Five Keys to Our Long Term Survival

Guest Post by William Fisher

Dave’s Note:  William Fisher is CEO of Quicksilver Software, a software and Internet game development company in Southern California.  Bill has survived multiple cycles in the game industry, and writes here his thoughts about his longevity in a volatile niche.

I think the number one factor in my endurance is building strong relationships with members of my team, so that they are supportive when things go badly, as they sometimes do in this business. I’ve gotten into a bit of a hole in the past few years because of the slowdown, but always tried to bend over backward to help people out and treat them as well as possible. Even when they feel they have to leave, they always tell me that their time working for me has been very positive. I develop people, and they know/appreciate that. I support them in moving on. We have a large alumni base now, some of whom bring me work now that they’re in positions of strength at other companies.

Second factor is that we deliver. In a business that’s known for contractors who perform poorly or completely collapse, we have a very solid track record. Not perfect — there’s always the one situation where something went awry — but for us those are few and far between. I think that comes from our ability to truly understand the problem and to propose technically realistic solutions. I get a lot of calls from people who say “I

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worked with you X years ago and it was great, so I want to do that again.” Just visited Disney this week, for example, because our producer on a previous product was very happy with us and wanted her bosses to consider using our team. That’s a big win.

 [Email readers, continue here…]   Third is flexibility. I once tried to focus on a single type of business, on the advice of a business development guy. Huge mistake. When we were unable to get traction in that one business, we just about lost it all. We’re successful because we specialize in “hard problems” but not in any one vertical market. It turns out that that’s a good way for small, nimble companies to survive. Interestingly, we’ve won a number of deals by being the not-offshore alternative. Most people I know have had extremely bad experiences with offshore development. I’m working with a friend who’s got a Silicon Valley startup which made the mistake of hiring a Romanian development team. They’ve promised me founders stock in their company if I fish them out of the hole, which I’m well on my way to doing.

Fourth is embracing change. We know that the market changes every few years, and we’re always looking over the horizon at new technologies. Often, I can get clients to fund efforts to learn new tech because nobody else knows it, either, and we all need to learn it. Did that with iPhone/iPad, for example, which is now a big part of our business. Now we’re doing it again with various Web toolkits, since everything we do now has a heavy back-end component. I hire people who are eager to do new things and work hard not to become obsolete.

Fifth is having a solid ability to understand client needs. Most of the time in meetings, potential customers come away with the impression that I really understand their requirements. When trying to sell your skills, that’s critical. I can do it because I’ve gotten good at drilling down below the surface and seeing the real problem that they’re trying to solve. Plus, I tend to enjoy learning about new subject matter. It’s fun to see what people are doing and to create novel solutions. We’re just starting a new project in the medical field, for example. We are uniquely effective at solving complex user interface issues, and that’s what they need more than anything else. Yet we also understand how to deal with patient privacy laws, which are critical possible points of failure.

Bill Fisher can be found on LinkedIn at   http://www.linkedin.com/pub/bill-fisher/0/104/314 or email at bfisher@quicksilver.com.

 

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One Response to Five Keys to Our Long Term Survival

  1. Harry Keller says:

    Having spent a decade and a half in this sort of business (two-person software contracting firm), this is good advice.

    Regarding point number one, I had little opportunity for that because mostly there were just the two of us with outside temporary hires for larger projects.

    Number two is very important, but you must market that fact. During the 20 years that I did this work full and (for the last 5) part-time, I was always on schedule, on spec, and within budget. Sometimes, that means late nights. Once, I went to a client and warned that I might be late. I wasn’t, but it was a difficult meeting.

    The flexibility factor is very important in a service business such as software contracting, but focus is important in other businesses. Are these really different? You must focus on what you do, not what your customers do, as your primary business. Being flexible is part of your business focus. It was for mine where we did financial software, device drivers, database design, GUI design, and in several languages.

    I’ll claim that number four, embracing change, is a constant in our field, software. We delayed moving to mobile platforms as long as we could and then sought out a way to do it. Many presented themselves, but only one provided a clear path to take our Java-based software and put it on every mobile platform without a complete rewrite. It’s now working beautifully, and we have moved all of our customers over to the HTML 5 version of our software.

    Number five, understanding customer needs, is the most important part of this type of business. When you must convert customer ideas into reality, you have to work hard to know what they really want. I had one customer deliver a “complete” specification from which no one could have created software. Close interaction with customers is very necessary throughout the entire project because you never truly understand the customer until you begin to deliver your earliest versions.

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