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47Hats is now a Microsoft BizSpark Partner

Over the last few days you may have heard of Microsoft’s new program for startups, BizSpark. I am now a BizSpark Network Partner, so if you are interested in taking advantage of what Microsoft is offering please contact me at bob.walsh@47hats.com (Please, include the word BizSpark in the subject so I can spot it quicker.)

Before you do so, definitely have a look at the BizSpark FAQ and Portal to see if you/your company qualify.

Here’s the gist on BizSpark:

  • You get development-only licensing for everything from VS Team Studio to Excel for everyone developing in your startup for up to 3 years.
  • You get development and production licenses for up to 3 years for Windows Server, SQL Server, SharePoint and the other Microsoft servers you might want to use to power your web app.
  • You get an MSDN subscription that lets you into the moderated tech support groups and 2 tech support incidents a year.
  • You pay zip until you quit the program, or hit $1 million a year revenue, or the 3 years is up. Then you pay a disconnect fee of $100.
  • Your company has to be privately held, younger than 3 years, and be making less than $1 million year revenue when you enter the program.
  • You get BizSpark from a BizSpark Network Partner (various VCs, angel networks, user/startup groups and others) or from certain Microsoft employees.
  • BizSpark is global: some adjustments in price conditions in some countries.

I hope in the future Adobe, Apple, Google and Yahoo create similar programs for startups: they can make a huge difference in getting a microISV or startup off the ground.

Something I should make clear re my motivation here. Microsoft is not paying me to do this; in fact I expect it’s going to add to my workload. But what I am really focused on is helping microISVs and startups succeed.

They can be Rails/Mac startups like what I am now, they can be .NET developers chained to a cubicle, they can be any OS, platform, framework or language or combination thereof: it’s all good. That’s why I consult with (and work for) startups and microISVs, do this blog, co-moderate BOS, kicked off The Startup Success Podcast, write books and ebooks and will be launching a productivity web app especially for startups and microISVs (Project X) before year’s end.

Cheers,
Bob Walsh

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Bob Walsh47Hats is now a Microsoft BizSpark Partner
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Show #4: Microsoft BizSpark and Balsamiq Mockups

Show #4 of the Startup Success Podcast is out.

This week we have an in-depth interview with Microsoft’s Larry Gregory on BizSpark, and I interview Peldi Guilizzoni the founder of Balsamiq Studios and creator of Balsamiq Mockups, a really cool Adobe AIR app that I and other startups have learned to love for mocking up screens. We talk about what’s it like being AIR-centric microISV and an a powerful way of micro-marketing with Twitter.

Here’s the gist on BizSpark:

  • You get development-only licensing for everything from VS Team Studio to Excel for everyone developing in your startup for up to 3 years, and these licenses don’t expire – it’s as if you’d bought each product.
  • You get development and production licenses for up to 3 years for Windows Server, SQL Server, SharePoint and the other Microsoft servers you might want to use to power your web app.
  • You get an MSDN subscription that lets you into the moderated tech support groups and 2 tech support incidents a year.
  • You pay zip until you quit the program, or hit $1 million a year revenue, or the 3 years is up. Then you pay a disconnect fee of $100.
  • Your company has to be privately held, younger than 3 years, and be making less than $1 million year revenue.
  • You get BizSpark from a BizSpark Network Partner (various VCs, angel networks, user/startup groups and others) or from certain Microsoft employees.
  • BizSpark is global: some adjustments in price conditions in some countries.

More details/info in the podcast. And the BizSpark Program Manager Julien Codorniou who’s been very actively answering questions at the Business of Software forum here and here just pointed out to me his blog at: http://codorniou.wordpress.com.

Subscribe via iTunes. (And if you like what you hear, please add a review there!)

To download directly, visit The Startup Success Podcast blog.

Update: Correction! I was wrong re non-server licenses persist: they do not. “After 3 years, if they want to keep receiving the updates and the new versions, They have to pay for a new MSDn subscription, or join empower or any certification program,” Julien Codorniou emailed me.

