Why did I fail with the online code-generation services – Advise(II): Don’t sell to developers

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(cross-posted from the “Stories of a (failed) entrepreneur” blog)

This is the second in a series of posts trying to explain what I think went wrong with my attempt of selling online code-generation services, that I end up giving up for free due to the lack of clients.

In the previous post, I recommended to Choose a cool technology to sell.

My second advice is don’t try to sell to developers. Sure, I’m not the first one to say this, but I fell in this trap nonetheless.

Let’s start with the “why’s”:

If you knew it would be hard, why you chose to build a product for developers in the first place?. Well, first it’s in our human nature to think we can do better than others so we tend to believe their failure was due to other reasons and not the fact that the market was indeed difficult. The second reason, IMHO, why we tend to build products for developers is that, as developers ourselves, we know and like the domain so instead of investigating opportunities in other domains (as I did with my new project) we prefer to stay in our comfort zone.

And why selling to developers is so hard? My main reasons are:
- Developers are used to get things for free. You’ll most likely be competing with free and even open source alternatives of your product
- Developers have a better idea of how difficult is to create the product you’re trying to sell and may think they can build it themselves
- In a company, developers are not the ones with the money. So, your product must so great that they decide to talk management into buying it.

In my specific case, there was an aggravating factor. A common aspect mentioned by all vendors of MDE/code-generation tools I interviewed was that, at the beginning, to sell their tools they had to prove to each individual client the benefits of using the tool (usually this meant working together with the client in a first project almost for free to showcase all the tool possibilities). Being a micropreneur, this was impossible in my case. Again, if you choose a cool technology to sell you may not have last problem.

Any other reasons you want to share?

Usual Disclaimer: “Yes I know that you have a great product for developers and you’re becoming rich with it (congratulations!). You’re one of the few success stories but not the rule”

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