Anyone been to one of these?
Get your app listed here if you want Intel and other VC’s to hear about it.
Definitely not a dull blog!
Never hurts to cover the basics.
A good writeup on company blogs from a new microISV blogger
A good sizeup of the new online video arena
That’s a lot of storage – why is Google doing this?
Basic AdWords advice from Google
Sometimes people go overboard on SEO – here’s what you should not be doing.
By Joshua Volz
Marketing. It’s the other half of having a software company. It’s the hard part for most of us who start our own microISV. It’s the hardest part for me. Writing the code is easy; I’m used to it. How do I market my code once I’ve made it? Can I produce a presentable website? How can I get my product uploaded to all the download sites?
RoboSoft is a program that automates the process of uploading your PAD file including your program information to the numerous download sites on the internet. Their database of sites includes more than 1,000 entries.
I heard about RoboSoft from Partick McKenzie’s blog. He had mentioned it as part of his marketing efforts for Bingo Card Creator. He had even said that he liked it enough to purchase the product ($99). Patrick is very thrifty, so I expected the product to be excellent.
I was right to expect excellence. I downloaded the installation and quickly had it installed. The installation was quick and painless. I didn’t know anything about PAD files, about the software, nor had I ever submitted a product to a download site. I was a complete novice, so if you are too, don’t worry about it.
I briefly looked through the help in the program, which got me going pretty quickly with the creation of company and product entries within the software. The product creation is basically filling in the information that is required for a PAD file. The PAD file support within RoboSoft is extensive. It appears to handle several special cases very easily. None of these PAD files add-ons applied to my product, but if they had it would have been simple to include them.
I entered my information. Most of it I already had from the creation of my website (file names, software descriptions, etc.). I was missing an online PAD file and a program icon. Once I had created the PAD file using the software (you can export a PAD file very easily) I uploaded it to my website and then added that link to the PAD file itself. The program icon did give me a bit of trouble because I didn’t know that it was required to not be an .ico file, and that it was required to be 32×32 or smaller. It should be a .png or .jpeg (I believe there are other options, but those are the main ones as far as I’m concerned).
Before fixing the PAD file and program icon issues, I tried to run an upload. The software has a nice wizard to walk you through all of the steps to setup an upload. It was similar to running a normal installation in that I just had to make my selection and click next. Not much thought was required on my part. Since I hadn’t fixed the issues yet I was only successful in uploading to about 50-60 sites. I thought this number was low, but it was late so I went to bed.
The next day I messed around with the PAD file and program icon and got them working (maybe 45 minutes of trial and error). I reran the upload and was able to upload to an additional 200+ websites. I was extremely pleased. I am going to buy this product for use with future releases of this and other software.
My initial upload (50-60 sites) was two weeks ago on September 23rd. The previous version of the program languished on the vine with very little real advertising. I had about 112 downloads of the software in a 12 month period. With this version, in 15 days, I’ve had 121 downloads and climbing. Yes, the improved user interface might have something to do with it, but I credit the majority of the exposure the product has gotten to the submissions to the download sites. I haven’t yet started my other advertising efforts, so all of my traffic is either organic or coming from those download sites.
I recommend this product and I think it is an absolute must for any microISV selling a software application.
I’m Joshua Volz, owner of Volz Software. I make software I want to use. Lately I have been working on Llama Carbon Copy (a simple, automatic backup software for non-technical people) and Vizonware Organizer (a personal organizer and archive that is currently free to download and use).
[tags]microISV, Marketing, RoboSoft[/tags]
Yesterday I got the word on Fog Creek’s new FogBugz 6.0 from the man himself, Joel Spolsky, from a microISV point of view.
I wanted to see for myself whether the new 6.0 had gained anything that would make it easier to use as my one person tech support app; what I got was a hell of a surprise.
