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Panic’s Lucky 13

May 5th, 2009

Panic’s co-founder Cabel Sasser just wrote a general round-up of changes at the venerable Mac software company.

Lots to be jealous of. Ahem, inspired by. Cabel counts the 13 people — including new hires Neven Mrgan and Ned Holbrook — who make up the ranks of their development, design, and support staff. Everybody I’ve met from Panic has been a genuinely kind person whose desire to build great things is evident. Now they’re all doing that from an incredible new office in their home town of Portland, OR. Cabel seizes on the good news that, with a growing staff, they’re able to tackle projects more concurrently, and to be more responsive to their customer base.

Red Sweater is one of those “one-or-two person companies” that Cabel shows no yearning nostalgia for having once been. There are certainly advantages to going it alone. I call all the shots. No meetings. 100% profit sharing. Vacation days on a whim and without concern for obligations to coworkers. Never a petty squabble or philosophical disagreement.

But never an agreement, either. I don’t want to be alone forever. I imagine Red Sweater evolving into something resembling a Panic, Rogue Amoeba, Bare Bones, or Omni Group. The advantages of scale and camaraderie that come with modest growth seem to outrank the limited, mainly ego-protecting advantages of solitude.

As I look forward to growth, I take inspiration from these great models. A long-term, sustainable Mac software business doesn’t have to be built from behind a faceless corporate wall. Each of these examples started as a small group of people with their minds set on delivering a great application. Then they did it, and eventually they profited. That’s a starting line most of us can relate to, and endeavor to imitate.

But other operational priorities are harder to agree on. When you start to look at the ways in which these companies and others like them grow, you discover that every one of them has vastly different priorities about what part of the company to invest in and when.

It struck me while reading Cabel’s post, for instance, that Panic apparently has no marketing staff. And yet they’re one of the best known brands in indie Mac software. Paradox? Is there something about Panic’s product and staff that does its own marketing? Or would they be an even bigger success had they hired a marketing person from the start? Smile On My Mac, by contrast, consists of just three people, one of whom is completely dedicated to marketing. Is this a waste of revenue or a brilliant component of their plan for world text expansion domination?

Office space is another area of dramatic diversity. Panic and Omni each embrace the value of a centralized, beautiful office space where their employees can work and play, side by side. At the absolute other end of the spectrum, Rogue Amoeba enjoys the benefits of a virtual, internet-based office. In particular, no office rent, and they can hire people from anywhere in the world without relocation concerns.

While the choices a growing business faces are numerous, I feel lucky to have so many stellar examples to compare and contrast. And while I may hesitate at choosing which direction to turn when I come to a fork in the road, I’ll take some comfort in knowing that many of those forks each lead to an equally exciting outcome.

6 Responses to “Panic’s Lucky 13”

  1. Jean Mac Donald Says:

    Lest anyone get the wrong idea, three people at SmileOnMyMac could not manage the development and support (and marketing!) of five software products without a terrific network of long-time accomplices, aka independent contractors.

  2. rvr Says:

    nice post, and great thoughts. your envy (inspiration) is shared. these are all examples of exactly the kind of group i’d love to be a part of. to me one unifying element is the love of what they create, a true passion for the product. this results in an atmosphere that is part business, part family.

  3. Chad Says:

    Daniel – it’s great to hear you talk about how Panic inspires you, as you inspire me, so much so that I blogged about it – http://www.usefulfruit.com/blog/2009/05/inspiration-is-everywhere/ . For me, and I’m sure many other developers with infant MicroISVs, your success is very motivating.

  4. Andy Brice Says:

    >I don’t want to be alone forever.

    Are you ready for the stresses and responsibilities of hiring, firing and managing? Personally I value having a low stress and flexible lifestyle working from home on my own. So I don’t think I’ll be hiring any time soon.

  5. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Andy: I definitely see the downsides. In the end the thrill of being able to effect more change in the market is outweighing the stresses and pains that will come with managing a team.

    But who knows, maybe after I try it, I’ll come running back to a solo structure with my tail between my legs :)

  6. Steve Says:

    With the advent of Apple’s VoiceOver screen reader, many blind users, myself included, switched to the Mac. I was immediately struck by the “can do” attitude by many developers, something that can only come about when developers are passionate about whatever they’re developing. Coming from a Windows background where often was heard “we don’t know how to do that” “you’ll have to contact your assistive technology vendor for that” etc… this attitude was quite refreshing. I was especially impressed with the support I’ve received for MarsEdit. Sure, it’s a great product, but what makes it even better in my opinion, is the support put behind it. A product is only good if people can use it and the quick, thoughtful responses I’ve gotten to my support requests make MarsEdit invaluable. If the opportunity for expansion presents itself, my only hope is that you continue this great tradition of unparalleled support, the type of support born out of passion, dedication and pride in a product well developed.

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