MicroISV Digest 10/11/2010

(Editor’s note: It’s high time I restarted the MicroISV Digest, so here goes. But this is only going to be interesting if you send me your microISV, startup, indie, whatever-you-call it, news. News like in you’ve launched, you’ve gotten your 1,000th customer, every microISV should read this post kind of news. Not I do PR, my lackwit client thinks anyone cares about going from 3.31 to 3.32 and I get paid by the mention type news.)

Community News:

  • No news for this section: hopefully restarting the Digest will help!

Interesting Answers.Onstartups.com questions with useful answers:

News/posts for microISVs and Startups:

StartupToDo.com, The Startup Success Podcast and other plugs:

  • What’s new at StartupToDo.com. (StartupToDo.com is a subscription-based community of startup founders; if you’re not already a member, get your free 30 day free trial membership):
  • New shows at the Startup Success Podcast:
    • We are up to Show #85 now; here’s the last 3 shows:
    • Show #85 [link] [iTunes]. Warning: This podcast contains language you may find offensive and is not for children.

      We break format for this show – to put it mildly. This is a (unexpected) recording of a conversation Patrick and Bob had after Pat’s return from the Business of Software Conference this year. You may find it interesting, you may hate it. But Pat strongly wants to include you in this conversation, and I’m going along with that. Let us know what you think.

    • Show #84 [link] [iTunes]. This week Bob and Pat interview Rob Walling, serial startup founder, creator of the Micropreneur Academy and author of Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer’s Guide to Launching a Startup.

      Rob explains how micropreneurs – self-funded software founders – can do and should do market research, concrete things your startup should focus on, why Digg is not your friend, and why email – yes, email! – may be your best friend.

    • Show #83 [link] [iTunes]. This week Bob and Pat interview Brian Noll, co-founder of Code Complete Software, on how his company markets developer tools to enterprise. Brian’s firm is the North American marketing force for JetBrains and other software companies who want to crack the enterprise market.

      If you think you know how to sell to enterprise, realize this: we’re in a recession, Open Source has changed the game, and in this podcast Brian is kind enough to share the new rules.

  • Tired of being stuck in neutral in your startup? Why not do a MicroConsult with Bob Walsh? Instead of hypotheticals and too much information, Bob will work with you for an hour via Skype developing 8 to 10 specific todos that will get your startup in gear. Details at 47hats.com.

(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.)

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Bob WalshMicroISV Digest 10/11/2010

Walking back what I said about Amazon AWS.

In case you missed it, yesterday I was more than a bit pissed off at Amazon AWS S3. Actually, I hope you did miss it, because I was wrong and they were right, and I lashed out in frustration.

Here’s what I though happened: Out of the blue, Amazon S3 changed something so and neither Pat (who does the audio engineering/uploading of each of our podcasts) nor I could set the permissions on the latest show to public, and we were screwed. Not having a way to get tech support other than buying the “Silver” support plan that at least let me put in a support ticket, I did so. Response time was decent, but not solving the problem.

What really happened: “It was the open source java app that I use… inadvertently switched from 0.7.1 to 0.8.0 in the move to the new computer,” Pat confirmed late last night, and that new version doesn’t like the beta of IE9. It wasn’t Pat’s fault – he was pushing (and being pushed by yours truly) to get the show up even though he was about to do a presentation at the Business of Software Conference in Boston. It was my fault.

Four other points worth mentioning:

