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Livingston: Is there any advice you would give a programmer who wanted to
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start a startup who wants to avoid having to take any outside investment
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Spolsky: It s totally possible. I would recommend that you create a weblog and
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have millions of readers every month from around the world that read it. That s not really necessarily followable. Step two is a little bit hard. I think it s Larry Wall who used to have this saying about Perl that, Well, if you don t like it, just make your own language and then make it popular. That was his way of refuting any and all complaints about the Perl syntax or whatever. So the reason I m saying this, even though it s tongue-in-cheek, is that we definitely got a lot of publicity what a traditional company would call PR through Joel on Software. And that caused us to get an enormous number of initial customers. After that, our products spread by word of mouth. Existing
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companies buy more, and people leave those companies and go to other companies and buy it. They ve never heard of Joel on Software, but they re still buying our stuff. We ve actually seen that in the curve. Whereas, in the early days, we would ask people on our website, How d you hear about Fog Creek when they purchased things, and 100 percent of the people that filled out that field would write, Joel on Software. Now it s down to about 30 percent. It s dramatically reduced, but it s still there, so to some extent I don t believe this is a replicable model. Because I ve seen a lot of people that maybe can t write in as exciting a way, or maybe don t have things to say that other people happen to want to read try to replicate that model and maybe succeed and maybe not. Unfortunately, startups have to find something that works for them. In our case, our software didn t really have a strong viral nature to it, and so using Joel on Software got the word out there that we make software products. It worked very well for us, but it s not necessarily a model that anyone else could be successful following. I remember one of the stupidest things I ever wrote on Joel on Software. I was giving advice on writing technical specifications, and I said, Be funny. The reason that was stupid was that I later realized that most people, when they try to be funny, aren t that funny. They just look kind of sad. That s like, Be born to rich parents. It s not that useful advice for most people.
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Livingston: Did you have any competitors that you worried about Spolsky: Probably, but I never really worried about them. It s sort of funny, but,
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because Joel on Software has such a wide readership, a lot of people say, Hey, if Joel can do this, I can do this too. And they ll copy the model all the way down to the actual product. I believe there have now been seven clones of FogBugz. The most extreme example was somebody that reimplemented the whole thing, but copied our user interface word for word, so the help file was actually a copyright violation, which we had to tell him to change. But it was an exact clone of FogBugz in every single way. He later used all kinds of nasty search engine optimization techniques, got banned from Google, and that was the end of his business. That was the worst extreme. On the other hand, there are people, who we generally respect a lot more, who kind of said, Oh yeah, bug tracking. We could do that, or We have one of those. So all told, I think there are probably seven competitors. The interesting thing is what they copied. They didn t really copy the code; they copied the implementation of how FogBugz works. But they missed what made us successful. They didn t really copy Joel on Software. And I think what s happening to those seven people right now is they are getting an object lesson that merely copying the product that another company makes does not make you successful. We re not afraid of those people by any stretch of the imagination. Sometimes they can be aggravating, but we don t really care. More than that though, we ve long had a philosophy of pretty much ignoring our competitors. When I first went to work at Microsoft, there was a person
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