MicroISV Digest

edicy.jpgThe MicroISV Digest for the week ending October 6th, 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

  • Neil Davidson, organizer of the Business of Software Conference, has launched the Business of Software Network on Ning! 201 members and growing.
  • Chad Sellers, Useful Fruit Software, has shipped his first product: Pear Note. Pear Note is a Mac app which can record both video and audio keyed to your textual notetaking. Click you text note, jump right to that part of the video and/or audio recording. (via email)
  • Tomas Kohl has launched his microISV, colladeo, and opened a beta of his web app, Playground, an on-demand requirements capture & collaboration tool. Beta signup is here. (via email)
  • Tõnu Runnel wanted to make sure you’d heard about his web app/company edicy. Edicy is a new kind of a website building tool, which is extremely easy to use, focuses on business users and is localized for a number of different languages and markets. (via email)
  • Conrad Albrecht is looking for feedback on http://drawmusic.com/and his new Windows app, ChordSong. (via BOS)
  • Adam Bumgardner launched a new take on an old problem: controlling your finances. Money Folders for Windows let’s you do envelope-style budgeting – the only budgeting approach that’s ever worked for me. (via BOS)
  • I announced Startup 101 – A Microsoft-sponsored 4 part business webcast for microISVs and startups coming at the end of October.

Relevant Blog Posts, Videos and Articles

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

  • Considering the economic climate, maybe you need a shot of entrepreneurial inspiration: I suggest you start tracking Startup Stories a new blog carnival of first-hand accounts of people living the entrepreneurial dream. By Scott Allen, who’s been About.Com’s Guide to Entrepreneurs since 2002.
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Bob WalshMicroISV Digest

Startup 101 – A four-part webcast – is coming.

ISV Innovation.jpgIf you want to know more about the legal, financial, business and online social aspects of launching and running a startup or microISV, block off the 9 a.m. hour (California time) October 28-31: Microsoft is sponsoring a free 4 part webcast hosted and produced by me, for you.

These 60 minute webcasts will be 40 minutes or so of discussion with leading experts in IT/startup law, business accounting, enterprise marketing and creating online product conversations, and then 20 minutes of question and answer. Got questions? Send them to me! (bob.walsh@47hats.com)

The webcasts are sponsored by Microsoft’s ISV Innovation Partner Program; you’ll find more info at:

Our kickoff webcast is with IT attorney and author Gene Landy. Besides fielding your questions, Gene and I will dig into how to safely from a legal perspective develop software when you’re working for someone else, the basics of Intellectual Property protection, why you want to be an LLC and more. I’ll be announcing between then and now our other guests as they confirm.

Lastly, a quick FAQ:

Q. What do these webcasts cost?
Zip. They’re free.

Q. Who’s in charge of the content – you or Microsoft?
Me, and my expert guests.

Q. Why are you doing this?
Because seldom do we as microISVs and startups get the opportunity to get information and ask questions of real experts.

Q. Are you getting paid to organize and produce these webcasts by Microsoft?
Yes! It was my idea which I’m happy to say was enthusiastically adopted by the ISV Innovation people.

Q. So I have to use a Windows PC to see this webcast, right?
Wrong, although unsurprisingly, that’s the easiest way to do it. I just brought up on my MacBook Pro (OS X 10.5.5) Safari (3.1.2) on the LiveMeeting Test page – no problem. However, could not get LiveMeeting running on FireFox (3.0.3).

Q. Where do I send those questions again?

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Bob WalshStartup 101 – A four-part webcast – is coming.

MicroISV Digest

dashboard.jpgThe MicroISV Digest for the week ending September 29th, 2008.

(If you have an announcement of interest to your fellow microISVs, indies or startups, please email me at bob.walsh@47hats.com with the word digest in the subject.)

