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MicroISV Digest

logfaces.jpgThe MicroISV Digest for the week ending December 1st, 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

  • Dima launched a new site for MoonLit Software at logFaces – and is looking for feedback. (via BOS)
  • Andy Brice has your microISV holiday gift giving covered with some nice looking microISV/startup-centric tee shirts at Zazzle. (via email)
  • Show #7 of the Startup Success Podcast should be out tomorrow with part 1 of a very special guest interview. Subscribe to the podcast in Apple iTunes.

Relevant Blog Posts, Videos and Articles

Just when you thought maybe the economy is okay (2) …

  • Pownce, the Twitter-like microblogging startup, is shutting down Dec. 15th after being bought by Six Apart (makers of TypePad and Vox).
  • Federal bailouts, equity buys into banks and investment houses, liquidity infusions by the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, loan guarantees and economic stimulus checks now total $8.5 trillion, or an amount equal to about 60% of the annual U.S. gross domestic product, according to various estimates.

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

  • Nothing worth noting this past Thanksgiving (U.S.) week.
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Bob WalshMicroISV Digest
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Santa, send me a tee shirt!

One of our very own, Andy Brice of the Successful Software blog and PerfectTablePlan, has launched a cool and good online store for the microISV who has everything: http://www.zazzle.com/successfulsoftware.

These and a bunch more suitable attire for startups are available for prices well within budget (read, Cheap!) from both Zazzle’s U.S. and European online stores.

And it’s for a good cause – in fact two: Andy is donating 100% of the profit to two extremely worthy charities, jaipurfoot.org and sightsavers.org.

Need a stocking stuffer for your favorite microISV? Look no further.

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Bob WalshSanta, send me a tee shirt!

MicroISV Digest

Escape from Cubicle NationThe MicroISV Digest for the week ending November 24th, 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

  • Does Steve Cholerton sleep? Guess not: his microISV Arten Science just released another product: R10Cipher – a cross platform encryption tool for Mac and Windows. (via email)
  • Women 2.0 is putting on two Jumpstart your Startup workshops in the SF Bay Area early next year.
  • Congratulations to Rohan Almeida on his first sale of imsense 1.0. (via BOS)
  • Robert Champion is looking for feedback on his site and app, SEO Drop. (via BOS)
  • Show #6 of the Startup Success Podcast is up – This week, I interview Pamela Slim of Escape from Cubicle Nation fame. Pam offers extremely good advice on jailbreaking your life from the corporate scene. Subscribe to the podcast in Apple iTunes.

Relevant Blog Posts, Videos and Articles

Just when you thought maybe the economy is okay… The U.S. Treasury rolled out the crash cart for Citigroup, adding another $20 billion injection to the $25 billion already kicked in, plus a FDIC guarantee on $306 billion worth of bad citibank assets. Wall Street loved it.

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

  • Lessons of Survival, From the Dot-Com Attic, and interesting post from the New York Times. “Many of the companies that survived the dot-com bust did so by ignoring the prevailing “Get Big Fast” business model, Mr. Kirsch explains. Get Big Fast said that an Internet company should identify a market early and grow as quickly as possible, to shut out all competitors.”

    “Instead, many survivors pursued what Mr. Kirsch calls “micro niches”: markets that didn’t offer hundreds of millions in quick profits, but still presented viable Internet-based business opportunities.” Indeed.

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Bob WalshMicroISV Digest
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MicroISV Digest

zeptoliner.jpgThe MicroISV Digest for the week ending November 17th, 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

  • Ryo Shimizu, CEO of Toyko-based Ubiquitous Entertainment Inc., has released Zeptoliner, an easy-to-use outliner for the Apple iPhone. I met Ryo in Tokyo this summer – he’s part of a growing list of Japanese-based startups joining the global micro software vendor world.(via email).
  • Keith Alperin, Helium Foot Software, wrote in to let me know that the latest installment of the podcast Mac Software Business: Year One is up. When 4 experienced Mac microISVs get together, what they say is well worth listening to. (via email)
  • Peldi Guilizzoni the founder of Balsamiq Studios and creator of Balsamiq Mockups has a very detailed post up: Hit $100,000 in revenue, time to start looking up. That’s in less than 5 months, by the way.

