T-Shirts, Suits, and Khakis

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I’ve been traveling more, which means more instances of the following conversation.

Q & A

Question: I can see that you [Bob] write most of the product code. What does everyone else at Alias-i do? And how do you make money?

Answer: I (Bob) do the t-shirt work, Breck does the suit work, and we both pitch in for the khakis work, though Breck does the lion’s share.

Although most of our income is license sales, not contracting, we do help our customers get up and running, though they do the integration with their products. Amazingly, we’ve been off the government research teat for the last two years.

And yes, there really are just the two of us and a part-time admin and the occasional contractor, so we don’t need to sell oodles of software to stay afloat.

By the way, the company’s now called LingPipe.

Explanation

The t-shirts do all the deep technical stuff involving math, stats, and algorithms. In my case, I also do the tech writing.

The suits do all the business stuff involving development, contracts, partnerships, marketing, sales, licensing, accounting, etc.

The khakis do two things, keep the IT infrastructure working (almost all Breck with some contractors) and work on customer-facing services/consulting projects (mostly Breck and some contractors).

Literally?   For me, yes, though I can be made presentable. Breck’s more of the classic Billyburg hipster. Neither of us would be caught dead really wearing the khakis-and-blue-shirt uniform of tech support and tech consulting.

Paying the Bills

The question always strikes me as naive in the same way that a question from a student about what the professor/lab-director does who never has any time for “real work” because they’re always traveling or in meetings or giving presentations. If the lab director spent their time doing the fun stuff, there’d be no lab to direct! It’s the same deal with a software company — there’s lots more to do than write software.

One could argue that selling software is the only thing that really matters. Although it helps to have nice software to sell, it’s not strictly necessary. On the other hand, nice software with no sales gets you bupkus.

2 Responses to “T-Shirts, Suits, and Khakis”

  1. breckbaldwin Says:

    We have been blessed with some very talented contractors. Mike Ross, Tong Zhang, Jeff Reynar, Mark Burnham, Amit Bagga, Dave Lewis and intern Emily Jamison all pitched in and have made a big difference.

    Breck

    • lingpipe Says:

      Indeed. I hope I didn’t imply that we did this all on our own! Mike Ross made some important contributions to the core LingPipe product code, as noted in the author tags in the javadoc.

      And speaking of the Rosses, Aaron Ross (no relation to Mike as far as I know) was working with Breck when I joined and contributed to much of the work on coreference and trackers.

      We’ve also gotten a huge amount of help and contracting from Ryan Nitz on the database/enterprise side. And my wife, Mitzi Morris, has worked for us off and on and has contributed tutorials, research and back-end development.

      I’m sure we’re still missing people on our list of contractors.

      We also have some especially talented and helpful friends and mentors to whom we often turn for advice on everything from coding patterns to business strategy and contracts.

      We’ve also had some really supportive customers without whom we’d have no interesting problems to solve and no business.

      Also, our early research and development funding through DARPA and NIH was instrumental in giving us the space to develop a product.

      Thanks!

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