Why I keep doing what I do.

Got this email (reprinted with permission) from Mike Stokes in New Zealand yesterday on my birthday (yes, I am now version 5.3):

Hi Bob,

As a fan of your writings for years (and especially your books, which I still refer to), you are the first person I wanted to run our new software past. And, as my daughter says to emphasize her point, I would like to say “I mean it” – your ISV advice is always insightful and helps give that motivation a little spike when the coffee’s running low 😉

We’re launching a new help creation tool called HelpBurner that may interest some of your readers so I thought I’d share it with you and perhaps get some of your expert feedback.

We’ve been operating our own boutique software company for over a decade now, producing thoughtful, useful software.  How to effectively handle support is always an issue. We’re hoping that you will agree and that your readers would enjoy learning about Helpburner.

Instead of support sucking up big chunks of time, HelpBurner enables small operators to concentrate on core business.

If you’re interested you can find out more information from our website We explain how HelpBurner works with existing software, including popular help content tools, PDF, blogs.

I’ve included below a full license key so you can fully use HelpBurner and see what we mean :)

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or feedback about it Bob, I’d love to hear what you think :)

Mike Stokes – Creator of HelpBurner.
Phone: +64 21661474 | Fax: +64 21696696

P.S. I’d be only too happy to give away a bunch of licenses to StartupToDo users or your blog readers if you like it.

[Sounds like a good reason to comment here :)]

Bob WalshWhy I keep doing what I do.
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  • Vance Lucas - July 14, 2010

    I would love to own a copy of this software – I had to take a short series of screen shots just last week to answer a pre-sale user question, and this would have made that task much easier and quicker.

  • Amber Shah - July 14, 2010

    My first feedback is that the scrolling thing goes through sooo fast. Definitely slow that down.

    Aside from that, I’m looking for a way to provide support info for my site so I think I’d somewhat in your target market. I wasn’t totally clear how this worked. Most of these things I have seen have been some sort of installer on your server that gets its own subdomain. It looks like this is designed to work with plain html? I wasn’t clear. And I wasn’t sure what I would be downloading. So I opted not to continue but if you think it’d be something useful, you can contact me. The word email at my first and last name dot com.

  • Mike stokes - July 14, 2010

    Hi amber – helpburner is a bit different to most tools out there so it can be a little un-clear to start with.

    It’s main purpose is to make creating and publishing help, documentation and tutorials a smooth and quick process.

    Once you have created content in helpburner, it can publish it to web pages which you would upload to your site; PDF which you can upload or email; your company blog.

    You can also sent your content as HTML email using your desktop email client… For example you could send rich step by step instructions, guides or answers created in helpburner directly to customers inbox.

    I’ll be monitoring and responding to all questions here.

    Cute baby by the way amber!


  • Tarek Demiati - July 14, 2010


    What’s the USP of your product ?

    Is it a light weight version of Snag-It with added functionality such as HTTP/FTP upload
    How your product is doing in terms of sales ?

  • Mike Stokes - July 14, 2010

    Hi Tarek, basically HelpBurner allows you to create help for customers (guides, docs, manuals, tutorials) in about 1/4 of the time traditional systems require and then allows you to get the help in-front of users wherever they are (web, PDF, e-mail, blogs etc).

    I know that’s still a bit wordy and not crystal clear… I’ve always struggled with creating really compelling tight USPs… I guess it’s the developer inside my head 😉

    I’ve sent you an e-mail with a license key :)

  • Tarek Demiati - July 14, 2010

    Thanks Mike, I’ll make sure to send you some feedback as soon as I’ve tried your app

  • Mike Stokes - July 14, 2010

    Vance – no problem, send me an e-mail and a copy is all yours :)

  • Michael Rakita - July 15, 2010

    Mike, your product looks very similar to Help & Manual ( Did you try Help & Manual? Could you tell me how’s your product different? As far as I can tell HelpBurner is more screenshot-oriented when Help & Manual is more text-oriented, even though Help & Manual includes screenshot capture and very nice screenshot editor.

  • Anders Pedersen - July 16, 2010

    Great software – I would be very happy to own a copy of that. Ik could for sure use it when I make user guides for my clients

    Anders Pedersn

  • João Santos - July 16, 2010

    This looks like the kind of thing that can really add to productivity. By spending less time supporting, one can spend more time developing and focusing on new features. I’d love to try this software out!

  • Richard Dent - July 16, 2010

    Mike, HelpBurner looks very impressive. This may be the product I have been looking. Something that is simple to use but allows me to be productive. If HelpBurner can cut down on the time it takes to provide support, you’ve got a winner!