The surprise is something Joel and Co. call evidence-based scheduling (ESB). I think this one exclusive feature is going to rock the development world and be a real boon for microISVs. Here’s why: estimating development tasks has been broken in our industry since day one and Fog Creek’s evidence-based scheduling is the first painless tool I’ve seen in 25 years that actually fixes this problem.
No more guesstimates. No more complicated Excel spreadsheets trying to divine whether the app will be done by the target date. No more endless deathmarches to nowhere. No more faith-based developing.
I’m not going to go into how EBS works here – Joel does a far better job here than I can do. I don’t care how it stops the bleeding, only that it does.
Here’s what an IT shop gets: with almost no overhead, a IT manager can see in one second flat which of their programmers needs the most “management” applied to them to improve their productivity and stop screwing up the ship date. They don’t have to rely on hope and prayer that their developers are estimating accurately – EBS factors that in.
They can see – really honestly see – just when a project or a major version is going to be done, regardless of whatever development methodology or lack thereof they are using, whether they’re developing an app for desktops or the web, regardless of programming language.
For a microISV with one or a few developers, EBS means you can play what-if with your feature set to win: Just move a slider up and down your priority hierarchy, and you can see what it does to your ship date.
I’ve been a using FogBugz since 4.0 for my own commercial product, but the fit always left something to be desired – too many features that didn’t make sense for a microISV with one programmer. Now, all those annoyances have been scrubbed out with Ajax, and I can fit FB to my workflow so that things like estimating features and tracking time spent on those features is nearly transparent.
This is just awesome. While there are some other really great help desk apps out there, notably Userscape’s HelpSpot, FogBugz 6 is just what I’m going to need to develop Project X (my Next Big Thing) and then support it with the minimum of effort.
If Joel’s World Tour is coming to a city near you by all means check it out – the 60 or so developers who shared a hotel conference room with me yesterday got more than their time was worth. Or you could check out this movie. And if you’re not in a position to run your FogBugz on your own server, FogBugz On Demand is a very good deal.
(Disclaimer: I’m the co-moderator of Joel’s Business of Software forum.)
When the going gets tough, the tough turn to keyboard shortcuts, at least they do if they’re programmers. Nice site with lots of good shortcuts.
A good primer on estimating software tasks – be they for The Man or for your microISV
Nice collection of general topic info for microISVs
Some of the implications of being a successful microISV can turn around and bite you.
“Biweekly podcast showcasing startup stories and inspiring entrepreneurs. They did it. You can too.”
Tim Haughton over at The Agile Micro ISV Blog nailed it today: “Teams move boulders. The micro ISV fills his pockets with pebbles and runs back and forth.”
Too often microISVs fall into the trap of approaching work (programming, marketing, planning) as if they were still safely nestled in their old corporate jobs – big projects, big goals, big, big, big.
Small is beautiful. And it’s highly appropriate to microISVs, where my “team” consists of me, myself, I and Squeaky the Cat.
Maybe it’s time for you to stop trying to move boulders of big goals and start filling your pockets with valuable, doable pebbles of productivity.
(By the way, if you’ve never read E. F. Schumacher’ s “Small Is Beautiful”, add it to your reading list – you are in for a treat.)
By Jonas Martinsson
FeedJournal – The Newspaper You Always Wanted
[Ed. Note: From time to time I'm inviting various microISVs to come talk about the development of their products here at 47hats.com. Want to contribute a MicroISV Profile? Email me.]
My micro-ISV project is FeedJournal. At its core, it generates a PDF newspaper from RSS feeds. When I first caught the entrepreneurial itch I was happy to find out that there was a book on how to run your own one-person software business. I am very pleased to now get the chance to tell the story of my micro-ISV on the author’s own blog. The piece below is a snapshot of where I am now and how I got here.
Being less than happy with my daily newspaper subscription’s content I started to think of ways to improve the experience for readers of traditional papers and magazines. It is clear to me that reading a newspaper on paper is matchless. I wanted to use that concept but make the content more customized for the reader. Having an RSS reader to aggregate all your favorite feeds and generate a newspaper from it would be golden.
