Greeting Cards I wish I could buy…

Here’s – in my opinion – a huge unmet need: online greeting cards for IT people. I have all the usual traditional e-cards covered at Jacquie Lawson, but what about those special moments only we IT/Online people have?

For example Marcus M. just informed me that I was successful a couple of nights ago getting http://startuptodo.com to render right in Chrome at the screen resolution he uses. Perfect Hallmark Moment! Here are some other e-cards out there I’d like to see:

  • Our Deepest Sympathies on the loss of your Hard Disk
  • Congratulations on your Startup’s Launch!
  • Happy Your Server has been up a straight 180 days.
  • And of course the ever popular, Twitter will Get Well Soon – Hang In There!

What cards would you like to see? And is anyone going to start this as a microISV so I can pay them money?

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Bob WalshGreeting Cards I wish I could buy…

Two detailed reviews…

FYI, Alain Raynaud, CEO of Fairsoftware.net (which you should check out) just posted a very nice review of The Web Startup Success Guide at his blog: Book Review: The Web Startup Success Guide.

Also, Pietro Polsinelli wrote an awesomely detailed review of the Guide here:
A review of “The Web Startup Success Guide”. Pietro is working full-time on the Teamwork project management software, which has become a quite successful project, adopted all over the world, and used daily by more than 2000 people to manage their work.

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Bob WalshTwo detailed reviews…

The MicroISV Digest

The MicroISV Digest for the week ending September 28st, 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

  • Edwin Yip, WritingOutliner.com, has released a new Microsoft Word add-in: Writing Outliner. This add-in supports writers working on book-length projects in a variety of ways: multiple document projects, mind map-style brainstorming and research material management. Where was this when I needed it?! :) (via email)
  • Steven Cholerton, ArtenScience, is looking for feedback on his new CRM application that he releasing soon. (via email)
  • Jay Cincotta, Gibraltar Software, has integrated with PostSharp to enable post-compile instrumentation injection – logging and application monitoring without having to write any extra code. (via email)
  • Bob Walsh, 47Hats, has launched StartupToDo.com (a training/productivity community for startups and microISVs). StartupToDo.com is all about helping you succeed faster by providing specific and detailed Guides that save you time and frustration, Site Reviews that make the process easy and valuable to both reviewers and review requesters, and connecting you with other startups and microISV who share your values and interests.
  • Ian Hunter has released his new Windows photo cropping and printing application, PicCrop, and is looking for feedback (via BOS)
  • Liam McLennan, Eclipse Web Solutions, is looking for feedback on his new web app, TheFastWay.net. (via BOS)
  • No show this week, as we mentioned in last week’s show #39 of the Startup Success Podcast. We will be posting a mercifully short interview with me re StartupToDo.com. Regular shows commence again next Monday.

Relevant Blog Posts, Podcasts, Videos and Articles

  • nothing worth noting.

Finally!..

  • Thanks to the over 100 people who helped me better execute the 1.0 version of StartupToDo.com!
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Bob WalshThe MicroISV Digest

Announcing StartupToDo.com (Project X)

I’ve got something new for you. Something that will take a lot of the pain, delay, frustration and wasted time out of bootstrapping your startup, microISV, mISV, indie game house or microlight: StartupToDo.com.

I created StartupToDo.com to solve a couple of huge challenges I’ve seen literally hundreds of skilled developers struggle with over the years:

  • You can spend as much time trying to figure out what you have to do and researching what’s the best way to do it as doing it. Put another way, half the time you carve out of the rest of your life to work on your startup gets wasted.
  • So say you spend 3 hours researching how to do some marketing, or operations or development or business thing, do it, only to find the information you relied on was out of date, overtaken by new tools on the web.
  • Or, you’re about to launch, but you know your startup’s web site needs improvement. Up to now your options have been a) As for help at forums like Joel on Software Business of Software (lots of good feedback, but uneven and can be seen by a prospective customer if they Google you) or b) read books and ebooks on the subject – helpful, but not specific to you, or c) Hire an expensive consultant (like me!)


Now there’s a better way, and it will cost you less than a dollar a day.

