Indie Tip #5: Think Small (But Act Big)

Wee-Man One of the trickiest things for me as an independent developer has been choosing the right size of applications to build. I didn’t want to make software that only a few people would use, but at the same time, it was out of the question for me to target a huge audience because I’d be unable to handle the support load. So even though my ego didn’t like the idea, I’ve always narrowed my scope in order to build software I could manage.

Each of my applications initially targeted a market that I thought would be too small for a big software company to bother with, but was more than large enough for an independent developer. And each targeted a market that I thought would gradually increase over time, so I’d be able to grow my customer base without suddenly being overwhelmed (with admittedly mixed success).

But just because I chose to think small didn’t mean I had to act small. Surviving as an independent developer requires you to act big. You can’t get away with a substandard UI or feature set just because you’re a small company – in fact, I’d argue that you need to make your product even better than the software created by the big players. A lot of people are nervous about shelling out for software written by a very small company, so you’ve got to show them that you’re worth it.

If you really want to act big, puff up your chest and realize that the fact that you’re small is your best asset. Your size is a competitive advantage, because large companies take forever to write software. In the time it takes for a big company to finish deciding what they’re going to build, you can develop and ship an entire application. And you can respond to market shifts and new technologies much faster, so you can survive even if a large company moves into your space.

5 thoughts on “Indie Tip #5: Think Small (But Act Big)

  1. Just a quick note, Nick, to say “great series!” Much appreciated out here in the various forms of Solo-Developer Land… : )

  2. I am a fan of this serie, too. Keep posting:-)

    This one was very interesting. Here are 2 thoughts/questions:
    – Is there room for trading application’s complexity for audience’s size (still solo)?
    – How the above insight is different for *web* applications (still downloaded)?

  3. Mario, yes – I do believe there’s room for trading complexity for audience size. IMO, the more complex your application is, the smaller your audience will be. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. TopStyle is fairly complex in that it requires more knowledge of HTML/CSS than WYSIWG editors do, but this is one of the things that has made it popular with its users.
    One thing I didn’t mention here was that if you’re seeking to be acquired, you should pretty much ignore what I’ve said :) These days, the size of your customer base is what makes you an attractive target for acquisition, so if you want to strike it rich by being bought by a larger company, you should seek to get as many customers as possible.

  4. Nick,
    Thanks for the post. I completely agree that being small must be used asa competive advantange. And this is true not only in terms of the software development; small companies must be superiour in the customer support as well.

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