Smiling all the way to the Bank


If you make desktop software and you’re wondering how in the hell do you get on board the Mobile Bandwagon, study up on Smile (formerly Smile on My Mac). Here’s a little software company whose best-known product, TextExpander, was one of a number of such utilities three years ago, and now they’re are the talk of the Mac and iOS markets.

They didn’t get there with traditional advertising; their blog is nothing more than product updates in a Internet antique Kubrick theme, and any social media expert worth their fee would laugh at their Twitter/Facebook presence.

So how did they become the must-have iPad productivity App? On an operating system that makes the whole idea of running a background utility impossible?

First, Smile created an app that at least got them into the iOS game. Text Expander touch by itself is almost useless – if you want to use a text expansion you have to open the program, navigate to the right text expansion which gets it on the iOS clipboard, and then navigate back to whatever program you want to plop that text in. As a standalone app – last updated 8 months ago with almost as many 1-star rants as 5-star raves – not much to look at.

But that was only the tip of the iceberg.

  1. Smile built an SDK for other iOS developers and gave it away free. Smile’s well-crafted, non-afterthought SDK is a snap to use (“About 10 minutes to completely, start to finish, integrate TextExpander into Twittelator, worked the VERY first time.” – Andrew Stone).
  2. Then (I presume) they started cajoling other app makers to use Smile’s SDK. And they got 1 to do it. Then 5, 17, 25, 41 and as of today over 110 other iPad and iPhone apps are out in the wild, using Smile’s functionality free of charge to enhance their offerings, and by the way making TextExpander touch a must-have on an iOS device. (on sale for a $1.99 until 6/9 by the way.)
  3. They also did one key bit of sponsorship, in my opinion: Sponsoring the Mac Power Users Podcast early on (I think show #18). Katie Floyd and David Sparks do a outstanding podcast that is one of my must-listen-now favorites. Smile was smart enough to recognize sponsorship done right to a narrowcast audience beats any but the most massive massive campaigns.
  4. Here’s another smart move: today Smile began selling Take Control of TextExpander ebook for $10 at their site. I bought mine before I finished their email – other Take Control ebooks have been excellent guides to programs. Smile didn’t wait for some traditional publisher to decide to write a book about them (they’d have a long wait); they get that in our postindustrial world Every Company is a Media Company and that they have to step up. [Disclosure: I’m up to something re text expansion that you’ll get to see very soon – and I’m really happy to see some market validation of my gut opinions.]

So today’s takeaway: Stop thinking about other small software vendors as competitors and start thinking of them as a market. How can your product help them ship a better app? Smille did it – and so did Dropbox and Evernote.

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Smiling all the way to the Bank

The Revenge of Microsoft: Windows 8

After years of being pegged as the impotent giant, Microsoft turned heads and changed expectations today with its first public showing of Windows 8. Windows 8 isn’t Windows 7 with a ribbon bar and new lip gloss: it’s jawdroppingly impressive.

Assuming there’s real code behind this demo, Microsoft just kicked PCs as we know them to the curb while confirming something most people get in 5 minutes with an iPad: mobile tablets will rule, and soon.

If you’re reading this on your Windows Vista (insert virtual paper sympathy card) or Windows 7 desktop whatever, you may want to skip clicking through to this video – it will just make you soul ache for an experience that is not going to ship for a while. And if you’re reading this on your iMac or iPad, you can take consolation that Apple will be be announcing iCloud next week – pay no attention to that nagging little voice you hear saying, “that came out of Microsoft!?.”

By the way, the interface, and Windows 8 will be written in HTML5 and Javascript. Glaringly absent: Any mention of .NET.

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The Revenge of Microsoft: Windows 8

The Startup Genome Project is going to shake things up.

For an industry at the cutting edge of science, the Startup Industry for too long has relied on myth, folklore and tribal tales to explain why some startups become Google and most die.

Now, Hermann Björn (of Startup School), Prof. Steve Blank (one of the Lean Startup Amigos) and the rest of the Startup Genome Project have changed the discussion by releasing their first survey of 650 startups – stripping away the myths and old VC tales about what makes a startup successful and contributing real data and real facts to the discussion.

The Startup Genome Project team came together 3 months ago to attempt to crack the “innovation code” of Silicon Valley and share it with the rest of the world. Today they released the first Startup Genome Report— a 67 page in depth analysis on what makes Silicon Valley startups successful based on profiling over 650 startups.

