AgileJ Ltd develops and sells a software visualization tool that generates pictures showing how the components of a Java project work together. Computer programmers have a rough time understanding how existing software has been assembled. With the aid of these pictures, programmers get up to speed with how a project has been put together much more quickly, ultimately saving time, reducing costs and raising quality for the project as a whole.
The foundation of AgileJ has always been to put tools in the hands of programmers which engage the visual cortex, a large chunk of the brain that absorbs spatial information quicker than textual information. With AgileJ you now can see in a flash on a diagram what normally takes at least a few minutes to unravel reading Java source code spread across multiple files.
At whom is your startup aimed?
Specifically, our products are for programmers using the Java programming language. This can be anyone from individual programmers working on their own, to large organizations who employ hundreds of programmers.
How does your startup stand out against its competitors?
AgileJ’s competitors try to serve the needs of everyone involved, including analysts, project managers, customers and programmers. What’s different about AgileJ is that we only focus on the needs of the programmers. Declaring this from the outset frees us up to do a better job of giving programmers what they really need. In practice, the difference is that instead of supplying a bunch of drawing tools, so the analyst can draw pictures and show them to the customer, AgileJ generates pictures so that programmers and anyone else who is interested can see the current state of the project.
Where did the idea for the startup come from?
I was working as a freelance programmer, which entails frequently joining a new project in a new organization. Getting up to speed with what’s already there is critical to being a competent programmer. At that point, pictures of the structure of the project are a big help. But all the visualizing tools I could find took a long time to use, and the results were cluttered and meaningless, so I decided to build something better.
Did you have any concerns when starting your business, if so what were they?
Like most people about to start a business, I didn’t want to dwell too much on what could go wrong. At the time all of my concerns revolved around whether I could resolve all of the technical challenges. Although the technical challenges have been steep, they’ve turned out to be small compared to the task of communicating the innovations to a skeptical market.
What is your business background, and what got you interested in startups?
I’m from a technical background rather than a business background. What I know about business I know from developing the business side of AgileJ, which mainly concerns market research, responding to customers, and managing remote workers.
How did you initially raise funding for your company?
I initially raised funding through attending an investment conference. I had to present my company and a description of the product to a panel of investors.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
The greatest technical achievement has been to get our products to interpret some truly enormous projects, and generate pictures of how they were put together. There were high risks and it took a lot of research to get that part working, but it all paid off after a lot of hard work. The greatest business achievement has been the steady increase in sales of team licenses to large software companies.
How have you kept your business relevant and engaged with your audience over the last three years?
AgileJ has stayed relevant by responding to customer feedback with a fast turn-around. People tell us when we are behind the curve and need to catch up, and we keep the feedback coming by shocking them how quickly we can deliver what they ask for. We are also in the fortunate position that we use AgileJ to build AgileJ, so we too feel the pain whenever improvements are needed.
How long has your business been in making, and who is the team behind the business?
The earliest version was created around 2007, and since then there have been periods when we’ve had to rethink the product from the inside, to position it better in the light of what we’ve learned along the way, then re-launch. There is a core team of three of us, but we rely heavily on remote freelance staff for specific tasks, so at time there are six or seven of us in total.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Knowing how to label ourselves has been the biggest challenge. Our product is new and highly innovative and there is no existing vocabulary among our target market which describes what we do, so there are no keywords for them to search for. It’s also no use inventing new terminology which nobody uses.
I can call AgileJ a ‘Software Structure Visualizer’, and that describes our products perfectly, but it does nothing to grow the business since this unknown term won’t be used by potential customers trying to find us. This leaves us with no choice but to use the labels which describe our competitors, but because our target market have already tried and been disappointed by what our competitors have to offer, they are skeptical of us too.
In the coming year, what would you like to achieve with your business?
Apart from the obvious growth, better market awareness, and increasing adoption, the main achievement for this year will be gathering enough feedback to really steer the product. Currently we receive enough feedback to keep us busy, but the feedback is diverse with just one or two people asking for any one change to the product. The target is for each change to the product to be backed with ten customers asking for it.
What has been your most valuable lesson so far since starting your business?
Whenever you try out a new technology with a view to adopting it and incorporating it in your business, if you cannot get it working quickly by your own efforts then pay a freelancer who has experience with that technology to get you started. Get the freelancer to build you an example of what you are going to need. This saves the time and frustration of trying to get an unfamiliar technology to work.
Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to someone thinking about starting a business, what would it be?
Ensure that the main activity of your business is something which you like doing, not because your business will be a lifestyle choice, but because setbacks are inevitable and there will be times when you’ll need passion for what you’re doing to get you through.