  • Kudos to Mike Culver, AWS Evangelist. At the height of my frustration, I reached out to Mike Culver. I’d met Mike a few years back at a European Software Conference (Why go to conferences anymore? The people you meet.) He reached out immediately to the AWS tech working the problem, got involved and boiled the tech’s 731 words of AWS-speak down to: “So when Pat tries to set permissions, are you certain that he is logging in to S3 with the same credentials that he used to upload the object? A lot of these third-party tools make it easy to switch accounts by clicking on a drop-down list, and I am asking the questions to verify that he didn’t accidentally switch.”That’s when I realized this was my bad. And to top it off: Mike was in London at the time, so all this was happening in the middle of the night for him. That’s dedication and professionalism above and beyond the call of business duty.
  • Kudos to Jason A., Amazon Web Services. Going over the ticket history, Jason was professional, courteous and knowledgeable, and I was not.
  • Give tech support people permission to tell you you are an idiot. If I had said at the beginning, “Jason, be blunt and tell me if I’m being an idiot,” and he had said, “Bob, we run a gazillion S3 instances! 99 out of a hundred times it’s a bug or a config issue in the client you are using – that why we built our own console! And, you are being an idiot,” the podcast would have been out yesterday.
  • We don’t speak the same language anymore. There used to be a time in this business where people spoke either Windows, Mac or Unix, knew one programming language really well and could communicate fairly easily with other IT people. Not no more. There’s dozens, hundreds, thousands of API’s to web critical web services, frameworks, languages, OS’s spread over content surfaces ranging from web sites, blogs, tweets, webinars, videos, screencasts, podcasts and more. As developers we need to converse and be conversant in far more technical knowledge domains than say a decade ago. As people, there’s only so much breath you can handle with any depth.

Ok, I just wanted to set the record straight, maybe point out a few things worth learning from my mistakes, and move on. Thanks for reading.

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Bob WalshWalking back what I said about Amazon AWS.

When Amazon Clouds rain B.S.

I’m in the process this morning of learning a core truth about Cloud infrastructure, and the process is not a pleasant one. Pat Foley (who’s in Boston at the Business of Software Conference right now, the lucky dog) and I do a podcast each week, and for the last 18 months we’ve been hosting the .mp3 files at Amazon S3. 18 months – no problem. Today – big problem. While show #84 is up on AWS, neither of us can get in to set it’s permissions so you can listen to it. Just weird errors in various S3 clients, except for this:

WTF? I’m not a sysadmin, but isn’t this Amazon Web Services problem? Isn’t this exactly what is not supposed to happen with Cloud services?

So I go searching for AWS S3 tech support for the first time since Feb. 09. Guess what? Your choices are Free (visit our forum, where if your head doesn’t explode from reading everyone else’s issues, you will earn a degree in AWS S3, which is precisely what I don’t want to do), Silver -$100 a month, or Gold for $400. Since I want to know whether Amazon is fucking up or I’m totally wrong, but I don’t want to spend $400 for the privilege of actually speaking to a tech, I buy Silver for the low, low, prorated for the month price of $87. Response was quick, but this is what I get for my money:

Hi Bob,

You are getting this SSL certificate warning because you have multiple dots in your S3 bucket’s name, and the S3 wildcard certificate will not match the multiple levels of subdomain. You should not have this same problem with a bucket called startupsuccesspodcast, which would show up as startupsuccesspodcast.s3.amazonaws.com. You can also refer to this bucket as s3.amazonaws.com/media.startupsuccesspodcast.com, which will be able to successfully match the SSL certificate.

If you wish to preserve the same branding of your bucket, you might want to create a bucket with a name that meets our best practices guidelines (http://docs.amazonwebservices.com/AmazonS3/latest/dev/BucketRestrictions.html), then create a CNAME DNS record from media.startupsuccesspodcast.com to .s3.amazonaws.com.

Please do let me know if you have any further questions.

Best regards,

Jason A.
Amazon Web Services

This is what I repied:


What??? we have been posting podcasts to this bucket for 2 years – nothing has changed: except as of 2 hours ago we can’t get in to change our permissions and we are getting the SSL warning.


Now an hour later, my email is ominously silent, the problem is unfixed, the show is unreleased and I Am Not A Happy Camper.

If someone out there can tell me how I could have somehow triggered this problem, I will abjectly apologize to all the wonderful people at AWS. But if I’m right, and this is bullshit, and that is the lesson: Cloud infrastructure is only as reliable, good, robust and trustable as the people who support it.

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Bob WalshWhen Amazon Clouds rain B.S.

