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automatic email with a 25 percent off coupon that you have to use in the next 72 hours.) When we launched that, it did increase our sales a little bit. It gets people to evaluate the demo version right away because they don t want to lose their 25 percent off coupon which is going to expire. These were all marginally good marketing ideas. Unfortunately we spent a lot of time chasing them. The one thing we learned over 5 years is that nothing works better than just improving your product. Every minute, every developer hour we spent on any one of these crazy things although they had some marginal return on the work that we put into them was nothing compared to just making a better version of the product and releasing it. If we had taken all the effort we put into these crazy schemes and put it into moving our software development schedule ahead by the equivalent amount, it would have paid off much more. That was probably the biggest mistake we made. And that s the advice I give everybody. All those little coupon schemes, this is what General Motors does. They figure out new rebate schemes because they forgot all about how to design cars people want to buy. But when you still remember how to make software people want, great, just improve it. Talk to your customers. Find out what they need. Don t pay any attention to the competition. They re not relevant to you. Only talk to your customers and your potential customers and see what it is that caused them not to buy your product or would cause them to buy more copies of it. And do that, and then ship it. That was something we really, really should have focused on, but, you know, we didn t know any better.
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Livingston: Do you consciously not take any investments Spolsky: Yeah, absolutely. We took no investments because there were so many
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horror stories about what VCs would do to you. ArsDigita was the most public one, obviously, of kicking out the founders and then mismanaging the company and bringing in the so-called professional management. You can definitely see how, if you re an investor at a VC stage, when you look at your investments and you look at the kind of founders you have of companies, it s obvious that some of the founders are just hardcore geeks that are never going to develop into good managers of a large company. Some of them are founders precisely because they wouldn t be good managers of a large company. So in those kinds of companies, you probably do want to bring in better management, if you can find it. Although I don t necessarily believe that VCs really have the ability to do that or that it ever works trying to bring in professional CEOs. There is a justification for saying a lot of founders would not be good managers, but there are an awful lot of companies being run by founders that do a pretty good job of running them by themselves. So we didn t want that to happen; we didn t want to be forced to do anything we didn t want to do. I find new reasons every day why I m thankful that we never took any kind of outside investment. Let me give you a small example. The board of directors consists of (because we re private and we can do whatever we want) me, Michael, and my boyfriend, Jared. Jared had a friend that
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Joel Spolsky 355
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had an idea of some way that we could modify FogBugz to be really useful to the investment community as something I don t remember what, but something that the investment community could really use that s 5 percent different than FogBugz. And I kept thinking, This is a huge distraction, and there s not a big enough market. I just want to stick to our core competency, and I m not interested in doing software for the financial markets. He kept saying, No, no. You ve got to talk to this guy. You could make a lot of money off this. It would be great. I kept thinking, You know what, if it was a real board of directors and the VCs were bringing you these great ideas, you wouldn t really have any choice but to say yes. And you d keep getting distracted to do their pet projects that they dreamed up in the shower one night and they think might be a good idea, and you just don t think it s a good idea. You don t really have the ability to say no when you take those outside investments. It s hard to tell your investors, Let me just go in my own direction. There are things that we do, boy, that I m so thankful that I don t have to answer to anybody. I don t think it s possible to have private offices for developers when you re VC-funded, because it looks extravagant. I think that it s worth paying for in terms of the productivity you get. We spend an outrageous amount of money on quality office space that other people don t. That makes it easier to recruit and makes us more productive, I believe. But I ve heard from people that it would be considered completely unacceptable by the average VC to have private office space because it s considered an extravagance of a successful company or something like that. And, you know, Why aren t you all in the same room talking I ve had that argument whether it s better to have private offices for developers. I don t want to have that argument anymore. I don t want to have to try to convince people anymore. Certain features flying first class, Aeron chairs, double monitors, the best computers that money can buy these are things which might be considered extravagant, but it s nice just to be able to do things the way that we believe they should be done, without having to have a big argument educating other people as to why we know how to develop software and they don t.
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