building chunk by chunk the set of decisions that define your microISV/startup.

This is not going to be a class where the instructor drones on hour after hour and you wonder what possessed you to spend 3 days and nineteen hundred bucks. There will be some lecture, sure, but most of the time is going towards working – by your self and with other students to define your Master Business Plan.

And since in this class you are going to be talking about the business you want to create or already run, I’m going to be requiring Nondisclosure Agreements and trying very hard to ensure there’s as little market overlap between students as possible.

It will be intense. I hope it will be fun. And I am damn well going to make sure it’s worth your time and money.

I’m looking forward to it. How about you?

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Bob WalshJoin me at the Big Nerd Ranch in October.

5 Strategies to stop stealing time from yourself.

theforest.jpgMy post 2 days ago, Stop stealing, seems to have hit a nerve – given 57 comments so far. So, I thought I’d better pony up the big and small ways I and others have found to stop stealing time from ourselves.

Two things I want to make clear – I fall off the productivity wagon just as much as most people: it’s a constant struggle to be productive in the online world, but it’s a worthwhile, necessary struggle you win by not giving up.

Second, if some of these ideas sound familiar, that’s because you’ve been reading some of the same great bloggers and authors as I have: David Allen, Steven Pressfield, Matt Cornell, Pam Slim, Linda Stone and others; to mix metaphors, standing on the shoulders of giants gives you a leg up in the world. Here goes:

Strategic Forests, Tactical Trees

Later this week I’ll get down to the nitty-gritty tactics I use day to day and project to project; In this post I wanted to focus on five strategic big ideas that can make a huge result in the results you get. Here’s five big ideas: flow, intention, it’s an imperfect world, time to think and mode.

Flow. One of the best ways I know of working really productively is practicing how to deliberately put myself into – and out of – a particular state of mind: flow. For example, when I bookwriting, I will put my notes here, my writer’s checklist printout there, my iTunes to Mozart or Rachmaninov and go with the flow.

If the writing gods smile upon me that day, I’ll notice two or three hours later I’m sputtering to a stop and put my notes back into their folder, put my checklist back in its folder, change iTunes over to reggae and move on. That’s how three books got written by the way.

Flow is a learned – or if you’ve been banging the digital drum of life online too much, unlearned skill. What you flow on – writing code, writing music, spending time with kids – is up to you, but it’s a skill you need as successful human being in your repertoire.

The biggest indictment of multitasking, email-checking, web-site jumping is it kills dead your ability to flow. And flow is where the good stuff happens – the code or words or ideas or music or art you later look at and can say, damn! that’s good stuff.

Intention. Day in, day out either you make your reality or someone else will. If you get up and immediately write down a list of no more than 5 things you absolutely intend to accomplish that day, odds are much, much better that you will get those 5 things done. If you don’t, you won’t. Sure, there’s plenty of exceptions to this – see my next point – but if you don’t know where you’re going, why on earth do you think you’ll end up where you want except out of blind luck?

It’s an imperfect world. The more digital your lifestyle, the worse you come off by way of comparison. All those new and shiny toys have the bling and the gleam you don’t. That’s okay – really. If you code for a living this tendency to hold yourself to an impossible – therefore ignorable – standard is 10x worse, because we damn well know a single mistyped line of code can turn a program into dreck.

But here’s the thing: perfection is the angel-like floating in the sky enemy of not just getting most of your life the way you want, but feeling pretty good about yourself. Don’t sacrifice being more productive 80% of the time just because it’s a ball-breaker to get that other 20% the way you want.

Give yourself time to think. Another casualty of the digital lifestyle is since we can load up with information, connections and ideas a hundred, hell, a thousand times more than anyone normal could 20 years ago, we do. You need to know how to give yourself time to think because that’s how you’ll find your way in this world, that’s how the really, really good ideas come about and that’s how you can regain and maintain some perspective.

Final big idea: Mode. Simply put, different modes of action and the ability to consciously pick which mode you’re in hugely change the results you get. For example, yesterday for a good two hours I had Tweetdeck going, 3 IM sessions in Adium going, was bouncing from site to site, commented on a half dozen posts while responding to emails as they came in.

