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8 new habits you need for your microISV or startup.

Charge!Starting a microISV or startup, putting bread on the table and having a life of some sort is definitely a tall order, but it can be done. The biggest step is dumping the habits, patterns and assumptions that may have served your cause when you’re a corporate drone but spell instant failure as a rock and roll Internet entrepreneur.

As an alternative, here’s my 8 top lifehacks for getting things done for my clients, my editors and my startup:

  • Fire and Motion. Unabashedly taken from this post by Joel Spolsky, it’s a simple idea: Do something, move ahead. Do something, keep moving. One of the hardest parts of “bootstrapping” is stacking each small accomplishment on top of the one before, of building momentum. But that is what you have to do above all else if your business is going to succeed. You are in the defining reality business now; that means it’s up to you to take charge, and keep moving.
  • You make your future, an hour at a time. It’s up to you and no one else to decide what you are going to do for the next hour. Maybe that means turning on your connections with the outside world: email, IM, twitter, mobile. Maybe that means turning all those things off – and your music – so you can hammer out some worthwhile code. You decide.
  • Like with Like. Clump the things you do. Errands with Errands, Marketing with Marketing, Tech Support with Tech Support and so on. It takes you a hell of a lot longer to switch types of tasks than you PC, so group what you can group and flow from discrete task to discrete task.
  • Time Shift. Be it shopping at the store or returning email or watching TV or just about anything else, you can pick up significant yardage by doing it on your schedule and not when everyone else is.
  • Move your body, focus your mind. Unless you happen to be an AI on the Internet, that means treating your body as something more than a pudgy container for your overworked brain. Moving your body – commonly called exercise – focuses your mind. The biggest timesaver in the world is thinking better. It is not coincidence that David Allen of Getting Things Done fame comes from a martial arts background.
  • Get your To Do List out of your head. There are plenty of good desktop, web and plain old paper-based ways of doing the same thing. Simply put, you have got to get your To Do List out of your mind and out of your way so you can think and work.
  • 1440 is the Law, get over it. You have 1,440 minutes a day and that’s it. What you get out of that time most depends on how you spend it, so start treating the commitments you make, the deadlines you agree to and the way you do things like you were paying cold hard cash for each and every thing, because you are. That means, you are not going to get everything done everyday, or perhaps most days. What matters is did you get the more valuable things done or not?
  • Persevere. I’m not the smartest guy in room, and I’m definitely not the best programmer in the world. But I’m the most persevering son of a bitch on this planet and I do not give in or give up. Nor should you. So don’t waste time trying to do everything all the time, every time, because there’s no way that is going to happen. On the other hand, if you preserve, if you keep coming at what you need to get done, there’s no way you can’t succeed.

Make no mistake: doing your day job, starting your microISV and not ending up estranged or just plain strange makes the product development and marketing stuff look easy, but it is doable.

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(A version of this post ran here on Jan. 26, 2006.)

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Bob Walsh8 new habits you need for your microISV or startup.
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MicroISV Digest

VCs.jpgThe MicroISV Digest for the week ending September 1st, 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.

Also, to make this post a bit more visually interesting, I plan to include one small image taken from one item mentioned here. Shocked? Offended? Like the idea? – let me know.)

News and Announcements

Relevant Blog Posts and Articles

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

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Bob WalshMicroISV Digest
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Contest over. You won.

dean.jpgA while back I mentioned the Presdo API contest I was going to be one of 4 judges for: well, after much deliberation (and a bit to eat and drink) Ben, Allen and I cast our votes, Mike chimed in from afar and Dean Mao walked away with a new iPhone, as did the two runner-ups.

That’s nice, I can hear you say. So what? And why do you think I won anything?

Presdo – which makes an extremely cool calendaring webapp – is part of a growing trend in our industry: software companies offering prizes and even financial backing to developers, startups and microISVs. For example, today Google announced the winners of Android Developer Challenge and twenty of the 50 finalist teams will receive between $100,000 and $275,000.

That’s a sizable chunk of change. And the attention won’t hurt either.

The reality is twofold: NIH (not invented here) is very, very fast giving way to PUOP (please use our platform) as company after company realize their “ecosystem” of developers and fans are critical to their success. If you’re a developer thinking about going microISV, that means there are and will be in my opinion more and more software companies competing for your attention, support and membership.

Secondly, if as a microISV or startup you are casting about for new ideas, fresh ways of building on all that hard work you’ve already done, a few hundred bucks, a nice meal for the judges and a willingness to respectfully listen to the ideas of people who’ve you’ve never heard of, who you don’t employ, may make the world of difference.

Either way, you win.

