Interview With CEO Of SSuite

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SSuite Office Software is a maker of some very high quality free office software. Their flagship software includes a full office suite, as well as many communication tools, like, LAN Messengers, etc. We have been reviewing their software on this site since 2010 (check some of the reviews here, here, and here). So, we thought of getting in touch with them for an interview. Our expectation was that it would be a pretty big team, because they have lots of software, and most of them are pretty huge. But we were very surprised to find that the show is run by just two brothers, working on this in their free time (both have separate full time jobs as well). The brothers are based out of South Africa and have a very humble background (they still stay with their parents). Despite that, they actually don’t want to make any money from their software. All their software are completely free, without any option for any paid upgrades. Even their website has no ads at all, and they have made it pretty clear that they are not interested in doing either of those. All they are doing it for is their passion.

We have done quite a few interviews in the past, and were surprised in all the cases that the teams happened to be pretty small. But this interview was a real shocker for us.

For Your Reading Pleasure, here is the interview with elder brother Henk, CEO of SSuite:

ILFS: Tell us more about yourself.

Henk: I program software together with my brother Marius, when we have time. To supplement my income, I work as an electrical contractor during the day. I do maintenance and installations on new and existing engineering shops in our area with my brother and farther. Mostly lathes, boring mills, and Sub-arcs. As for my background, I completed high school in 1989, after that I studied for 12 years, on and off, and completed three Engineering Diplomas there-after.{Mechanical, Electrical, and Software engineering}
Currently I am not married and still live with my parents{big surprise!} and my brother. The economy is not what it used to be. Gets a bit crowded sometimes…

(In the photo below, Henk is on Left, and younger brother Marius is on right)

SSuite Team - Henk And Marius

ILFS: How big is the team?

Henk: The team is made up of only two people, my brother and myself. I first started the company and then later on when he finished his studies, he joined me in developing new software applications. He does all the database programming and I do the user-interactions and GUI.

ILFS: What is the age of you and your brother?

Henk: I am 42 years old and my brother Marius is 36.

ILFS: Where are you based out of?

Henk: We are based out of Langebaan, located on the West-Coast of South-Africa. If you go to Google Maps, you will see it is a very small town. The below co-ordinate is just an estimate, but it shows where our town is on the world-map.

http://maps.google.com/maps?q=-33.08000183,18.02000046

ILFS: This one is from a bachelor guy in my team: Any plans of getting married soon?

Henk: Getting Married?!!!…

The IT sector is so unpredictable and with an extremely unstable working environment it is almost impossible to meet someone and get married. I don’t want to struggle making a living and keep a family going at the same time. It just wouldn’t be fair to the woman and even children if there were any.

ILFS: Any idea how many people use SSuite Office suites?

Henk: Our best estimate to date is that over 500,000 people are currently working with our software all over the world. The latest growth in users come from our communications software. It started about a year ago and has increased ten fold since then. After the “Snowden” revelations, people have started to look for server-less and completely stand-alone LAN network communication software without internet connections required.

ILFS: When did you start SSuite Office?

Henk: I started SSuite in late 2002 after I finished my studies in software engineering. At that time I had a very small website with just one small office suite called “SSuite Office – Personal Edition“.
In the beginning I had about three to five people a day on the website visiting, now we can have anything from 500 to over a 1000 people at any given moment. It only took about ten years to get there…

ILFS: How much time did it take to develop first version of SSuite Office?

Henk: It took me about a little over a year to completely finish the first office suite. The hardest work was to get the help files finished. It takes a lot of time to enter all that information and make sure that it is all correct too.

ILFS: Why did you make SSuite Office?

Henk: I first started of just creating a word processor to get more experience in programming. But later on it got so useful and more powerful, I decided to make a whole office suite for myself. It helped me get more experience in all the facets in programming and I really got to enjoy creating something I can actually use other than having to buy the expensive MS Office suites out there at the time.

ILFS: Why did you make an Office suite from scratch? There are so many open source Office suites out there, like OpenOffice, Libre Office, etc. So, did you think about just forking one of them and customize them as per your requirements, instead of making an office suite from scratch?

Henk: I did have a look at the open source options, but discovered that they all had one flaw: they needed Java to run. About ten years ago when Java just started, it was a very new and buggy system and most Java dependent software were very unstable and crashed a lot.

Seeing that it was still so unstable, and not to talk about the security threats that it created having an operating system running on another operating system, it made everything run very slowly. Even now ten years later, Java is still very slow and has also been declared the largest security threat a computer can have, it is still not an option…

Going native on Windows was a much better decision. The other advantage of doing it all myself is that I have total control over the design and architecture of the whole project and software applications. Not working with someone else’s code is much better.

ILFS: Any plans of making smartphone apps as well?

Henk: We are currently looking at the possibility on taking our software onto Android. But this will take some time. Not all of our software can be ported to Android. The API’s are not all there like on the Windows Desktop.

ILFS: Your software or website doesn’t have any ads. And you have mentioned on the website that there is no need for you to monetize the software. Tell me more about that. Why did you choose not to monetize software or website in any way?

Henk: Personally I believe that there is no place for advertising on the internet. The internet is the only place for the individual to be completely free from governments and monopolies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google. If you want something, just search for it and then make your own personal choice as to what you need or want and then download it for your own use.
Here on the internet people should be allowed to make free choices and not be cordoned of like sheep e.g. AOL network, Apple’s closed software eco-system, and Microsoft’s RT and Metro systems.
I like to keep our website clean of any advertisements and third-party distributions as it simply looks much more professional and not like a two-bit outfit running from someone’s garage.
It is very important to be professional and not be seen as being dependent on any third-party, especially when you are giving away free software or products. This gives a poor impression on anyone visiting your website, and you must always keep people’s trust. Without any trust, you cannot be successful.

ILFS: What are the other new products that we can expect from SSuite?

Henk: We have expanded our range of software and applications so rapidly in the past two years that we are currently going over all our previous software and updating, fixing, or changing features and functions to make them all more useable and more reliable{stable} for Windows.
Any new products and applications will depend on what people are looking or asking for…

ILFS: What is the biggest challenge you faced when you decided to start this venture?

Henk: My biggest challenge was letting people know about my website and downloads. I fixed this in part by submitting my software to all the PC magazines and free download websites. This helped a lot and our biggest break came when a journalist from PC World reviewed one of our office suites. This really helped us create a brand name people could come to trust. Their stature in the web-user community on reviewing only the best software out there placed us in the spot-light.
As we grew, the second challenge was that I needed much more bandwidth. But it is very expensive to buy since I had to pay for it myself. But fortunately I made more money as my electrical maintenance work increased. Now I have enough to handle any amount of downloads and people visiting our website.
Apart from the website’s bandwidth, the other biggest challenge was to get all the right API codes for the Windows operating systems. Microsoft makes a habit of hiding the most important ones and even not publishing some of them at all.

ILFS: What advice would you give to other developers out there who want to take the plunge and start their own venture?

Henk: Pick a platform that you feel most comfortable with e.g. Windows, Android, etc. and then make sure to get all your resources in order like API’s, documentation, and the market you want to be in e.g. word processing, games, graphics, user-apps like twitter or Facebook, or communication.
Pick one and if you are successful in one market, you may start to grow your market and software range from there.
The most important part is to get your user-interface right. A good interface goes a long way, especially the graphics part like the icons and images inside your software. Always give friendly support and advice when people ask for it. Keep building trust with your user-base.

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