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Product blogs don’t have to be boring.

tugboatuse.jpgOne of my clients, Tugboat Enterprises, launched its “Rising Tide: Tales from The Land of Selkie” blog last week, and if you’re wondering about some of the finer points of doing a product blog, it’s definitely worth a visit.

When you get there, you’re not going to find a blog extolling the wonders of Selkie Rescue (which is actually pretty hot stuff, if your primary box is a PC and you want to have a hope in hell of recovering your data when it dies).

What you’ll find is a mix of topics that are in part about the product, but much more about the people, passions and values of Tugboat. It’s those things that readers will remember and respond to and respect.

Want four pointers to effective product blogging? Here goes:

  • Never, ever “market”. Marketing has its place in the scheme of things; your product blog is not that place. Instead, focus on the where your interests and passions and the the interests and passions of the people you want to be your customers intersect.
  • People are interested in guess what? People. With the exception of sites that feed our inner child – like Engaget – blogging is about people. Sometimes the people you hate, or you love, or that anger you, or that you wish you were. It’s a conversation between people. What that means for your microISV blog is that posts about moving from 1.0.3 to 1.0.4 are fine, but posts about who your customers are and what they’re doing with your product are better.
  • Be remarkable. That means, have opinions, say things you care about even if some – or most – of your customers may not agree. If you’re blogging about the right things your prospective customers will soon figure out you are on their side. If they don’t because you’ve watered down all the passion in an effort to be “businesslike” or worse still, “corporate”, you lose.
  • Don’t be afraid to show off and have a little fun. I love Tugboat’s film noir/Raymond Chandler promo they have in the middle of their blog. It’s funny, cute, hokey and self-effacing. It works. Besides, if running a startup isn’t fun now and again, why are you doing it?

It was a lot of fun working with Judi, Emma and the rest of the Tugboat gang helping them find their voice for blog. I guess they thought so too:

“Bob Walsh’s knowledge of the world of blogging helped guide us in getting our company’s blog, “Selkie – Musings from the Island of Misfits” up and running. We found his insights and advice valuable, and reading his book
“Clear Blogging” was very useful as well.”
– Emma Larocque, Sales & Marketing Coordinator – Tugboat Enterprises Ltd.

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Bob WalshProduct blogs don’t have to be boring.
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12 Tactics to stop stealing time from yourself.

thetrees.jpgMy post Monday, Stop stealing, garnered 66 comments – definitely a record for me. As I said Wednesday, there’s both strategic ways to take control of your attention, focus and productivity, and there are plenty of tactics that can improve your productivity.

In fact, there’s too many. Way, way too many. Take for example this and this and this and this post. You can liquify your brain with productivity tips on the net. So here’s one “pre-tactic” before we get to my personal top dozen: print this post, check the ones you are actually going to try, cross off the ones that don’t interest you and do something more than just read these tips.

So here goes. Some are major, some trivial, all work. Be sure to read #12 if nothing else.

#1. Work for yourself first. Spend two hours each workday on whatever you make money doing before checking email/twitter or other communication channels. If you’re a programmer, code. If you’re a web strategist, strategize. Unless you model, you’re not getting paid for your good looks, you’re getting paid for what you produce. Hard to do? Start with 15 minutes and work your way up, kind of like this program.

#2. Set communication expectations. Set your email client to append it or add it to your standard salutation: “(I check email several times during the business day.)” – by resetting the expectations of others, you cut yourself some much-needed slack.

#3. Use a timer. Buy yourself a kitchen or kickboxing timer, stick it next to your Mac or PC. When you have to do something you don’t want to do, set it for 10 minutes, telling yourself you can do anything for just 10 minutes and then do it. When you’re in the mood to just chat or surf or whatever, set that damn timer to remind yourself you’ve got other things to do and move on. When you do your work day in and day out, alternate between 48 minute bursts of focused work and 12 minutes to move around, defocus and reorientate.

#4. Write your next post before you publish today. Two weeks ago I hit upon this quite by accident when I started blogging here again. Want to really increase the number of posts you write? Always have one post in the can. By doing that, you dramatically turn down the pressure on yourself. If something comes up and you want to write about it immediately, great! If not, you’ve already got the next one ready.

