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Purchasing Custom Software

About half of our clients at Black Chair had purchased custom software from other vendors before coming to us. None of them were satisfied with their experience, which I suppose makes sense (our competitors’ satisfied customers would have no reason to jump ship). When they come to us we inevitably hear the horror stories, and I live in constant fear of becoming the subject of such a story in the future. As far as I know, it hasn’t happened yet, but I’m not deluded enough to take credit for that—our processes need work, but even if they didn’t statistics dictate that we will eventually be spurned by an angry client. Nevertheless, the study of ways in which I can delay that eventuality has become a bit of an obsession.

The Economics of Custom Software

It was a Saturday afternoon in spring, and I was sitting in my parents’ basement with the lights off, staring at the monitor belonging to our brand new Compaq Presario computer. I was replying to a client email debating the price of a project (after the work had been completed), which we had previously agreed would be a whopping $600. I was 12.

The whole thing had started for me about a year before, when I got a bit carried away in computer class and ended up building my school’s website. My school was affiliated with a church, so I built their website too. Those two were freebies, although I did end up leveraging the first into an educational copy of Macromedia Flash, which cost several hundred dollars at the time, and I believe the church found a volunteer stipend for me at the end of that year as well. I then made the website for a Bible camp, for which I timidly charged $300.

Getting Better

Black Chair (and its collective parts) has (/have) been building websites and web applications for a long time. We’ve seen a lot of change in the landscape of web technology, and we’re bound to see a lot more. We’ve also seen a lot of change in our own business, and in the way that our clients choose (or are forced) to interact with the internet. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about where that leaves us, ie. how I would advise us if we hired ourselves as consultants. If anyone happens to read this, I apologize both for the unformed mess (I’m trying to force myself to write publicly more often even if it means writing with less polish) and the technical mumbo-jumbo at the end—this is as much (if not more) for my own benefit than for anyone else.

Anyway, what I would say if I were consulting my own company:

Cash Money

“Cash is king” is such a stupid expression. I usually hear it in the context of fat cat Wall Street analysts discussing the assets of multi-billion dollar corporations, and I’m so used to tuning those voices out.

Which might be why I found myself in the following situation an embarrassing number of times this year: closing comfortable five-figure deals with a client in the afternoon and then walking 5km at night because I couldn’t afford the bus fare to meet up with my friends. Or raiding my pantry for a week while waiting for a cheque to clear, because I couldn’t afford groceries.


Not to keep beating the Parley horse, but it seems like everyone is making encrypted messaging apps these days (and crowdsourcing $100k to do it). When we first started talking about Parley last December, the demand for such a product wasn’t nearly as well defined, and existing competitors had a fairly niche appeal. The recent revelations about the NSA’s widespread snooping capabilities seem to have changed that, though, and the related demise of a few established players stirred things up even more.