​How emerging companies develop salable software

With technology increasingly intertwined with all aspects of business, CNET@Work can help you — prosumers to small businesses with fewer than five employees — get started.

You’re a small business owner and you have an idea that you want to turn into a marketable software product — but you’re not a software developer.

How do you get your idea launched?

Here are three approaches.

Start developing the software yourself

Mike Little, CEO of Byte and a former engineer with Sun Microsystems and IBM, was interested in developing an online restaurant review forum for customers that also served as a place for restaurants to post their menus and gain feedback. With a background in big data and analytics, Little’s plan was to add a backend of analytics to his online restaurant reviews. Subscribing restaurants could use these analytics to gather periodic and real-time information on their customers, such as who patronized them most often, and which customers had the biggest impact on social media.

“When I started this project, I did not have a software developer and I wasn’t a developer myself,” said Little. “But I used IBM BlueMix tools, which enabled me to do much of the initial development of the system myself. If I wanted to create an application that sent a push message to a phone, all I had to do was to describe the function to BlueMix and it would produce the code for me.”

Lesson learned: “There was a little extra ‘glue’ I still needed in order to get all of these software components that I created to work together,” said Little. “I secured assistance from a professional software developer to get this software integration done.”

Hire a local software developer in your area

“As my system took shape,” Little said, “I realized how important it was to find a software developer right here in my local area so we could sit down and have a cup of coffee to discuss new ideas for the software, and also the ongoing development of the software.”

Little also discovered that it wasn’t enough simply to find a developer who knew how to code the application. Professional software developers are expensive, so you have to balance these costs against your need to run a new business as economically as possible.

Lesson learned: “If you hire locally, it’s important to find a ‘jack of all trades’ guy who understands not only the application code and how to write it, but also the mechanics of the hardware and the operating systems the app is going to interact with,” said Little. “You need all of those skills in one person.”

Develop your software offshore

When Jim Kosalos, a geophysicist from the University of Wisconsin, launched San Cristobal Coffee Importers in 1996, he wasn’t…

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