Frogfoot++

Big changes all around. Frogfoot moved offices and announced the sale and migration of its consumer client base this week.

You can read the official announcement and story here.. but I figured I’d share some unofficial and personal thoughts.

Brief history

We started Frogfoot in July 2000 with a simple business model. Internet services for businesses. The two founders were both working full time jobs at the time so it made sense to have a niche operation. Frogfoot was the reason we could play with new and interesting toys and tinker with open source software. It was all good fun.

Four years later we moved into our first office space. Frogfoot became our full time gig… a day job. We hired a number of people. Let’s call this Frogfoot 2.0. We started diversifying and growing the consumer side of the business.

This week, eight years later we moved into our second office space and we are making a fresh start, in some ways going back to a very similar point from where we started. Frogfoot 3.0. Back to basics, lean and mean.

A few changes

  • No more software development
  • No more Stellenbosch office
  • Staff numbers went from 20ish recently to 6 people
  • Client numbers went from 1000+ to the 100 range

A few observations.. wisdom and perfect hindsight

  • Focus. Don’t get side tracked. It’s often hard to walk away and say no but it’s a very useful discipline to master. If you come across a new cool idea.. ask yourself if the idea is good enough to be a business on its own, then start a new focused business.
  • The 80/20 Rule. If you know 80% of your profit is coming from 20% of your customers and the other 80% use up most of your time.. find a way to work with the clients you want to work with.
  • The call centre model sucks. It’s a back breaking endless war zone. The best support is no support. The only way to provide mass market support is to have fully automated self-help systems and smart customers who know how to use them. Call centres and support help desks are an HR nightmare. You really have to have the personality for it. Personally I think all call centres are doomed.
  • Make sure you have solid business foundations. Make real profit.. 20%+ or walk away. If the industry starts selling the same commodity service you sell below cost.. drop it and run, as fast as you can.
  • Do the stuff you are good at. Don’t play catch-up.
  • Don’t work harder, work smarter. Your time is worth more.
  • Finding the right people is hard. Keeping people motivated, who are not naturally self motivated is even harder. People like stability and predictability. Keeping them motivated in an uncertain environment is painful.
  • Internal communication is very important.
  • Some personalities just don’t work well for managing people.
  • Pride only hurts. Make rational decisions. Place your bets and stick with them.
  • Decision making is the ultimate power. I remember driving in a taxi in Barcelona. We suspected we were going the wrong way. The meter is ticking. There is a major language barrier. Do you go along for the ride or do you cut your losses and say “take me back to the start”?
  • Option paralysis and Occam’s razor. The simple answer is usually the right answer, not making a decision is always the wrong answer.
  • Walk away from sunk costs. Especially software development costs. The software development game is messy. It’s like patching a broken fishbowl while driving on a dirt road. The more silicone gel you use the less you can see the goldfish. Avoid software development if you can.
  • Don’t count your chickens… At some point I figured it’s a bit depressing growing a business for 8 years, yet finding myself sucked in more and more and not being able put a price tag on it that motivated 8 years of efforts. What I realised is that Frogfoot was an excellent learning environment. A stepping stone. Frogfoot gave us the skills, experience, time and flexibility to start a number of other ventures.. and if I add all that up, I’m more than happy with my 8 years of effort.

That turned out to be a longer list than the quick brain dump I had in mind.

See you on the flip side kids.
Rock ‘n Roll.

4 thoughts on “Frogfoot++

  1. Do you mean contracted software development. Like people say “I need X made” and you do it, right?

    Anyway, I learnt early on through freelance work and trying to run my own business that contracted software development is possibly the worst thing ever. If people have Big Idea’s then let them set up their own business and do it them self. There is no money in software development, the skills required always cost more than Mr Big Ideas is willing to pay. Post support is also more costly than it’s worth, and you’re spend your life in a constant struggle with client pressured featurism. The absolute worst possible thing ever is to be won over by a company who wants you to invest your time for free to develop a product.

    Making a new product however is just a gamble, either you loose (and little compared to the investment needed for the development of other industry products) or you win big. You need to be so very careful about what you think is a good product idea, and the best software products seem to be born out of necessity rather than trying to carve a niche in the hope people will adopt it. That way the project can evolve correctly and not have unsuitable demands from outside sources who don’t understand development.

    1. Yes! Yes! Someone agrees with me! Software development sucks! No money on it! High Five! Bump Chests NBA-style!

      Another comment: I do feel bad for Mr Big Ideas. He is in a bad situation too… But… developers are not investors. They do not profit from his success, so they should not finance his failures.

      My advice: Stop being suckers! That goes for both parties: contractors and employers.

  2. Hi Colin

    I agree with your ideas. Dev skills are expensive. In Frogfoot’s case we were spending a lot of money on in-house systems.. which is fun, but it’s very specific to your own needs so you’re not creating something of value.. at least not directly.

  3. “The software development game is messy. It’s like patching a broken fishbowl while driving on a dirt road. The more silicone gel you use the less you can see the goldfish. Avoid software development if you can.” – Priceless!!!

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