How can I run my one-man software business from abroad?
March 12, 2007 1:45 PM   Subscribe

How can I continue to operate my one-man software business while out of the country for 3 months?

I've been preparing a piece of software which I'm almost ready to start selling. But I'm planning on going away on a long study trip abroad this summer, from late May to early September. This has been planned for a long time, and it's fixed. So how can I keep an eye on my business and make necessary changes?

I don't want to wait until I get back to launch. But I also don't want to be unable to update my website or do customer service or patch my code. I think I have a few options:
1. Internet cafes. Not fond of this idea because of security concerns, as I would want to be able to check on my sales and so on.
2. Home connection. I'll be staying with a host family (I'm going to France), and I have no idea whether they'll have the net and I don't want to be an annoying guest by hogging their net!
3. Public wifi. I would have to take my own laptop, but all my files are on it so I may have to do this anyway. Plus, I don't know whether there will be any hotspots where I'm going.
4. Get someone else to look after it while I'm away.

What do you think? If it was just email there wouldn't be a problem. I just don't want to find out there's a bug that really needs to be fixed and I can't do it for three months!

Opinions gratefully received. Thanks, Chris.
posted by csugden to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
You'll need a multi-layered approach.

1. Have a bulletproof backup of your work files ferreted away. Or two.
2. Set up a VNC to a machine back home so you can be assured of a secure connection, and do bring your laptop.
3. Research the availability of public wifi.
4. Find someone reliable to act as your major-domo. Assume that you'll be handling most of the work, but have him copied on everything, with the understanding that if there's an e-mail or downtime that isn't taken care of within X hours that he should step in.
5. Burn an emergency DVD-ROM and have access to enough cash/credit to buy a replacement laptop, just in case.
posted by adamrice at 2:08 PM on March 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Since you haven't started selling already, I would strongly advocate waiting until you're back from your trip before selling your software product. Supporting paid users can be much more demanding than you think it is (and it's exponentially more demanding than supporting unpaid users). It doesn't take much of a bug to start taking away lots of your time that should be spent enjoying a baguette and a glass of bordeaux.

You've been planning this trip a long time. It will be over in September, regardless of whether you've spent it enjoying France, or fixing bugs. Go enjoy France.

But, to answer the question:

1. Put everything you need for development and builds on your laptop, and bring it. If you've got to do any work, you'll want to have all of your tools available to you, even if you're offline. Don't assume that you'll have reliable access to anything that you didn't/can't bring with you.

2. Get a solid backup solution, like carbonite, or leave a DVD-R with a friend who can FedEx it to you in an emergency. Make sure your insurance covers replacing your laptop for damage or theft -- while you are still on the road (lots of travel insurance will expect you to wait until you return before replacing your machine).

3. If you've got a dedicated machine on the Internet (or a VPS or something), then set up OpenVPN or an equivalent. Use it whenever you're on a public or untrusted network, and your packets won't be sniffed.

4. Yes, get a friend who you trust to run the business for you while you're gone. Bring something nice back from France for him, and pay him for his time (this is a business, after all)
posted by toxic at 3:01 PM on March 12, 2007

Don't even consider launching then leaving.

I don't know your product, but sales slow down in the summer and decision makers go on vacation. Why ruin your trip for the slow season anyway?
posted by mrbugsentry at 3:23 PM on March 12, 2007

Assuming you take your laptop: I've never been to France, but I've worked remotely from central Europe several times, relying on bars & cafes that have wireless access points. They're actually not all that difficult to find, even in out of the way places. Research it well in advance, though, because I also found a lot of internet cafes that didn't have wireless and had policies against customers plugging their laptops into the LAN. If you don't want to dick around with VPNs, you can get a cheap virtual private server somewhere, set up SVN on it, and do everything with SSH port forwarding.

But as a workaholic software engineer myself, I suggest that you just take the couple months to enjoy yourself. Bug fixing sucks, and it sucks a hundred times more when it prevents you from exploring a new country.
posted by cmonkey at 5:00 PM on March 12, 2007

Of course you don't launch and leave.

Look, the product is secondary. What you're really establishing here is your professional credibility. Would you buy software from somebody you knew was going to skip town for a nice distracting sabbatical in Europe right after you bought it? Or would you rather go with the guy who is totally absorbed with the product, the business, and the customers?

People who are serious about business start ups simply do not take time off. Period.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:04 PM on March 13, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you all for your thoughts. I think you've helped me claw back a little perspective.

As for credibility etc., the program is only a little game, not corporate software. So there's not really any professional credibility at stake - just whether the program is good (i.e. whether I can fix the bugs!).

But the more important thing is, as you say, why I planned to go originally. I'll bear this all in mind. Thanks for your help.
posted by csugden at 1:07 AM on March 14, 2007

Don't down talk the game! Be bold. It's the greatest thing since Tetris and it will be the making of you. And if it isn't, the next one will be.

Meantime- have a wonderful time in France and be sure to put the web link on the projects page when you get back.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:09 PM on March 14, 2007

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