In StartupToDo.com:

  • There are Guides that walk you through doing something you need to do, step by step. Guides are rated by the community and commented on. You can request Guides, and that request is rated by your peers.
  • You can request Site Reviews – and other members can do a Site Review quickly, providing you with meaningful quantitative data, useful suggestions, and likes/dislikes. Why should they bother? Because the more Site Reviews you do, the higher your Request is in the listing. Think of it as enlightened self interest.
  • Tips, Resources and Events for and by startups help you with information you can actually use.

The image for this post is a capture of http://startuptodo.com/startupmaps which you can visit right now (as to why a page of a subscription-only site is public, see this post here for the gory details). These are some of the locations of the first 35 members with public profiles (you can stay stealth to avoid your boss): it’s fascinating to see the variety out there in the Startup World.

Please visit StartupToDo.com today: I think you will be very glad you did. And if you’ve already joined, thank you!, and please tell your startup-minded friends about StartupToDo.com.

<warning: mushy personal note>While I hope to build a profitable business, changing the number of startups that succeed from something around 2 or 3 out of 10 to 6 out of 10 is my real objective with StartupToDo.com. It’s the most important thing I’ve ever done. Come join me in it. </warning: mushy personal note>

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Bob WalshAnnouncing StartupToDo.com (Project X)

The MicroISV Digest

The MicroISV Digest for the week ending September 21st, 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

  • Chris Randall, Devenius, Inc., has launched a new tool for SQL Server DBA’s and developers: SnipStorm. SnipStorm lets users store, share and recommend T-SQL code. (via email)
  • Liam McLennan, Eclipse Web Solutions, is looking for feedback on its mobile routing solution, (via BOS)
  • Justin Vincent has launched Tweetminer, a new Twitter utility, and is looking for feedback on his site and product. (via BOS)
  • Ruben Gamez, is currently in beta with his product Bidsketch (http://www.bidsketch.com), and has just acquired a complementary product, SixCentral with the goal of combining the two products. (via email)
  • In show #38 of the Startup Success Podcast Bob and Pat talk with Gabriel Torok, founder and president of PreEmptive Solutions, a Java and .Net obfuscator company that’s going in a new direction: instrumenting your software so you can really see how customers use your app without running afoul of privacy concerns. Gabriel has some excellent advice for startups in general; this is one episode not to miss.

Relevant Blog Posts, Podcasts, Videos and Articles

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

  • Three years ago Aaron Patzer had a prototype and an idea that VC after VC turned down flat. A week ago, he sold Mint.com to Intuit for $170 million. I’m totally not surprised: Aaron was kind enough to let me interview him about how he built Mint for The Web Startup Success Guide. Here’s the short version of the story of how he did it, in his own words.

Finally!..

  • The private beta of http://startuptodo.com (a training/productivity community for startups and microISVs) continues; hopefully between today and the next MicroISV Digest we will launch!
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Bob WalshThe MicroISV Digest

The MicroISV Digest

The MicroISV Digest for the week ending September 14th, 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

  • Dan Gravell, elsten software, is looking for feedback on its music management application, bliss. They are also looking for beta testers. (via BOS)
  • Milos Tanasijevic has launched DupeTrasher, that will identify and locate duplicate files on your Windows PC. I’ve got 4 pcs and three networked hard drives I need to run through this! (via BOS)
  • Scott Carpenter, InvoicePlace, found a nifty interactive “expert system” online for (Australian) startups/microISVs who need to broaden their working knowledge of Intellectual Property Laws as they pertain to them. 1Place expert system ( via TechNation Australia.)
  • Atul Godbole, LogicNC Software, has launched Crypto Obfuscator For .Net. Here’s the gist: “Crypto Obfuscator combines powerful techniques such as symbol renaming, control flow obfuscation, resource and assembly encryption and decompiler & disassembler protection to provide the very best protection to your .Net code against reverse-engineering. Additionally its metadata reduction, assembly & resource compression and dependency embedding functionality simplifies and reduces the deployment of your software.” (via email)
  • In show #37 of the Startup Success Podcast Bob and Pat talk with Ginevra Kirkland, Six Apart Community Manager, about how to care for, nurture, advocate for and grow an online social community. Ginevra has been a Community Manager at Six Apart (makers of the TypePad blogging service) for over five years and is way ahead of nearly all of us on the Social Media curve. Note: Ginevra was kind enough to offer a 15% off discount code for TypePad for Startup Success listeners.