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Bob WalshShow #4: Microsoft BizSpark and Balsamiq Mockups

Leave the Abstract to Art

by Sean Johnson

According to the world’s brain (by which I mean Wikipedia in this case, not Google), abstraction in the context of computer programming is “to reduce and factor out details so that one can focus on a few concepts at a time.” I’ll explain how abstraction is so useful in software development with an analogy. Products that are electrical almost always have a power switch. We have abstracted this concept so we know to look for a power button, slider, switch or toggle on these devices. We don’t have to rediscover the concept of on/off and how it is implemented for every electrical device we encounter. This is the same type of abstraction software developers like to harness. Good software developers treat the like aspects of similar things in the same way and avoid exposing details of one area of their software to all the other areas of their software. Abstractions shield us from details that are not important at the time. Abstractions are productivity enhancing tools and they free us to focus on more important issues at a higher level in the system.

Yet all is not perfectly rosy with using abstraction. One problem with abstractions and software development has been identified by Joel Spolsky and he calls it the Law of Leaky Abstractions. A second problem with abstractions is that they aren’t always useful for our product’s users. When an abstraction is used to develop software it can then seem natural to expose the abstraction to users of the product. This is often times a very bad idea. In an homage to Joel, I’ll christen this the Law of Overexposed Abstractions.

Law of Overexposed Abstractions – the users of your software don’t benefit from the same abstractions that benefited you in building the software

Excess abstraction is a leading cause of complexity in software products. The developers know that the product is built in such a way that certain details of the system have been abstracted, and that the system is thus very flexible. They get excited about this and are eager to expose this flexibility to users so that they can benefit from it too. This rarely works because of the Law of Overexposed Abstractions. In exposing your abstraction to your users, the flexibility you are trying to provide simply becomes added complexity, configuration work, and cognitive load. This stems from, among other things, the need to translate between the abstract terms and concepts of your software and the concrete terms and concepts of the user’s world.

Why is there such a temptation to overexpose abstractions? Because the abstraction becomes real in the developer’s mind when it becomes real in the software’s code. Developers start talking and thinking in terms of the abstractions they’ve created and can quickly lose sight of the fact that the abstraction is entirely their own creation and is not something that users are familiar with and understand.

Another temptation comes in the form of a question that inevitably arises, “why have this useful abstraction and not take advantage of it?” The counsel here is patience. Take advantage of the flexibility in your software by creating new products for new markets based on your existing code base and by evolving your software to meet the changing needs of the marketplace over time. Trying to capitalize on your software abstractions by exposing them directly to your users will only frustrate them.

Here are four signs that you may have let your abstractions get overexposed:

  1. Users must learn a new vocabulary of abstract terms and how they map on to their own language in order to use your product.
  2. Your product exposes any sort of type system for users and administrators to define the types of objects that exist in the system
  3. Your product exposes any sort of workflow system for users and administrators to define processes
  4. Your product requires significant up front configuration before it can be used rather than supporting moderate adjustments once real world use has shown the user that they need to make an adjustment

I’ll illustrate some of these warnings with a great product that may have lost its way due to the Law of Overexposed Abstraction. Mingle is a project management and team collaboration product for agile software development teams from ThoughtWorks. I’ve been using Mingle for a couple of releases now and I have talked to other developers that use or have used or evaluated Mingle. A consistent view is that Mingle does many things right (its flexible user interface is a big plus) but it exposes too much abstraction. I’ve struggled with the resulting complexity myself and I’ve witnessed other development teams struggle with it.

Every item in Mingle is a card with a user defined sub-type.

Every item in Mingle is a card with a user defined sub-type.

Once defined, card types are ordered into a user defined containment hierarchy.

Once defined, card types are ordered into a user defined containment hierarchy.

Here is an example of user defined transitions in Mingle which take the form of a state machine.

User defined transitions in Mingle take the form of a state machine.

Mingle is a very flexible and abstract system. Without an existing template of card types, card properties, card tree hierarchies and state transitions, getting it configured is a daunting task that can at times feel like programming. ThoughtWorks has done a good job of providing some ready made templates with Mingle that can remove some of this burden. However, even when using a template users must come to grips with the abstractions to make the small configuration changes that are needed. Mingle would benefit from a more opinionated view of how an agile product management tool should function. Then the flexibility that has been developed in the system could remain under the covers but be leveraged to create different versions of Mingle for different development methodologies, or could be released in a high end version of the product for the largest development teams that can justify the cost of learning and configuring a complex tool.

Remember, smart developers will use abstraction, and this is not itself a problem. Abstractions go wrong when a strong barrier is not erected between useful abstractions in the software and the real world problems of your customers. Your software must interact with its users in a concrete and opinionated way. Use the vocabulary of your users, not the vocabulary of your own abstract creations. Even though your software is flexible and is therefore capable of supporting many different opinions, you must pick the one way you think is best for your customers and then defend the hell out of it.