News and Announcements

  • Jesse Smith’s Wholeweal Software, Inc. has shipped its first product: EverybodyInn, an easy-to-use reservations management system for bed-and-breakfasts, guesthouses, and small hotels. (via email)
  • Mark Phillip’s Dashboard Zone has released a free WordPress plugin to monitor your blog’s success metrics. (via email)
  • Atle Iversen is looking for feedback on PpcSoft’s first desktop Windows application, iKnow and while he’s gotten an earful at the Business of Software Forum, more is appreciated.

Relevant Blog Posts, Videos and Articles

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

  • Google is giving away money to startups and social entrepreneurs again, kicking off Project 10 to the 100th. they are ponying up $10 million, will let the public judge the top 100 ideas, with the final five getting funded. Eight categories, deadline is Oct. 20th.
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Bob WalshMicroISV Digest

MicroISV Digest

officemapper.jpgThe MicroISV Digest for the week ending September 22nd, 2008.

(If you’re announcing the public debut of a microISV, startup or have other news to share, please email me at bob.walsh@47hats.com with the word digest in the subject.)

News and Announcements

  • Benjamin Curtis announced the release of a free app startups/microISVs looking for office space will fine useful: OfficeMapper It’s a Rails-based mashup between Craigslist and Google Maps, showing officespace for rent in a given American city Craigslist covers and not coincidently showing off Ben’s new Rails Kit for sale. (via email)
  • Keith Alperin released the 2.0 version of MercuryMover, a Mac productivity utility. (via email)
  • Dennis Crane released a new version of his software help-authoring tool, Dr. Explain.
  • Steve Cholerton released ScreenAudit 1.1.5, a Mac usage auditing utility. (via email)
  • TN asked for opinions on a new logo he’s commissioned at 99designs. The way 99designs works is you pay $39 USD to start a design contest for a particular graphic with a set prize amount. Some of 99designs 18,000+ graphic artist members submit designs and you pick the winner, paying them directly. Here’s TN’s contest if you want to have a look. Another BOSer, Edwin Yip, gave this a try back in August.

Relevant Blog Posts, Videos and Articles

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

  • More on the free web tool Firebug: Supercharge Firebug, at the linux.com site. This is a very cool article if you either have a web app or a web site.
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Bob WalshMicroISV Digest

Fear and Opportunity

iStock_000004765983XSmall.jpgIn case you missed it, the financial and political leadership of the United States is busy right now on a little emergency debug project: recode Global Capitalism 2008 before the whole damn thing goes fail whale.

The Programmer in Chief said in the White House Rose Garden this morning, “This is a pivotal moment for America’s economy,” flanked by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Christopher Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Since these guys are kind of old, not working for options (they already own the stock) and don’t like having to work weekends, the rewrite is going to be expensive: a trillion dollars. That’s even more than Google’s worth.

[from the AP:] “I figure it will be at least half a trillion,” Shelby, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, said in an ABC television interview of a plan being put together by US authorities.

“But if you look at what the Fed has already done, and the extension of power to Treasury to deal with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, I believe we’re talking about a trillion dollars,” he said.

Senate Banking committee chairman Chris Dodd said: “I’ve been here 28 years. To listen to the language of last evening, we maybe were days away from a complete meltdown of our financial system.”

I don’t know if the new rewrite is going to go over like the recent redesigns of Facebook and Twitter, but I do know two things are going to be generated in copious amounts: fear and opportunity.

There’s lots of fear to go around – will you have a job Monday, will people still be subscribing to your web app, will the rewrite work? What if the whole damn global thing just… Stops. Working?

It’s kind of like living in a city that could be a terrorist target (and what city isn’t?), or the good old days of Mutually Assured Destruction with enough ICBMs a hair trigger away from launch to turn Earth into a dead mudball (they still are, by the way). You’d better get used to the fear – it’s not going away soon.

And there’s opportunity.

Whatever shakes out in the rewrite, whoever makes off with the most dough (round up the usual suspects…), I think there’s going to be a lot of rethinking going on. Getting hit with a (financial) tsunami will do that. Rethinking means change, and change is opportunity.

