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Starting a Business as a Developer In 2017

Developers are really good at coding. And when you’re trying to start a company, that can become a huge problem.

As a developer, I’m tempted to solve every business problem I have with code. It’s taken a long time, but I’m finally learning when to step away from the keyboard. And if you’re a developer trying to create a product or start a company in 2017, there are a few things you should know.

1. Supplying a demand does not automatically mean a transaction occurs.

This has been the most difficult to understand. You see, I always thought that if I created a product that people were looking for, they would automatically give me their money.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The reality is, web consumers are probably the pickiest of any consumer group. For me, and probably many of you, paying for software is the exception, not the rule. I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve paid for software. With that perspective, you’ll quickly learn that customers never just throw their money at you. They flash their wallets, sure, but between you and that is months and months of work.

Just because you have something someone wants, it doesn’t mean a transaction takes place.

Instead, it requires understanding your users, learning about their preferences, learning to keep them interested and engaged, learning how to re-engage with them if they lose interest, and learning how to position your product as one people want to buy.

All of this is very hard, especially without a marketing background. It is surpassable though. It just takes time. That takes us to our next point.

2. It will take time.

It’s very unlikely that the first iteration of your product is the thing that people are going to pay money for. Instead, you’ll have to build an audience slowly, while iterating based on a combination of their feedback and personal insight.

At every iteration, you stand a chance of gaining access to a newer audience, and with every new audience, you discover ways of improving that allow you to expand to even broader audiences. This process takes months and months, and really never ends. The best thing you can do is learn to enjoy this process, as it will become the water you swim in everyday.

It’s certainly not for the faint of heart. I know I’ve wanted to give up many times. I’ve found the best way of sticking with something is not having a way out. You sort of stick with it by default then.

3. Learn to step away from the code.

Code can make your company, but it can also run it to the ground. Marc Andreessen, famed startup investor, wrote an article some time back where he considered what made startups succeed.

He considered three factors:

  1. How good the product was (code, design, UI/UX)
  2. How good the team was
  3. Product/market fit (having the right product for the right audience)

He observed that in many cases, he had encountered startups that had a not-perfect product and a not-great team but still found considerable success because they had found an audience (a “market”) interested and willing to pay for their product.

In working on Standard Notes, I’ve learned to catch myself whenever I’m tempted to solve marketing problems with code.

Maybe I need to add more features to increase engagement? Maybe the UI needs to be more polished? Maybe it’s missing this, maybe it needs that.

Stop. Step away from the keyboard, and ask yourself, “what problem do I really have?

In many cases, it’s likely a marketing problem and not a code problem. Recently, I’ve had the goal of increasing traffic to Standard Notes. As a developer, my first inclination is to write more code. “More code means more features means better experience means more customers. Wrong. (More code means more bugs.) So I stop myself, and repeat several times:

You have a marketing problem, not a code problem.
You have a marketing problem, not a code problem.

Learning to differentiate a marketing problem from a code problem will be one of the most important skills you’ll be required to learn.

4. Don’t give up.

How is it that people from all around the world – regardless of gender, ethnicity, culture, and socio-economic status – are able to find success? If success feels like dumb luck most of the time, why is it reproducible?

It is my personal belief that the only common factor in successful individuals and companies is not intelligence nor resources: it’s the fact they didn’t give up.

If you don’t give up, the “market will teach you what you need to become in order to find success. That transformation process will be the hardest thing you’ll ever go through. But if you stick with it, it’ll be worth your while.

Learn more about about Standard Notes, a simple notes app with unmatched privacy and encryption:

I write a couple articles a month on building and marketing a business as a developer. If you’d like to be notified of the next article, send me an email at and just say hi :)

Three stories you should read:

  1. Surviving Open-Source
    If you’re building a software product, saying no will be the most important skill to master.

  2. “How many users do you have?”
    How to have better conversations with the people you meet.

  3. How to get your first 100 users
    Getting your product off the ground is easier than you think.

Top comments (8)

walker profile image
Walker Harrison

paying for software is the exception, not the rule

Definitely agree with this. I think the only software I pay for individually is Dropbox at $10/month. Otherwise, I'm searching far and wide for a free substitute. I think the sentiment changes dramatically though when shifting from B2C to B2B. Even at a small company, we're willing to try all sorts of things out on a subscription basis for a few months.

fp2sec profile image
cd /

I think the sentiment changes dramatically though when shifting from B2C to B2B.

This has definitely been my experience. I've been building Android/iOS apps for manufacturing plant floors, and customers are happy to try anything to improve their business process.

walker profile image
Walker Harrison

Right. much harder to recoup expenses as a mere individual

traviswerbelow profile image
Travis Werbelow

You have a marketing problem, not a code problem.

This is perfect. I struggle with this one for sure. That and striking a balance of learning some new technology, or using the 'boring' stack I already know for the project.

badtyprr profile image
Simeon Trieu

Thanks for this article, well said.

The business customers I interact with as a contractor are averse to subscription models and would rather pay for everything up front and own it, even if that cost is high. I think consumers are actually not that different. We're looking for open source solutions because we're also sick of the hit to our pocketbook every month.

radioakt profile image
James Audry Spencer • Edited

Pardon my english
Interesting note
I really believe that you need 3 ingredients to start a successful business;

  1. someone who has a true business "spirit" or a vision to share
  2. a business and marketing developper with a dense network to rely on
  3. technical knowledge it's quite rare to embody those 3 true talents in 1 soul therefore you take risk at eating all your patience, and i been there Thanx for sharing your experience

Happy coding

xiaohuoni profile image


abramjstamper profile image
Abram Stamper

I needed this. Such a great (set of) articles for devs pursing entrepreneurship. Thank you.

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