The difference between me and you is I did it for exactly 120 minutes and didn’t try to “work” at the same time. That’s what I call my communication mode – as opposed to my writing, coding, debugging, brainstorming or planning modes. It has its place – and that’s where I decide it is, not the net, not my mac and certainly not my pc’s.

So there you have it, five strategic ideas I – and others – have found get you better results. Give the one that most got your attention a try – what do you have to lose?

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Bob Walsh5 Strategies to stop stealing time from yourself.

When the going gets tough, the tough get agile.

D502DC4A-C654-4058-8AB1-14708A58D1A0.jpgWhen F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The rich are not like you and me,” he could have been just as easily referring to the gap between programmers swaddled in their nice little cubicles and those of us who for better or worse are out here in the cold and dark peddling our microISV wares and startup services.

Gone are the easy days of knowing exactly what is the absolute! best! programming methodology: it’s the one your manager tells you to use. Whether it’s a million bucks of RUP or a big whiteboard in the conference room, that’s the right one, forever and amen. Suck it up and salute – besides they all work more or less as well in a group, right?

But what if the lead developer and the clueless new guy and the anal-compulsive test engineer and the artsy-fartsy UI artiste are all staring back at you in the mirror each and every morning? Does counting my cats in my programming team and pair programming with my bonsai plant count?

No, they don’t.

One of the less pleasant aspects of the startup/microISV life is not only are we as naked as new-born chicks of all those nice corporate programming policies, procedures and methodologies yet we know deep in our programming souls that we should be following some sort of methodology because a good methodology is the only thing that stands between you and complete code dementia.

Since I started my first microISV app in 2003, I’ve searched for a way to avoid code dementia (some would say too late, but I digress). I didn’t find it while writing MasterList Professional, sure as hell didn’t find it as I’ve fitfully enhanced it after its initial release. And really, really wanted to find something when I started scoping Project X nearly a year ago.

The problem with even the lightest of methodologies in my opinion is they just don’t scale down well to one or two developers. And they sure as hell don’t scale down timewise when the only time you have to work is on the side of your day job, whatever that may be.

At least for me, the light at started flickering at the end of the microISV programming methodology tunnel when in February I got my hands on “Head First Software Development (Brain-Friendly Guides)” By Dan Pilone and Russ Miles.

You need to read this book if you’re doing a microISV. Not because it’s cute, funny, realistic. But because it is development methodology for real small teams – like 3 people – without the corporate cruft. The chapters on approaching user stories and tasks, project planning and good design are definite startup must reads. And the burn down process – including calculating your actual velocity – will get your head out of the clouds of cool features to play with and back down to customers want software that just works, dammit, right quick.

So what else have you got?

acunote.jpgActually, something really nice. While HFSD gave me some good ideas on how to implement a ultralight development methodology, doing paper sticky cards for user stories and moving them around on my side desk just wasn’t cutting it. I needed software, and I needed it now!

So taking a day I went digging for agile development methodology software that a) didn’t suck b) scaled down below the corporate market c) would either be Mac based or run decently on the web. I found Acunote, and six weeks later I’m still in love.

Acunote is a Ruby on Rails Scrum-centric software project management SaaS. Between its keyboard support for data entry, inline editing and other ajax-goodness and burndown charts it does exactly what I need without one wasted click or keystroke.

And you can’t beat the price: “You’ve been featured on TechCrunch. You have revenues and are ready to share a little. (with us)” – $99/month. Or, “You’ve launched, raised the seed round and your data would benefit from the security of SSL. – $49/month. Or better still, “You are a small startup building the first version of your product. Save the money for ramen.” – Free. Free is good, understanding who I am is better and finding the right a company that understands my world is absolutely best.

Bottom Line: building a startup or microISV is tough enough without the deadweight of hauling around some massive development methodology left over from your corporate days. Ditch it for just enough structure that keeps you focused on coding code that is going to make a difference to your customers. For me, it was Head First Software Development plus Acunote. Give them a try.

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Bob WalshWhen the going gets tough, the tough get agile.