Mark Stephens Mark has been working with Java and PDF since 1999 and is a big NetBeans fan. He enjoys speaking at conferences. He has an MA in Medieval History and a passion for reading.

Business of Software Conference 2009

3 min read

I have just spent the last 3 days at the Business of Software conference in San Francisco. Generally I hate conferences and see them a bit of a distraction. But if you did not attend this one, you missed a really unique opportunity to hear some great speakers and mix with 300 other developers from large and small companies across the globe. People I met ranged from single one-person shops to employees at huge companies from all over the world.

BoS is run by Neil Davidson of RedGate Software and Joel Spolsky of Fogcreek Software and they give it a unique flavour. In the age of ‘manufactured’ events, they are two genuine and very successful Software developers organising the conference they they would like to attend. And they have good taste.

The conference is a single track spread over three days and it is the only conference I go to where the laptop stays in my bag so I can catch every word. The conference consists of 15 talks, a ‘Pecha Kucha’ competition, some breakout sessions, along with lots of chances to meet lots of other developers and consume copious quantities of alcohol.

The quality of the speakers is always awesome and is a mix across the spectrum of people from all types of companies, bloggers, academics, developers and experts talking about ‘the business of software’ – design, sales, marketing, usability, funding, social media and more… The one thing they all share is a great deal of knowledge and a great presence onstage.

This year the speakers were Geoffrey Moore, Paul Graham, Heidi Roizen, Dharmesh Shah, Matt Clayton, Don Norman, Ryan Carson, Paul Kenny, Chris Capossela, Kathy Sierra, Jenifer Aaker, Michael Lopp, Luke Hohmann and Joel Splosky. One of the planned speakers was ill, so Neil Davidson stepped in at the last moment and did a brilliant talk on pricing. Several of the speakers there were from well-known software vendors but their focus was on sharing their knowledge and expertise, not plugging the product.

A sign of the strength of the conference was that no-one seemed able to agree on the best bits of the talks. Here are a few of the highlights from me…

Geoffrey Moore really hammered home the difference between core and context. Catch up activities only need to be good enough – focus on your core and doing what competitors will or cannot do.

Heidi Roizen revealed the VC world from her unique standpoint of having been both inside and outside the market and explaining how and when it works well. Pick your VC with care if you want the most from them.

Dharmesh Shah gave lots of insights from his experiences building 2 multi-million dollar companies and his marketing activities at Hubspot. He gave lots of practical tips and strategies on improving rankings and showed his free website grader tool. He also talked about how his company had focused on techniques to evaluate how happy the customers – they are far less trouble, stay for the long term and spread the word.

His advice on releasing software and updates was early and often.

Don Norman showed how important design was and gave lots of examples. He is someone with an amazing gift to spot things and make them obvious with hindsight to you. He made an immediate observation on the ambiguity of the designs on the slide remote control (is down or up next slide?). He also pointed out that the tags round all the attendees necks often faced the wrong way – so that you saw a blank card instead of the person’s name and told you what they were interested. Solution – print details on both sides. And these simple rules apply to software – it is all about the experience.

Paul Kenny talked about the ‘Sales Entrepeneur’. While data explains, stories inspire and connect and allow you to focus on the customers needs and aspirations. That is when they buy…

Chris Capossela from Microsoft did a candid and personal talk about marketing, giving some examples where Microsoft had done well and areas where they had not. He relived his 15 excruciating minutes of fame, as the man demoing a feature in Windows98 with Bill Gates when the software crashed (and which appeared all over the media). He explained how the Xbox had been a game changer but also how Intuit had seen off Office Accounting 2007 and left it dead in the water.

Kathy Sierra talked about making better users rather than better products. Teach the user and they will sell themselves. Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult.

Jennifer Aaker explained some of the psychology of happiness. She showed how some things lead only to a short term happiness boost (like  a promotion or a lottery win). Slightly tongue in check, she recommended the best holiday strategy is to plan a holiday (gaining all the benefits of anticipation) and the cancel it (avoiding all the stress and angst of catching up afterwards).

All the speakers were amazing, and those were just some of the highlights for me and I would never finish this article if I listed them all!

There was also a Pecha Kucha contest – a mini-conference in its own right with 9 fast paced talks on sales, marketing, motivation, and a whole lot more.

The conference is very serious with an element of fun and humour – there definitely seemed to be a ‘kitten subtext’ in a lot of the talks!

The conference will be in Boston in 2010 so if you missed this year, make a note about it now and get on the mailing lists…

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Mark Stephens Mark has been working with Java and PDF since 1999 and is a big NetBeans fan. He enjoys speaking at conferences. He has an MA in Medieval History and a passion for reading.

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