Truer words never spoken

I caught the kick off conference call of the Personal Branding Summit this morning and I’m glad I recommended it here yesterday: some really good insightful discussion about building a brand for individuals and small companies.

Best quote of the session in my opinion goes to Andy Sernovitz: “Without a brand, you have to sell yourself twice.” So true! First you have to establish some credibility and authority and then, and only then, can you persuade your microISV customers to consider your product or service.

By blogging, by participating in or even building an online community, by commenting on blogs, by doing white papers, speaking at conferences within your industry, you build a brand. What brand marketing are you doing?

The Branding Summit is ongoing today (Thursday), and it’s free.

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Truer words never spoken

26 Branding Seminars free Nov. 8th.

Branding is something microISVs should know a lot more about. My friend Pamela Slim (Escape from Cubicle Nation) just clued me in on what sounds like a great free resource for microISVs:

My buddy Jason Alba from JibberJobber has organized a pretty cool free learning event tomorrow, entitled Personal Branding Summit. Details are here. It includes some of my favorite marketing and career types like Guy Kawasaki, John Jantsch, Krishna De, Richard Bolles, Phil Gerbyshak and Debbie Weil. Sign up for individual sessions that cover all kinds of personal branding and marketing topics.You can’t beat this line up for free.

Check out the sessions here – here’s a smattering that got my attention:

  • Evangelizing Evangelists to Build a Business and Build Your Brand – Panel: Guy Kawasaki (facilitator), Krishna De, John Jantsch, Andy Sernovitz, Tim Demello
  • Success Built to Last – Secrets from the most successful people on earth! – Stewart Emery
  • How A Book Becomes A Brand: The 35-Year History of WHAT COLOR IS YOUR PARACHUTE? -Richard Nelson Bolles
  • Three Steps to a Winning Brand – William Arruda.

[tags]Branding, Branding Summit[/tags]

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26 Branding Seminars free Nov. 8th.

The secret formula of microISV success.

A programmer friend of mine emailed me a few days ago with a frustration I’ve heard often:

The projects I can think of working on are rather generic (and
probably the low-hanging fruits): File backup/restore, information
storage/retrieval, money management… I can’t seem to figure out how
to find more “niche” problems.

What can I do to find them?

I mulled this over earlier this week while at the Business of Software Conference, listening to some really sharp people talk about different and interesting ways of looking at this business we are in.

Here’s what I came up with:

(Problem / Market ) * (Passion + Disruption) = microISV app.

Problem – This is something that causes a non-programmer pain. Note I said non-programmers. Programmers are not normal people and don’t see the world the way they do. First off, we actually like tech – they do not, unless their friends like it and it’s now been made cool and safe (think iPod and iPhone). Second, we think binary – either this class works or it doesn’t: They do not.

Market – These are the people who have the problem and are ready, willing and able to change. You can’t sell shoes to a man unable to walk and you can’t sell without a 24 month sales cycle, round 2 VC money and a direct sales force an enterprise software system to a HR department already locked into a system.

People are busy and have lots of problems. When problems hurt enough, when the pain, frustration, emotional hurt or self-image damage is enough, that’s when and only when they go to Google looking for a solution.

This relationship between Problem and Market means you need to find a sufficiently painful problem to enough people ready willing and able to change what they are doing now for you to succeed.

Let’s look at the lower half of the equation.

Passion – That’s what you need to have for the Problem. Since you’re not going to get paid (yet) for creating this app to address the Problem, you are going to need a large supply of Passion. Some people for various reasons find money generates passion. Most need something more – like liking the people who have the Problem, wanting to prove to themselves and the world they can write great software. Negative emotions can tank up your Passion tank too – Anger at some dumbass company that sells you something you know could and should be better; Frustration when you are part of that market.

Whatever floats your boat – just keep in mind you’re going to need a lot of it and no matter how horrendous the problem, no matter how large the market, you have to be sold on it first, it has to be something you feel a burning need to do something about. This is a pretty high bar to jump, and why hundreds of millions of people can know about a problem (Darfur comes to mind), but only hundreds will feel the absolute imperative to do something about it.