That’s what I was dreaming of when I saw Microsoft advertising a competition, promoting their new Express software suite for developers and hobbyist programmers.
The “Made In Express Contest” (MIEC) would has 12 finalists blogging and developing an application using the Express Editions of Visual Studio and SQL Server. The finalists would be selected, judged by the idea itself and the feasibility of a single person finishing it in a couple of months; pretty good criteria for your first micro-ISV project as well, I thought.
The idea of competing in a contest appealed to me immediately for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it would be an excellent way of getting a feel for how popular this product could become. I have heard enough crazy ideas in my days, to know that you need to test your idea on others before committing yourself too much. It would also be healthy to develop the solution in a community with other individuals, and with a set deadline. And, I was also hoping that participating in the contest could generate attention to the project.
I was of course thrilled to get the phone call from Microsoft saying that they would like to see me (out of 1,500 submissions) as a finalists. Four months of hard work later – mixed with daily blog posts reporting the project progress, working at my day-job, and becoming a father – I had FeedJournal v1.0 ready for the world to see. Considering my history of coming up with interesting ideas that never get off the ground, my participation in MIEC was critical for getting started on FeedJournal. It helped me to get going and kept pushing me forward.
After some controversy over the winner chosen by the jury, the two runner-ups, me and another guy, were both awarded the grand prize of $10,000. I don’t know if it was due to the controversy or not, but the contest was never promoted by Microsoft the way I would have hoped.
Desktop or Web?
FeedJournal v1.0 wasn’t a pretty sight. Developing a .NET desktop application using SQL Server Express Edition for the database backend (a contest requirement) made the installation check in at around 60MB, and that’s if the user already has the .NET framework locally installed. It was obvious, and no surprise to me, that people who raved about the concept of FeedJournal hesitated to download this giant. Soon after the contest was over I switched out Microsoft’s database engine.
The choice fell on SQLite, with a runtime weighing in at just a couple of hundred kilobytes. The switch went relatively smooth and FeedJournal v2.0 was launched just a couple of weeks later.
However, the number of downloads didn’t rise as I would have expected. This was troubling, after all my hard work I wanted people to see for themselves all that was possible to do with FeedJournal.
It was obvious from my server logs that a lot of visitors had operating systems not supported by FeedJournal. I launched a poll on my blog to find out why download/sales were so low. It revealed that a large majority would prefer to generate their newspapers from their browser without installing anything on the local machines. At the same time I was unexpectedly contacted by several content providers who would like to use FeedJournal to publish their content in newspaper format.
Until now I had completely been focused on using my solution as a service to readers, and now suddenly new opportunities opened up . It is fascinating to consider that I had been working on this product for a year and a half without seeing this business avenue!
That’s when I decided to start the development of a web based system: a web service for content providers and bloggers to publish articles in newspaper format, and a web site for aggregating your favorite RSS feeds and print out your own unique magazine or newspaper.
Today, the web service for bloggers is available (including a free edition), while the site for readers will be up later this year.
Marketing is one of the more interesting games that I’ve needed to learn as a micro-ISV. I am subscribing to many of Seth Godin’s ideas, and am actively trying to find sneezers who can spread the word about FeedJournal. I am hoping that once a critical mass of bloggers will start to use my service, it will spread by itself.
Below is a sample PDF newspaper generated from my 47 Hats’ blog feed.
Jonas Martinsson is an entrepreneur, agile software developer, crossword constructor and code-breaker. He’s employed at Mainsoft, creators of the Java to .NET cross-compiler. Jonas emigrated from Sweden to Israel, where he lives with his wife and daughter. His company is feedjournal.com and he’s blogging at jonasmartinsson.blogspot.com.
On yesterday’s post about stop beating the documentation dead horse and start riding the video pony, Stuart raised a very good question:
“Wait a sec, I just thought of something, if the customer won’t read the manual how do you get them to search for the correct video and view it. OK, the customer will probably do the viewing, but I am not so sure about the searching.”