And now for a bit of entertainment…

If you love science fiction (and what dev doesn’t, we live it everyday), I strongly commend to you Nathan Lowell’s “A Trader’s Tale from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper”, starting with Quarter Share. No aliens will suck on your brains, cities explode, computers come alive or Industrial Light and Magic- grade special effects. Just a great tale of eighteen-year-old Ishmael Horatio Wang coming of age in a spacefaring society and confronting the same questions we all must grapple with: who are we, why are we.

I bought the first book in this series (Quarter Share (Solar Clipper Trader Tales)) to read in Kindle on my iPad, and after finishing that, went looking for the rest of the series – not to be found as of now on Amazon. Turns out that Nathan Lowell did this series as a “podiobook” at PodioBooks.com. His delivery is outstanding, they are free (but putting something into his tip jar would not be amiss). Also on iTunes.

And if history was never your thing, it’s time it became your thing: Start with Mike Duncan’s History of Rome iTunes podcasts. These aren’t the dreary old lectures you slept through in college: Mike has a talent for making history alive, witty, and interesting.


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Bob WalshAnd now for a bit of entertainment…

Optimizing Search Engine Rankings with Microsites

Note: This Guest Post ran back on July 21st, 2009: so why post it again? Well, I just rechecked the two sites Dennis talks about, with Google Instant Results on: Java-Logging.com had slipped to #7, but dotNETLogging.com was still the #1 result. Over on Microsoft’s Bing, Java-Logging.com was #4 and .DotLogging.com – in Microsoft’s own search engine – was #1. Any day a site you build can come up as #1 in both Google and Bing is a very good day indeed.

A Guest Post by Dennis Gurock
Gurock Software Co-Founder

We here at Gurock Software recently started a SEO microsite experiment that we believe is very relevant to other MicroISVs. That’s why I would like to share the results of the experiment here on Bob’s blog and explain how it helped us improve our search engine rankings. But let’s recap the experiment for a minute. The idea was to launch a few microsites for certain topics related to our logging and tracing tool SmartInspect. The goal was to provide a useful starting point to developers new to logging tools and to get the sites ranked well for specific keywords (especially keywords we had trouble getting the SmartInspect website to rank well for). One of the questions we wanted to answer with this experiment was how important it is to have the actual keywords in the domain name. To test this, we launched the two microsites .NET logging and Java logging, hoping the keywords in the domain name would boost their search engine rankings.

Promoting the Sites

Before I share the actual results, let me first explain what we did to promote the sites. We needed to get at least a few inbound links to get Google & co. notice and index the new sites. Inbound links with relevant anchor texts are also important to get the sites ranked well. The first source of links came from reactions to our original posting with other blogs linking to our new sites. The next step was to include links to the microsites on some of our other websites, such as our blog and DelphiFeeds.com. We also announced the new sites on relevant forums, newsgroups and community sites, resulting in some additional links with useful anchor texts. We also added the sites to link directories and contacted some webmasters of Java and .NET link lists to include our sites.

We have also improved and extended the content since we launched the sites. We have, for example, split the single page we started with into multiple pages and added new Java logging comparison and .NET logging comparison pages to the site. We have also been adding additional links to tools and articles to both sites from time to time to keep the content fresh and up-to-date. We plan to do this regularly, as search engines love fresh and updated content. The main goal of promoting the sites was to build a few inbound links to get the sites indexed and ranked by search engines, and it worked surprisingly well.

The Rankings

So how did it work out? At the time of writing this posting, both microsites rank (far) better than our main SmartInspect website for many keywords, including important keywords such as .NET logging and Java logging. This is especially surprising considering how many more links the SmartInspect websites has compared to the new microsites (the quality of the links to the SmartInspect website is also a lot better, with links coming from domains such as microsoft.com and other relevant websites). Another thing that surprised us was how quickly the new sites ranked well. Just a week after launching the sites they got to the first page of the Google results for the main keywords. Although the Java site dropped from Google’s search results a few weeks after it launched, it’s back online and is working itself up in the results again. In fact, it’s ranked #4 for Java logging at the moment, ahead of popular logging tools such as log4j. The .NET microsite ranks #1 for .NET logging as of today, 7 ranks better than the SmartInspect site itself which enjoyed years of link building and buzz.