Keep the abstractions where they belong, under the covers. Benefit from your abstractions over time, both by responding to the changing market faster and by creating new products from your existing code. And with each product release, remember to keep it real.

————-

Sean Johnson is a voice in the field of product development, management and design. He works for IBM and has brought numerous products to market for startups, for IBM and for himself. His blog on product design is called Art of the Product.

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Bob WalshLeave the Abstract to Art
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What President Obama means for microISVs

lincoln.jpgThis morning on the Business of Software forum someone started a thread “Obama won! Is his tax plan going to effect ISV? (sic)

A lot of things were and will be said there, but one post by Steve McLeod who lives in Cologne, Germany caught my eye. He said about the U.S. election, in effect, “So what? What does it matter?”

Here’s why it matters Steve:

- Obama’s central overwhelming message was that this country must change. And the country – with the highest percentage turnout in a century – overwhelmingly agreed.

Say for the sake of polite argument President-elect Obama’s campaign proposals become law, word for word, Jan. 21st. It doesn’t work that way, but let’s say it did.

Yes, that means if you are making over $250K a year, you will be taxed on the amount above that number as you would have in 1999 – which by the way was a hell of a better year by any measure than this one.

It also means that as a microISV you could finally get affordable health care. And that large number of people who have been chained to their jobs because they were afraid to lose their health care if they quit, could quit.

I don’t know how many people are in that category – no one does – but I do know several people in the IT sector who have told me personally that the difficulty of getting health insurance as a startup has kept them from making the jump.

2 more reasons it matters to microISVs worldwide.

The U.S. economy – and given how the world works, the global economy – is in serious trouble right now with much worse predicted – and that means your microISV or startup is in trouble too. On top of that, we have the sub-prime mortgage/credit freeze/unpoliced Wall St. malware that has deleted trillions of dollars of wealth worldwide and has by no means been checked.

You do not find wifi in shanty towns. You don’t buy software no matter how great it is when you or your company are fighting for survival. If you are a startup, you want your customers to have money in their pockets and hope in their hearts – not be in financial survival mode.

I don’t know if President Obama can make the looming recession less worse and take the insanity out of the global credit system, but I hope so.

Which brings me to my last point, and it’s frankly an American, not a microISV/startup, point.

I am so proud of my country today.

Two hugely, deeply important things happened last night. The ugly wound of racism in my country has finally and forever been healed, and we took a huge step back from the red state/blue state hate that has been tearing this country apart for the last 20 years.

Yes, of course I know there are just as many people in this country today that hate and fear others because of the color of their skin as there was yesterday. But the fact and the symbol of electing the first African-American President puts paid to a long outstanding bill, a festering evil idea that has cost this country and all of its citizens so much for so long.

I hope it also rooted out those on both sides that have to gain power fanned a recent kind of hate that has been growing in my country – the hatred of a country splitting politically and culturally into Red America and Blue America. No, it doesn’t mean we’re all going to go hug a tree or get blind drunk at a NASCAR race or set aside huge differences on dozens of issues.

But it does mean we can set aside the hate.

I watched first McCain then Obama last night. They said it better than I:

First, John McCain:

“I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.

Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that.”

And Barack Obama:

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen, by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different, that their voices could be that difference.

It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states.

We are, and always will be, the United States of America.”

Hope won last night Steve, hope over hate. And that’s a good, good thing.

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Bob WalshWhat President Obama means for microISVs
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MicroISV Digest

isvtube.jpgThe MicroISV Digest for the week ending November 3rd, 2008.

(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

  • Thomas Holz (Easy2Sync) has started ISV Tube – new blog, collecting videos of interest to microISVs and startups. Mostly from conferences, but some other good videos, too. (via email)
  • Steve Cholerton – Arten Science – has released Pointer+ for the Mac. Pointer+ changes the cursor to a circular magnifier 200 to 800 px in diameter. More info at: Pointer+ for Mac OSX. (via email)
  • Show #3 of the Startup Success Podcast is out. In this show I give Pat a hard time over Vista, he gives me the lowdown on PDC and Mairtini Ni Dhomhnaill gives all of us a quick intro to finance and accounting for microISVs and startups. Subscribe via Apple iTunes here.
  • Avangate is again helping to sponsor the European Software Conference (Berlin, Nov. 8-9), and upping the conference’s Epsilon Award prize money by 1,000 euros. (via email). [Disclosure note: by arrangement, I’m doing a post a month at Avangate’s Blog, for example, Getting on the right side of economics.]

