How do I go from software contractor to service provider?
December 10, 2020 3:28 AM   Subscribe

I've been in software development for twenty years. Both my degrees are in it, and I've got a bucketload of experience covering distributed systems, cloud, fintech, bioinformatics. But I'm tired of working for other companies and I would love to build a bespoke software development company that reflects my core values. How do I go from here to there?

I've been a contractor for five years now, and I've worked with a bunch of different teams. On some teams I've not been in a position of influence, in others I've been the de facto lead dev, on one or two I've been technical architect as well as team lead.

It's gotten to the point now that, although I enjoy the new challenges that contracting brings every six to twelve months, I'm enjoying the new teams less and less. Yes, I love bootstrapping a team: getting them all on the same page, with the same standards and the same ethos. There are teams that I've left behind who to this day will cite processes that I put - or helped put - in place as the reason that they do their jobs as well as they do.

But I dislike coming into a new team and having to fight with other people whose standards don't align with my own. There's a lot of sloppy coders out there; people who don't think that software should be unit tested, or who will happily copy and paste instead of encouraging code re-use.

I would love for 2021 be the year that I build a team to solve other people's problems. A team (and a company) that's built around the core values I -- and the best devs that I've worked with -- hold as software engineers: pragmatism coupled with personal and team responsibility; robustness coupled with performance; QA as a first-order part of the team instead of a separate team to which things get handed off later on down the line.

I've been running a successful but small one-man business for these last 5 years. I'm good at my job and I've got a decent head for business administration, but I suck at marketing and I don't know where to start building a company out from where I am now to where I want to be.

So, MeFites who've done similar to what I want to do, how did you do it?

How do I
  • Start finding development work that's more provision-of-service than contractor-focussed
  • Start turning that into work for which I need a team
  • Start building that team
What are the questions I need to be asking? What is the knowledge that I don't know I need to know yet? Am I barking entirely up the wrong tree?
posted by gmb to Work & Money (2 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think it's true for any field, not necessarily only software, but i would say, think long and hard about what it is you would love to spend your time on.
I've been running my own business for 15 years. From my own experience, the daily reality of business ownership is that i work ON the business, but not FOR the business. I.e. i'd be very surprised if you still end up having time to still code yourself if you start your own software team.

My advice to you would be to interview people who actually own the type of software firms you'd like to have, and see what their daily responsibilities are. Unless you work in a field where there's no competition, then marketing and client relationships management is a huge part of owning a business. Next to all the other fun stuff like administration, HR etc... You can only hire and maintain a team if you also bring in enough clients to keep them busy.
Good luck!
posted by PardonMyFrench at 7:24 AM on December 10, 2020 [1 favorite]


This trope is flippant but the grit of its pearl seems decent:
1. Find some customers who want more work than you've got time to do.
2. Find some partners who want to work in the same way you do (and those are great goals, nice one).
3. ??? (but this should be obvious: herd cats cash flows)
4. Profit!

Focusing on earning and keeping a good reputation plus working only with effective team-members who want to keep working with you make for two compelling differentiating factors over other software teams.

Your marketing might choose to focus on having past customers request you again and refer you to their friends. Your hiring migt also focus on past partners and having colleagues suggest people they know and for-whom they are willing to vouch. Do you have people you've worked with in the past who you could call on today?
posted by k3ninho at 8:37 AM on December 10, 2020 [1 favorite]


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