Although we are surprised by the very good rankings that the sites received so quickly, we also believe the new sites deserve good search engine rankings, as the content is useful and relevant to developers interested in the topic.

The Results

The traffic has been steadily increasing and because of the promotions and banners that we placed on the microsites, we also receive a good chunk of that traffic on the SmartInspect website. Most of the traffic comes from search engines, but we also get visitors from links and social websites (especially StumbleUpon).

The feedback from site visitors is very positive and we receive suggestions for improvements and additional links to new tools and articles from time to time. We are also able to convert site visitors to SmartInspect customers regularly, but the exact numbers are hard to tell, as SmartInspect sales are difficult to track (the developers who find and try SmartInspect usually do not place the orders directly, their managers or purchasing departments do).

Overall the microsites are a great success for us [full size screenshot of Google ranking :)] and are an impressive testament to how important keywords in the domain name really are for Google. We already plan to launch additional microsites for SmartInspect and for our upcoming test management software TestRail.
Dennis Gurock is a director and co-founder at Gurock Software, a company specialized in software quality tools and makers of SmartInspect and test management. Dennis regularly blogs about Gurock’s products, the business of software and software quality on the Gurock Software blog and on NoBugLeftBehind.com. Dennis also twitters.

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Bob WalshOptimizing Search Engine Rankings with Microsites

Xmarks the spot

So Xmarks, the bookmark synchronization startup is going out of business. There’s a long and illuminating post here by Todd Agulnick, CTO & Co-Founder about why despite having 2 million user and growing at the rate of 3,000 new users a day, they are folding up shop January 10th, 2011.

It’s a sad story, one you want to learn a few lessons from so you don’t one day have to write your startup’s epitaph.

What went wrong?

Market Research of One

Todd build Xmarks (then called Foxmarks) because his friend and mentor, Mitch Kapor (head then of the Mozillia Foundation, founder of Lotus 1-2-3, Silicon Valley legend), asked him to. Mitch like a lot of people back in 2006 found that there was no good way to keep your bookmarks synched between browsers and machines. Todd built it, and before long, 5,000 people were using the prototype.

Clearly they were on to something. They turned the prototype into a startup, secured VC money, started doing all the right things. Got buzz, even got a slot at the startup beauty show, DEMO. They were hot! hot! hot!

But were they, really?

The most telling quote is this: “There’s a scalable business in here somewhere,” we told ourselves, and we were determined to find it.” Off the mark as fast as possible (got to grab that first-mover advantage), Xmarks got everything right on the development side and nothing right on the find people who will pay us money after we burn all the VC bucks side.

From what I can tell, Xmarks market research – including finding out what customers would pay for the service – consisted of Mitch saying he needed it, Todd building it and nobody looking for the customers’ wallets until it was way, way too late.

Advertisers will buy eyeballs – maybe

As the story of Xmarks unrolls, Xmarks tries to find a way to cash in all those bookmarks in aggregate form they called “the corpus.” Surely, advertisers with their insatiable hunger for more eyeballs would find some form of advertising irresistible? Nope. “We spent the next year turning over every conceivable rock looking for ways to use the data in our corpus that would prove compelling to our users and revenue-generating for us,” Todd says at one point.

There’s a certain mania that hits some startups: an almost religious belief that “the advertising model” is the Holy Grail and all they have to do is pour their users into the gaping mouth of the advertising machine and riches would flow. Guess what? Not so much.

Some people are like me – I hate advertising, always have. Avoid it whenever and however I can. Advertising is increasingly exposed as what it is: a pitiful substitute for real engagement. What’s more, now that media has fragmented into hundreds of cable channels and tens of thousands of online channels, advertisers can pick and choose who to bestow their money on. Or not.