A lot of people – say 3 billion – are going to be incentivized to just maybe look at things a little differently over the days, weeks and years as the rewrite gets deployed. That might just create an opportunity for your startup or microISV that wasn’t there before.

You can wait for the wave to pass, to see what everyone else thinks of the rewrite, but by then most of the opportunity will have dried up.

Instead, maybe – just maybe – you can find opportunity this little rewrite job is going to open up and leap into it. Maybe you go splat. But just maybe you don’t. The costs of trying today are lower, and the rewards are greater and faster than ever before. Opportunity is scary too – you just have to live with the fear and get on with what you need to do.

Are you going to ride the top of the wave, or let your fear freeze you until the wave comes crashing down on your head?

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Bob WalshFear and Opportunity

MicroISV Digest

stackoverflow.jpgThe MicroISV Digest for the week ending September 15th, 2008.

(If you’re announcing the public debut of a microISV, startup or have other news to share, please email me at bob.walsh@47hats.com with the word digest in the subject.)

News and Announcements

  • Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky graduated Stack Overflow to public beta today. For those developers who’ve not heard about Stack Overflow, it’s an ambitious attempt to create a genuinely useful programming Q & A site. Joel and Jeff have set out to create a site where programmers can get and offer very high quality, contemporary answers to the gamut of technical questions we face. Definitely give it a try. Here’s Joel’s description of the launch.
  • ‘Peldi’ Guilizzoni, founder of Balsamiq Studios, has announced Balsamiq Mockups for JIRA (JIRA by the way is a bug and issue tracking system developed by Atlassian Software.)(via email)
  • Steve Cholerton announced the ArtenChat Beta program. Arten Science is a U.K. – based microISV with four products for sale today; ArtenChat will be a cross-platform IM/FTP secure client. Steve is offering active beta testers a free full license once it hits 1.0 in exchange for their participation. (via email)
  • FutureGlue AB – Peter Bruinsma’s one man show in Northern Sweden – is rebranding and expanding its product line. FutureGlue AB has bought LinkedCells from LinkedCells LLC for an undisclosed sum, and will be bringing its vanguard Outlook RSS reader Intraviews out of soft hibernation. (via email)
  • Disclosure/announcement: The good people at Avangate have commissioned me to write a series of monthly in-depth posts on topics of interest to microISVs and startups. The first one should be up in a day or two at http://blog.avangate.com/. I won’t be talking about payment processing there, nor mentioning their posts here unless they make the cut – including mine.

Relevant Blog Posts, Videos and Articles

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

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Bob WalshMicroISV Digest

Elephants and ants, big companies and startups.


Over at the Business of Software forum today “Dashboards” asked a really good question:

As a microisv, we often rely building our business through Google services (SEO,adwords..) but is it a good idea to just rely on Google? What are the options for a small guy to defend its business.

The OP points out this New York Times story (“Stuck in Google’s Doghouse“) by Joe Nocera about an Internet entrepreneur by the name of Dan Savage, whose business based on Google was making $115,000 a month on $653,000 in gross revenue living in the space between Google Adwords and Google AdSense until one fine day Google put him out of business.

Dashboards – good question, did you Google it?

Seriously, this is an issue to some greater or lesser degree for every microISV/startup that decides to build a complementary product/service/site to some other existing company’s site or that uses another company’s API. It’s the same issue whether it’s Google, Microsoft, Apple (note recent iPhone App denials before you go off the deep end) or one of the those Web 2.0 companies we all know, use, and love.

1. Don’t pretend it isn’t so. Too often developers go Bambi-like and assume the existence of some sort of “right” where none exists. If your software/product/website depends on X – either their API or their passive or active cooperation – you’d better own up to that fact and have contingencies (including shutting down) mapped out, thought through and ready to go. You don’t argue with earthquakes – at least not more than once.

2. Are you a parasite or a symbiont? Put another way, what do they get out of the relationship and is it what they want? Some may say that the millions of dollars Dan Savage paid Google prove the value of the relationship; but Google’s is worth tens of billions and values relevancy more than a million here or there.

