Sold microISV; on to startuptodo.com.

It took a while to get to done, but I’ve now sold my first microISV product – MasterList Professional – to Shohn Trojacek of SixTree for an undisclosed sum. Its new home is http://masterlistpro.com.

The two reasons I sold MLP were a) I’ve done a lousy job of updating it and wanted to pass MLP on to someone who could and would make a clean start of it and b) I’m cleaning house to free up time and mental energy so I can get Project X (StartupToDo.com) complete enough for a private beta, finish the rest of it with that feedback and launch before June 1st.

(The backstory here: I wrote MasterList to break free of contract programming for a living, wrote Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality because I had no idea how to sell it and needed answers, and my professional career  – perhaps my calling in life – has gone in a certain direction from there.)

Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Before you launch, schedule time to get regular updates out. By schedule, I mean, carve out, commit to, and absolutely do. Getting updates out on a regular basis – something like every 2-3 months – is critical to future sales. Updates prove your software is alive, that you’re committed, that you’re listening. After the first few updates, I was so overwhelmed I could not bring myself to update MLP. The longer I waited, the more guilty I felt, the less I wanted to confront that pain.

2. Desktop microISVs worry way too much about piracy. Because I bought into worrying about piracy, I created a great registration/protection scheme that to my knowledge was never cracked. It also doubled the time I spent on tech support as people switched/reformated PCs and I needed to cut new registration codes for them. Plus, since 4 years ago I knew squat about creating a web app, creating new reg codes was a totally manual operation. Bad idea.

3. The feature you love is the one your customers will care least about. One of the most problematic parts of MLP when my company owned it was a checklist feature very, very few customers cared a whit about. I thought it was totally cool; the market could not care less.

4. Don’t build a new app on moribund programming language. After a decade of building VB6/VBA apps, I built MLP in VB6 instead of the then new .NET. .NET was untested, buggy, didn’t do anything you can’t do in VB6, blah, blah, blah. Whither it’s commercial controls or open source projects/libraries you use to push your language to the limit when doing commercial software, if they dry up, you are going to have an increasingly difficult time of it.

5. Good customer support does turn customers into evangelists. More than a few times, this happened with MLP.

So as I get StartupToDo marching, here’s how I think I should/have applied the -painful- lessons learned above.

1. Focus on the core selling value of your app. When next month StartupToDo goes live, there will be a base feature set that startups and microISVs will I hope open their wallets for, and not much else. See next point.

2. Startuptodo.com is a Rails app with plenty of jQuery goodness. That addresses the whole piracy, moribund language, registration code snafu, but given what it is, it makes total sense as a web app and no sense as a desktop app.

3. Improve regularly, but look to your customers for at least half of your strategic direction. I have a slew of features I’ve thought through/prototyped, but I’m going to take my lead from the community of customers as to what get’s built out. I will – despite all of the marketing I need to be doing – be setting aside non-negotiable time so I can release small regular incremental improvements about every 3 weeks, and will be looking for a talented Rails developer as my first significant expense to keep that going.

4. Don’t assume I know everything I need to know when it comes to building a startup. What worked then doesn’t necessary work now – that’s more than half of the reason I’m writing The Web Startup Success Guide (I’m 8 of 10 chapters done with the first draft). At least this time around, I’ll finish the book before launching the app! :)

Why should you do Twitter?

TwitterA friend of mine, Dave Collins (Shareware Promotions) has been trying to wrap his head around just what value Twitter offers for about the last month.

“I’ve been asking this question so long that my throat’s starting to hurt. So this time I’m going to throw in a reward,” Dave said in this BOS post. “How do I use Twitter for my business?”

He’s even offering a $100 Amazon gift certificate to get an answer to this question.

The long answer is The Twitter Survival Guide – but that’s for everyone and all businesses. Dave’s an expert at what he does which is designing SEO/Google AdWords campaigns that get results for software companies. So here’s what I think Twitter does as of right now for a company that provides services.

1. Establish Authority: “You’re only as good as your last byline” was a saying in the news business: now that a good chunk of the world is online, it applies to just about everyone whose business needs the Internet to exist. With Twitter, you can point to new content you’ve put up on your blog, podcast, uTube channel, forum and do the same for your best old content that people new to you have not seen. If you don’t do writing online, you can create value for other by saving them time by finding things online that are of interest to the people you want to connect to on Twitter. This is the role of the Editor I’ve posted about in the past: I rely on my Twitter network nowadays to let me know what’s going on: not RSS, seldom news (general or IT) sites, never email.

2. Get to know your customers. Like Dave, I have a foot in the service industry. Selling your services takes time and lots of interaction. It’s one thing to sell a $24.95 Windows app and another when you’re talking about thousands of dollars. Twitter lets you have that interaction quickly, efficiently, for both parties.

