Hiya, I’m Patrick McKenzie. I grew up in the US and moved to Japan right after college. I worked for Japanese companies for six years. Concurrently with doing so, I founded a small software company and it took over my life. I eventually went full-time on that, ran a succession of small software companies, and after about ten years took at job working at Stripe on Atlas.
I had a friend growing up from Puerto Rico. He didn’t love the hard “k” in Patrick, I didn’t love getting called “pato” followed by uproarious laughter, so we split the difference and settled on Patio. I used my favorite number to disambiguate from the other Patios when signing up for CompuServe back in, hmm, 1996.
Enough of my professional life has happened online (particularly on Hacker News, though I’m patio11 practically everywhere on the Internet) that it stuck.
Bingo Card Creator was the first program produced by my mISV (“micro-independent software vendor”). It makes custom printable bingo cards for teachers.
What? Why did you pick that?: Once upon a time I taught English, primarily to ESL students, and learned the joy of playing bingo. I no longer teach but I try to support the local ESL community. Once a teacher asked me if I knew of any program to make bingo cards, since bingo was listed as a fun activity to try in the Big Book of ESL Activities (its actually called Planet Eigo these days and if you teach in Japan you should really buy yourself a copy). She had tried making them for herself with MS Word but quit after spending 30 minutes and only getting through about 10 cards. Then she tried searching the Internet and nothing really worked. So I searched through the Internet, and found the same: the free programs in this space are missing critical features for teachers, and the paid programs are overpriced and underpromoted. So I cobbled together a solution (on company time — helping teachers is part of the job, and I was free that day) and released after about four hours.
Wow, you can sell a program you made in four hours?: No. That program, aside from being by rights the property of my employer if anything, lacked bunches of critical features, was incredibly painful to use (you had to go outside the program to print, for example), and didn’t actually run on half the computers it was installed on because of JRE issues. And yet it still got me 25 thank you notes within a week, after being distributed to a mailing list of 60 teachers.
So, where is Bingo Card Creator from then?: During the last week of June, 2006, I was inspired to take on an independent project. I decided to do a mISV after goofing off at work reading about them and Google AdWords, payment processing, and the other things it would take to make them happen (yes, my employers are extremely generous in allowing me to goof off so long as I make my deadlines). I told my parents about my plan that evening during my weekly telephone call home, which (as a public commitment) made sure this wouldn’t end up like most of my projects — sketched out on paper and quickly forgotten. And I remembered “Hey, teachers still need a good bingo card program”. So I set out working.
So where does that “The Schedule: 8 days. The Budget: $60.” thing come from?: Thats from my discussion with my father. He asked how much money it would cost to found a company, and opined it would cost “thousands” and that I’d be better off finding a better job. I told him that with the Internet you could fund a company for the cost of “a video game”, which is in the $60 region. 8 days was purely arbitrary — I thought I could get it done in a week, looked at the calendar, and gave myself one day of padding so I could release on July 1st, 2006.
Why are you writing this blog?: Partially vanity, partially writing practice (amazing how your written English deteriorates without practice, and I get close to none at work), partially as a signpost for other people wondering about starting a small software company. When I decided to start the blog I committed to being more or less open.
What does “open” mean?: A lot of people who run mISVs don’t like to talk about their products, sales figures, marketing strategies, or even mention their real name in connection with their products. I completely understand and respect that decision. Some are worried about competition, some are worried about modesty (I wouldn’t tell you my day-job-salary if you asked me it, because I was raised to understand that that is Just Not Done), some are afraid their customers would look askance at it. Bingo Card Creator will not determine whether non-extant wife and children live the high life or go hungry — its a side project funded for pocket change and which takes up less time than other, far less valuable hobbies I have. So while I understand and respect folks who want to keep their information private, I have no problem letting it all hang out. What’s the worst that can happen? Somebody works hard for a week and steals my entire business. Oh, shucks.
Did you launch on-time and on-budget?: Yes and yes. I launched on 7/1/2006, after having spent in the vicinity of through the end of July (check the blog for the exact breakdown).
Were you profitable? I was profitable as of one month, to the day, from launch. You can browse this blog’s archives to see the story after that.
Were you profitable enough to quit your day job? As of April 2010, my software business was my day job. This remained true until either joining Starfighter in 2015 or joining Stripe in late 2016, depending on how you reckon things.
I fell in love with Twilio at first sight and set out to create a business using its API. That business turned into Appointment Reminder, which makes appointment reminder phone calls, text messages, and emails to the clients of professional services businesses.
I ran AR from 2010 through 2016, when I sold it. Think “comfortably supported a small team” for a sense of scale.
I got fairly decent at making software companies money in the course of building my own. It turns out that this skill is valuable at larger software companies, too. I consulted for a few years on meat-and-potatoes marketing/sales for B2B SaaS companies. It was a really fun learning experience; I haven’t done it actively since roughly 2013.
I occasionally created or co-created products as a way to get that quality of advice without paying my full consulting rate. Representative examples:
I was the CEO of Starfighter, a company which made games to identify talented programmers. We planned on introducing them to firms wanting to hire developers. The game was the coolest thing I ever built (the final level had you hack a stock exchange to catch an insider trader); the business didn’t quite jell in time. My co-founders Erin and Thomas Ptacek went on to create Latacora, which helps startups get serious about security.
As of this writing (December 2016) I’m employed at Stripe working on Atlas. We’re trying to make it transformatively easier to start and grow Internet companies worldwide. If I can help you with that, feel free to drop me a line.
I am thinking of starting my own mISV. Any advice? Scads. Either send me an email with specific questions or just start reading the archives. I rather recommend starting at the back and continuing forward. The easiest way to do this is to go to my very first post and use the Next/Previous buttons at the bottom of every post.