Furthermore, anyone tracking Google instead of counting their money would have and should have known they were playing with Google fire. As Nocera put it, “So what is Google’s problem with Sourcetool? One likely possibility is that Google views Sourcetool as an example of a practice called ad arbitrage, which it frowns upon.” Doh!

3. Don’t assume they care. They don’t. They really, really don’t. All of the people who make up Google are wrapped up in the values, goals, politics, ambitions, initiatives, struggles, etc. of that company. They are not putting in 70 hour weeks worrying about your little company. It’s nothing personal, it’s just business.

4. Get them to know you. If your business depends on company X, you’d better be building as many personal relationships as you can with the people in charge of that company. If Dan Savage had been able to call up his friend on Google’s Board of Directors and said, “You’re company is putting me out of business! Help!” do you really think this would have played out this way? It’s no guarantee, but companies are made of people and even in the brave new online world, sometimes who you know can make a huge difference.

5. It’s the ant’s responsibility not to get crushed by the elephant. Why? Because the elephant matters a hell of a lot more to the ant than the other way around. That means you need to be totally on top of every scrap of info you can gleam about where that company is going and whether you might be in the way.

Please be clear: many microISVs succeed quite well in the shadow of any number of elephants – and the same is even more true of online apps depending on the good will and APIs of others to create value. Just don’t let yourself forget what the reality is here.

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Bob WalshElephants and ants, big companies and startups.

MicroISV Digest

jolt.jpgThe MicroISV Digest for the week ending September 8th, 2008.

(If you’re announcing the public debut of a microISV, startup or have other news to share, please email me at bob.walsh@47hats.com with the word digest in the subject.)

News and Announcements

Relevant Blog Posts, Videos and Articles

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

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Bob WalshMicroISV Digest

Tips for Micro-ISVs going mobile (Part 1)…

Via FlickrBy Paul Golding

To Mobilize or not to Mobilize?

You’re a Micro-ISV and already have a product or service out there on the desktop or web. Now you’re thinking to take it mobile, but you’re new to the world of mobile apps. What should you be thinking about? In part 1 of this article, I’ll be looking at the general approaches to mobilization before discussing the technical issues in part 2.

Mobiles are exciting and there are many ways to exploit their potential for putting your products and services into the hands of mobile users. We needn’t labor the point too hard about the unique benefits of mobile, such as pervasiveness, but you should always start out by thinking carefully about how mobile can add value to your product before jumping on the mobile bandwagon. All too often, mobile apps flounder and don’t really enhance the basic offering. You have to weigh the benefits against the added drain on your already precious Micro-ISV resources.

But let’s say you’re ready to mobilize. What next?

Basic Mobilization Strategies

Firstly, think hard and long before potentially falling into the trap of only offering a mobile-only solution. It is extremely difficult to gain traction with mobile applications. Think of mobile as an extension to the desktop, not a replacement. That sounds obvious, but it’s a common mistake for some small start-ups. Plenty of developers think that they have a great idea for a mobile app and rush headlong into developing it only to run into huge frustrations with distribution. Leverage the web to garner interest in your product and use mobile to add value to your offering.

When mobilizing, there are generally two approaches to consider: what I call shrink-to-fit and umbilical cord.

Shrink-to-fit is offering a cut-down version of your basic desktop offering. An example would be the iPhone version of WordPress that only enables new blog posts to be written and posted, but none of the other blog management features. Such an approach is common and can work, but have realistic expectations of your users’ willingness to use cut-down apps in anger. Mobile usage is very pithy and intermittent and users are a lot less tolerant of the relatively limited UI.

Umbilical cord is more about thinking of ways to keep your user attached to your product. The most obvious is texting. Text alerts are easy to add to any web-based service, but an increasingly common approach is to add two-way texting in order to allow submission of content to the desktop application. Sticking with WordPress as an example, we could add a feature to allow blog ideas (e.g. titles for posts) to be submitted. Capturing ideas and ‘to-dos’ at the ‘speed of thought’ is a key way to exploit mobile because we always have a mobile to hand. A blog title texted to WordPress might cause a draft post to be created with that title, ready to be filled out when back at the desk. The mobile jotting application ThumbJot enables pithy jots to be submitted via text message, which is perhaps the quickest way to get something down using a mobile.