3. Better than Google. Twitter Search is about what people right now need, care about, are looking for. Google is about what’s out there to find – if they can find the needle in the digital haystack. That means running a set of Twitter searches as background tasks lets you find people you can help when they are actually looking for you or someone like you. Backing that up with a mini-dedicated landing page that has value, summarizes what you do and how you do it, and points to other resources that you can instantly share via a shortened (and trackable) URL might be a good idea. (Don’t know if this will work, but I’m going to try it in the next few days as I get back into things work/online.)

Help Dave out: what do you use Twitter for your business?

A very personal post…

(Please skip if you don’t know me…)

Sake

Dear friends,

It is with great sadness we need to let you know that yesterday we had to put Sake to sleep. After 22 years and ten months, he’d come to his time. He will always be in our hearts; please say a short prayer for him today.

-Bob, Tina, Sammy and Squeaky.

The MicroISV Digest

Reference AssisstantThe MicroISV Digest for the week ending April 20th, 2009.

(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

  • Darren Stokes, Concurrent Access Software, has released his first product, Reference Assistant. Reference Assistant is a VS Studio extension designed to help C# and VB.NET developers solve problems with missing project references, automatically setup for project reference paths, and visualize configuration files for Inversion of Control containers such as Spring.net, Windsor, and Unity.
  • Mihaela Mihaljevic Jakic, SamContacts, is looking for feedback on his new product and web site. SamContacts is a contact manager with some interesting features like Tag Clouds and Google Maps (via BOS.)
  • In Show #22 of the Startup Success Podcast Pat and I interview Matt Johnston, VP for Business and Community at uTest. uTest is crowdsourced, pay for performance, functional testing. Matt talks about how a community-based web service works, typical crowdsourcing costs and more.

Relevant Blog Posts, Videos and Articles

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

The MicroISV Digest

e-junkie.comThe MicroISV Digest for the week ending April 13th, 2009.

(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

  • Javier Rojas Goñi, PC Desktop Cleaner, is looking for product and site feedback. Javier is a longtime contributor at BOS. (via BOS)
  • Maciej Gorny, My Better Desktop, is looking for feedback on his site. My Better Desktop lets you create cross-platform portable wallpaper files with dynamic content that you can share with others. (via BOS)
  • David Christian, SimpleGlucose, has launched his app by the same name, and would like feedback on his site. (via BOS)
  • No episode this past week for the Startup Success Podcast – both Pat and I had killer work weeks leading up to the holiday weekend. Never fear, new episode this week.

Relevant Blog Posts, Videos and Articles

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

The MicroISV Digest

trueboxshotThe MicroISV Digest for the week ending April 6th, 2009.

(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

  • Steve Cholerton, Arten Science, is looking for a few brave alpha/beta testers for his new Mac OS X database query and management too, Orac. (via email)
  • Dennis Crane, (aka Dr Explain for True BoxShot), wanted to make sure people know there’s a new version of TBXCoverEditor out sporting better compatibility with Vista, new effects and new free templates. (via email)
  • Jerry Weinstock, over at CRM Innovation LLC, wrote in to say they’ve launched Web2CRM a new Silverlight SaaS application that lets a non-programmer create a form for their website that will push visitor inquiries directly into their Microsoft Dynamics CRM system. This is one of the first Silverlight commercial apps I’ve heard about. (via email)
  • Will, at pindropper.com, is looking for feedback on his new site for PicCard, a new Apple iPhone app that lets you turn any picture you take with your iPhone into a postcard that’s automatically mailed within the U.S. for 99 cents. Cool! (via BOS)
  • Todd Gasall, My Productive Meetings, is looking for feedback on his site and app My Productive Meeting. My Productive Meeting creates meeting agendas and minutes.(via BOS)
  • In Show #21 of the Startup Success Podcast Pat and I interview Ian Ozsvald, founder of ProCasts on the art and science, mystery and drama of creating great screencasts for your startup’s product or web site. Ian generously shares his expertise about how to target your screencast, techniques that make a huge difference, a range of free and non-free tools, ways to improve your video communication abilities and more. If you want to know how to create a screencasts that shines, this is the show for you!

Relevant Blog Posts, Videos and Articles

  • No blog posts this past week caught anyone’s eye.

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

  • The New York Times has a great and ironic story, The iPhone Gold Rush out. Definitely worth the read. The irony is the New York Times iPhone app is a godawful piece of stinking crap that crashes at least 4 times each and every single time I use it. It is easily the most unstable iPhone app I’ve ever seen. Maybe they should hire some of the programmers they profile to redo their app…

The MicroISV Digest

invoicemoreThe MicroISV Digest for the week ending March 30th, 2009.

