Tuesday, March 13, 2007 9:41 PM
Leveraging Emerging Technology as a Foundation for your Startup Software Company
There are many software engineers who are unhappy with their current jobs or seeking a greater challenge. Many dream of starting their own company and are at a loss for that revolutionary idea. If you have an idea and it's truly unique, patentable, and has a viable and proven market, congratulations, you've achieved the first step. You probably do not need to leverage another technology in this case. However, most entrepreneurs aren't quite that brilliant and would benefit from building on the momentum of an emerging technology. This is especially the case if you are looking to avoid venture by bootstrapping.
This is exactly how Atalasoft was founded. The emerging technology we leveraged was the Microsoft's .NET Framework in 2002/2003, and my idea was to develop a document management and imaging toolkit specifically for Microsoft .NET developers. It was a gap that needed to be filled and would be filled by another company if we didn't act quickly. The idea wasn't unique and it wasn't patentable (although we have patents now, but that came later). The technology was new enough that it gave me time to compile a small team, develop a competitive product, and deliver, all before industry players could react. We became the first to market an imaging toolkit for Microsoft .NET and our strategy for leveraging emerging technology worked.
The Microsoft .NET Framework is no longer new, but it didn't take long for me to come up with five new technologies that a developer could leverage as the foundation for a new company:
1) A few weeks ago Microsoft released Windows Vista; their first new OS in 6 years with some really cool new features for developers including Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), Windows Communication Foundation (WCF), and Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF). I was reading an article in the Boston Globe the other day titled The Vista Effect about a study that claims for every $1 spent on the Vista Operating system, it's partners will sell $18.61 in products and services.
2) Dual core processors are now powering even the cheapest of new computers, with very few applications that take advantage of them. Developing a faster alternate solution to an existing problem by taking advantage of multi-core processors with parallelized programming is a great opportunity for a new business. Think of all the applications that could use a performance boost from everyday consumer apps to industry specific vertical apps.
3) The concept of a computer in every living room is coming to life with Microsoft's Vista Media Center, Windows Home Server, and Apple's iTV. This is a huge opportunity to develop consumer software for the living room that could end up in millions of homes. A PC in every living room opens the door for many product opportunities for home automation. Personally I'm not much of a gadget geek, but I love the media center at home, and the idea I can develop applications to extend the media center. Our new house is going to have media center "extenders" in a few rooms to stream music and video. There are many applications I'd love to see in this area that are just not available yet.
4) Many cell phones and other mobile devices now pack more power than most high end PC's from less than 10 years ago. However the applications that run on these mobile devices are much more limited than the applications we had on desktops then. Mobile application development has had a slow start, but it's about time for the software to catch up with the hardware.
5) Let's face it. There's a lot of money to be made in niche business applications. Leverage the extensibility of the SAAS success story salesforce.com, and develop your own hosted business application based on their AppExchange platform. Your application will be marketed by Salesforce and available to thousands of companies desperately looking for solutions for their business application problems.
This list illustrates technologies that I am familiar with and are bound to grow or are already experiencing growth. The list could go on and on as the opportunities for new software applications are endless.
Yes, there are downsides. For one, don't expect to create the next billion dollar company. Although I'm sure it's possible, it's certainly not likely if you are planning on leveraging another company's technology. You'll never grow as big as that company.
The other downside is that whatever idea you decide on, there will probably be at least one or more competitors looking to obtain the same market. You must be the first at something. Differentiate!
Whatever idea that you decide to go with, you better love it, because if you are successful you will be living and breathing this idea and industry for many years to come. I'm sure we'll see more companies like YouTube, NetFlix, and Flickr, but chances of success are a lot greater when leveraging emerging technology.