#5. Pay Jacquie Lawson $10 a year. It’s been a good five years since I’ve sent anyone an actual thank you/birthday/holiday card because that’s how long ago I found this superb British illustrator’s animated e-cards. They’re eyecatchingly impressive, extremely well done and added to frequently enough so you always have a new e-card to send.

#6. Get an iPhone 3G. Want to know why I paid $299 and 3.5 hours of my life for an iPhone 3G? Two words: Visual Voicemail. Given various pursuits, there are weeks I get zip voicemail and days I’ll get a dozen. Now I’ve freed myself from the tyranny of voicemail’s interface. As a bonus, I’ve organized my email so that just the messages I need to process daily are also routed to my iPhone so I can knock them out when I’m away from my desktop.

#7. Always use two monitors. While I do nearly all my work from my MacBook Pro these days, the only times I’m without a second large monitor is when I’m traveling. The sheer luxury of having enough digital real estate to spread out my work hugely improves how fast I can work. Don’t believe me? Read this and this.

#8. Use systems that you trust, build systems if you must. Would you voluntarily own a car that worked 90% of the time? Not if you could help it. Yet if you don’t have a system for capturing not 90% or 98% but damn near 100% of the things you decide you are going to do in life, you are in the same predicament. Paper or plastic, Mac, PC, or what have you – whatever works. For me, it’s a little Red Pad that I can take anywhere as my “task in-basket” and then OmniFocus on my MacBook Pro and iPhone, but there are plenty of other products and combinations that get the job done.

#9. Unless you’ve got a better system, learn and use Getting Things Done. Period. I know of no way of managing yourself that has worked for so many hundreds of thousands of people. Believe me I have looked. If you do, I’m all ears, but if you’ve been one of those people who always tell your GTD-organized friends you’ll take a pass and you’ve not tried GTD, what are you waiting for?

#10. When you bereft of motivation, organize a drawer. Since we’re people not computers, there are times when despite all of the rational reasons you should be doing what you should be doing, you just damn well don’t want to. Fine. Clean out an office drawer. Or organize your dvd’s. Or clean the refrigerator. Strike a blow against entropy. I don’t know why, but it works.

#11. Get enough rest. Developers – especially if you’re trying to bootstrap your startup/microISV – work insane hours. There are times when 18 hour workdays make sense, and are right and proper. But week after week, month after month? No. And if it’s your boss, manager, company or corporate culture that is manipulating you into work as an obsession, the most productive thing you can do is tell them to shove it.

#12. Productivity is a means, not an end to and of itself. All of the tactics, all of the blog posts, all of the books, seminars, tools, applications and advice – very much including mine – are just the means to an end, the end being living. If you forget it’s the things you build and the people you love that are the reason for all that productivity, you’ll master the techniques but never hear the music.

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Bob Walsh12 Tactics to stop stealing time from yourself.
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Join me at the Big Nerd Ranch in October.

gI_0_0_bnrlogo1.jpgJust to let you know, I will be teaching in Atlanta, GA a three day class in early October: The MicroISV/Startup Bootcamp.

When Aaron Hillegass – one of the most respected Mac instructors and authors out there – asked me if I’d be interested in teaching at the Big Nerd Ranch 20 or so developers how to break out of their cubicles and go commercial, I gave it some serious thought. Sure, I consult, blog, write about all of the stuff around your core developer skills you need to get right to get launched, but can I do the instructor thing?

I can, but this is not going to be the typical lecture/code exercise kind of class. The goal isn’t mastering the theory and APIs of being in the software business, it’s going to be drafting your Master Business Plan.

Now I could have called it a business plan and have done with it but I don’t want you to confuse it with those fantasy fiction jobs written for venture capitalists and the 3Fs of angel investing: Family, Friends and Fools. This business plan is different; no 5 year revenue projections, no glowing tributes to your management team. This is going to be your realistic plan to accomplish a real thing: Kiss your boss goodbye kind of revenue within 6 months of launching, and how you are going to get there.

You see, while a good business plan in hindsight makes success look easily, it’s really all the good decisions you make writing that business plan that gets the job done. Everything from what you care about enough to live with for months if not years to what app you’re going to structure, build and position so that others – called customers – care enough to open up their wallets.

We’re going to be covering a lot of the specific topics you need to wrestle with – 36 by my count. But we’re going to be covering them from the perspective of building chunk by chunk the set of decisions that define your microISV/startup.