(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, Metalgrass, is running a Tweet about it and win a $800 OLED Kodak photo frame contest at OLED-Info. (via email)
  • Andrey K, Cloudberry Lab, has been a busy guy: he’s just released a new version of his Windows CloudBerry S3 Explorer, and Twitter plugins for both Internet Explorer and Firefox. (via email)
  • Vance Lucas, InvoiceMore, has launched his new online billing and invoicing solutions for freelancers, entrepreneurs, and small businesses, especially those who do a lot of recurring billing. (via email)
  • Kevin Moore, Moore Software, is looking for feedback on his new site for MissingLink Project Center, a project management plugin for Microsoft Office. MissingLink provides a single, powerful window into the emails, files and people that comprise a project, from within Microsoft Outlook. (Disclaimer – I wrote the copy.)
  • In Show #20 of the Startup Success Podcast Pat and I interview the founders of UserTesting.com, a crowd sourced user testing startup that cuts the price per tester down from hundreds of dollars to $19. Definitely worth a listen: Cheap usability testing changes how development gets done.

Relevant Blog Posts, Videos and Articles

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

  • Some people if they woke up one fine day and found a large company had pocketed their revenue would just take it. Not Amy Hoy, Freckle Time Tracking, who wrote up how Google Checkout was anything but Not Evil and after the ensuing online uproar got some attention, got her money back. Her followup post, Google Checkout still unfit for business: I got my money, but would you? is something you should definitely read if you sell software for your living. Way to go Amy!

Getting with the times…

So tonight I’m going to drive down to “Casual Drinks with Avangate” for the not so casual purpose of finding a few startups to interview for The Web Startup Success Guide (http://apress.com/book/view/1430219858). I realized I might want to do a few on the spot interviews which meant rummaging around for my handheld digital recorder, seeing if its Windows-only software would run in a VM on my Mac and scratching my head trying to remember how to operate the damn thing. What fun – what a waste of time.

Then the lightbulb turned on above my head – what about my iPhone? Faster than you can say App Store I’d found, bought, installed and with the help of my trusty assistant tested iRecorder. Totally easy interface, sound quality is excellent, works like a charm. This is what software buying should be like on every computer.

There’s 25,000 iPhone apps now, a whole new platform for startups to build on. And if you think that with that many apps out there all the lucrative apps are done, ask yourself how many things do you put in your hands on any given day?
irecorder

The MicroISV Digest

painlesssvnThe MicroISV Digest for the week ending March 23rd, 2009.

(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

  • Hector Sosa, Jr, PainlessSVN, got his first sale of Subversion Server MMC SnapIn this week. Way to go Hector! (via BOS)
  • Vadim Kleyzit, Stimulus Technology, has released a public beta their ASP.NET software accelerator, Web Stimulus, which speeds up web pages 3-8 times with minimal code change. They are inviting beta testers who will receive free licenses. I’ve worked with Vadim on his company’s site and seen Web Stimulus deliver the goods. Definitely check this out if you do ASP.NET development. (via email)
  • Mat Conrad, Homeschool Day Book, got his first sale of Homeschool Day Book this week too, and he’s a happy camper. (via BOS)
  • Greg Driver, Rellik Software, has released version 1.7 of Portfolio Manager, a Windows stock portfolio management application. (via email)
  • David Mytton, www.boxedice.com, is for beta testers of a new server monitoring application: Server Density. You can email him directly at customer.service@boxedice.com. (via email)
  • A. Perdereau, Afava, has released his second product, TreeCells, a hierarchical spreadheet, and is looking for feedback on his site and products. (via BOS).
  • Show #19 of the Startup Success Podcast featured an interview with user experience consultant and author Lou Carbone, on understanding how your product and site make customers feel, and how you can shape that experience.

Relevant Blog Posts, Videos and Articles

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

Another email I’d like to share…

Here’s a email I got a yesterday:

Bob,
I wanted to take just a minute to thank you for  MicroISV Sites that Sell! The book turned out to be a resource of more value than I ever imagined.  John and I each read the book independently then we worked through the exercises together.  We used the questionnaire and the exercises as our guide while we worked through the redesign.  And the results…. WOW!  We had been limping along. We had established that there was in fact a market for our product, but we sure weren’t seeing the kind of sales we anticipated.  Of course, our site was ugly and extremely filled with features.  Our sales for January and February 2009 were just under $2000 combined.  We relaunched our website on March 1, 2009.  So far, our March 2009 sales are over $4000 … with 2 full weeks left in the month!  Thank you, thank you, thank you for putting the information we needed and the advice we needed to hear, in a clear concise easy to follow format.
With warmest regards,
Betsy Tuma
TumaSoft, LLC

http://www.tumasoft.com

===

This is what I like to hear. If you’ve not picked up your copy of MicroISV Sites that Sell!, buy it today, St. Patrick’s Day, for half the regular price. Just enter the discount code “StPat”. And may the luck of the Irish be with you! :)