  • Mike stokes - July 16, 2010

    Thanks to everyone for your continued support and really useful comments :)

    Richard – that’s exactly it… We want helpburner to make you more productive creating your help and also to make the help much more “digestible” for your end users so they get real value from it. The easier the help is to use by end users, the more empowered they become which leads to more expert users and dropping the learning curve to your products.

    Anders + Joao – I’ll get you some keys on Monday :) thanks for taking the time to comment :)

  • Mike stokes - July 16, 2010

    Michael – helpburner is designed from the ground up to make help authoring quick and easy and the help produced easy to use by your customers.

    Help&manual and other old style tools are stuffed full of way to many “features”… And the help they create is not user friendly… Which is why help and user guides have become unused by most users.

    Why not make your help and tutorials an asset to your users and your business? It’s time help is reinvented and that’s why we created helpburner.

    Old style tools do have a place if you’re creating very technical help for very technical users… But most people aren’t which is why we think helpburner is cool 😉

    More and more products are trying to solve a specific problem instead of trying to be everything to everyone, take apple, balsamiq, 37signals etc for example… This is the same philosophy we’re taking with helpburner.

    Please comment back if anything is unclear and I’ll respond.

  • Michael Rakita - July 17, 2010

    Yes, I was using Help & Manual to write help for programming tools/components and it works very well. Would love to try HelpBurner and check if it makes it easier to write help for simpler end-user or web applications.

  • Mike stokes - July 17, 2010

    That’s the one Michael :). For technical information the existing tools do a good job but we developers only make up less than 20% of the population, so the apple 80:20 rule applies:

    They design a product that is perfect for 80% of the market which is what we’re trying to achieve too… Every extra “feature” we add that isn’t good for the 80% takes away and in this case that also directly takes away from the usability of the help produced for your end users.

    Not that I’m comparing ourselves to apple! We just think they have opened our eyes to a new way of doing things that works better for our users.

    Try using helpburner for support Michael… Create illustrated solutions that you can post to your blog or email directly to users when they ask a question… We’re currently adding zendesk support so you can also post the answers to you helpdesk and support forums.

    Have a great weekend :)

  • Alan Smith - July 19, 2010

    The potential of this tool is very interesting. I currently use SnagIt or the windows SnippingTool to grab the image and then modify into the format I need (HTML, pdf). As I’m posting more and more of my user documentation online, I’d be curious to see how much time this tool could save me.

  • Tarek Demiati - July 19, 2010

    Alam :
    Download the tool, take a timer, write the same little doc with SnagIt and Help Burner and come back with your results 😉

  • Jeff Mitchell - July 19, 2010

    Hi Mike,

    I’d love to try this out and give you some feedback. Are you still handing out licenses?

  • Mike Stokes - July 19, 2010

    Jeff – perfect timing, I have one left with your name written all over it… can you e-mail me please at so I can get it to you?

  • Mike Stokes - July 19, 2010

    Hi Alan, I agree with Tarek – I’d love to see you try it out and report back so everyone can see what your results are… give me an e-mail and I can help you out.

  • Mitchell Allen - July 20, 2010

    This is a very interesting product. I’ve done a few manuals by hand over the years.

    I’ve been shipping my products with TiddlyWiki-based manuals. While I love being able to build my documentation from the middle out (see williamriceinc on blogspot), even that platform has limitations for large projects. The tagging feature of HelpBurner should make the transition less painful.

    I will defintely put this product on my shortlist :)



  • Mike Stokes - July 20, 2010

    Mitchell – thanks for the comments :) HelpBurner is going to integrate into Confluence and XWiki in the near future too :)

    Whilst we’ve run out of give-away copies of HelpBurner for this month, if you do decide to go our way, let me know and I can organize a good discount for you.


  • Mitchell Allen - July 20, 2010

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks! I’ve downloaded the demo and am just beginning to play with it.
    Wiki integration sounds good – I’ve been spoiled by TiddlyWiki to the extent that I have NO clue as to how easy or difficult it is to create documentation with other wikis.
    How would text entry change with your integration? Or, is the integration just for publishing?



  • Mike Stokes - July 21, 2010

    Mitchell – the integration is just for publishing. So Wiki publishing would be another export format/target for your help and documentation when using HelpBurner, in addition to the existing blog, web, PDF and e-mail export formats.

  • Mitchell Allen - July 21, 2010

    Thanks, Mike. That’s actually more useful than the data-entry scenario, as I would be more likely to implement a finished wiki. The thought of learning a new input format makes me shudder.



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