This is not going to be a class where the instructor drones on hour after hour and you wonder what possessed you to spend 3 days and nineteen hundred bucks. There will be some lecture, sure, but most of the time is going towards working – by your self and with other students to define your Master Business Plan.

And since in this class you are going to be talking about the business you want to create or already run, I’m going to be requiring Nondisclosure Agreements and trying very hard to ensure there’s as little market overlap between students as possible.

It will be intense. I hope it will be fun. And I am damn well going to make sure it’s worth your time and money.

I’m looking forward to it. How about you?

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Bob WalshJoin me at the Big Nerd Ranch in October.
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5 Strategies to stop stealing time from yourself.

theforest.jpgMy post 2 days ago, Stop stealing, seems to have hit a nerve – given 57 comments so far. So, I thought I’d better pony up the big and small ways I and others have found to stop stealing time from ourselves.

Two things I want to make clear – I fall off the productivity wagon just as much as most people: it’s a constant struggle to be productive in the online world, but it’s a worthwhile, necessary struggle you win by not giving up.

Second, if some of these ideas sound familiar, that’s because you’ve been reading some of the same great bloggers and authors as I have: David Allen, Steven Pressfield, Matt Cornell, Pam Slim, Linda Stone and others; to mix metaphors, standing on the shoulders of giants gives you a leg up in the world. Here goes:

Strategic Forests, Tactical Trees

Later this week I’ll get down to the nitty-gritty tactics I use day to day and project to project; In this post I wanted to focus on five strategic big ideas that can make a huge result in the results you get. Here’s five big ideas: flow, intention, it’s an imperfect world, time to think and mode.

Flow. One of the best ways I know of working really productively is practicing how to deliberately put myself into – and out of – a particular state of mind: flow. For example, when I bookwriting, I will put my notes here, my writer’s checklist printout there, my iTunes to Mozart or Rachmaninov and go with the flow.

If the writing gods smile upon me that day, I’ll notice two or three hours later I’m sputtering to a stop and put my notes back into their folder, put my checklist back in its folder, change iTunes over to reggae and move on. That’s how three books got written by the way.

Flow is a learned – or if you’ve been banging the digital drum of life online too much, unlearned skill. What you flow on – writing code, writing music, spending time with kids – is up to you, but it’s a skill you need as successful human being in your repertoire.

The biggest indictment of multitasking, email-checking, web-site jumping is it kills dead your ability to flow. And flow is where the good stuff happens – the code or words or ideas or music or art you later look at and can say, damn! that’s good stuff.

Intention. Day in, day out either you make your reality or someone else will. If you get up and immediately write down a list of no more than 5 things you absolutely intend to accomplish that day, odds are much, much better that you will get those 5 things done. If you don’t, you won’t. Sure, there’s plenty of exceptions to this – see my next point – but if you don’t know where you’re going, why on earth do you think you’ll end up where you want except out of blind luck?

It’s an imperfect world. The more digital your lifestyle, the worse you come off by way of comparison. All those new and shiny toys have the bling and the gleam you don’t. That’s okay – really. If you code for a living this tendency to hold yourself to an impossible – therefore ignorable – standard is 10x worse, because we damn well know a single mistyped line of code can turn a program into dreck.

But here’s the thing: perfection is the angel-like floating in the sky enemy of not just getting most of your life the way you want, but feeling pretty good about yourself. Don’t sacrifice being more productive 80% of the time just because it’s a ball-breaker to get that other 20% the way you want.

Give yourself time to think. Another casualty of the digital lifestyle is since we can load up with information, connections and ideas a hundred, hell, a thousand times more than anyone normal could 20 years ago, we do. You need to know how to give yourself time to think because that’s how you’ll find your way in this world, that’s how the really, really good ideas come about and that’s how you can regain and maintain some perspective.

Final big idea: Mode. Simply put, different modes of action and the ability to consciously pick which mode you’re in hugely change the results you get. For example, yesterday for a good two hours I had Tweetdeck going, 3 IM sessions in Adium going, was bouncing from site to site, commented on a half dozen posts while responding to emails as they came in.

The difference between me and you is I did it for exactly 120 minutes and didn’t try to “work” at the same time. That’s what I call my communication mode – as opposed to my writing, coding, debugging, brainstorming or planning modes. It has its place – and that’s where I decide it is, not the net, not my mac and certainly not my pc’s.

