The benefits/value of ASP for microISVs/startups

ASP[Note: One organization I’ve consistently heard good things about is the Association of Shareware Professionals, so I’ve asked Mike to make his case here in a guest post.]
By Michael Dulin
President, Association of Shareware Professionals

Greetings Developers! I’m here to tell you why you should apply to join the Association of Shareware Professionals.  Though I must confess to you that I’m not a developer. What you are still here? You haven’t tuned out yet? Ok for the truly bored I’ll tell you a bit about myself at the end.

The ASP was founded in 1987 and is truly an organization that has helped many developer turn their fledgling dream into a success. We have our own private forums where veteran developers help the new person out. We also publish a paper monthly newsletter that always has useful information.

  • Over 1000 shareware professionals around the world invest $100 (US) every year to be part of the shareware industry’s premier trade association. They would not do that if they did not find value in their membership!
  • ASP members win many awards at the Shareware Industry Conference each year.
  • ASP members are successful in taking their businesses from part-time to full-time. They frequently get ideas on how to do this from other members.
  • Many of the top download sites, registration services, and other industry professionals are ASP members.

We are now a Network Partner in a new program called Microsoft BizSpark. Through BizSpark, we can now offer you fast, easy access to current, full-featured Microsoft development tools and platform technologies, as well as production licenses to develop and bring innovative and interoperable solutions to market.

Here is what one of our members has to say after he enrolled in Microsoft BizSpark: “The amount of software available is amazing from Windows 3.1 to Server 2008, from VC 97 to Visual Studio 2008, from Office 95 to Office 2007, Expression Suite (not just Expression Web) and so much, much more. Everything you need to develop and test applications on all versions of Windows including mobile devices.”  And there are no upfront charges to join this program.

So grow your business faster and more easily than ever with access to the world’s greatest archive of shareware success knowledge and resources. Apply Now!

About me. I’ve been involved with the Shareware business since 1996 when I founded the first software review site on the internet SharewareJunkies.com. I also have a weekly podcast SharewareRadio.com where I weekly feature an interview with an industry insider and industry news. I attend a number of industry conferences every year and I’m also a member of other industry associations. In my past life I was an air traffic controller and chef.  Though I’m an American I live in Finland and Guatemala plus I have a houseboat in Wisconsin.

Thanks,

Mike
Michael Dulin – President
Association of Shareware Professionals
president@asp-shareware.org

The MicroISV Digest

The MicroISV Digest for the week ending December 29nd, 2008.
(If you have an announcement of interest to your fellow microISV, indies or startups, please email me at bob.walsh@47hats.com with the word digest in the subject.)

News and Announcements

  • Ron Mertens of Metalgrass has launched a new service for bloggers, marketers and people into online video in general: Video Alerts. The new service sends out email alerts when video you are interested in becomes available (Currently just YouTube) (Via email)
  • Vladimir Dubovoy of DimensionGears is looking for feedback on his site and his modeling program, TruePainter (via BOS)

Relevant Blog Posts, Videos and Articles

  • None found.

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

  • I just wanted to wish everyone reading the MicroISV Digest, and 47hats.com for that matter, a Happy New Year. I for one am so looking forward to it!

Something new at 47hats.com

Starting today, I’ve added UserVoice.com goodness to 47hats.com. As we roll into 2009, I want to write more of the posts that you want to see, and UserVoice lets you to tell me what posts, interviews, guest posts, topics you would most like to see here.

Click the Feedback tab, click the posts you want me to work on, done. Or hop on over to the UserVoice 47hats forum and suggest a story there.

Think of it as being able to add a experienced researcher/writer to your startup. Free!

MicroISV Digest

The MicroISV Digest for the week ending December 22nd, 2008. (posted a day late due to cavorting female elves.)

(If you have an announcement of interest to your fellow microISV, indies or startups, please email me at bob.walsh@47hats.com with the word digest in the subject.)

