A Business Idea : Individualized Mandelbrot Shirts

Mandelbrot

I have more ideas for business and products than I have the time, energy or skills to pursue. I am throwing this one out there in the hope that someone else might run with it. You’re welcome.

Idea

1. You zoom into a region of the Mandelbrot set you like the look of. You have an the option to customize the colours.

2. You are shown a visualization of what this would look like on a shirt (front and rear).

3. If you like what you see, you click a button to order the shirt, choose your size and pay. It is then shipped to you.

Pricing

The fact you can design your own shirt and there is a vanishly small probability that anyone else will have the same design, means you can charge a big premium. Perhaps £50/$80 for a long sleeve shirt?

Feasibility

The software side of this business is fairly straightforward. After all the Madelbrot set is based on just z=z^2+c and you wouldn’t have to generate a high resolution image for the preview. But I know nothing about the clothing industry. I have no idea what it would cost to individually print a shirt or what printing technology you would use. Perhaps there are good economic reasons why no-one is already doing this (if they are, they aren’t very good at SEO).

I will be your first customer!

Image from Wikipedia by Wolfgang Beyer

Remarketing – does it work?

remarketingIf you go to Amazon and browse watches, you will suddenly notice a preponderance of watch ads everywhere you go on the Internet. This is ‘remarketing’ (also known as ‘retargeting’ or, more colloquially, ‘cyber stalking’). Wikipedia defines it as:

a form of online targeted advertising by which online advertising is targeted to consumers based on their previous Internet actions, in situations where these actions did not result in a sale or conversion.

Given that:

a) It is hard work to get potential purchasers to visit your website

b) some 99% of visitors to a typical website leave without buying anything

It seems to make sense to spend some time and money reminding non-purchasers to come back to your website in the hope that they will eventually purchase.

The basic mechanics of remarketing are:

  1. Sign up with a remarketing publisher such as Google, Perfect Audience or Adroll.
  2. Upload some graphical ads.
  3. Bid to show these ads on other sites.
  4. Add a script on your site which cookies visitors for remarketing.
  5. When your visitor leaves your site and goes to another site in the remarketing publisher’s network, the remarketing cookie is read and an ad is shown (or not, depending on how much you and other advertisers are bidding per impression).
  6. Hopefully people will see your ad, click through and buy your product. Or they may just be reminded to continue the trial, without clicking the ad.

A number of people I have spoken to told me it was very cost-effective. But when I asked how they knew that these remarketing conversions wouldn’t have purchased anyway, I didn’t get a satisfactory answer. It seems straightforward enough to test this: run an A/B test, showing remarketing ads to 50% of your visitors and see what difference it makes to conversions. But an online search and some asking around turned up very little data. The one decent study I found quoted an 18% increase in conversions (yes please!), but was for an ‘e-commerce website’. So, dear reader, I have done the experiment using Perfect Audience for remarketing, Visual Website Optimizer for A/B testing and my table planner software as the subject. Here are my results:

visits sales conversion
rate
Control (No
remarketing )
10,539 162 1.54% (±0.15)
Remarketing 11,137 174 1.56% (±0.15)

So the remarketing showed an increase in sales of 1.6% over 21,676 visits and 336 sales. However it is noticeable that the 95 percentile error bars are rather large compared with the conversion rates. I am only 95% sure that the conversion rates are in the range 1.69% to 1.39% (control) and 1.71% to 1.41% (remarketing). Which means the change in conversion rate could be anything from +23% to -19% (but given normal distribution curves, most likely somewhere in the middle). According to Visual Website Optimizer, we can only be 56% sure that the increase in conversions is a real effect, and not just a statistical anomaly. The graph below shows the convergence of the conversion rates over time (blue is the control, orange is with remarketing).

remarketing experimentIt gets worse when you factor in the cost of the remarketing. I know the value of the sales and the cost of the ads over the period of the experiment. So I can work out that for every $1 I spent on remarketing I was getting around $0.95 back in extra sales. It isn’t looking like a winner for me, especially when you factor in the time taken to set-up and administer it.