Finally there’s Disruption. This is the secret weapon in the secret formula. Because we’re programmers we can create tools to solve problems that are not 10% better, but 100 times better. We can disrupt – taking how people did things (the Problem) and recast it in an entirely different way.

Pick 10 apps or web sites you think are really successful. How many of them built their success on disrupting the way things were done before they came along? Every single one of them.

Disruption – called innovation by the suits – is what has driven technology for some 203 years since some bloke mounted a steam engine on a set of wheels running on metal rails and upset the established order.

MicroISVs have the incredible advantage of not having to produce n+1 apps. We are in the disruption business – and very happy to be so.

So when you are mulling what app or web service you should build your microISV around, go find someone’s apple cart to turn over, go find a problem that needs a heathy dose of disruption that gets you excited and energized – that’s the app you should write.

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The secret formula of microISV success.

links for 2007-10-23

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Bob Walshlinks for 2007-10-23

Process and the mISV

By Starr Horne

Every so often someone in the Business of Software forum asks about process.

For most mISVs, formal methodologies like extreme programming are extreme overkill. But there are a few “processes” that I’ve found essential to my business productivity.

Keep in mind – process is fundamentally different for a one-person company than for a large corporation:

  • IT is no longer a separate department: So you need to address business as well as technical issues.
  • You have the flexibility that larger companies would kill for. Process should structure your work, without sacrificing your ability to make quick decisions.
  • Process should be biased toward action, not documentation. (Those TPS reports can wait)

Using these criteria, I’ve come up with four practices that have boosted my productivity and helped me hold on to a little bit of my sanity.

Hold weekly business and technical reviews

When you’re starting a business on your own, it can be hard to see the big picture. Why not devote two hours a week to self-review? Sit down with a pad and a big cup of coffee and ask yourself: What have I done right? What have I done wrong? How do I do better?

Define clear end-points

One of the hardest things about development is knowing when to stop. But there’s a simple solution. Create a “bare minimum” requirements document. As soon as you code and test a feature, check it off and move on! Don’t optimize, beautify or abstract. It can take real discipline, but you’ll be amazed at how much you can get done.

Create a work schedule (and stick to it)

There are a million things you have to do to create a successful company. It can be especially overwhelming if, like so many of us, you’re working full time & creating your ISV on the side. So do yourself a favor and make a work schedule. It takes the pressure off to be able to say “Hey, it’s GUI Thursday, I don’t have to worry about PR.”

Keep a “Not Now” list

When you’re racing towards version 1, you don’t have any time to waste. Every time you sit down to code a new feature, ask yourself: “If I leave this out, will it break my product?” If the answer is no, it goes on the “Not Now” list. This will save time, sure. But more importantly, it will train you to constantly focus on your core values.

That’s it!

If you decide to implement any of these techniques, or if you’d like to share some of your own, let me know! I’d love to hear them.


Starr Horne is currently developing the StepLively Switchboard, a CRM system for e-commerce, which incorporates live chat, email and click-to-call. You can read more articles by Starr in his development blog, The Startup Lowdown, and in his e-commerce blog

[tags]47hats, development, StepLively[/tags]

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Process and the mISV

A vision of students today.

Every so often something floats by in the river of news that disjoints you. One moment, you see the world this way – the next, you don’t.

Michael Wesch, a professor at Kansas State University is someone who keeps whacking my head in a totally thought-provoking way. First there was The Machine is Us/ing Us. Then Information R/evolution and now, A Vision of Students Today.


The thing about Prof. Wesch’s digital ethnography is how it both rings true and jars us out of our humdrum mindsets: technology changes everyone, including the technologists.

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A vision of students today.

Jobs to Developers: please come back!

Posted 5 minutes ago at Apple hotnews by Steve Jobs:

Let me just say it: We want native third party applications on the iPhone, and we plan to have an SDK in developers’ hands in February. We are excited about creating a vibrant third party developer community around the iPhone and enabling hundreds of new applications for our users. With our revolutionary multi-touch interface, powerful hardware and advanced software architecture, we believe we have created the best mobile platform ever for developers.

