Over at the Business of Software forum, there’s been a more than a little angst this summer over whether microISVs can compete with Free and Open Source (FOSS) software. After all, we have to charge for our software or go broke; there are a lot of really good FOSS apps out there; Microsoft is worried, Google keeps releasing “free” apps like Gmail – what’s a microISV to do?
Don’t worry, be happy and charge less than what FOSS software costs.
Now before you begin to wonder if Bob has been drinking too much fine Sonoma County wine, consider: your customers damn well know that every piece of software they buy costs them in three different currencies: money, time and emotions, and of the three, money is often the least important.
It takes time to install, configure and learn even the rudiments of a software application. That time for all but perhaps enterprise software where the people who pay the time aren’t usually lucky enough to be making the buying decisions, is often worth multiples of the money that changes hands.
But there’s a more subtle currency in play when acquiring software, or most anything else: the prospective customer’s emotions. For new cars, it’s all about being strong (trucks), being better than others (luxury cars), being different (Minis) and being safe (Volvos).
For software, for the average buyer, it’s whether or not this stinking thing is going to make me feel stupid, frustrated and angry with myself. While there are other products that extract a high emotional cost from their customers – notably cheaply made consumer electronics with piss-poor manuals, no tech support and that go dead in a week (yes, I’m talking about you, oh wireless headphones I’ve spent 2 hrs with trying to make work today!) – software takes the cake, gets the prize and drives more people crazy in this world by far. How many times have you felt like punching out your computer – and you’re a developer!
It doesn’t need to be that way. Especially for microISVs, where the software developer is often the person who decides what gets built, and how, and sets the cost in all three currencies.
This gets me back to FOSS software – great stuff when it works (Firefox), pure hell when it doesn’t (Firefox). Software that can become temporal black holes, sucking up hour after hour of your time yet emitting not one bit of productivity.
You as a microISV can do a lot more to make your software cheaper to buy for your customers while incidentally beating out FOSS competitors, charging as much (or more) money as you do now and making the world a tiny bit easier to live in. Here’s how:
- Start with your Site: how much time and how much frustration does it cost? Every click a visitor needs to make to find out what your software does, what it costs, why they should buy it and what kind of company backs it just raises the cost in time and frustration of buying your software. You may have had a really good reason a few years ago why you buried your price 3 clicks deep – that reason doesn’t hold water in today’s net-savvy online marketplace.
- Next is getting the software: what’s the time and frustration surcharge for downloading the trial version, making the purchase, getting upgrades? More to the point, why oh why are you making your prospective customers jump through hoops by having to supply you with their email address, let alone filling in a another pointless waste of time registration form? Bad. Bad Bad.
- Now how do I use the fracking thing? How many times have you downloaded an app, eagerly installed it, gotten all excited about using it, only to smash your face straight into a brick wall of an interface that gives you not one clue of how to get started? Too many times. Or how about whacking into one of those devil-spawned cute little “Tip of the Day” tips that is utterly incomprehensible gibberish because you are still trying to figure out how the program is supposed to work? In the age of YouTube, there’s no reason you can’t make a two minute screencast and show your prospective customers how to get started with your product. In fact, I’ll predict that in a few years there will be two types of software introduced – those with YouTube intros and those that don’t sell.
- Find annoyances and kill them dead. Ask your current customers one simple question: What little annoyance does our software have? Don’t be judgmental, defensive, or promise you are going to change the app just because they want you to; but for every customer that tells you about a specific annoyance, there’s ten – or a hundred – that hit the same issue.
Finding out what bugs your customers about your site, their out-of-the-box experience with your software and how they experience your software long term is smart. And then making these time and emotional costs go away is an easy, smart way to lower the cost of your software and improve your competitive situation.
[tags]microISV, FOSS, Open Source[/tags]