Here’s some of the conclusions that caught my eye – I’d strongly suggest you read the full report:

1. Founders that learn are more successful: Startups that have helpful mentors, track metrics effectively, and learn from startup thought leaders raise 7x more money and have 3.5x better user growth.
2. Startups that pivot once or twice times raise 2.5x more money, have 3.6x better user growth, and are 52% less likely to scale prematurely than startups that pivot more than 2 times or not at all.
3. Many investors invest 2-3x more capital than necessary in startups that haven’t reached problem solution fit yet. They also over-invest in solo founders and founding teams without technical cofounders despite indicators that show that these teams have a much lower probability of success.
4. Investors who provide hands-on help have little or no effect on the company’s operational performance. But the right mentors significantly influence a company’s performance and ability to raise money. (However, this does not mean that investors don’t have a significant effect on valuations and M&A)
5. Solo founders take 3.6x longer to reach scale stage compared to a founding team of 2 and they are 2.3x less likely to pivot.
Don’t want to read 67 pages? Check out the cool infographic that summarizes the findings:

Excellent Infographic

Hats off to the Startup Genome Project for bringing real data to the party – it’s time to stop doing faith and superstition based startups.


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The Startup Genome Project is going to shake things up.

Of eBooks new, somewhat new, and 170 years old.

Ever notice how interesting things tend to happen in threes? Here’s my three things for the day, starting with that 170-year-old ebook.

No, when Ralph Waldo Emerson pulled together his notes for Self-Reliance from meetups where he’d social networked with other thought leaders his time, the only things digital were at the ends of people’s arms. Instead, he was trying to fill a gap in the public discourse, get a message out in the preferred media of the time that people then and now need to hear: conformity for the sake of conformity is quicksand for the soul. Being a nonconformist is more than an attitude, it’s a perspective.

Hats off to Seth Godin and company for bringing this classic back to life, and adding insights from thinkers and doers today. In fact, today and tomorrow you can pick up this classic in digital form free: Ibex is sponsoring the Kindle version so it costs you zip nada zero to get.

Speaking of today, my ebook, MicroISV Sites that Sell! had been rebranded, reformatted and hopefully debugged as Startup Sites that Sell – and you can grab it today only over at Bits du Jour for $12.47. If you already have MicroISV Sites that Sell, and you want a copy that will read well on an iPad and won’t gobble up your printer color cartridges, email me. No new content in this edition, but there’s a lot of developers jumping into the murky waters of marketing for the first time that I think this ebook can help, based on the many emails I’ve gotten since its first release in 2008.

And finally, I’m working on a new ebook especially for mobile app developers who need to build their own web sites and connect with customers outside the confines of any particular App Store. After buying 664 iOS apps, I have a pretty good eye for what works and what horribly misses the mark when it comes to creating a web site for your brand new baby. How do you reduce the odds your very first app gets slammed in its very first customer review? What’s different – very different – about a software web site where the actual buying happens elsewhere? What do people need to see back on that sales page to buy not just a given app, but buy into letting you on their smartphones?

I hope to find the answers to these and other questions as I write this ebook. Find, not pontificate about, because my approach is to go find people out there who know firsthand the answers, and bring back to my readers their insights, experiences, and hard-earned lessons. Case in point, I interviewed today Josh Clark, author of Tapworthy: Designing Great iPhone Apps and Best Iphone Apps: The Guide for Discriminating Downloaders and a guest on the Startup Success Podcast (Show #80) who has thought long and hard on what makes an app work. Josh shared some excellent, actionable insights that every mobile app developer (or at least the ones who want to make money) need to think about.

If you make/sell a mobile app and want to share your experience, insight and URLs, please email me!

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Of eBooks new, somewhat new, and 170 years old.

Why Startups fail to sell.

[This is a free sample from my ebook, Startup Sites that Sell! – Creating and Marketing your Unique Selling Proposition. You can get the rest of this ebook designed to substantially improve your startup web site for $24.95 USD, or, you can take advantage of tomorrow’s Bits du Jour Sale and grab it for a mere $12.47, including The Developer’s <code> ,a 50-lesson ebook by Ka Wai Cheung, of Chicago-based web development shop We Are Mammoth.]

Startup Sites that Sell! is a re-release of my popular MicroISV sites that Sell! ebook with much better formatting for iPads, tablets and printing.

Before we can get to the good stuff, we need to do a bit of garbage collection. We need to take a look at six mistakes startups often make. These are mistakes for one simple reason: they turn off sales.

Mistake 1: Where’s your Hook?

We will talk about the Hook in much more detail in the next section, but the lack of a Hook is easily the number one mistake I see developers who sell software make. Simply put, the Hook answers the question, “Why should I spend another second on this web site?”

You have to put yourself in the mind of someone who for the very first time arrives at your site. They may be coming from Google search results, your Google Adwords campaign, your signature line in a forum posting, a blog post that mentions your product and three others or who knows where.

The first time visitor has no emotional investment in staying on your home page or landing page whatsoever. Yet. What you sell is completely irrelevant to them. For now. They have no reason to believe you actually sell something, let alone something that they want.

