Karl, SaaS Founder (ex Employee)
When I transitioned from being an employee at a large company to becoming a founder, there were many possible ways to go. In the end, I ended up combining different roles to be able to make a career from my own companies.
Ever since the first unicorn tech companies started turning billions of dollars in profit and employing thousands of engineers, the number of software engineering employees with a dream to one day start their own company has been increasing rapidly. According to Stack Overflows developer survey, 25% of developers hope to be working as a founder or a co-founder of their own company in five years.
The reasons why developers like you want to start their own companies are many. Some of the most common reasons are:
Of course, one of the biggest reasons for starting a company is to be able to make a lot of money. While the average developer salary is higher than for many other professions, it rarely reaches the life changing levels that building a successful company can reach. Instead of trading time for money, you can use your skills to build a product and trade the value that the product brings your customers for money. If the product turns a profit and shows growth potential, there any many investors and other software companies who are looking for potential acquisitions. Note though that statistics say that most companies do not survive even their first year. Making a lot of money from starting a company is something that requires a lot of hard work and dedication.
Not having to go to an office or showing up to the daily standup call every day is something many developers dream about. Being able to have full control over your time can be good for your productivity as well. Some days you might be extremely productive and some days you might be stuck battling some issue. Or you get nothing done because of a day full of mandatory meetings. With your own company, you work when you feel like it.
Working as an employee means, in most cases, that you will be building what someone else wants you to build. There is always a CEO, a Product Manager or an Engineering Manager setting the goals for the team. Starting your own company means that you can build a product that you are truly passionate about instead of building someone elses vision.
In the end, developers love to build software. And they usually strong opinions and ideas on how great software should be built. Starting a business means full control over the technology stack used and the founders can be part of every technical decision made.
There are many ways a software developer can start their path to becoming a founder. In this section, we outline various ways that you can take to start a company as a software developer.
Build a SaaS Product
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) products such as X, Y and Z usually solve a business problem and charge a monthly or usage based fee. This is a proven business model that have backed many of the unicorn companies of today.
- Programming - To develop a SaaS, you most likely will have to write some code. There are many different programming languages that you can use to build a SaaS, most likely you can use one that you already know. During recent years, no codde and low code tools that help you speed up your development have also gained traction in the SaaS world.
- Marketing - Getting your products in front of peoples eyes is an art. The strategies you need depend on who you are targeting - maybe you should invest in paid advertising, outreach or SEO.
- Management - Unless you are building a permanent one man startup, there might come a day when you need to employ someone to work for you. In this case, you need management skills to guide them towards building your product vision.
Examples of Solo SaaS Founders
Learn about these founders journeys and get inspired to embark on your journey.
Arvid made a successful exit with his SaaS FeedbackPanda in 2019 and has since then reached further success with courses and books about building online companies.
Pieter founded NomadList.com - a site where remote and travelling developers can find others in the same situation. Today, Pieter is building a portfolio of products with a constantly increasing revenue.
Build Mobile Apps
Mobile apps can be a great source of income as a software entrepreneur. You can build an app that solves a very specific consumer problem and offer it either as a paid app or with a freemium model. Many solo founders run a portfolio of apps that constantly generate revenue with small but frequent transactions.
- Programming - Building apps has become easier over the years with frameworks such as React Native and Flutter emerging along with the native SDKs. If you are experienced with one or two of the most common languages, chances are you can find a way to build an app that suits your skills.
- Marketing - In many cases, mobile apps are targeted to consumers. This might require a particular set of marketing skills that help you reach specific consumers.
Become a YouTube Creator
Sharing your skills, experiences and stories from the world of software is something that you can monetize. Many people today make their living creating content on platforms such as YouTube.
- Video Editing - To get people to stick around and watch your videos, you need to make sure they look good.
- Speaking - YouTube is a medium where you are in the center. With the right speaking skills, you will draw in your audience and make them watch more of your content.
Examples of YouTube Creators
These YouTube creators make millions running their channels. Have a look at how they are doing it to see if it’s something that you could do.
Joma Tech has almost two million followers and posts both comedic and informative videos with a focus on technology.
TechLead has over one million followers and posts videos on how to make money as well as satirical videos on various subjects. TechLead also runs a few different products focusing on helping people get a job in tech.
Become a Consultant
One of the easiest way to start your own company as a developer is to start consulting as a freelancer. This gives you an introduction to running your own company and everything it entails. It can also be easier to work part time as a consultant if you want to work on other projects in parallel.
- Networking - While there many sites that help you find assignments, one of the best channels is your own professional network
- If you are already a developer, investigate which of your skills are in highest demand and make sure to highlight them.
Start an Agency
An agency can be considered the next step after solo consulting. With an agency you have a chance to achieve a higher level of freedom if you delivery team is working for the client while you manage sales and requirements. You could potentially also have a greater say in the technology choices made in the project.
- Sales - Running an agency means you need to find projects for your team to work on.
- Management - An agency means employees that you need to manage not only as employees but also as project team members
Start Your Journey
Any path of combination of the above paths can be your way to running your own business as a developer. You do not need to jump in with both feet though. There is always the possibility of testing ideas in parallel with a full time job or working part time while you are validating your idea. If you never take the first step, you will never experience the rollercoaster that founding a company can be.