Author: Bob Walsh
Publisher: Apress, 2009
Aimed at: Wide readership including developers
Pros: Lots of advice culled from many sources
Cons: More questions than answers
Reviewed by: Sue Gee
The back jacket blurb for this book reads: "If there's a software startup company in your developer heart, this is the book that will make it happen" - having read the book I don't really think it will help you.
The book is intended to motivate and to inform but its formula is not going to work for every reader. It's a fairly thick volume - just over 400 pages devoted to the main text - and it covers a lot of topics and provides many opinions. What it doesn't do is develop a theme in a straightforward, linear fashion.
Author Bob Walsh tells us in the acknowledgments that the way he writes a book is to ask a lot of knowledgeable people a lot of pesky questions. In the case of this book he presents lots of interviews, both his questions and the experts answers plus some material culled from blogs. Some of this works reasonably well, some of it less well and some of it should have been discarded.
So what is the book about? Bob Walsh's first book, Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality was about how to launch and maintain a business as a one-person software vendor and it is obvious from this book that the micro-ISV model is still one that appeals to him. The distinction he makes between startups and micro-ISVs is simply one of funding and size - a sole developer relying on their own funding is in the latter category whereas three developers plus one web designer who have raised $200,000 to build a web app constitutes a startup. Three other flavours are categorised - traditional - much larger scale; side project which is seen as good for résumé building and Open Source projects. In the second chapter one of the main messages that emerge is that rather than look for an idea for a start-up the starting point should be a problem that needs to be solved.
Chapter Three moves on to look at platforms - SaaS (Software as a Service) and the emerging alternative of PaaS (Platform as a Service). Walsh distinguishes three species of PaaS vendors: GYMAZ, standing for Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon; multi-tenant applications such as Salesforce.com's Force.com; and social platforms including Facebook. He also considers the mobile platform, iPhone and Android in particular; hybrid or cross-platform platforms where Adobe Flex/AIR and Silverlight are considered the two big players; plug-in, modules and templates for Open Source projects such as WordPress, Joomla and Drupla and for both the Mac and Windows desktop. This chapter is full of opinion but at the end of the day it is up to the reader to choose their own direction.
The following chapter, "Tools and Groups for Startups", covers tools you can buy or subscribe to rather than build from scratch. GitHub, Unfuddle, SourceGear Vault are just the first three in the list. Online and offline places to meet and talk to other would-be startup founders and vendor programs for startups from both Microsoft, BizSpark, and Sun are also mentioned.
Chapter 5, "Money: Raise, Manage, Make" is probably the one that people buy this book for. However while it includes lots of opinion in some lengthy interviews there are no easy answers. Chapter 6 is devoted to social media and blogging as ways to get attention and the following chapter, entitled "Clarity Matters" goes into more details about how to communicate your startup's message.
The message of Chapter 8, "Getting It Done" is that success entails a lot of hard work. Five core principles of GTD - collecting, processing, organizing, reviewing, doing - that are outlined and summarized are provided courtesy of productivity expert David Allen, author of the book Getting things Done - the art of stress free productivity and the heart of the chapter is a long interview with him. Chapter Nine has advice from "Six Wise People" including four sucessful software company founders and the final short chapter concludes with the advice "If you don't give up, you're going to succeed", which may be a comforting thought.