Software Business: Farming vs. Mining

Success, and Farming vs. Mining:

If you farm, you’ll have to purchase seed up-front, and work on it for a season before you see any profits. And every season you’ll plow most [of] the profits (literally) back into the land and salaries and your mortgage. You husband the soil to ensure that it’ll keep providing for you for years and years. If you’re lucky, and if you do a good job, you’ll gather a following, sales will increase, and eventually you may make a tidy living. But every season, no matter how rich you get, you’re going to be back out there, breaking your back and working with the soil. When you finally retire, if you’ve done a good job, the soil is as good as when you first got it, and your farm will live on.

Or, you could mine; you’ll need some initial money to lease mining equipment, and to hire some people to work the mine. Then, bam: profit. You’re making money. You tear a giant hole in the ground and eke every last bit of metal out as quickly as possible; there’s nothing to preserve, there’s no soil to keep in condition. You’ll make a big score, then the land will be spent, and you move on, leaving an unusable crater.

Now, you’ve probably figured out I’m not actually talking about mining or farming: this is a metaphor for running a software company. You can either see founding a company as something you’re doing because you want to produce good software, or you can see it as something you do so you can sell your stock and make a killing and move on.

Atomic Object is a farm. There’s no exit strategy. In fact, AO’s long-range business plans are rooted in spreading ownership among its employees as part of husbanding its soil. Carl Erickson, Atomic Object’s president and co-founder, would say this is all part of being Great Not Big. Most recently, recognizing that the growing conditions were right, we began cultivating a part of our land with a different crop, Atomic Embedded. Beyond only Atomic Object, the majority of our clients tend to be more farm than mine. There’s something good and inherently rewarding in organically growing software products and businesses themselves.