News and Announcements

  • Gavin Bowman of Antair Games has launched a contest where you get to devour the losers: The Great Indie Bake Off 2008. The rules are simple: bake a dessert inspired by your game or app, post a photo of it and let Gavin know. (via email)
  • Torsten Uhlmann of Agynmix has launched Simidude, a cross platform drag and drop utility. with Simidude, you click and drag files, folders, urls, etc. between boxes regardless of OS. Very cool. (Via BOS)
  • Stephen Lombardo of Zetetic has released a major update to his product, Tempo Time Tracking service. Simple time tracking, powerful reporting and an iPhone interface. (via email)
  • I and Pat Foley released Startup Success Podcast Show #9 yesterday, wrapping up our three part interview with none other than Joel Spolsky. We’re making plans for 2009: what do you want more or less of?

Relevant Blog Posts, Videos and Articles

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

  • David Allen’s long awaited new book, “Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life” comes out in the states Dec. 30. If you’ve got a better way of being productive than Getting Things Done, let me know. Otherwise, this book is definitely for you. I’ll be posting a review here once I digest (ahem) it and get a head start on everybody else.

Linkbaiting for microISVs

By Mark Gladding
Founder,Tumbywood Software
www.Tex2go.com
www.eBooksJustPublished.com

I’ve always been impressed by Patrick McKenzie’s Daily Bingo Card linkbaiting strategy. Not only does it attract a great number of links from a notoriously non-technical audience, it casts an incredibly wide net to snare countless long tail searches. I’ve been thinking for a while on how to come up with a similar strategy for my own product, Text2Go – an application that turns text to speech so you can listen to it on your iPod or MP3 player.

Before I describe what I’ve come up with, it’s worth defining the keys to successful linkbaiting.

Link Baiting Defined

  • Provide genuine, valuable content.
  • Do this on a regular basis, preferably daily.
  • Make sure the content is targeted towards people you have a good chance of converting to customers.
  • Provide varied content to capture an ever increasing number of long tail searches.
  • Automate as much of the process as possible, so it doesn’t suck up all your time.
  • Resist the temptation to automate the actual content generation. Instead outsource it to a real person.
  • Truly valuable content can only be created by a real person.
  • Make it completely free and don’t require registration.
  • Provide RSS and Twitter feeds.

Frustration leads to ideas

My idea for the Text2Go link baiting strategy was born out of a frustration I encountered as a Text2Go user. A popular use for Text2Go is converting ebooks to audio books so you can listen to them while driving. Unfortunately many ebooks today are protected by DRM (Digital Rights Management) which prohibits text to speech. Its’ not that DRM-free ebooks don’t exist, it’s that they’re very hard to find. The other frustration I had was separating out the contemporary ebooks from the mountain of classic works that exist in the public domain. For example, Project Gutenburg has over 20,000 ebooks, the majority of which are classics.

I wanted a way of finding contemporary, DRM-free ebooks. It needed to be as simple as signing up to an RSS feed.

Positioning

And so eBooks Just Published was born. My two major ebook-related frustrations became the Unique Selling Proposition for the site. eBooks Just Published will only ever announce

  • Completely DRM-free ebooks
  • Contemporary works that have been published within the last 6 months

Contemporary works that have been published within the last 6 months

I also felt it was very important to clearly state what the site is not – an ebook publishing or hosting site. This is to encourage existing ebook publishers to support the site rather than view it as a competitor.

Each ebook announcement on the site contains a blurb about the book (similar to what you’d find on the back cover of a printed book) and links directing the reader to the author’s or publisher’s site where they can purchase or download the ebook.

I set myself the challenge of announcing at least one ebook every day. There is no better way of getting visitors to sign up to your feed than to deliver new content on a daily basis.

Implementation

I decided that I wanted eBooks Just Published to work like a blog, with each ebook announcement a separate post. The most recent announcement would always be at the top of the page. I chose WordPress as the platform, registered my own domain and hosted it on a cheap VPS (Virtual Private Server) running LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySql and PHP). Checking the BoS forum, I discovered several people had recommended eApps as a host and I haven’t been disappointed with the choice. I stayed away from WordPress.com  as I planned to do some heavy customization of the platform and WordPress.com won’t let you install plugins (see WordPress.com vs WordPress.org).