Another aspect to the umbilical approach is the data-drip. This means allowing users to gain a constant feed to their data whilst away from the desktop. With WordPress, this could mean a feed of the latest comments. Adding RSS feeds and mobilizing them is one way to do this. Email alerts will also work if your users have devices like the Blackberry or iPhone.

Of course, you might think that the umbilical cord will automatically lead to implementation of a cut-down version of your app anyway, so why not jump straight to the shrunk-to-fit option? This is a common assumption, but not necessarily a good one. Many users will be content with knowing what’s ‘going on’ with their data and be happy to revert back to desktop access to get the job done when they’re next at their desk. Moreover, the umbilical approach is generally a lot easier to implement and offers a means to test the water with your users before jumping in with a fully blown mobile development.

One final consideration is that umbilical and shrunk-to-fit obviously aren’t mutually exclusive. You can, and often should, deploy both approaches. One thing to keep in mind is that even with a beautifully implemented cut-down app, it’s no use if the user simply forgets to use it, which can easily happen on mobile devices where the app is buried away several clicks down in some menu option. Think about using alerts in order to exploit the ‘bump into effect‘ that will keep reminding your users to use the mobile options available to them.

Native or Web?

A common question is whether to implement a native app, such as a J2ME MIDlet, or to use the mobile browser? Don’t put the cart before the horse. Think long and hard about how the mobile will add value to your product and then act accordingly. This is where you really need to be self-critical and, as with all things Micro-ISV, make sure that the steps you’re taking are really going to add value to your product and likely to lead to more revenue. This is where seeking outside advice really helps. Put your mobile ideas down on paper and do some basic checks with trusted users or associates.

There are some basic checks to consider. For example, if offline operation is critical to what you’re trying to achieve by going mobile, then the mobile web isn’t really an option. If access to the device APIs, such as the camera or address book, is critical to your mobile ambitions, then you’ll have to go the native route. Hybrid solutions are also possible and some vendors have gone this way, putting key mobile functions in a native app and then offloading the remaining functions to the mobile web. The advantage is less native development, which can be costly and time-consuming, especially for a wide set of devices.

The fact is that it is easier to develop a mobile web app and it also leads to better device coverage. There are plenty of devices out there that have mobile browsers, which means potential users of your mobile offering. This might be true of devices that support Java MIDlets, but it won’t be long before you run into the grizzly problem of device fragmentation. Unless you’re using the very basic features of the MIDP set of APIs, you’ll find that your app is unlikely to work on all MIDP compatible devices in the way you might have expected.

However, if your solution can only be mobilized by the richer UI and API possibilities of a native app, then start off softly, which also goes for the mobile web option. Here there are a number of beta strategies to think about. Firstly, you can opt to develop only for a high end device, such as the iPhone, Blackberry or Nokia N95, giving the best possible mobile user experience. You can then see how users of these devices take to your offering before deciding how to broaden the offering, if at all. Get feedback. This is crucial. Make sure that you’re in touch with your mobile users and that you can measure how well things are going. With high-end devices it is easy to implement something that looks nice but has poor usability, so don’t jump to the wrong conclusions.

The second beta approach is to offer a lowest common denominator version that will work on the most popular devices in your market, which are obviously not the high-end devices. It is usually fairly easy to figure this out from research on the web. Don’t be afraid of offering a very basic UI for mobile if it does the job. If your mobile feature set really adds value to your overall proposition, then you might be surprised by how tolerant users are of something that is functional without all the eye candy of fancy mobile GUI widgets, whether native or on the web. In fact, if it’s the mobile web we’re talking about, then I would say that speed still trumps looks.