Relevant Blog Posts, Videos and Articles

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

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Bob WalshMicroISV Digest
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MicroISV Digest

timesup.jpgThe MicroISV Digest for the week ending November 10th, 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

  • Justin Magaram (Rain City Digital LLC) has launched TimesUpKidz – A Windows desktop app for putting the brakes on your children’s computer usage. Curb those bad habits early! (via email)
  • Zviki Cohen is looking for feedback on his new microISV site for nWire. nWire is an Eclipse plug-in which expedites Java development.(via BOS)
  • Dharmesh Shah’s Business of Software Conference talk is now online at here – and seven other videos of talks by the likes of Eric Sink, Jason Fried and Steve Johnson are up on the Business of Software Social Network site. (via BOS)
  • Show #4 of the Startup Success Podcast is up: in this show Pat and I talk to Microsoft’s Larry Gregory about the new BizSpark program and I interview Peldi Guilizzoni creator of Balsamiq Mockups, a great Adobe AIR app.
  • Speaking of BizSpark – Microsoft’s new better than Empower program for startups – you’ll find more info in these BOS posts here and here, and my take here and here. If you’re interested in getting what BizSpark has to offer, email me. I’m a BizSpark Network Partner.

Relevant Blog Posts, Videos and Articles

All and all, a quiet week. I think it’s a combination of post-election fatigue and pre-Inauguration hopes…

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

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Bob WalshMicroISV Digest
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BizSpark vs. Empower

codemonkey.jpg(Note: if you just hate everything Microsoft, now’s a great time to skip this post. :) )

So what’s the difference between Microsoft Empower and Microsoft BizSpark (of which I’m now a Network Partner, meaning you can get in through me.)?

I think it depends on your circumstances. I was in Empower – and found it a great help in getting my microISV product out the door. Empower is good, the tech support is a real asset and over the years it has been one of the good things that Microsoft has done for desktop developers. If fact, if you were creating a microISV or startup around a Windows desktop or Windows Mobile app, you could do that too with BizSpark.

That said, let’s say you’re a .NET developer code monkey. You’ve been watching everybody else create startups – especially web apps – using open source, getting $10 million in (sadly no more) easy VC money etc.

But you don’t know Rails or PHP or Python. You’ve been slaving away in C# .NET, ASP.NET or VB.NET. That’s what you know. You get a great idea for a web app – but to license Windows Server (IIS) and SQL Server alone would cost way more money than you have.

Code monkey not happy.

Along comes BizSpark. You get not just development licenses and tech support for everything from VS Team System on down, but development and production licenses for all the Microsoft major (and I think most of the minor, but who can keep up?) servers. That means you could build out a web app using the skills you know, for zero – just like we programmers who build web apps in the open source world.

Code monkey happy!

Also, when you are talking about creating a commercial venture, you have to look past today and try and get a sense of what will work a year, 2 years, 3 years down the line. Silverlight has gone from CTP to 2.0 in 18 months. Microsoft Azure/Mesh are on the same fast track – even more so. I think when Azure get’s out of CTP/beta it will get added to BizSpark bigtime.

I like the idea of Microsoft making it just as possible for a .NET programmer to build a startup as it is for an Open Source programmer to do so. That’s why I’m sitting here Saturday morning answering queries about it and writing this post.

Is it a clever way for Microsoft to make millions? You bet!

After 3 years, BizSpark ends for you and either you a) didn’t create a startup, shrug, pay Microsoft a $100 disconnect fee and move on or b) your startup rocks, you’re making money hand over fist (they don’t kick you out just because you make your first million, by the way) and you could give a rat’s ass that you have to pay for the Microsoft tech you’ve had for free because you’ve built a company and those licensing fees are just another business cost, small compared to even one contractor or employee’s salary.

And again, I’m for anything that makes it easier for code monkeys to fire their bosses and start their own companies.

(Re this Code Monkey stuff – I was and still am at heart a code monkey and proud of it!)

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Bob WalshBizSpark vs. Empower
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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.

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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