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Bob WalshContest over. You won.
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Accomplishing More By Doing Less

servoyworld.jpg[Editor’s Note: From time to time I invite guest posts here by those people, companies and services doing things of relevance and interest to the microISV/startup community. Servoy is one of a growing number of companies providing SaaS support. Interested in doing a guest post at here? Drop me a line.]

By Bob Cusick
Managing Director
Servoy-USA

There’s a big temptation when you’re creating a software product: work harder. Do more. More marketing, more features, more platform support, more blogging, more money raising… just MORE.

But you can actually do less – and get more done.

Whether your a one-person-band or part of a small start up – you will have to wear… well… 47 hats! That much is a given. However, if you can apply a filter to your activities – you’ll find that you’re actually able to accomplish more – while doing less work.

Let me explain. Let’s say that you’re working on the next great “it” and you’re working on your own, and you’ve decided to bootstrap it until things get rolling. As we all know – there are 101 things that need your attention and that must be done in order for you to get that first, all-important sales dollar.

If you’re like me – you find yourself pulled in all directions all the time. Between getting the actual product coded there are manuals to write, a website to create, graphics, promotions, Google Ads, blogging, order fulfillment, technical support, marketing, advertising, forums to post to, social media to keep up with – not to mention your social life and family time.

The key to accomplishing more by doing less – is actually very simple. You need to ask yourself a single question before you start down a particular task: “How much revenue will this generate for me?” If you begin to apply that filter to your list of activities – you’ll find yourself changing what you do, and the order and importance of your daily tasks.

Now, I’m not really a big “list” guy. I don’t have a compulsive need to write detailed lists and get them “checked off.” But, I will say – if you ask yourself that (potentially) million dollar question “How much revenue will this generate for me” – you’ll be more focused on what you do, and will be able to make measurable progress toward your goal.

Come up with an outline list of all the things you need to do to make that first sale. For example:

1) Product Development
– Debug login section
– Add paging feature
– Get latest URL to outside testers
– Investigate iPhone version
– Investigate Blackberry version

2) Product Marketing
– Finish website
– Add page for ordering
– Add comment page for support
– Fill out the “about us” section
– Make a version for mobile devices
– Link blog to main site
– Add blog entries
– Post to forums to raise awareness
– Take out banner ad on xyz.com
– Make PDF brochure
– Write “intro” email
– Update social media with blog entries

Of course your list will be more comprehensive – this is only a guide. But in taking a look at all the stuff that “needs to be done” – ask your question: “How much revenue will this generate for me?”

If you put each task through that filter – you may decide that getting the mobile version stuff can come out in 1.x. You can also see that getting your site where people can actually buy something directly relates where tasks like “fill out the about us section”, while important, can wait until you get the basics done.

Once you’ve put all your items through the filter – it may wind up looking something like this:

A) Product Launch TO DO:
1) Product Development
– Debug login section
– Add paging feature
– Get latest URL to outside testers (by Monday)

2) Product Marketing
– Finish website
– Add page for ordering
– Write “intro” email

B) Directly After Launch:
1) Product Marketing
– Finish website
– Add comment page for support
– Fill out the “about us” section
– Link blog to main site
– Post to forums to raise awareness
– Make PDF brochure
– Write “intro” email

C) 1.x Enhancements
1) Product Development
– Investigate iPhone version
– Investigate Blackberry version

2) Product Marketing
– Finish website
– Make a version for mobile devices
– Take out banner ad on xyz.com

D) On-going tasks:

1) Product Marketing
– Add blog entry (1x per week – Wednesday afternoon)
– Update social media with blog entries
– Post to forums to raise awareness (2x per week – Wednesday & Friday afternoon)

You still will accomplish everything on your list – but what you wind up with is a prioritized list of just the stuff you need to do in order to answer the question “How much revenue will this generate for me?” Everything else, no matter how “fun” or “interesting” needs to be put on hold until the appropriate time.

That’s the only part that really sucks. Sometimes you have to do the “gotta’ do” rather than the “like to do.” But, in the end, you’re the only one that can determine how much revenue your actions will generate for you.

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Bob Cusick is a co-founder of and the Managing Director of Servoy, USA. Previously, he founded ClickWare, Inc. a business application development and integration company; was the original technical editor for FileMaker Pro Advisor Magazine; was a founding member of the CSA (Claris Solutions Alliance), and was a recipient of the first (and only) “Claris Fellowship” award for outstanding service to that community. He has spoken at dozens of technology conferences around the globe, including Sydney, Melbourne, Amsterdam and of course, Silicon Valley.