Relevant Blog Posts, Videos and Articles

  • Scott Carpenter (InvoicePlace) spotted this post at Flying Solo (Australia’s online microISV/Startup community) you might be needing: How to grow your business without borrowing.
  • Patrick Foley – my cohost on the Startup Success Podcast – kicked off shall we say a very spirited exchange re why Cloud computing for microISVs, specifically Microsoft’s version. At BOS.
  • TechCrunch (the U.K based version) started a new feature, Send me an Angel, where they’ll be posting Q and A with Angel investors about their approach to investing.
  • Andy Brice found a good idea for a microISV while taking his son to a model train show. Maybe you need to get out more with your family like Andy did! (via BOS)

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

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Bob WalshMicroISV Digest
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Moving Day.

house movingI’m in the process of moving 47hats to a new web host: I can’t afford to wait for Alentus to resolve its problems. Initially I’d plan to move to wordpress.com but there were 3 catches:

  • The feed: While I can list any old feed I want as a link in the sidebar at wordpress.com, there’s no way to control the autodiscovered feed and force it to be my existing feedburner feed. That means I’d end up with two feeds from the same site, a major web analytics pain in the butt.
  • While premium WordPress accounts let you override CSS/use your own, there’s no good documentation of that css structure.
  • Given other things to do, and that the present theme here is pretty good, I just want to move with the least amount of pain possible.

The upshot is I’m moving this domain to GoDaddy. I have been seriously, consistently impressed with their telephone support, their uptime is good, and the price (for a shared host) is good. Also, they are not about to get bought out.

If all goes well, come Monday you should see the weekly MicroISV Digest in your RSS reader or in your web browser and it will be fine: if you don’t email me at bob period walsh at safarisoftware dot com and let me know.

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Bob WalshMoving Day.
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Show #3: Microsoft Azure and accounting basics for microISVs

SSPLogo3.jpgShow #3 of the Startup Success Podcast is out: this week Pat and I focus on the news from the Microsoft Professional Developer Conference and I – and you – get a consultation on the core accounting/financial stuff you need to know for your startup or microISV from Mairtini NiDhomhnaill, Senior Vice President for the consulting firm Accretive Solutions. Accretive Solutions has provided accounting, financial and other consulting services to over 500 startups.

Subscribe via iTunes. (And if you like what you hear, please add a review there!)

To download directly, visit The Startup Success Podcast blog.

Admin note: I’m attempting to move this blog over to wordpress.com this weekend – it’s been pretty frustrating so far since for some reason 2008 posts are not exporting/importing properly.

  • If you don’t see Monday’s MicroISV Digest, please visit http://47hats.com and resubscribe.
  • If you know anybody who can make things happen at Automattic – the company behind WordPress – please email me.
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Bob WalshShow #3: Microsoft Azure and accounting basics for microISVs
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Which works better for a startup: a forum or a social network?

ISV asked a really good question this morning over at the Business of Software forum:

Would it be a good idea to consider using something like Ning instead of a forum? Anyone considered this?

I think a lot depends on what you’re going to build a social network around, and how much time are you prepared to spend.

Personally, I hate forum software (except Fogbugz!) because it’s too cumbersome. But if you work it consistently, it can become an excellent resource.

For example Thraex Software (they make a windows installer that doesn’t suck) uses forums as its main tech support channel:

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Note:
– Only 3 forums, no confusion about where to post.
– 1452 topics got 4936 posts – in other words an average of 3 posts per topic. So the poster asks their question… and they are getting answered, either by the microISV or the community.

This is one of the few really good, effective forums I’ve seen.

A social network site is a different beast. It’s a near-tangible place with a hard-landscape of functionalities that shape what kinds of interaction/conversation participants have. No one would mistake Facebook with Second Life or with a Ning social network.

I think social networks can be the secret weapon/secret sauce for startups and microISVs if they take the time to think through their approach.

Let me cite another example, a time tracking web app I know use and like: BubbleTimer. This is one elegant app – define the things you should be doing, mark in the little bubbles 15 minutes at a time. It answers – Are you getting the time into the things you should be? – very well, and this improves your future behavior.