So there you have it, five strategic ideas I – and others – have found get you better results. Give the one that most got your attention a try – what do you have to lose?

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Bob Walsh5 Strategies to stop stealing time from yourself.
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When the going gets tough, the tough get agile.

D502DC4A-C654-4058-8AB1-14708A58D1A0.jpgWhen F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The rich are not like you and me,” he could have been just as easily referring to the gap between programmers swaddled in their nice little cubicles and those of us who for better or worse are out here in the cold and dark peddling our microISV wares and startup services.

Gone are the easy days of knowing exactly what is the absolute! best! programming methodology: it’s the one your manager tells you to use. Whether it’s a million bucks of RUP or a big whiteboard in the conference room, that’s the right one, forever and amen. Suck it up and salute – besides they all work more or less as well in a group, right?

But what if the lead developer and the clueless new guy and the anal-compulsive test engineer and the artsy-fartsy UI artiste are all staring back at you in the mirror each and every morning? Does counting my cats in my programming team and pair programming with my bonsai plant count?

No, they don’t.

One of the less pleasant aspects of the startup/microISV life is not only are we as naked as new-born chicks of all those nice corporate programming policies, procedures and methodologies yet we know deep in our programming souls that we should be following some sort of methodology because a good methodology is the only thing that stands between you and complete code dementia.

Since I started my first microISV app in 2003, I’ve searched for a way to avoid code dementia (some would say too late, but I digress). I didn’t find it while writing MasterList Professional, sure as hell didn’t find it as I’ve fitfully enhanced it after its initial release. And really, really wanted to find something when I started scoping Project X nearly a year ago.

The problem with even the lightest of methodologies in my opinion is they just don’t scale down well to one or two developers. And they sure as hell don’t scale down timewise when the only time you have to work is on the side of your day job, whatever that may be.

At least for me, the light at started flickering at the end of the microISV programming methodology tunnel when in February I got my hands on “Head First Software Development (Brain-Friendly Guides)” By Dan Pilone and Russ Miles.

You need to read this book if you’re doing a microISV. Not because it’s cute, funny, realistic. But because it is development methodology for real small teams – like 3 people – without the corporate cruft. The chapters on approaching user stories and tasks, project planning and good design are definite startup must reads. And the burn down process – including calculating your actual velocity – will get your head out of the clouds of cool features to play with and back down to customers want software that just works, dammit, right quick.

So what else have you got?

acunote.jpgActually, something really nice. While HFSD gave me some good ideas on how to implement a ultralight development methodology, doing paper sticky cards for user stories and moving them around on my side desk just wasn’t cutting it. I needed software, and I needed it now!

So taking a day I went digging for agile development methodology software that a) didn’t suck b) scaled down below the corporate market c) would either be Mac based or run decently on the web. I found Acunote, and six weeks later I’m still in love.

Acunote is a Ruby on Rails Scrum-centric software project management SaaS. Between its keyboard support for data entry, inline editing and other ajax-goodness and burndown charts it does exactly what I need without one wasted click or keystroke.

And you can’t beat the price: “You’ve been featured on TechCrunch. You have revenues and are ready to share a little. (with us)” – $99/month. Or, “You’ve launched, raised the seed round and your data would benefit from the security of SSL. – $49/month. Or better still, “You are a small startup building the first version of your product. Save the money for ramen.” – Free. Free is good, understanding who I am is better and finding the right a company that understands my world is absolutely best.

Bottom Line: building a startup or microISV is tough enough without the deadweight of hauling around some massive development methodology left over from your corporate days. Ditch it for just enough structure that keeps you focused on coding code that is going to make a difference to your customers. For me, it was Head First Software Development plus Acunote. Give them a try.

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Bob WalshWhen the going gets tough, the tough get agile.
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Stop stealing.

Is this you?It started innocently enough a few years ago, didn’t it? It wasn’t like you were actually breaking the law, being a criminal, being a Bad Person hurting people. No one was getting hurt – if there’s no victim, there’s no crime, right? Besides, everyone else was doing it! It was no worse than swiping that candy bar off the shelf at the store, right? You didn’t get caught then so you won’t get caught now.

At least that’s what you tell yourself. Or try to tell yourself. Maybe if you tell yourself enough times you’ll convince yourself and you can start looking in a mirror again.