I used a free WordPress theme and then had a logo professionally designed by Ars Logo Design (I can’t recommend them highly enough; they also did my Text2Go logo). Doing it in this order meant the theme colours could be used as inspiration for the logo and the logo could be designed to blend harmoniously with the theme.

I used a range of plugins to enhance the behaviour and customize the look of many aspects of the site. The most useful from a reader’s point of view is the Enhanced Categories plugin which allows readers to subscribe to individual genres (i.e. categories). To make it easy for authors to submit their own announcements I used the Post Templates plugin so that each ebook announcement is created from a standard template.

Bootstrapping

Once the site implementation was complete the biggest problem I had was how to get the ball rolling. No announcements meant no readers and no readers meant no incentive for authors to submit an announcement. I’d mocked up a couple of sample announcements but on reflection those might have done more harm than good – it made the site look like a template for a site rather than a real, live site.

My solution was to contact a couple of authors I knew (thanks Bob and Stephane) and get permission to announce their ebooks on the site. Not only that, I offered to create the announcements for them. Once I had a couple of real announcements I removed the mock-ups and the site was live. I then spent a lot of time doing Google searches for ebooks. Once I found a book, I’d contact the author and offer to create an announcement. Little did I know that the biggest user of the post template would be me :) Although this was very time intensive, discovering each new ebook was a lot of fun – a bit like an Easter egg hunt.

Results

The site has been running for over a month now and it’s already exceeded my expectations. Here are a few of the highlights

  • Authors and readers alike have been very enthusiastic. I’ve had a lot of positive feedback, which is very satisfying.
  • Links are coming at a great rate. One thing I didn’t count on was authors helping to promote the site. When their book is announced they often link from their website or blog. A great example of this was Richard Herley who wrote an article on eBooks Just Published for the popular ebook site TeleRead.org.
  • Hal Spacejock was the first announced ebook I read. I enjoyed it so much I decided to create a competition and giveaway the print edition of the 4 book series. I contacted the author Simon Haynes and he agreed to act as competition judge and supply signed bookplates. Not only that, he promoted the competition to his fans via Twitter and his blog, resulting in lots of traffic. This co-promotion is quite effective and certainly a lot more fun than Adwords.
  • eBooks Just Published already ranks first for the search term ‘ebooks just published’. Not bad considering the term is almost generic enough that someone might use it when searching for recently published ebooks.
  • The site was featured in the online version of the Philadelphia Weekly newspaper and within the article they mentioned Text2Go as part of the back story.
  • I now have an extensive ebook reading list.

To Do

Up to this point I’ve concentrated on building readership for the site and hunting out ebooks to announce. I’ve spent very little time on converting readers to customers. At the moment I have a discrete text ad for Text2Go in the sidebar. Despite this it’s already my 8th highest traffic source. However I want to experiment with different ad formats to see which is the most effective. For example, adding a graphic or using an animated gif may attract more attention – I just need to tread carefully so it doesn’t make the site look cheap or tacky.

Conclusion

This has been my most time consuming marketing effort to date. However it’s also been the most fun and satisfying. Looking into the future I think it has the potential to generate significant, sustained traffic.

Mark Gladding.

Hiring your first employee.

By Neil Davidson

You’re running a successful mISV. You’ve given up your day job and are working 10 hour days. You’re pulling in a few thousand dollars a month. You’re ready to take the next step and hire your first employee. It’s a big move. Here are ten tips to make it work.

1) You’ve gotten this far with your mISV so I’m guessing you’re a generalist. You’re a good-to-very-good developer, you can cope with marketing, can sell if you’re pushed and are making a decent fist of your accounts. But now is the time to hire a specialist. So, figure out which specialism to hire for. What aren’t you good at? What do you hate doing? What would free up the most of your time so you can focus what you’re best at?

2) Get over your fear of delegation. You probably think that nobody could possibly support your product as well as you, or learn enough about it to sell it as well as you do, or understand your code well enough to maintain it, or get inside the heads of your customers to market it as well as you can. Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong. There are talented, fast learning people out there. Find one, and hire her.

