This interview is the first in a series of interviews with software developers. I will add more interviews in the coming months.
You are co-founder of http://www.linemetrics.com/ - How, when and why did you launch that company?
I’ve been working on this idea for nearly 3 years now doing some proof-of-concepts and refining the whole concept with a lot of customer feedback. In December 2011 I asked my co-founder Wolfgang Hafenscher if he would like to join me at building a proper company out of the idea. We’ve already worked together on several startup-projects before where we learned one of our most important lessons - focus! So we’re working fulltime on LineMetrics since end of 2011, spent the first months on refining the business model, find mentors, close fundings, talking to customers, network and find our first employees. Right now we are working hard to ship our first prototype which will be available Q3/12.
Linz is not exactly a famous startup hub - what makes it hard to be here? What is the advantage of creating a company in Austria?
Even though we knew there’s a growing startup-scene in Linz and it might be easier to find great ressources there we decided to found our company in our home-village called “Haidershofen”, which is 45km away from Linz. One of the reasons was that we got great support from public pre-seed funds in Lower Austria from day one. The other reason was pretty straight-forward - both founders have families and we wanted our main office close to the place we are living right now.
I don’t know what it is like founding a startup outside Austria. What we’ve seen there are excellent educated people people and a rising number of experienced mentors available here in Austria. And if done right there’s quite a lot of smart money available from public funds.
You “raised” money from the state of Lower Austria. How was getting government money? Was there anything that went particularily well in the process? Was it very bureaucratic?
First of all I have to say that we were lucky that the persons we dealt with were really supportive and were thrilled by the idea. I think it was well recognized that we are not trying to build the next social network. Instead we are building an innovative solution for a solid industry with a high potential.
I would not call it too bureaucratic. We’ve been challenged by both of the two funding institutes which forced us to take a closer look at the market, the customers and the competitors. In the end we came up with a more focused plan, which btw. ended up beeing our official business plan. Of course the ongoing reporting costs some time. But it’s good for controlling reasons anyway and considering the financial benefits it’s really worth the time.
Some people complain that starting a company in Austria can be hard because of high taxes and strict labour laws - How is your experience in these areas?
Personal costs and taxes are really high and take up a major part in our financial planning. But whats the alternative? Found the company in one of the global “startup hubs”? Good software developers in the Valley are almost twice as expensive as here. Same in London.
People in Austria are educated really well and really enthusiastic (given the “right” enviroment). So far moving our company outside Austria has never been an option for us.
What lessons did you learn from your current startup?
I’ve learned a couple of important lessons while working on different startups:
- focus, focus, focus - spend your whole energy building ONE thing
- try to find a mentor who has experience in your domain or at building startups from day one
- go out of the office, network and tell your idea - nobody will steal it, but you'll receive very valuable feedback
- talk to your customer before and while building your product
- develop your business model by using techniques like "the lean canvas" instead of an endless business plan
- don't make any compromises when hiring your first couple of employees - try to form a team of A-class members
- don't waste your time with things (also people) that slow you down or don't work
- there is no place in your team for people you don't trust completely
- raise pre-seed money to be able to develop your business without a lot of financial pressure
- don't get external ressources (students, companies) to build the critical part of your application
How do you ensure a healthy work-life balance as a founder?
Right I have only time for 2 things in my life - my family, I try to spend every minute available with, and LineMetrics. But maybe it is not just about work-life balance, it is about work-fun balance. I would rather like to spend 60+ hours a week working on something I love instead of spending 38,5h/week on a job I hate.
So you have fun doing what you do now?
Live as an entrepreneur is just awesome. It’s not only the own challenge. It’s also about the constructive environment and the people. I do not plan to get back on a regular job if not necessary.
Aren’t there a lot of things outside your main interests that you have to do anyway, now that you run a company?
Of course there are a lot of tasks we (we are 2 founders) did not think about before. But I think we learned pretty fast how to organize and we are getting used to delegate. We already got 2 A-class employees on board who we trust and who can handle some of the work-load originally assigned to us. I think from a team-perspective this is a very key topic if you want to do great progress and scale fast.
What is the best thing about being a programmer? What is the worst?
It’s great to be able to build things. But it can be tough if it is about release dates - especially in bigger teams without agile methods.
Which technology should a software developer learn right now?
Requirements like scaleability, rapid development and usability are always hot topics at startups. But if you look at startups there are so many different technologies used. It’s hard to find a common pattern across these companies. Personally I would learn technologies like NoSQL or In-Memory datastores, rapid development frameworks like Grails, jQuery, CSS and a solid development language like Java. Maybe cloud services like Google AppEngine or backend-frameworks like node.js are also worth mentioning.
But it really dependes on your goals and personal strengths. Developers should get deeper experience either in frontend or backend development - whatever suits them more.
How do you learn new technologies (On the job, in side projects, code katas, …)?
Honestly I watch quite a lot of youtube videos and webcasts from conferences. This gives me a good overview, which technologies fit for any given problem and environment. If I decide to dig deeper on a topic I normally do a hands on at tutorials and try out on stand-alone side projects.
Thank you very much