Going to Market

Can mobile be used as a means to market your application? This is a possibility. There’s a lot of interest in mobile applications, especially with devices like the iPhone. Therefore, offering an iPhone optimized version of your mobile web site, or even exploiting the iPhone SDK, will allow you to put your app into the various iPhone circles where it might get noticed, not least of which is the iPhone app store or the iPhone web directory. Getting a staff pick on the Apple site can bring a flurry of visitors to your site.

Many of the iPhone native apps are, in fact, just nicer looking copies of an existing mobile web offering, perhaps with an added bell of whistle, like location or camera, but these added extras don’t really make or break the app. If you have the time and resource to develop an attractive native app, then by all means do so. However, which Micro-ISV has spare time and resource to throw around? And, wouldn’t it be better to invest that time and energy into improving the desktop app or to increasing your precious marketing efforts to get more users in the first place? Things to think about indeed.

The general trend out there is for more and more web apps to offer some kind of mobile option. At the moment, if your product offers some kind of mobile support, then you might have an edge over your competition, but I would be realistic and say that this shouldn’t be your only edge as it is likely to be a marginal one. However, watch out for your competitors going mobile. You wouldn’t want to be the only one without a mobile option. You can also sign up for your competitor products to see how well their mobile offering works before undertaking your own mobilization efforts.

As with all software products, make sure that you have a means to monitor the success and usage of your mobile offering. All the usual Micro-ISV advice applies here, such as the benefits of co-opting active beta users willing to give you feedback. One tip here for cut-down products is to add a means of feedback into the mobile offering. I have seen users willing to give feedback via a mobile channel who wouldn’t bother to go onto the main site to give feedback.

Monetization Options

And what about monetization of your mobile offering? Generally speaking, if mobile is essentially an enhancement to your product, then it’s difficult to charge money for the mobile option. However, mobile does offer the distinct advantage of a monetary relationship with the user via the operator or some aggregator, such as a premium texting gateway service. It is possible to get a share of money from services that exploit premium rate texting and, increasingly, premium rate video.

To gain money from the mobile app in the first place, then you need a means to charge the user and then release them the application. This isn’t any different to the usual distribution methods for software over the net, but there is the added possibility of distribution via one of the various mobile applications marketplaces. We have mentioned the iPhone app store, but there are others out there. Many operators have some kind of marketplace for mobile applications and you should check to see what’s available in your region.

In the mobile portal world, there are two kinds of distribution; what’s called off-deck and on-deck (or off-portal and on-portal). On-deck means that your application is available through the operators own mobile portal offering, which tend to experience high user traffic. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean high visibility for your app. Unless it’s a top-pick, it’s all too easy for apps to become buried away in some list that users hardly come by. Off deck means that your app can be downloaded by end users via some portal other than the the operator’s one. Off deck distribution is common for mobile games, with plenty of mobile games distribution sites out there.


Mobile is fun and its far easier today to gain mobile reach via the myriad devices, mobile browsers and easy-on-the-pocket data tariffs. Moblization is becoming just another tick-in-the-box for many software products. However, for Micro-ISVs, the benefits need to be considered carefully. Be self-critical with making sure that mobilization brings true added value to your users. Find ways to mobilize gently at first, testing the waters and getting feedback from users. Be opportunistic in terms of finding new distribution and marketing outlets for your product and riding the wave of interest in devices like the iPhone. Have realistic expectations. Mobilization is likely to be a means to bring more users to your basic offering rather than a monetization route in its own right, but be careful not to divert too much resource away from your core value in your non-mobile version.

Paul Golding, is a leading expert in the mobile applications world, author of the best-selling book “Next Generation Wireless Applications – creating mobile applications in a web 2.0 and mobile 2.0 world” (Wiley, 2008) and formerly Motorola’s Chief Applications Architect. He has taken numerous mobile products to market and is a consultant to many leading operators, vendors and start-ups. His blog can be found at blog.wirelesswanders.com.

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Bob WalshTips for Micro-ISVs going mobile (Part 1)…