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Bob WalshAccomplishing More By Doing Less

MicroISV Digest

As you probably heard, Gavin Bowman is moving on to bigger and better things and I’ve taken over stewardship of the Micro ISV Digest. For now, very little is going to change, except the space between micro and ISV. 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

  • Scott Karstetter launched a blog, Smart Productivity, supporting his microISV’s product, Smart To-Do List.
  • Joe Ferguson is looking for feedback on WebLight, via BOS.
  • A.Sa6ry is looking for feedback on xNeat windows manager, via BOS.
  • Nominations for the European Shareware Conference’s 2008 Epsilon Award for software excellence close Sept. 4th. The prize is 300 euros + trophy. via BOS. Having attended 2007 and 2006, I strongly recommend this conference (Nov. 8-9, Berlin).

Relevant Blog Posts and Articles

Worth Highlighting

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

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Bob WalshMicroISV Digest
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Passing the Torch: the Micro ISV Digest

iStock_000003718026XSmall.jpgFor the past three years Gavin Bowman has been keeping the microISV community informed and motivated with his weekly Micro ISV Digest. Sadly (for us) Gavin has decided it is time to pass the torch as he leaves V4 Solutions to focus on Antair full time and a new blog.

With Gavin’s blessing and support, I’ll be taking over producing the Micro ISV Digest.

My goal as the new hand behind the Micro ISV Digest is simple: continue to give microISVs a post on Mondays that will catch them up with the news that matters in our world, offer up a few really worthwhile links for them to read and once in a while dig up a really good find.

Please send any and all pings, posts, pr’s, suggestions and complaints to me at bob.walsh@47hats.com. If you include the word “digest” in the subject, it will help.

Speaking of help, I need your help: please post a comment here with your suggestion for how we can all improve on the great job Gavin’s been doing.

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Bob WalshPassing the Torch: the Micro ISV Digest
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You don’t need 1 blog: you need 3.

One of my clients last week asked me about beta blogs: why, how and what’s the tradeoffs? It got me thinking both back to 2004 when I first started a blog as a brazen and shameless way of getting some attention for my first microISV product. And it got me thinking forward: If I were a developer in my 20s who preferred being at the top of the payscale instead of the bottom, would I blog and if so what about?

If you are that archetypal 20’s developer, working for The Man but burning with a desire to do a startup, I see three blogs in your future:

1. A “professional me” blog where you get to geek out about the languages, frameworks and algorithms you get to play with. That blog will be your communications endpoint as a developer; it’s how you connect with other developers blogging, how you build a body of posts over time that prove your technical chops to prospective clients, employers and partners.

Professional blogs are just that: professional. Skip posting the cell phone pics from your last big party, complaints about your boss and other personal stuff. Instead, share your passion about what you are spending most of your waking hours doing, cool techniques that save you time and in general, reach out to the online programming community.

2. Your private beta blog. Somewhere between being a gleam in your eye and being credit card bait, your desktop app or SaaS needs some place that makes it dirt easy for your private beta testers to funnel you honest feedback. Note the word private. It used to be that betas were periods you traded free software for a chance to try your app out on a variety of other people’s boxes; Google’s perpetual betas and the realities of Internet marketing circa 2008 have moved “beta” from the engineering to the marketing column. Put another way, everything on the public ‘net is beta.

But private beta testers are another matter: they are doing you a huge favor and the easier you make it for them, the better your results will be. You want to create a trusted place on the net where you and they can say things not part of the public discourse about your product or service.

For example, you can create a free blog at wordpress.com, password protect it and only make it available to beta testers (35 or less: if you have more, spring for a workpress.com upgrade for $30/yr.). Or you could do the same thing at Vox.com, with the catch that your beta testers would need to create free vox.com accounts. For that matter, you could create a blog at TypePad and initially password protect it.

The point is, you want to make it as easy as possible for your beta testers to give you real feedback. And blogs are all about feedback.

3. Your product’s blog. Actually, product blog is a misnomer and a pit trap: you don’t want or need a product blog, you want and need a blog about the intersection between your [prospective] customers and your expertise, passion, perspective and occasionally product. If you’ve launched a startup or microISV, presumedly you know a lot more than the problem domain your product or service lives in than do your customers. Share that knowledge and passion – it’s a great way to establish your expertise, authority and standing.

You can start your product blog before, when or after you launch; blogging is one of the best ways a startup or microISV can get the word out and get market feedback in. Just go light on the marketing mayo and provide your readers with plenty they can sink their teeth into: everything from customer stories to solutions, workarounds and fixes that complement your product are fair game.

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Bob WalshYou don’t need 1 blog: you need 3.
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Bits and Pieces

Busy week, but here’s a few things that I squirreled away you might like to finish your Friday with:

Tim Haughton is having entirely too much fun with SSH, posting 3 Things You Didn’t Know About SSH – Part 1. This post is how you can use SSH to tunnel your web traffic to your server; just the thing to get past your boss’s “no facebook here” policy.