3) Don’t worry too much about the financials. You’ve proven that you can make a living from your business all by yourself. Find the right specialist and she will pay for herself. If your half-assed, part-time marketing is adding $3,000 of value / month to your business, then an enthusiastic, dedicated professional will add triple that.

4) All hires are crucial, but the first few more so than the rest. This is the foundation on which you will build your business. The easiest way to screw this up is to compromise. So don’t. When you’re trying to hire somebody, you often see a string of poor candidates followed by one who’s merely mediocre. You tell yourself that it’s impossible to find excellent people for the role, or your short term need is so great you just should just hire the best of the bad. Or you persuade yourself that your standards are impossibly high. Banish these dangerous thoughts. Look hard enough, and long enough, and you will find the right person. And when I say long enough, I really do mean long. It took me over 12 months to fill a role once.

5) If you’ve never hired for this role before, bring in an expert to help you. Hiring a sales person? Find somebody who’s hired a hundred sales people already. Don’t know an expert? Find somebody who does. Never, ever hire for a role you do not understand without outside help.

6) When interviewing, forget the trick questions. Unless you’re in the manhole business, don’t ask why manhole covers are round. Forget the boring questions – what are your biggest strengths and weaknesses – too. Ask the candidate to do a task relevant to the job. Hiring for a telesales person? Put her in a different room, get her to call you and sell you a car. Hiring a tester? Give her something to test.
I’m consistently astonished how often people can talk eloquently about a task but utterly fail to actually do it.

8) Always, always take up references. And always do them by phone, not in writing or by e-mail. You need to be able to notice the awkward pauses, ask follow up questions and encourage referees to volunteer information they might not give in writing. If somebody tells you it’s against company policy to give references, push and you can often get them concede to a quick, informal chat. Retracting a hire offer after a lousy reference is a horrible thing to do, but not as horrible as hiring the wrong person.

9) Paul Romer, the Stanford economist, says that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. The current economic mess is no exception. There are some excellent people looking for jobs right now. You’ve got opportunities to minimise your risk, to experiment, and to try out flexible contracts. Found an excellent potential employee but still not 100% sure you need to hire her? Be explicit and honest about your intentions, your plans and your worries, and put her on a three month contract.

10) You still might hire the wrong person. If you do this, fix it as fast as you can. Whenever I’ve fired somebody, I’ve always regretted not doing it three, or even six, or twelve, months sooner. It’s always tempting to try one more thing, to give the person one more chance, to cut her just one more piece of slack. You cannot afford to wait. Confront the situation or you will bust your business or – worse – doom it to mediocrity.

This is an exciting time for you. Think it through, plan it well, get advice and take the plunge.

Neil Davidson is co-founder and joint CEO of Red Gate Software. He also runs the annual Business of Software Conference with Joel Spolsky. His blog is at http://blog.businessofsoftware.org and you can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/neildavidson.

Fearful people can’t make things.

Tina Su is an online friend of mine that comes up with these incredibly thoughtful posts on creativity, clarity and happiness. Happiness? What’s that got to do with startups, coding, microISVs and the like? Everything.

Fearful people can’t make things.

Lately, there’s been plenty of fear to go around. I watch the news, talk to my friends, listen to the experts and want to move to another planet.

Tina Su’s latest post talks me down, reminds me FDR was right the last time: we have nothing to fear, but fear itself – and you’d better not underestimate it, buckwheat, because fear will freeze you in your tracks, make you hide under your desk and do stupid things.

So if you – like I – have been getting way too much of our Recommended Daily Dosage of Fear lately, give her post, Overcome Fear in the Economic Crisis a read. I was glad I did.

I’m disappointed.

Julien Codorniou, the program manager for Microsoft BizSpark, emailed me this morning to tell me I’m the second most active BizSpark Network Partner worldwide!

Second.

I hate being second. Especially when that means almost besting all those stuffy VC’s with their staffs, VLE (Very Large Egos) and their hundreds of millions of dollars. So let me up the ante a bit.

For the rest of 2008, anyone who emails me to get enrolled in BizSpark who qualifies and enrolls will get a free copy of MicroISV Sites that Sell!. That should help. Now I wish I could give you an hour of free consulting time, but since I’m getting zip from Microsoft for doing this (not even a Zune I can re-gift to somebody I don’t really like), no can do. But the ebook should help.

