Magazine Article | May 31, 2019

Building Software Vs. Building A Company

Source: Software Executive magazine

By Abby Sorensen, Chief Editor

This tweet has stuck with me for many weeks. Actually, I printed it out and pinned it up next to the collection of golf scorecards and pictures of my dog that surround my desk:

What I thought we were building: a SOFTWARE company What we’re actually building: a software COMPANY

You might have to read it twice (go ahead, we’ll wait). Get it? Now let it sink in. Read it again for good measure.

Kudos to Ben Orenstein (@r00k), co-founder and CEO of Tuple, a low-latency tool for remote pair programming, for so eloquently articulating this idea. It struck a chord with plenty of software folks on Twitter, too. Here were some of their comments:

  • “The software business is a whole lot more about business than it is about software.”
  • “+1000. It may sound trite but so often overlooked. Founders forget they’re building a product and an organization at the same time. Often they think the first is more important than the second when it’s totally reversed.”
  • “Absolutely this. Wish more tech founders would realize.”
  • “This encapsulates so much truth."
  • “When we started ours it was code code code. As you pick up customers it becomes business business business.”

And then there was the comment, “Why can’t it be both?” Perhaps the best way to answer that would be to point out that if it were easy to build both, everyone would start and build a successful software business. Orenstein’s tweet reminded me of a guest article Jason Cohen, founder and CTO of WP Engine, wrote way back in our February 2018 issue. In it, he talked about how finding the critical intersection of joy, skill, and need helped him find purpose in his work.

Many technically inclined founders are skilled engineers, they find joy in writing code, and the company needs their code in order to become a company. But what about when it comes to hiring? Or sales forecasting? Or managing a struggling engineer? Or raising a seed round? Or reviewing next quarter’s marketing budget? Now we’re talking about things that are needed and require skill but are likely lacking in the joy department. That’s where the COMPANY part of Orenstein’s tweet hits home with so many people working in software. As software companies scale, it starts to feel a lot more like work — and not the kind of work that inspired founders in the first place.

So, what to do when you find yourself working more on the COMPANY and less on the software? Whatever you do, please don’t stop reading Software Executive. You could start a new company, but eventually, if you’re successful, that lower-case “c” company will turn into a COMPANY. Instead, you could take up golf, which will keep you busy for a lifetime. If paying lots of money to chase a little white ball around for hours at a time in unpredictable weather doesn’t sound like your thing, then I’ll suggest this: Figure out what you do love about the SOFTWARE side of the business, and then go do some of that. Just because you recently hired a new VP of Engineering doesn’t mean you can never touch a line of code again. Even if it’s just for five percent of your time, find space to reconnect with what you find joy in doing.