But I know you’re stealing – and so do your friends, your coworkers, the girl you’re trying to impress. We all know.

What you’re stealing is time from yourself.

You grab a few minutes here, a web site there, pop an IM with a friend, check out a cool new and shiny thing online and you don’t even remember doing it 10 minutes later. When you do things that hurt yourself and you can’t remember doing them, you need help.

Email by email, web site by web site, bit by digital bit we’ve become an online nation of thieves – stealing from ourselves productivity and focus and hopes and dreams and our futures. So you want to build a real future for yourself, a real software company that you can be proud to say, “I built this. I did!”? Stealing is not going to get the job done my friend.

We call ourselves “digital nomads” or “web workers” or “microISVs” or “freelancers” or “startups” but any real nomad that was as easily distracted as we are would end up a pile of stinking bones in the desert before the next full moon. And if we had real bosses – sons of bitches who watched your every move at work – we’d be canned by the end of the week.

The real world does not reward stupidity. And trying to build something worthwhile for yourself while frittering away each business day in a haze of email, IMs, web sites that don’t directly relate to what you are doing is stupid and will get you nothing but tears and heartache.

Letting email/IM/twitter/browser run full bore during the periods of the day you are supposed to be creating something is exactly as stupid and criminal as driving a car while on your cell while texting while watching a dvd player. Someone is going to get hurt, and you’ll be to blame.

Don’t get me wrong – I love, really love, each and every part of the online world I’m lucky enough to be a part of. It’s all good! And I do exactly what I’ve described in this post and like a drunk who fights the bottle each time I know I shouldn’t do it. the point is, you have to admit it’s wrong, it’s hurting yourself, it’s something you have to make yourself stop doing.

If you laugh at this post, you’re still kidding yourself. And if you’re pissed, if it got under your skin, well, you know what they say: the things people say that you hate the most are the things you should listen to.

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Update 1: I guess I really hit a nerve with this post – good! That was my intention because the biggest obstacle to building a startup or microISV is confronting all those easy ways to get pulled off course, to lose focus and intention. And for developers, information is the sweetest candy in the shop.

I’ve tried to fix my various typoes rightfully pointed out by various commentators, and will be posting in the next day or two some of the ways I’ve found to beat that urge to steal time from myself.

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Update 2: 5 Strategies to stop stealing time from yourself.

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Bob WalshStop stealing.
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Here comes da Judge!

Well, sort of! Eric Ly, CEO of Presdo, has asked me to join LinkedIn cofounder Allen Blue, Mike Maples, Jr. of Maples Investments, and social media guru Ben Metcalfe to judge which three developers should win brand spanking new Apple iPhone 3Gs.

The catch? You need to do something cool with the Presdo API and enter the contest by August 1st.

And what’s Presdo?

  • Presdo is a tool that takes the hassle out of trying to find the best time to get together with people. Use Presdo to minimize the annoying ping pong of email, texting, and voicemail when organizing the next team lunch or trying to grab coffee with a friend.”
  • “With Presdo, making time to do things with other people doesn’t have to be so complicated.”- Brandon Watts at Windows Fanatics.
  • “I want you to stop what you are doing right now and go try Presdo.”-Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch.
  • And this from yours truly before I quit Web Worker Daily: Presdo: Twitter for Your Calendar?
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Bob WalshHere comes da Judge!
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Hard numbers about blogging and social networks.

Tipped by a tweet by Steve Ruble, I was excited to see a post about new polling numbers from the Pew Internet & American Life Project regarding blogging:

  • 42% of all Americans have read a blog at least once,
  • 33% still read blogs,
  • 11% read blogs regularly,
  • 12% have created a blog,
  • 5% blog regularly.

Then I started thinking about these numbers. Wait a minute: more people have created a blog than regularly read blogs? So I went over to Pew’s site and grabbed both their raw data and a study they did two years ago about bloggers and this is what I found:

  • “Have you ever read someone’s else’s online journal, web log or blog?” 42% said yes in May – up just 3% from 39% in a Jan. 06 poll. So basic blog readership has grown all of 3% in two and a half years??
  • Meanwhile, social networks have gone crazy: “Ever used online social or professional networking sites like Friendster or LinkedIn?” 11% said yes in Sept 05, then in Aug 06 16%, now as of May 08 29%. Now that’s growth. (Row 1806 of this Pew raw data spreadsheet.)
  • Ever used is one thing, how about use day in and day out? “Used online social or professional networking sites like Friendster or LinkedIn yesterday?” – 3% in Sept 05, 9% in Aug 06 and 13% in May 08. Less than “ever”, but 400% growth in three years is nothing to sneeze at.