So why the turnaround from just a few months ago? Why go from you can develop in Safari and that’s it to please, please develop native apps?

Two words: Customer Demand.

[tags]47hats, iPhone, Developers[/tags]

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Jobs to Developers: please come back!

Colors matter

Starr Horne pointed me towards a very good post about what colors communicate over at Kidson Talks. Why does it matter to you? Because your web site’s colors communicates with your customers – whether you are aware of what you’re saying or not.

If you don’t have a good sense of what colors work together, cheat! ColorSchemer is a desktop (PC & Mac) application for generating color schemes. While there are other tools on the market, ColorSchemer’s Community has as of now 2996 color schemes you can download into their product and XOR with say your logo’s colors, or just start using.

Making it a one click experience for your users to share what they create online is an excellent way of building community around your product.

Read the post to get a sense of what colors communicate and then have a look at your site – are you sending trying to send one message but your colors send another? If so, or you just want to freshen up your site or blog, check out ColorSchemer.


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Colors matter

MicroISVs and climate change

Action 125X125
Today is Blog Action Day, and given that, this post is about the environment. Many other people today will be blogging about things you can do for the environment as an individual and those are good things; but being who I am, I want to concentrate on some of the opportunities I see in the looming climate crisis for microISVs.

But pay heed: it is a looming, real crisis: various climate models put the average temperature rise between 2.0 to 11.5 °F by the year 2100 [1] – if you want to argue the IPCC is wrong – go right ahead, just line up behind those who say cigarettes don’t kill people.

Personally, I think the scientific community is being way too cautious and optimistic: for example the percentage of perennial sea ice that melts in the Arctic each summer has gone from 6.4 to 7.8 each year in the 1970s [2] to 14% in 2002 [3] to 39% this year [4].

I don’t want to be the frog in the pot while the temperature is going up, do you?

That said – and it needs to be said – what can microISVs do about it? Maybe more than you think. Here’s a few ideas to kick around:

True Cost Accounting – We need to start taking into account the true cost of the things we buy, consume and do. What about an accounting app that tracks your money and your carbon footprint?

Lower your Bill – I pay between $500 and $600 a month for electricity to run my home/office (that’s a 2400 sq. ft. house in Northern California, and no, I’m not kidding); I have been over and over why my bills are outrageously high with my local utility no less than 3 times: write me an app that will get to the bottom of this and I will write that check today.

Efficiency Matters – This one is for all those b2b microISVs out there who sell specialized software to industries and companies you’ve never heard about because they don’t do retail. In industry segment after industry segment – transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, construction – efficiency in terms of initial and ongoing carbon emissions is going to be a market differentiator of growing importance.

Taking Public Policy Online – If you’re one of those IT people who avoid politics like the plague here’s the three things you need to know about politics (known as public policy in polite company): It’s all about who gets what from the pot, keeping the lid tight on the pot and most practicing political types wake up screaming at night when they think about Net.

Bricks and mortar politicians gibber in fear at what is to come – and that’s a good thing. So let’s join people like the Sunlight Foundation who are using the net to make our “public servants” more accountable and further ruin their day:

The Google Junket Map – How about a nice Open Source Web 2.0 mash up of where federal and state officeholders go “on official business”? How about an email service to service to remind them we are watching them?

Delphi Coricle – Take manifestos for change from ChangeThis and other sites, let people vote for them and even pledge money (ala Kiva and other microloan sites) from their nice desktop app written in… :) and then aggregate the results to a Digg-like leaderboard online.

Something Al Gore said Friday in a news conference upon winning the Nobel Peace Prize along with the IPCC has stuck in my mind: The climate crisis is “the most dangerous challenge we face but it is also the greatest opportunity we have ever had to make change.”

That sounds like an opportunity for microISVs to me!

[tags]47hats, BlogActionDay, environment[/tags]

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MicroISVs and climate change