The Takeaway

I wish Todd, the Xmarks team, Mitch Kapor and all only success in all future endeavors. But learn this from their pain: There isn’t a market for a product unless people are willing to part with their cold, hard cash at some point. Make sure there is before you start believing your own press releases.

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Bob WalshXmarks the spot

And here we go: MicroConsult with Bob Walsh

I think I’ve come up with a way to take your self-funded startup or microISV to the next level. I call it MicroConsult with Bob Walsh, and here’s the gist:

  • A one hour consultation via Skype/phone to define your biggest startup pain – market research, productivity, your web site, whatever – and collaboratively build a checklist of 8-10 specific, measurable tasks that you can do to make that pain stop, or at least hurt a lot less.
  • During that hour, you and I are going to nail down exactly what you need to do, set a deadline, make sure each task is well defined and doable.
  • This checklist will be in the form of a shared checklist on Checkvist.com (you’ll need a free account with this awesome online outliner). Why there? So we can both see as you work on your checklist. Also, I will be keeping in touch and keeping you focused on completing that checklist and getting the desired results.
  • You book a MicroConsult via the widget below, answering a few pre-consultation questions and paying via PayPal/CC for that hour ($147 USD).
  • At the end of that consultation, if you don’t feel you’ve gotten your money’s worth, I’ll refund your $147 there and then.

Does it really work? Here’s what my first MicroConsult with Bob Walsh client has to say:

“As someone trying to get my self-funded startup going, both time and money are at a premium. I tried a MicroConsult with Bob Walsh because he had an outstanding reputation and I honestly did not have the time to read through hundreds of pages of potential useless or redundant material. Bob’s advice got me on the fast track to meeting my goals. Once I work through the checklist that he and I created, I plan on scheduling another session in order to help me get to the next stage in my startup’s life.”
Justin James, founder of RatCatcher


[bookingbug id=’usw384291′ palette=’bob3′ style=’medium’]

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Bob WalshAnd here we go: MicroConsult with Bob Walsh

And here we are

Update: if you are seeing this particular post, 47Hats is safe and secure in it’s new servers!

If all goes well and DNS propagation happens this weekend, the next 47Hats post will be fromt our shiny new awesome domain at WPEngine.

After putting up with godaddy’s inexplicable slowdowns, unpredictable site outages, db hangs, email timeouts, and other frustrations, moving to a startup focusing just on hosting WordPress right, run by people I trust, with customers I respect, will be a huge relief.

Look for the rollout of my new service from its new home on Monday!

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Bob WalshAnd here we are

This is not about that.

Last night Twitter announced its awesome new web page layout/functionality.

This morning, like a few million other Twitterers, I started banging on my twitter page because I want the New and Shiny, and I want it now. New and Shiny beats productivity resolutions hands down, unfortunately.

But this is not about that – it’s about Ryan LeFevre (web developer, web designer, software engineer, and server administrator all bundled into one) and how he just cured me this morning of my latest New/Shiny productivity affliction. Am I Upgraded Yet? is a service Ryan created in less than 12 hours:

How does it work?We will periodically check to see if the new Twitter has been enabled for you account by polling the Twitter API. Once we discover you have been switched to the new account, we will send you a single Direct Message (from your own account) to notify you. This works best when you have Direct Message email notification on.

We will not publicly tweet anything on your behalf, cause that’s not cool. Also, please note that I give no guarantee as to whether the application will work. It is based off of an assumption about user info retrieved from the Twitter API which I’m 90% sure is true. Either way, it will not spam you with tweets or requests.

A couple things worth saying:

  • Add a bit of this and that, a few testimonials, expand to my choice of services and start charging $2 a month and Ryan will be in business.
  • Perfect example: startup opportunities happen at the edges. Right now social media is the bleeding edge and people will pay to solve a pain (I want my New/Shiny, where is it?) that did not exist 6 months ago before Twitter started eating its client app children.
  • First counts. Ryan is getting about 30 tweets a minute and is up to 1,681 new followers right now.
  • Want to beat Ryan at his own game, go for it. Better still, what other problems can you solve in my online life?
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Bob WalshThis is not about that.