Now do these numbers mean all the blogger-bashers are right and you don’t really have to put aside your inner introvert and start an interesting blog about your product/service and the problems it addresses? Of course not if you want to reach a huge number of people and haven’t happened upon say $10 million to run an interruption-based traditional marketing/advertising campaign. If anything, blogging is not going away and given the demographics of bloggers, it makes total sense to speak to them blogger to blogger:

Bloggers are among the most enthusiastic communicators of the modern age, taking advantage of nearly every opportunity to communicate. Seventy-eight percent of bloggers say they send or receive instant messages. By comparison, 38% of all internet users send and receive instant messages. Again, bloggers outstrip their high-speed counterparts (40% of home broadband users IM) and even internet users between 18 and 29 years old (54% of whom IM). Fifty-five percent of bloggers say they send or receive text messages using a cell phone, compared with 40% of home broadband users and 60% of younger internet users.

Put another way, I’d rather have 10 blogging customers than 20 non-blogging customers because I know those ten will spread the word about my product or service far wider and faster than the 20 who don’t blog.

But the real news is that microISVs and startups ignore at their peril the rapidly increasing world of online social networks. That’s more than just letting all your 116 LinkedIn contacts know you’ve shipped, it’s thinking about and designing an online community around and about your product/service from the get go. And one of the simplest, most productive ways of doing that is by – you guessed it – blogging.

Consider this from another Pew Report in Feb 08:

Our canvassing of longtime internet users shows that the things that first brought them online are still going strong on the internet today. Then, it was bulletin boards; now, it’s social networking sites. Then, it was the adventure of exploring the new cyberworld; now, it’s upgrading to broadband and wireless connections to explore even more aggressively. Yet there are changes in their activities and motives. In the early days, most internet users consumed material from websites. These days they are just as likely to produce material. One common refrain is that they think more change lies ahead and they are eager to watch and participate.

Bottom line: if you want your product/web service to succeed, you need to be remarkable and make it easy for people on the web to remark about it.

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Bob WalshHard numbers about blogging and social networks.

A Tale of Selling a MicroISV

By Rob Walling of Software by Rob

About two months ago I put my Micro-ISV, a web-based invoicing system, up for sale. The sale played out exactly as I expected except for one detail: I didn’t sell it. Instead, I took on a partner.

You can read the full account of what I learned from “selling” my Micro-ISV, but here on 47hats I wanted to share some additional details about how I arrived at my valuation of 12-30 months profit, how the offer process worked, and why I decided to take a partner instead of selling it outright.

Micro-ISV Valuations

There are volumes written on how to value a business; somewhere there are people who’ve spent their entire careers doing nothing but learning how to determine the market value of a business based on a multitude of factors. Laundromats, as an example, are typically valued at around 50 times monthly net profit (with adjustments made for the age of the equipment, length remaining on your lease, and a slew of other factors).

And like every kind of business, websites and small software products have their own formula. If you spend any length of time on the website and domain marketplaces (sites where people buy and sell websites, such as SitePoint and DomainState), you’ll learn a rule of thumb: a website or domain name that requires minimal maintenance will sell for around 12 months of net profit.

I doubt anyone really knows why it’s 12 months, aside from the fact that it’s what the market has dictated. Keep in mind there are many adjustments to this number. If you have a generic parked domain name that gets a lot of type in traffic you can garner 24-36 months of profit, or a particularly high earning website that’s well automated can easily bring 20-24 months.

Since a Google search yielded no relevant information for selling Micro-ISVs or software products, I resorted to this range of 12-30 months. In my experience buying and selling web properties over the past few years, this range sticks pretty well to what the market will bear.

The Offer Process

Within a week of my “for sale” post I received 20 email inquiries, sent out nearly that many NDAs (find out why NDAs are worth your time), and distributed 13 sales packets that included a detailed description of the product with all the relevant data and a Google Analytics PDF showing information about website traffic.

