Here’s a some of what caught my attention at this year’s 17th annual Software Industry Conference in Denver, Colorado. Now I realize you may be wondering what relevance a bunch of “old shareware dudes” have to you: in a word, a lot. These guys – and a few women – are not just survivors of the Bad Old pre-Net Days, but they are successful survivors who attend the conference and consider their time well spent if they pick up one good idea that makes them money.
And by the way, for 60% of the attendees, like me, this was their first conference.
So here are a few things that caught my eye – since there were two sessions running at the same time, I probably missed 50% of the good stuff:
In October, Microsoft is starting up something called Microsoft MicroISV University – 12 monthly online webinars by recognized experts covering topics microISVs need to know to do business – not the usual Microsoft hard sell. The draw? The presenters supposedly will be offering some of their time, 1 to 1, to some number of attendees.
Here’s a tentative list of webinars, courtesy of Michael Lehman, Microsoft MicroISV Evangelist and organizer of the effort:
- Dev 2.0 development process
- How to setup MS Office Accounting for MicroISVs
- Protecting your .Net applications
- Choosing a host for SaaS and Silverlight applications
- Building a successful MicroISV website
- MicroISV eCommerce
- Time Management (GTD, etc.)
- Product Management
- Introduction to Marketing
- Partnering with Microsoft
- Search Engine Optimization
- Software+Services including Microsoft Silverlight
- Also from Michael, “Microsoft is planning to sponsor four MicroISV “Days” (2 US, 1 Europe, 1 Australia) in cooperation with local MicroISVs and MicroISV organizations to highlight the high quality software produced for Microsoft Windows® by small, self-funded software developers. Events will include presentations by Microsoft and its partners as well as an exhibition of locally developed software.
- TrialPay. Here’s a way microISVs can make money I’d never heard of, and one that is gaining traction among the big ISVs. A prospective customer has decided they want your software, but can’t or won’t pay for it. Instead of writing them off, what if you – the microISV – can offer these not-buyers the chance to get your software for free, and you get paid anyway, maybe even more than you charge? What’s the catch?
The un-buying customer takes one of the TrialPay partner offers – from the likes of Gap, Avis, Blockbuster and a few hundred other big companies who will pay dearly to acquire new customers. Now in the past, this kind of “Incentive Marketing” has gotten a sleazy reputation – but TrialPay and several other vendors are doing this right. And from our point of view, this is a way to convert no-sales into sales – the customer gets your software and something they want more (like say Vonage), the merchants are happy to pay to acquire customers, the microISVs make more money and TrialPay assumes the risk.
From the Web Site Reviews session (Dave Collins, Sharon Housley, Ben Weintraub)
- Several carefully designed studies have nailed down when and where people look when they come to a web site: in a pattern like a capital “F” – top line left to right, then down a little and left to right again, then down.
- Ben said it best: “Features tell, benefits sell.”
- Sharon: People do check with people offering testimonials, the best time to get a testimonial is when you’ve just made a customer happy doing tech support and the current state of successful SEO can be summed up as, “Write for people, not Search Engines.”
- TrialPay’s CEO, Alastair Rampell, gave a session on Software as a Service – customers subscribe to your software (web and desktop), rather than buy once. It was the first SaaS argument that made any sense at all from a microISV perspective. Here’s the takeaway – if you have subscribers instead of customers you don’t have to stockpile your new features to justify your next upgrade – you can roll them out gradually on your schedule, constantly adding value to what you are selling, avoiding financial death when customers refuse to buy your 2.0 and not just even out, but improve your cash flow.
Nick Bradbury – creator of FeedDemon – gave an excellent talk on Effective Software Design. Lots of good ideas there (I hope to get Nick to guest post about them here soon):
- Expose the features that 80% of your customers care about up front (for example, as toolbar commands) and build simplicity by hiding the rest. His presentation was based on a series of posts at his blog that are must reading.
- Betas should never be buggy – the best use of a beta is to test usability, not waste prospective customer’s time hitting bugs you know about.
- Buy Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art for some great ideas on how your software can communicate its story. I did – especially after hearing it mentioned on a tech podcast I listen to today and then seeing this post at the 37signals blog.
I did three presentations – 2 on blogging for microISVs and one on Getting Things Done for microISVs. I’ll be blogging versions of those later this week here at 47hats.com.