Stuart, I think the key is building a workflow that connects tech support to documentation, and marketing.
I would start with making a few (about 5) screencasts (each about 120 seconds long) to cope with your most repeated issues.
Doing 5 in a row will help you get a comfortable grip on using this new tech: the goal is not perfection but chopping production duration down to as low a number as you can. The shorter the screencast, the better for you and the better for your customers and prospective customers.
Then, program your email text expander or FogBugz snippets so you can by typing “vid1″ expand out to something like,
“Several people have asked that question recently, so I’ve made this video screencast to walk you through this issue. Please let me know if this helped by rating it and leaving a comment.”
Then you post it to YouTube. That’s right, you put it out there for all the world to see, let Google pick up the transmission costs, you make it easy and trustworthy.
Kind of like what Scrapblog did:
So far, so good. Now it’s time to leverage.
- Feed your blog. Congratulations, you just made a nice short blog entry. A few sentences, a screenshot or embed and you’re done.
- Feed your customers. Wonder what to put in that email newsletter you know you should be doing? Wonder no more.
- Feed your online community. Whether it’s your own forum, or an online community you’re a part of, put it out there.
- Feed your application. Be it your next release’s help page or your online app, time to add one to the list. Here’s part of the answer to Stuart’s question: make your customers have to pass though a nice attractive list of your videos in order to get tech support. Remember, your customers want answers now – giving them a video buffet of instant visual gratification is more of what they want, faster, at less cost (time is money, right?) to you.
- Feed yourself. Subscribe in YouTube to your own videos, set up your YouTube email options so that you get emailed when comments are posted. Also, check your posted videos on a regular basis for new Links (see image below) – those are people you want to introduce yourself to.
The more that’s out there about your product or site, the more ways Google can index you and the more chances your current customers and prospective market can find what they want to know. Here’s the other half of the answer to your question Stuart – when you have a tech question do you a) RTFM or b) Query Google? So does everyone else!
By the way, if you’re wondering whether I’ve done what I preached, the answer is no, and I should have. Unfortunately, the software tools out there a few years ago when I released my first microISV product were too hard, too complex and too time consuming and there was no YouTube to cover the download costs. That was then, this is now. Now, the tools have gotten way easier and it’s a YouTube world. You can be sure I’ll be taking my own advice about screencasts on Project X later this month.
How many times have you wanted to tell a customer, Read the F*cking Manual! Me too – first learning the trade doing tech support in various corporations, then on numerous contracts where I built and documented apps for the some of the same companies, then for my own microISVs product. You can ask, implore, beg, scream, put a gun to their heads: no joy.
So we as microISVs try very, very hard to make our software as easy to use so any doofus with a heartbeat and a credit card can use it. And we still get emails and calls, “How do I open my file again?” You know the definition of crazy is, right? Expecting different results from the same actions.
People. Will. Not. Read. The. Manual. And it’s time to get over it, once and for all, done, kaput, finished.
But people will watch television.
Ever notice how people act in public places where there’s televisions, like airports, hospitals and locker rooms? They cannot help themselves. They can be sitting there, bleeding on the floor, and their eyes will lock onto that picture no matter what. It’s evil, but we can use it.
The bottom line for microISVs today is that manuals, help files and printed documentation is dead, dead, dead. TV is where it’s at baby, so best get with the times.
Fortunately for us in the past couple of years the tools for doing screencasts have gotten extremely easy to use. I mean really, really I have not artistic DNA whatsoever easy. Easy enough to stop wasting time on documentation no one is ever going to read start creating well done productions that trigger the eyeball glue effect.
On the Mac, I got turned on to exactly how to do screencasts there today via this post by none other than Allan Odgaard, creator of [insanely powerful] Textmate who recommends a product called Snapz Pro X. After making a very decent screencast with a voiceover in 2 minutes flat (without ever reading the manual, of course), I ponied up my $69 a moment ago and bought it. That’s one nice app.
