First, some historical background to provide some context. (Meta: There is a TL;DR at the bottom if you want to skip to it.)
I’ve been an independent/freelance software developer/engineer/consultant/whatchamacallit for 10+ years. All thoughout, I recorded my business activities in an accounting software package (an ancient version of Quickbooks). I did a couple of units in accounting in my undergraduate years so I understood the fundamentals of accounting (assets/liabilities/equity/debit/credit etc.) and the value of having proper financial records. It was easy to do and made sense to me.
In addition to providing software services and consulting to clients, I also dabbled in creating my own startups. Some had moderate success. Some bombed out completely. Nevertheless, I’ve been trying to do ‘bootstrapped’ businesses for quite a while (though maybe it wasn’t known by that term back then).
Then, about 5-6 years ago, an old client of mine asked me to join his new startup. He was very persuasive. So I did.
However, since I was in Australia and the startup company was in California, it was just easier to have a client/consultant relationship than to be an employee. Legally employing me would mean the company would have to incorporate a subsidiary in Australia and all the ensuing hassle that involved.
Nah, too much trouble.
I remained, technically and legally, a consultant/contractor although, for those five years, I worked exclusively for the startup and no one else. But since I was an independent contractor, I had to keep my own books.
And so, I continued to use my accounting software package (which I’m now going to abbreviate to ASP) to record the business activities that I did for my ‘boss’. Which was just as well because I still have some recurring revenue from an old SaaS of mine. Those need to be booked as well.
All through the last 10+ years, the ASP been served me well. It’s not perfect, but it was good enough. Quite good for the $80 (ish? It was on special, I think) that I paid for it at the time. However, it was getting quite dated and the license would eventually expire. (I actually have it running in a non-Internet-accessible Windows XP virtual machine. That’s how old it is.)
One day, I was going to have to replace it, or otherwise do something about it, but not yet.
Then, in 2020, the coronavirus/covid-19 pandemic happened. The company I was working for lost funding and folded.
That was enjoyable: Having a regular a job for 5+ years. And I was getting used to it. What now?
Five years for a tech startup is … tiring (I didn’t expect it to last as long as it did). I didn’t want to rush into looking for another job straightaway. I wanted to take some time off.
I spent a couple of weeks catching-up/reading-up/revising the startup literature. Inevitably, I got drawn back into the ‘bootstrapped business’ game again.
As the wisdom goes, the way to come up with startup ideas is to ‘notice’ a problem that you have (How to Get Startup Ideas):
Why is it so important to work on a problem you have? Among other things, it ensures the problem really exists. It sounds obvious to say you should only work on problems that exist. And yet by far the most common mistake startups make is to solve problems no one has.
The verb you want to be using with respect to startup ideas is not “think up” but “notice.” At YC we call ideas that grow naturally out of the founders’ own experiences “organic” startup ideas. The most successful startups almost all begin this way.
During the couple of weeks, I tried to ‘go zen’ and notice things. In particular, I tried to notice things which are problems but which my mind would normally just dismiss as ‘that’s just how things are’.
It was a fun time and a challenging exercise to temporarily rewire my brain to look at the world differently. I noticed some things. I brainstormed some ideas. Some were wacky. Most were terrible.
And then I noticed my ancient accounting software package. It’s a problem that’s existed for many years but had always been pushed back as ‘Not now’.
I was surprised. Very. This problem had been dormant for many years. I had just never noticed it before.
I thought about it some more. The software is fine but it needs replacing. Could I create a replacement? How much work would it be? Would anyone else want it? Would they pay for it? I’ve been using it for 10+ years but I only use a small fraction (5%?) of its functionality. Could I improve it by omitting the other 95%? Lots and lots of questions.
It prompted me to do some research around the Internet and I noticed the following: All the major accounting software vendors have gone online/SaaS. SaaS is great for the vendor but, in the case of accounting, it’s terrible for the user. Think about it.
Business-critical accounting data is stored in the cloud where it’s all controlled by the vendor. Essentially, the major vendors are forcing small businesses to give up control and then holding the data hostage in return for ongoing SaaS subscription fees. (And it looks like the vendors are getting away with it.)
No way was I, as a user, gonna go with that.
If I was inclined to purchase a replacement for my ASP, I would have trouble finding a suitable one that wasn’t SaaS. I don’t want my business-critical data to be in the cloud. I want it to be in a file on my computer. Furthermore, I don’t want to pay $10-$20 every month to do what, 10 years ago, an $80 product could do for another 10+ years. Think about it: $10-$20 per month vs a $80 one-off fee. It’s a ridiculous comparison.
So, here, I think, there is a gap in the market. Small and micro-businesses which would otherwise purchase an entry-level ASP are not being well served by the SaaS offerings which are available. (I’m not talking about large businesses which spend much more on accounting software, irrespective of whether it’s SaaS or not. Those are fine.)
So … do I want to go after this market segment?
I’d like to … but I’m not.
Um, why not?
Because I’m just one person. I don’t have the resources/time/funding to go for that.
you can either build something a large number of people want a small amount, or something a small number of people want a large amount. Choose the latter. Not all ideas of that type are good startup ideas, but nearly all good startup ideas are of that type.
So, instead of targeting the entire market segment, I’m going to go for a niche.
What’s the niche? Well, basically, the niche is … ‘me’ :)
Or rather, the niche would be the characteristics which describe me as a user. So it’d be things like:
- Solo operator. No employees. No stock. Not a corporation.
- Manage own accounting data. Don’t need an accountant.
- Control over own data. Non-SaaS.
- … and maybe some other stuff that hasn’t manifested yet.
Having used my ASP for 10+ years, I know exactly the feature set that I use. I don’t think I’m anyone special so there should be other people in a situation like mine. In theory, my feature set should be a good match for them too.
So I’ve found, or rather, noticed, a problem and a niche. And the way I’ve defined it, it’s small enough that I can aim a “bootstrapped startup” at it.
Do I wanna go for it?
Yeah, let’s give this a shot and see how things turn out.
This is why I started GigoBooks: I have an itch to scratch. The itch has been around for several years before I eventually noticed it. It points me to (I think) a market niche which is underserved. I’m going to scratch my itch, and also, create something to serve the niche better. The ‘something’ is a more suitable, more affordable, non-SaaS accounting software.
Hacker News comments