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The following article was featured in the Tech Talk section of the July/August issue of The Monitor:

When it comes to developing software,
here's a do-it-yourself guide.

BY ANTHONY CARROL

Ever been frustrated by the lack of appropriate software for your job? Or the high price of what little there is? Or the difficult and sometimes strange learning curve? Ever thought to yourself, “Hey, I should create my own software”?

Yeah, I hear you.

I’m a broker with 15 years in leasing. I’ve worked for companies big and small. And I’ve worked on my own, too. In all that time, I’ve seen a lot of software — some good, and some not so good. Some practically do the job for you, but, oh my! The price! Not to mention the complexity of it all: infrastructure requirements, database management systems and networking … to name but a few.

Needless to say, they are not for the faint of heart (or pocketbook). They are not meant for the smaller brokers. The ones who dominate leasing. The ones like you and I.

That’s not right, I thought. There has to be something for the rest of us. So I spent a lot of time trying to find it. I was tired of being restricted to a calculator, a spreadsheet and T-Value. (Ah, good old reliable T-Value.)

Of course, those are all great tools. All very valuable. But what about documentation? What about reporting? What about workflow and knowing what’s urgent and what’s coming due? What about having one integrated tool for doing and controlling my daily business?

Guess what? I did not find much that I could use. Not on my budget, certainly.

So I said to myself: “Stop complaining. Do something. You can’t be the only person who needs a product like this, so build it. Something accessible, pretty easy to use, and affordable. Chances are that others might be interested.

“Besides ... how hard can it be?” Famous last words. That was three years ago.

Know what? It’s true when they say, “Ignorance is bliss.” Had I known all that I know today, I’m not sure that I would start down this road again. But the sense of accomplishment that we all feel today more than makes up for this.

I started the only way I knew how, by selling my idea. Good brokers do that. Let me tell you, getting this off the ground has been the biggest sale of my life.

First, I had to find some like-minded people. Fortunately, my circle of friends included a certified management accountant, a branding specialist (and no, I’m not talking cattle) and an experienced software developer. The four of us set off, convinced that nothing could stop us.

But we kept our day jobs ... just in case.

We began by looking at the marketplace, in depth. We searched the Web for possible competitors. We looked at what the big guys were doing. We followed the tracks of a few companies who seemed to start off well ... and then disappeared. And we tried to figure out why.

It’s true when they say, “Ignorance
is bliss.” Had I known all that I know
today, I’m not sure that I would start
down this road again. But the sense of
accomplishment that we all feel today
more than makes up for this.

At the same time, we started to put together a business plan. That led us to develop a financial plan. And then a marketing plan.

We worked hard at this. We met in the evenings and on weekends. We talked on the phone and sent emails back and forth. We shared our plans with friends and family, always looking for input and suggestions.

And we got lucky. Another acquaintance had money to invest — enough money to hire some developers and start writing code. And it was enough to pay us a small salary, sufficient to allow us to dedicate ourselves fulltime (and more) to getting this thing going. And perhaps most importantly, enough confidence in us to do so. Bless him.

After two years of prep work, we opened a small office in Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver, BC. That was in April of 2005. A very exciting moment, seeing the company come to life.

And so was the realization that a business plan can be very fluid. It was time to make some changes.

We learned that developers need requirements to build software ... and building requirements is the domain of business analysts. So we needed to take a step back (and perhaps more than one).

“But that’s OK,” we said to ourselves. If this is how it has to be done to create a good product, then that’s the way we want to do it. We wanted this to be good. In fact, we wanted it to be very good. “Let’s do it right the first time.”

Enter the software business analyst. With his help, we began to put on paper the working processes of a leasing broker. We detailed the steps that it takes to create a lease, the roles and interventions of all parties involved, and the information that brokers need to make the business work.

What a fascinating exercise that was. I discovered that I had learned a great deal over the course of 15 years in leasing. I also found out how difficult it can sometimes be to translate that knowledge and understanding into something that ultimately takes form as software. People in the business speak of the art of software development. I am beginning to understand why.

Something else we learned. Developing software takes time ... more time that any of us ever thought. But we were cooking now. We could feel that we were moving in the right direction.

We began by looking at the marketplace,
in depth. We searched the Web for
possible competitors. We looked at what
the big guys were doing. We followed the
tracks of a few companies who seemed
to start off well ... and then disappeared.
And we tried to figure out why.

We started adding more people. We found a developer, and then another. We hired a CEO, a former HP executive with 22 years experience in IT. And then a product manager, as well.

We were soon humming away … business analysis, software coding and testing, user interface design and documentation.

But that’s only a part of bringing a product to market. There’s also marketing and branding, product analysis, website design and testing, technical support strategy.

Let’s talk about money. We always seem to need more money. Typical for a software start-up, we’ve been told. And here’s something else we’ve heard a lot, “You guys still in business?” Apparently software start-ups do not have a high success rate. Hey, who knew? In truth, what we didn’t know when we started all this could fill a book. And we’re still learning.

And now that we have a product in beta, we need to learn even more. We need to know how people feel about it.

So that’s where we are today. If all goes well with the beta tests, we will release our first version not long after. Then come updates, new versions and new products.

There is still much that we want to do. We believe very strongly in ourselves and the direction we have chosen. And we are very proud of what we have accomplished.

 

Anthony Carrol continues his quest to develop the perfect leasing application. If you would like to talk to him about it (and share a story or two), call him at 1 866-771-0044; he loves a good conversation. If you would like to help him make his product better, download a copy from the site (http://www.litehaus360lease.com) and give him your impressions; again, any excuse for a good conversation. Thank you.

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