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Once aspect of BubbleTimer is that you can share some or all of your activities with others using this web app. Buy moving the app beyond being a single user app, the creator, Sean Johnson, is a) increasing the value of what people individually are doing with the tool and b) making it damn difficult for others to imitate his app. A growing community centered on your app is the best copy protection you can imagine.

Whether you build an online community into your desktop/web app or take a more loosely coupled approach by building a community using say Ning around your startup, don’t underestimate the time and effort involved – that’s why “Community Manager” is becoming a position at more and more companies, large, small and micro.

In the last few years we’ve just started to see the rise of social networks – and whether you run a software company with 1, 100 or 10,000 employees, social networks – both those that exist and the ones you form need to be a part of your strategic thinking.

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Bob WalshWhich works better for a startup: a forum or a social network?
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MicroISV Digest

ISV Innovation.jpgThe MicroISV Digest for the week ending October 27th, 2008.

(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.)

NOTE: due to repeated outages at the ISV for this site, I’m in the process of moving this blog to wordpress.com. I will do everything possible to preserve the current RSS feed, but if you don’t see next week’s MicroISV Digest in your RSS reader -and a few other posts planned this week here – it will be time to revisit http://47hats.com and resubscribe.

News and Announcements

  • This week, I host Startup 101 – four Microsoft-sponsored webcasts starting October 28th at 9 a.m. PDT. These live webcasts are free, start at 9 am PDT, are hour long and definitely will be fielding questions posed by webcast attendees. The webcasts are sponsored by Microsoft’s ISV Innovation (but I control the content and chose the guests :)) Here’s the lineup:
    • TuesdayGene Landy, Chair of the Technology Business Group of Boston-based IT law firm Ruberto Israel & Weiner, P.C. and I will be talking about some of the key legal topics of getting a startup off the ground. A few questions we will dig into are: If I develop software while working for someone else, can they claim they own it? What basics of Intellectual Property law do I need to know? What are the tradeoffs of LLCs vs. S Corp vs. Corp?
    • WednesdayMairtini NiDhomhnaill, Senior Vice President for the consulting firm Accretive Solutions and I will be discussing the basic financial and accounting knowledge every microISV and startup needs. Accretive Solutions has provided accounting, financial and other consulting services to over 500 startups.
    • Thursday – Join Jennifer Van Grove, community and social media consultant and I as we explore what startups and microISVs need to know about blogging, micro-blogging, community building and community management. If you don’t have a online social networking strategy, you will not want to miss this webcast!
    • FridayTwo founders -Mark Morrison, CEO and Ian Clemens, CTO – of IDV Solutions, an enterprise software company that began as a microISV and has grown to 45 employees in just 4 years, discuss the ins and outs of selling business to business.
  • Marius Mailat from SubmitSuite is offering a free SEO audit to the first 5 attendees of this year’s European Software Conference ( Nov. 8-9, Berlin) who sign up here (ESWC is the code to use).
  • Dave Collins, founder of Shareware Promotions – a leading AdWords consulting firm – is offering free 15 minute Google AdWords Consultations to attendees of this year’s European Software Conference ( Nov. 8-9, Berlin) who sign up here. Dave is truly an expert at AdWords – if your attending ESWC, you should definitely sign up.
  • Show #2 of the Startup Success Podcast is up: you can find it here or subscribe via Apple iTunes here.
  • Larry Kubin wants to review your microISV product, for free. Larry runs Sephira Software out of Austin, Texas with his partner Joshua Carnett. According to this BOS post, these reviews will become posts at blog Larry is starting.
  • Mark Gladding would like you stop by http://www.ebooksjustpublished.com/ to give his server a bit more load. eBooks Just Published will soon be an excellent source of info on new ebooks.

Relevant Blog Posts, Videos and Articles

More pondering of the Global Economic Rollercoaster:

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

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Bob WalshMicroISV Digest
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Show #2 of the Startup Success Podcast is up.

SSPLogo3.jpgIn our second show, Pat and I talk about JQuery that has jumped on both our radars, I interview Sanjay Bhatia, who founded Izenda a few years back and now runs a 20+ ISV and Pat and I have a couple tips for aspiring microISVs – especially those wondering when to quit their day jobs.

We’re trying out a format – and pushing to make reduce the length of the show: what do you think?

Subscribe via iTunes. (And if you like what you hear, please add a review there!)

Visit The Startup Success Podcast blog.

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Bob WalshShow #2 of the Startup Success Podcast is up.