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VV Show #56 - Joel Spolsky of Fog Creek Software

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Joel Spolsky

Joel Spolsky first came on Venture Voice over three years ago to discuss his company which he launched in a very different way from most entrepreneurs. Rather than start with the big idea and pay lip service to building a great team, Joel focused on getting great programmers first. The ideas came second. Good thing because his big idea, a content management system called City Desk, never took off. Instead it was his small idea, software to track bugs in other software called FogBugz, that became a cash cow for his company Fog Creek Software. This small idea has provided the funding for his company to expand into three other product lines, all with just $50,000 in seed capital from Joel's savings account invested when Fog Creek was started. Since we last caught up with Joel, he's moved into a new office in Lower Manhattan that sports closed offices for all of his programmers and a large area where free lunch is served every day (eat your heart out Google). Listen to how Joel's expanded his business.

Show sponsor: FreshBooks - an easy online invoicing provider used by Venture Voice

2:25 Original vision for Fog Creek Software (now four products: Copilot, FogBugz, Stack Overflow, and the Joel on Software Job Board) - listen to Joel's first interview on Venture Voice in 2005

3:35 From content management to bug tracking software

4:35 "Content management was taken over by blog tools."

5:05 Copilot: remote tech support tool, grew out of an internship project.

6:30 Shifted Copilot from a day pass to a subscriber model

8:00 "FogBugz is the cash cow."

8:45 On developing products with interns

10:35 Managing many products vs. few

13:40 Copilot today: "growing well... a nice side business"

14:25 Zero marketing: "We've experimented with AdWords and never got anywhere... There are certain categories for which it works and a certain category of thing for which it's a waste of time."

15:10 FogBugz: Bug tracking and coordination software

15:50 Licensing vs. Software-As-A-Service

17:05 On the fear and need for data security in online services

20:05 "We probably run FogBugz a lot better than our customers can... That is not necessarily true of other software-as-a-service providers."

21:50 "Because we were a bootstrapped company, we had to reach a certain critical mass before we felt we could host FogBugz at the level of quality our customers expect."

22:20 If creating FogBugz from scratch today

25:10 "If you're in a business with network effects, you probably want to get big fast, and that means you want to get outside investment... and you also want to take a lot of risks."

25:50 "It's a lot easier to start a software-as-a-service business today."

26:50 "We don't try and predict the future."

29:00 More revenue per user via software-as-a-service.

30:25 The economic downturn hurts new subscriber growth, but current subscribers still pay.

31:40 "As a startup, I would not build something to be installed locally."

36:35 "We don't really make deadlines. We just try to estimate when something is going to happen."

39:50 Stack Overflow: "programmer Q&A website where programmers ask questions and get answers."

45:55 "I pretty much ignored all of my rules when I built Stack Overflow."

47:00 600,000 page-views per day, closing in on 300,000 visits per day, that number is doubling every 4 months

51:00 86% of Stack Overflow traffic comes from search, because the site was built for search from the ground up

58:15 On Fog Creek: "We're the beacon on the hill."

59:25 On prioritization

59:50 "We don't have any kind of outside board of advisors."

1:01:10 Big projects for this year: FogBugz 7, new features in Copilot, Business Software conference, Stack Overflow World Tour, software development documentary

1:07:35 Parting thoughts

Posted by Greg Galant on Apr 13, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

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Another great podcast Greg, this time with a really great personality of the software development world. That said, it's a pity you made few references to Joel's famous blog on www.joelonsoftware.com. I believe his post on The Joel Test is a must-read for every sw product company.

Please continue making these wonderful casts.


Posted by: Frans Vanhaelewijck at April 27, 2009 9:07 AM

@Greg, Thanks for another great interview. I met Joel when he was promoting FogBugz in Chicago a year or so ago, and I remember the developers he had brought were very enthused about their bug software.

@Frans The Joel Test is interesting, I actually put a lot of things in place for the PoP Project team that I now found on that list too. Cool!

Posted by: Diwant Vaidya at May 6, 2009 9:31 PM