Please! Before you email me at bob.walsh@47hats.com, you have to be a startup selling to the public or be in the process of creating a real startup – contractors/consultants/custom programmers don’t qualify. See these specifics (the column headlined, “For Technology Startups”.

Then in your email, tell me your company name, your startup URL or a bit about your startup idea (nothing proprietary, but just enough so I can with a clear conscience say you’re doing a startup.). I’ll send you the super secret unique one time only code and you start getting about $50K worth of Microsoft software/licenses.

Also, 47Hats is now a Microsoft BizSpark Partner and BizSpark vs. Empower should answer any questions.

I really hate being second.

MicroISV Digest

Top 100 Blogs for DevelopersThe MicroISV Digest for the week ending December 15th, 2008.

(If you have an announcement of interest to your fellow microISV, indies or startups, please email me at bob.walsh@47hats.com with the word digest in the subject.)

News and Announcements

  • Peter Štibraný has launched Foglyn, an Eclipse plugin which lets you edit your FogBugz cases within that IDE. (via email) He’s also looking for site feedback. (via BOS)
  • Thomas Holz’s microISV IT-Services has released version 2.05 of Easy2Sync for Outlook. Easy2Sync let’s you sync multiple copies of Outlook without using Microsoft Exchange Server; the new version includes a built-in spam filter. (via email)
  • Keith Alperin of Helium Foot Software has moved Highbrow out of beta to 1.0. Highbrow enables anyone to utilize each installed web browser more effectively on the Mac by eliminating the annoyances that arise from using multiple web browsers. With Highbrow, users will always get the browser that they want. (via email)
  • Dmitry Leskov, Excelsior LLC, has been selling Excelsior JET – a tool for Java programmers who want to accelerate development, protect their codebase and create professional deployments. He wanted readers of the microISV Digest to know that while a standard license costs between $1,200-4,500, Excelsior Jet through their Microbusiness Licensing Program is substantially less through the end of this year. (via email)
  • Not wasting any time, Steve Cholerton has moved DataClean – a cross platform utility for cleaning large amounts of data and writing it out in various formats – to 1.0

Relevant Blog Posts, Videos and Articles

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

MicroISV Digest

TheTwitterSurvivalGuide.jpgThe MicroISV Digest for the week ending December 8th, 2008.

(If you have an announcement of interest to your fellow microISV, indies or startups, please email me at bob.walsh@47hats.com with the word digest in the subject.)

News and Announcements

  • Gavin Bowman of Antair Games emailed that they’ve released their new iPhone game, Sneezies. Good going Gavin – and you can snatch up for now this game that rates an 11 on the 1 to 10 cuteness gauge for only 99 cents at iTunes. (via email)
  • Kristen Nicole and I released The Twitter Survival Guide. It’s an in-depth guide on how and why use Twitter to build your personal, microISV or startup online brand.
  • Keith Alperin of Helium Foot Software has released Highbrow 1.0 Public Beta. Highbrow enables anyone to utilize each installed web browser more effectively on the Mac by eliminating the annoyances that arise from using multiple web browsers. With Highbrow, users will always get the browser that they want. Beta until 12/15 when 1.0 will be released. (via email)
  • He’s at it again! – Steve Cholerton has released a preview version of Arten Science DataClean – a cross platform utility for cleaning large amounts of data and writing it out in various formats.

Relevant Blog Posts, Videos and Articles

  • Paul Graham asks the question this month, do startups still need VCs? “Could VC be a Casualty of the Recession?“. In Paul’s words: “VCs and founders are like two components that used to be bolted together. Around 2000 the bolt was removed. Because the components have so far been subjected to the same forces, they still seem to be joined together, but really one is just resting on the other. A sharp impact would make them fly apart.” (pointed out by TechFlash’s John Cook.)
  • Show #7 of the Startup Success Podcast features the first of a three part interview with Joel Spolsky. This week Joel, Patrick and I talk about the “secret sauce” that makes Stack Overflow work. (iTunes link.)

Further (mostly relevant) Reading