Potential acquirers ranged from small software companies to individual developers. Most were in the U.S. and Canada. Many had the same questions about revenue, profit, how the code is structured (does it have a business layer? does it use stored procedures?) that I fortunately answered in the sales packet, but there were many more questions relating to marketing, SEO, advertising, unit tests, and a plethora of other issues.

I was surprised to receive a lot of questions about code structure and some other deep technical issues. This is something you’ll never see on a website sale (even a custom-coded site). I think the difference is comparable to someone buying a house for themselves vs. buying one as an investment. When you’re buying a house as an investment you often don’t see the inside of the house until after you have an accepted offer; all that matters is that the numbers work. But when you’re buying a house where you’re going to live…aesthetics have a major impact.

I spent about 10 hours answering questions and after about a week, when the requests for NDAs had slowed considerably, I set a deadline when I would be accepting sealed bids. I debated for some time on how to handle the bidding process – whether to use an open auction format or to go with sealed bids – and given the high price and somewhat intimate nature of the sale I opted for sealed bids. In retrospect I think I would have received more offers, and perhaps a higher offer, had I created a SitePoint auction and allowed people to compete against one another.

When the deadline arrived I had two purchase offers that were nearly identical, hovering around 12 months of revenue. I also had an unexpected partnership offer from a developer I’ve worked with on and off for the past 8 years.

Taking a Partner vs. Selling

Accepting a lump sum for DotNetInvoice was alluring, but I had mixed emotions about letting it go. Of all people, I know the potential of this product, and I have a vision of where it should head.

It’s interesting that in the past few years I’ve moved away from the more technical aspects of software towards the business side of things. SEO, marketing, PPC advertising, design…all things I’ve learned about and enjoyed. During this time I’ve realized that trying to be both the technical expert and the business expert for a product is a hard job, indeed. One person can have both skill sets, but applying them to a single product is a challenge in simultaneous left and right-brained thinking.

And this is what a partnership is ideally suited for: a division of labor. Luckily my partner is interested in handling the technical aspects, so the division is clear.

In the end, the complications of a partnership (contracts, finances, shared PayPal accounts) was outweighed by the knowledge that two people working together will make a better product than a one-man show. Jeremy and I signed out partnership contract in late May, and the next version of DotNetInvoice is due out before the end of this month.

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Rob Walling’s Boston-based consulting firm, The Numa Group, provides ASP.NET development for customers throughout the U.S and sells DotNetInvoice, the most popular ASP.NET invoicing system on the market. Rob is one of 350 Microsoft MVP’s in ASP.NET and is the author of numerous technical articles and the blog Software by Rob, where he discusses software startups, micro-ISVs, and everything in between.

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A Tale of Selling a MicroISV
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Weekly Site Review: TwistedWave

With this post I’m doing three things at once:

  • Bringing back my public site reviews of microISVs and startups who ask me to review them.
  • Showing off for the first time a very small part of Project X that functions right but has the CSS styling of the south end of a northbound cat: you are hereby warned.
  • Eating a bit of my own catfood (yes, I know the expression is eating your own dogfood, but we have/are enslaved by cats, not dogs here.) Total time to do this review: 25 minutes compared to about 2 hours on previous reviews. Quality of the review? About as good or better, I think. What do you think?

First the review screenshot, then some comments for Thomas Thiriez, founder of TwistedWave.

The biggest issue I have with the site is that it didn’t start the conversation by telling me what TwistedWave was.

Think of it this way: when someone lands on your microISV’s site, it’s up to you to tell them why you matter to them. That means first giving them a synopsis (what I call the Hook), then going into detail about the particulars of why your product/service is worth their attention.

The second biggest issue were the two misspellings – Now as you can see from the screenshot, I’m not innocent of this sin either! But misspellings on your product’s main page are simply not acceptable.

Two suggestions for Thomas:
1. Find a way to explain what Twisted Wave is in a sentence or two and put that under a much smaller image, then follow up with a brief description of what Twisted Wave does and how it does it.

2. Fix the typoes.

One last point re Thomas’ blog: he does a great job of talking about Twisted Wave but neglects talking about anything else. If you want your blog to succeed – and by that I mean bring web traffic your way – talk about the problems your software addresses and the people who have those problems.

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Weekly Site Review: TwistedWave