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I'm a mid-to-senior level SDET, and I currently have no managerial experience (although I hope to pick some up in about 5 years). At some point in the distant future (say, 10–15 years from now), I'd like to start my own tech startup.

Due to a number of personal commitments, I can't really spend my free time planning for this, which is why it's more of a long-term goal, for when I have more time, flexibility, and financial stability.

How does one build skills to be a successful software entrepreneur? What types of education programs should I be looking into?

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Thanks, every answer was useful - wish I could accept more than one. I'm going to read up on business, start hanging out on "onStartups.com", and see if I can throw together a very simple mobile app over the next year or so. Longer term, I'll start looking for incubator programs / entrepreneurship training and see if I can continue releasing small products (probably getting gradually larger as I get more experience and the kids get older) until I'm ready to stop my job and take some time to focus on one larger business idea. So now to come up with a business idea that's 'fun-sized'. –  Ethel Evans Apr 22 '11 at 19:11
    
Maybe it's somewhat childish today but the movie who really cheered me up back in the day was Pirates of Silicon Valley. Also Paul Graham essays. Read the The New New Thing about Netscape. Get yourself in the startup mood. You're going to enjoy it. Send me a postcard when you hit it big. –  Vitor Apr 26 '11 at 5:20
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4 Answers

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There's a chance your local University has a program that caters to (potential) entrepreneurs, possibly through an incubator program. You should check for courses on this. I'm pretty sure my local government also offers an entrepreneur training program there should be something similar from yours too.

Nice skills to have:

  • Market analysis: how big is the market? How much market share can you target? How to reach potential customers?
  • Competitive intelligence: who is your competition? What are possible product replacements that might drive you out of the market?
  • Fundamentals of accounting
  • Fundamentals of business and IP law

I don't think you need a University degree for those. But you can look for free courses and read books. Might help you a bit when you start. Nothing substitutes practical experience, though.

But since you're planning to do this on a 10-15 years time frame, you can probably read most things ever written on those subjects. I don't like this (waiting that much) maybe because I'm young and stupid :) Like Keynes once said: in the long run, we are all dead. Do not postpone it too much.

Best of luck.

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The main reason it's being postponed is because a higher priority wasn't postponed: Having children :) I have three beautiful daughters, 5 and under. I don't want to miss out on the joys and challenges of what I already have by taking on too much at once. –  Ethel Evans Apr 22 '11 at 18:31
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@Ethel Evans Yes, if I was in your place I'd wait for the kids to grow up. Not really uncommon for founders in startups to work 60 or 70 hours a week (10 hours per day, 7 days a week). Been there, done that and I don't even like the t-shirt. I hope I don't have to wait 10 years for kids of my own :D Good luck! –  Vitor Apr 22 '11 at 21:09
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Start implementing your ideas. Throw things together and put it out there.

You don't need money. Just put time in on the weekends/evenings.

Learn from each project you try and you'll get better at it.

I'd try this before getting a degree.

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I updated my OP to explain why this isn't an option right now. If circumstances were different, I would absolutely be doing this. –  Ethel Evans Apr 22 '11 at 0:39
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Hmmmm ... I can fully understand that. I'd still try what you can (to what level you're able to ... family comes first) before going out to get a degree. Or read books on running a business, browse OnStartups.SE, etc. This seems like a better use of your time and money than school. (Did I mention that I'm not keen on business school?) :) –  John Apr 22 '11 at 0:55
    
Mmm . . . thanks for pointing out OnStartups.SE, seems like a great resource. Thanks, this is really handy. –  Ethel Evans Apr 22 '11 at 18:57
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Learn how to create software and learn about a domain. Focus on learning about those who buy and use software in that area and what their problems are. Unless you can't do any development on your own, I don't see how cost would be a factor. Of course time would be, but if you spend and hour a day, 10-15 years from now it should add up to being able to create and market a single app. You're no worse off than your current approach.

Certainly there are things your husband would like to have time to do. You can take turns. That's why they call it 'taking' time.

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Hrm . . . I hadn't thought about 'micro-products' like mobile apps that do just one simple little thing. That's a great idea. I could probably pull off something very, very small in a year, and releasing even a very simple product would be great experience. –  Ethel Evans Apr 22 '11 at 19:05
    
I'd like to point it out that releasing a small cell phone app is really different experience than starting a full blown startup. You might read Paul Graham essays, he's great at describing the experience. –  Vitor Apr 22 '11 at 21:14
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You should find a business partner. Someone who brings something different to the table. For example I have no programming experience, though I have manage to create successful startups. I bring marketing, leadership, creativity, direction, sales, and all other things not related to web design or programming to the table. You should find someone like that who can handle all the other work, therefore you don't have to stress out about anything not dealing with programming. Most startups have 2-3 partners. One of them are like me, another is a programmer, and the last (optional) is the designer.

Put together your ideas. Think it out, will it become profitable, how long will it take to grow a fan base, etc etc. Then start working on it. You don't need to devote 5 hours a day. I have a family too so I understand what you're going through. There's 24 hours in a day and I know you can at least spend 1 hour programming at home, or maybe just go to the library and do it there so there are no distractions. If you can devote 1hr a day of programming to your idea you would be surprised at how fast it will come along. Anything is better than nothing. Don't let excuses hold you back.

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