Relevant Blog Posts, Podcasts, Videos and Articles

  • Brian Swanson over at Purple Ant pointed out a post over at Rands in Repose: Your People. I gave it a quick read, stopped, and read it a second time with my brain set to ‘record’. Also check out from the same source: Managing Humans. And the Nerd Handbook!

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

Finally!..

  • On a very personal note, after 2+years of working on this idea, the private beta for http://startuptodo.com (a training/productivity community for startups and microISVs) began today. Wish me luck!
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Bob WalshThe MicroISV Digest

Launching Software Products: Niche vs. Mass Market

By Brett Ryckman
Product Developer
www.brettryckman.com

Which market segment to target? Do you go after “mass” markets, focusing on a broad set of customers, or target “niche markets” — or do both? Software companies creating new products or just starting-up must make these complex and perilous decisions. What must you consider in those decisions? Wikipedia states:

The mass market is a general business term describing the largest group of consumers for a specified industry product. It is the opposite extreme of the term niche market.

A niche market is the subset of the market on which a specific product is focusing; therefore the market niche defines the specific product features aimed at satisfying specific market needs, as well as the price range, production quality and the demographics that it is intended to impact.

Often this is an inherent decision. If your company produces bank security software for ATMs, your market is already well defined. Companies with broader products or aspirations have more of a challenge. For example, if you have a Web CMS product, do you target anyone that needs a Web Site or just attorneys or accountants, then tailor your product for those professions?

The lure of mass market revenues is so great that many software companies cannot resist. Unfortunately, mass-market products typically require vast resources to develop and market.

In The Business of Software, author Michael Cusumano provides an example in recounting the adventures of SkyFire, a maker of wireless networking software. First, several years of development time were required for SkyFire software to work on any type of device and any operating system. Second, the mass market for wireless products was slow to adopt and then still in its infancy. Rather than going after a few niche markets and deliberately growing into the mass market, SkyFire went straight for the masses. The company spent most of its time and resources making the technology suitable for a general-purpose solution. In 2001, the money ran out, and SkyFire closed shop.

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

One thing is certain, niche markets are certainly easier to overcome than mass markets. I think a lot of companies initially lean toward the mass market because of the revenue potential. I often hear comments from executives like, “There are 15 million small businesses out there so if we can just get 1-percent of them, we will be golden.” Well, it is true mass markets have much greater sales potential, but that is counterbalanced by the extensive resource requirements for developing and marketing the solution. (Even if you raised 6 million in VC funds).

Market segment decisions also affect how software companies should price software. Software that is targeted at niche markets tends to be more expensive than software that is targeted at wider audiences. This is partly driven by lower demand, which requires higher pricing. Niche software may be designed and tailored for a particular industry, and therefore not easily replaced by a generic or mass market product, even at a lower price. With larger per sale dollar amounts, the sales cycles are often longer for the niche software vendors, a factor which must considered in revenue forecasting.

It is also not uncommon to have niche providers competing with the mass market vendors. In the CRM software arena large vendors such as Salesforce.com and ZohoCRM are competing in a wide range of industries and niches. For example, niche software vendor Dendrite, which makes CRM software for the pharmaceutical industry, often finds itself competing with the big boys such as Siebel and SAP.

Niche software vendors often look outward in the market to determine what competitors are charging in order to position their own software pricing. This view includes large vendors that have low prices. The niche vendors may think “Hey, Salesforce.com is charging $45 per month, so we need to be at that price point." The failure to see the mass market difference may lead to their downfall.Without sufficient customer volume, the low profit from low prices may result in insolvency.

Large CRM vendors must devote substantial resources into being “all things to all people.” The niche vendor can really develop industry-specific features to meet their customers’ needs, giving them a competitive advantage. Salesforce.com has attempted to hedge that by developing the “App Exchange” which allows companies to develop or install sub-sets of applications tailored for their industry into Salesforce’s application.