Let’s talk about money – other people’s money. If you’re contemplating seeking VC money, you need to get familiar with how much blood equity you are going to have to fork over. One good place for this is The Funded, which back in January started posting the term sheets of VCs. Interesting reading.

Of related interest, Y Combinator did the startup community a huge favor by having its lawyers draft all the documents a startup needs for initial round of financing. Unfortunately, seems there’s a problem with those docs and Y Combinator took them down again. Let’s hope for the early return.

Speaking of Y Combinator, Kevin Leneway is up to #19 in his Y Combinator Challenge – post an idea for a startup or microISV a day. Kevin – Who creates tols for Microsoft’s Developer and Platform Evangelism group – has some interesting ideas. Good reading if you’ve not decided what app you want to create.

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Bob WalshBits and Pieces
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Calling all microISVs/startups! Be on the lookout for…

makeingnews.jpgWell, I guess for me. I’m writing as of today for CNET’s Webware after quitting my previous blogging gig. Webware is all about web applications and CNET – which is owned by CBS now by the way – is all about the web apps that are changing how people live and work online.

If you’re a microISV or startup with a good story to tell and starved for some major media attention, I’m all ears: bob.walsh@47hats.com. And if you’re wondering does this mean I think the days of desktop apps are over – nope, but the days of desktop apps ignoring the 1 billion people on the net are.

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Bob WalshCalling all microISVs/startups! Be on the lookout for…
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Constraints are a good thing.

Something I’ve noticed working with a fair number of microISVs and startups: constraints are a good thing.

The digital entrepreneurs who’ve been successful and therefore have the luxury of time and money are the those less likely to get to the point of releasing a new product.

Another version of this is the developer who wants to do a microISV, but is overwhelmed by all the possible kinds of software they can create, all the possible markets they could sell to, all the possible programming languages and frameworks they could use. They get lost in a hall of Internet mirrors.

Constraints give you a structure you can create in. Whether you code, write poetry or design web sites, constraints make things work and make you work to a higher level.

The trick in this business is realizing you no longer have a Manager to set constraints on you therefore you are free to pick and choose your constraints. That’s the good news. The bad news is you’d need to think about what those restraints on what you are going to do will be and commit to them before you lose focus.

Here’s five constraints you need to think about and make decisions on:

Time. This is the biggie. Unless you are working against a deadline, set X number of hours a week to work on creating your product, then work those hours and stop. Three good things happen with this approach:

  • You are much less likely to meander down trivial features just because you can and because it is fun (or at least what we programmers think is fun).
  • It forces you to get something working. It might not be the absolutely best in all the world solution, but it works and that above all else is the criteria for judging code, IMO.
  • It forces you to make productive choices.

Money. Money is time’s evil twin if you’re not working for someone else on salary. You need to be very hard-headed about how much current income reduction you can tolerate in order to free up time for development. And, while development itself is free or nearly free, the things around development such as online backup service, custom art/web design and legal necessities such as accounting cost money: budget these and other expenses in advance rather than running short.

People. This is a two-parter: are you going to build a one-person microISV or join forces with other people to do a full-fledged startup in the traditional sense? Second part: who do you tell? Partnering brings to the table its own share of rewards, risks and to-do’s: there is no right answer here.

Regarding telling people, my advice is be conservative about who you tell and when. I don’t recommend telling anyone except your spouse until you know damn well you are going to have a product. And thereafter, be cautious. There will come a time and place to start talking about whatever your Project X is: at the beginning is not that time.

Features. Developers love to develop, that’s a big part of why we do what we do. But working for yourself means you’ve got to be as tough as the toughest boss you’ve ever had and ruthlessly par the not must have day one features away. Your goal, your only goal, is those features that make what you hope to sell worth the price you hope to get in your customer’s eyes. Everything else is a nice to have.

Case in point, I have a slew of features I wanted to have in the first release of Project X, but because they’re not core value features, they are going to wait until I (hopefully) release the next major build after the initial build. Some of these features were among the first ideas I had for this product and that most excited me at the beginning; but they are not the features the people I hope will become customers (you) will be most excited by.

Technology. It’s so hard to resist the siren call: should I have a iPhone interface on day 1? Oh look, there’s a cool jQuery-based grid! What about AIR, what about Siverlight, and on and on. If one of your full time jobs as a startup is tracking new technology that can have an immense effect on the app you’re building, another full time job is saying no to all but the tech that is going to be worth the time/money investment because it will generate revenue. In other words, prioritize adoption by revenue. IPhone interface? Nice to have, not for 1.0.

There are lots of other potential constraints out there – and that’s a good thing, they will help you get the job done. The trick is being proactive and defining as much as you are able to what you want those constraints to be.

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Bob WalshConstraints are a good thing.