The Hook is your initial statement which answers why your product is relevant to them, why you might be credible as a solution provider and how exactly your solution is in one or more ways better than either continuing to have the problem or whatever they are doing or using right now.

Note: Initial means just that. It not everything about your product; it’s just enough to get them to read the next paragraph of your copy on your home page.

Second Note – it has to be the very first thing on the page that gets their attention – because if it’s not, either because it isn’t concise enough, compelling enough, big enough – most first time visitors will leave right then and there.

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Why Startups fail to sell.

Above and Below

Hopefully you’ve had a more productive day than I have. I knew exactly what I had to do today for my startup, and yet I found all sorts of things to do instead.

I’ve come to the opinion most of the time most people know exactly what they should be doing to finish their software, build their business, make something, love somebody. But it’s as scary as walking across a room full of hissing, crawling snakes, and it’s so easy to turn back again and again.

I don’t have any 12 step plans or five bullet point posts to make it any easier to make that walk. But there is some comfort knowing anybody who wants to create has to make that walk every time, and everybody “important” you’ve ever heard of made that damn walk ahead of you.

What’s more, if you can see how what you are trying to do actually makes this world even a minutely better place, I think you can levitate at least some of the time right over those snakes.

Give it a try.

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Bob WalshAbove and Below

Been there, done that, and you get the ebook free

The Developer's Code

Every so often, someone very nice who is walking ahead of you on the Startup Path will pass along information that can save you much pain.

Ka Wai Cheung, of Chicago-based web development shop We Are Mammoth is one such guy, and his new free ebook can save you from making more mistakes than you ever thought possible.

The Developer’s <code> is 50 lessons Ka Wai has learned over the past ten years, building sites and web apps. It’s an opinionated approach to how to create an app – “opinionated” like in Ruby on Rails, not just some guy (me) sprouting off.

Here’s how these pithy, short and useful lessons are grouped:

Check it out.

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Been there, done that, and you get the ebook free

Are you one of the few, the proud, the event organizers?

My good friend Corey Maass is just about ready to release Cue, an awesome app for people who organize events. Whether its a full blown conference, a meetup or just your seven-year-old’s birthday party, Cue gives you a control dashboard of what everyone needs to do by when and how they prefer to be communicated with. One click lets you ping everyone involved, by their preferred means of communication.

Corey needs beta testers the way I need to lose weight (urgently). If you’ve got any sort of event coming up or in the wings, why not make it easier on yourself and become a Cue beta tester today? Visit right now to sign up, use invite code “47hats” to get to the front of the line. You will be glad you did.

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Are you one of the few, the proud, the event organizers?

They’re starting to notice…

Among the dozen or so “flack shots” e-mails that I get in a day, one caught my eye about 10 minutes ago.

Dan Rather Reports

DALLAS (May 12, 2011) – Tuesday’s “Dan Rather Reports” presents a revealing behind-the-scenes look at Hashable – one of the many new social-media startup companies trying to prove they have what it takes to launch a successful social media platform  in a highly competitive new tech landscape.

Everyone wants to create the next Twitter or Foursquare, to get in on the venture capital that has suddenly started flowing once again into hot new tech startups.  “Dan Rather Reports” investigates what makes a mobile application, and the company behind it, successful.  As they set out to become the next big name in social media, Hashable created a free mobile application that serves as a rolodex for the Twitter age, an attempt to merge mobile social networking with traditional business networking.

Does Hashable have what it takes to break through the clutter? And even if it does, will it make money? Or is all the funding flowing to Hashable and other startups a sign of yet another bubble? “Dan Rather Reports” explored these questions speaking to key staff members at Hashable about their motivation, vision,  contacts, angel funding, potential users, and – possibly most importantly in today’s world – their buzz. From development and marketing meetings to investor pitches and user meet-ups, Hashable provided “Dan Rather Reports” a unique inside look at their journey  as they prepared to launch at the year’s most important tech conference, South by Southwest in Austin, TX.

“Dan Rather Reports: The New Tech Landscape” premieres on HDNet, Tuesday, May 17 at 8:00 p.m. ET with an encore at 11:00 p.m. ET.

To preview the show, visit:

If you go to the webpage for the show and play the two video clips, you’re going to be feeling a duh! moment. There’s Dan Rather talking to Michael Yavonditte, Founder of Hashable, about whether some startups are built to flip not to grow and are we really in the middle of a “mobile tsunami” that is going to change everything?


Dan Rather, in my opinion, is and has always been an excellent reporter locked in the boob tube trying to explain reality to average viewers. He’s not a programmer. He’s not a startup founder. He’s a reporter trying to make sense of the aptly named mobile tsunami of change that startups are sending downriver to the rest of society.

I wonder what they’ll think of what we’re doing when they realize that all the rules they thought applied are about to go out the window–again?

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They’re starting to notice…