Catching the Long Tail

Targeting niche markets is commonly referred to as “Long Tail” marketing. The concept originally debuted in Wired Magazine, in October, 2004 by Chris Anderson. He argued that products that are in low demand or have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters. His research showed that a significant portion of Amazon.com’s sales come from obscure books that are not available in brick-and-mortar stores.

The same concept of “Long Tail” can be applied to software vendors. Companies can develop long-tails by creating software products that solve specific problems or fill special needs. The historical approach to software is to overdevelop features to address enough customers’ needs so that they sell millions of licenses to the mass market. This trend is dying as more and more niche software vendors enter the market, offering customers a greater selection of specialized products. This is partly due to a significant reduction of the barriers to entry, thanks to Web-based software platforms such as software as a Service (SaaS) and the widespread market acceptance of Web-based software.

Niche Markets Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Targeting niche markets allows focus and specialization in that sector
  • Easier to take a large market share in a niche market
  • Typically it is less expensive to develop software targeted to niches
  • Easier to market the software in a niche with less competition ñ without having to go up against the large vendors like Microsoft or Seibel.
  • Target a niche, exploit the lack of competition, and you can gain a large market share.
  • Gaining a large market share makes your company an attractive candidate for acquisition by a larger provider looking to get into that niche market.

Cons

  • You might put the golden handcuffs on. Once you have established yourself as a niche vendor, it may be difficult to transition into mass markets. Strong brand perceptions are hard to change.
  • May limit how big you can grow
  • Some niches may require large resources to develop
  • May takes significant resources to penetrate a particular niche market

Conclusion

The allure of mass markets may be irresistible, and can lead companies into peril. In reality, start-ups and companies that currently do not have mass-market products should think carefully and cautiously before going there. Research shows that generally a software company is better positioned for success to start in a niche market, prove itself, and grow its way up to the masses.


About the author:
Brett Ryckman is a product developer and entrepreneur. Recently he founded DisputeSuite.com, a software as a service (SaaS) vendor that was acquired less than a year after launch. Prior to launching DisputeSuite, Ryckman worked as a web & UI designer for companies such as Kforce, Verizon, Catalina Marketing, and Perficient. He currently showcases his work at http://www.brettryckman.com.

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Bob WalshLaunching Software Products: Niche vs. Mass Market

The MicroISV Digest

The MicroISV Digest for the week ending September 7th, 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, has one of his products up for a prestegious UK award. R10Cipher is a finalist in the 2009 UK IT Industry Awards, in the Information Security Product category. Way to go Steve!
  • In show #36 of the Startup Success Podcast Bob and Pat talk with Michael Grosse, First Vice President – Wealth Management, of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney on the realities, perils and opportunities that come with startup funding. This is a whole new level of play for most developers, and Michael gets down to specifics of what happens after you get the money.

Relevant Blog Posts, Podcasts, Videos and Articles

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

  • Paul Graham doesn’t post that often, but when he does, it behooves you to read it. His latest, The Anatomy of Determination is in my opinion a must-read if you want to venture through the heart of darkness to emerge successfully on the other side.
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Bob WalshThe MicroISV Digest

The MicroISV Digest

The MicroISV Digest for the week ending August 31st, 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

  • Sven Heimberger, Next Iteration Ges. f. Software Engineering mbH, is looking for feedback on their site and new software, Instant Review for Visual Studio. (via BOS)
  • Stack Overflow is more than just programming answers: check out “Developing a software idea into a business” and especially Clay D. Nichols answer. (via BOS)
  • [A last minute add] David House, Well Built Software, Llc., has just released a FogBugz iPhone client named Bugztopia. It features multiple account support, automatic filter lists, customizable issue list and all of the action types for issues including resolve, close, email, reply, etc. Available on the AppStore for $4.99 – or email David (david@wellbuiltsoftware.com) and he’ll send you a promo code.
  • In show #35 of the Startup Success Podcast Bob and Pat talk with Matt Mickiewicz, founder of 99designs. 99designs is shaking up the graphic arts industry for emerging and established companies. Matt candidly talks about how 99designs is structured, their strategic direction, and how a crowdsourced business works. Matt’s also the cofounder of SitePoint – a leading IT/graphics site.

Relevant Blog Posts, Podcasts, Videos and Articles

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

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Bob WalshThe MicroISV Digest