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Founder at Work: Joel Spolsky, Cofounder of Fog Creek Software

November 1st, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

In this month’s “Founder at Work” installment (based on the interviews in Jessica Livingston’s book Founders at Work), I decided to write about one of my favorite past columnists at Inc. Magazine, Joel Spolsky.  Ignore the fact that he’s a programmer, because this guy can write. As a small business owner, you have got to love him when you learn that he and his friend Michael Pryor founded Fog Creek Software in 2000 without a product in mind.  They just wanted to create a company where they’d like to work.  That simple premise has kept them profitable and privately held for 10 years.  (In case you’re curious, Fog Creek helps developers make better software.)

What you can learn from Joel Spolsky, Cofounder of Fog Creek Software:

Your blog can generate clients and fuel your business. Fog Creek started out as a software consultancy, and their first clients came on board via Joel’s blog, Joel on Software, which he still publishes.  After 2 months of writing the blog and building an audience, Fog Creek was launched.  Their first 3 clients all read—and were fans of—the blog and contacted Fog Creek rather than vice versa.

Maybe your Plan B should be your Plan A. When consulting totally dried up in November 2000—2 months after Fog Creek was founded—they decided to package and sell an internal bug-tracking application called FogBugz.  It immediately took off and remains the company’s core product.

Create a great company culture and you won’t have to worry about hiring and retaining awesome employees. Since I am not a programmer, I did not know this, but though programmers are paid well, they are usually treated like crap and are typically lined up desk-to-desk in a huge room like a bunch of sardines.  Fog Creek’s programmers have private offices with comfy Aeron chairs and doors that close.  Programmers report to other programmers, and they get 4 weeks of vacation plus 1 week of holidays.

Don’t fake it. Because both Joel and Michael are programmers, they knew nothing about sales and marketing. To get around that little problem, they came up with all sorts of marketing ideas that didn’t always work, and they ended up wasting valuable time and effort.  What they should have been doing, they later realized, was improving their products.

Your customers are smarter than you are. If you want to grow your business and increase your sales, just talk to your customers and find out what they need and what would make them buy more of your product or service.  Ask customers who walked away before buying why they went to the competition. And ignore the competition.

Photo Courtesy of Joel Spolsky

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