For Windows, I’ve long been a fan of TechSmith’s products – I did every screen capture for two books with SnagIt and sprang a while back for Camtasia Studio 4, but never got around to using it because it seemed too complex and I never found time to RTFM.
A quick scan today via Google Blog Search however lead me to a post on TechSmith’s blog by Betsy Weber, TechSmith’s Chief Evangelist (She knows how to do a nice product blog, by the way – copy her.) on the new Camtasia Studio 5′s jaw-dropping new feature: SmartFocus.
When applied, SmartFocus automatically zooms in and out on where the action is on your screen. This makes for a much, much better screencast, and wipes out 9/10s of the work that goes into making a superior demo or video documentation of how something works in your product. Here’s the post where you can see this incredible automatic function in action:
Camtasia Studio 5 will be out in a couple of weeks.
With tools like these around, you can stop muttering RTFM under you breath during 80% of your tech support calls and start gluing their eyes to your product’s screencasts.
One warning though – video can eat up your hosted site’s monthly transfer allowance fast. What to do? That’s a topic for another post here in a few days. Stay tuned!
[tags]microISV, Camtasia Studio 5, Snapz Pro X[/tags]
Here’s an anti-pattern all too often seen: a good programmer, sick unto death of being a corporate codemonkey, starts a microISV and immediately do the wrong thing: they build a safe product.
It might be a software library or component, or a CMS system not unlike all the other CMS systems out there, only better. It could be YADO (yet another digital organizer) or god forbid, a FTP or RSS client.
They code it well, cobble together an adequate or more than adequate web site and wait for the sales to roll in. And wait. And wait. Desperate, they look for some magic to apply – a Google AdWords campaign, a blog, something to get people interested. Nothing works.
It’s not a pretty picture.
Where they went wrong was by giving into the all too human urge to play things safe, go with a proven winner, copy the leader, do a me too but better product or web site. They’ve seen their former employers and companies with all those people working in the office building ever day somehow selling crap what looks like every other company’s stuff and make the very expensive mistake of “code monkey see, code monkey do”.
You need to go play where it’s not safe; to do things differently than they do from the product you develop to the way you connect to your market to how you do tech support. Expecting a tiny startup to succeed doing the things an established company does to succeed is like expecting fish to wear shoes.
Here’s why you don’t want to come out with a “safe” app:
- Wanted: new pain. If a pain has been around a while, you can bet someone is selling a cure for that pain and their marketing/advertising budget is hundred times more than you can charge on your credit cards. On the other hand, there’s new pains being invented every day, ripe for the solving by nimble micro firms.
- The Anti HeadOn. HeadOn bludgeoned its way into our brains and into the top 10 of external analgesics in just two years by spending about a bezillion bucks on advertising. You will never be able to do this, so why build a product that requires that kind of advertising to be successful?
- Old news isn’t news. New products solving new problems are remarkable; new products solving old problems are not. You want – you need – to be remarkable to spark the interest of bloggers, editors and customers.
If you’re trying to define your product or web service and your starting to get a little nervous about the whole prospect, now is the time to lean even further forward: playing it safe isn’t safe when you’re a microISV.
Here’s a mindmap view of SEO – one of the 47 hats you have to wear. So many tasks, so little time!
The natives are getting restless…Quick, give them a Zune with every copy of Vista!
Go directly to marketing hell, do not pass go, do not control your life, you will buy the crap we shove in your face. Not a pretty future and why Google can expect significant pushback on the upcoming gPhone.
A good post on one of the Main Enemies of microISVs – Procrastination.
This is a topic that comes up often: how to find the right partner for your startup microISV. There is no right answer, but there is some good points in this post and the BOS thread. Original BOS thread: http://discuss.joelonsoftware.com/default.asp?biz.5
Good post on the right mental attitude to take: You create reality, not the other way around.