Some points to note:

  • Remarketing resulted in 1.8% less installs than the control. This is probably just a statistical anomaly (67% chance of being statistically significant).
  • I choose Perfect Audience based on the recommendation of Rob Walling, who has experimented with Google, Adroll, remarketer.com and Perfect Audience. Unlike Google, Perfect Audience allows remarketing across a wide range of platforms and websites, including Facebook and Twitter. I found their system to be relatively flexible and easy to set-up. But being billed weekly is a bit tedious for my bookkeeper.
  • I showed my ads on Facebook and various websites. I didn’t show them on Twitter as my previous experiences with advertising on Twitter haven’t been great.
  • With remarketing you pay per impression, not per click. I set my CPM (cost per thousand impressions) relatively low. I ended up averaging $1.55 for web ads and $1.14 for Facebook ads.
  • Click through rates were miserable, averaging just 0.051% for both web and Facebook ads.
  • The average cost per click was $2.58. This is a lot more than I pay per click on Adwords.
  • I remarketed to people that arrived on my home page. I stopped targeting them after 30 days or after they had purchased.
  • I didn’t remarket to visitors from developing countries, as they very rarely buy my software. Had I remarketed to visitors from every country the remarketing conversion rate would probably have been slightly higher, but the ad costs would have been significantly higher.
  • I didn’t get any complaints from customers about being ‘stalked’.
  • I just knocked up some ad graphics myself (examples below). I got the idea for an attention-grabbing ugly ad here. It didn’t perform well though.

buy_image_ad_300x250

ugly handwriting 300x250 3I probably could probably improve the ROI on remarketing with some experimentation. E.g.:

  • Trying professionally designed ads.
  • Trying different bids.
  • Experimenting with only showing ads to people who have installed the trial vs only showing ads to people who haven’t installed the trial.

But it doesn’t really seem worth the opportunity cost given the results to date.

Of course, my experiment is just one data point. Remarketing might work better for you if you have a higher average lifetime value for a customer (many of my customers buy the $30 version of PerfectTablePlan for their wedding and never purchase from me again). If you have a B2B product with an average lifetime value in the hundreds or thousands of dollars, it is probably worth a try. You will have to run your own A/B test to find out. If you do, please let me know what the results are.

Hyper Plan update

I have been working hard on Hyper Plan, my new visual planning software. I have put out several releases since my last blog post.

Hyper Plan v0.7

Improvements include:

  • better user interface
  • undo/redo
  • sortable columns in the table view
  • full support for dates
  • export to CSV/PDF/PNG/JPG
  • printing
  • open recent files
  • auto save
  • bug fixes

Many of the improvements have been based on user feedback (thanks!).

Hyper Plan can be used for a wide range of planning/scheduling/tracking/visualization tasks, including:

  • event planning
  • project management
  • software release planning
  • kanban/scrum/agile planning
  • staff/resource allocation
  • todo list

It runs natively on Windows and Mac OS X. If you need to distribute your plan across multiple machines, you can use DropBox.com or similar.

I am planning to release a paid version in 2015. Until then you can use the beta version completely free and unrestricted. Please give it a try and let me know what you think.

Try Hyper Plan now!

My new product : Hyper Plan

scrum kanbanI have just launched a new product. First some back story. A few years ago, my wife and I were renovating the house we live in now. Trying to schedule and track all the different tasks, tradesmen and quotes was a real pain. We stuck Post-it® notes onto a whiteboard to try to keep on top of it all. The Post-it notes represented the various jobs that need doing. We placed them in columns (representing what stage they were at: needs quote, accepted quote, scheduled, doing, done) and rows (representing the various trades: plumbing, roofing, electrical etc). It worked, but it was far from ideal:

  • I wanted to see status vs trade, status vs room and room vs trade. But changing the layout was a pain, so I had to pick one layout and stick with it.
  • Colours were useful for extra information. But we were limited to just the few colours that Post-it notes come in.
  • There was only limited space to write on the note.
  • My wife couldn’t read my handwriting.
  • We had to use a separate spreadsheet to track the budget.
  • Post-it notes would fall off and get lost after being moved a few times.
  • I ran out of Post-it notes.

That is when the idea of Hyper Plan first occurred to me. It has been burning a hole in my brain for the last 5 years. Now I have finally got around to implementing it.

Hyper Plan is Post-it note style planning, implemented in software. In software you are no-longer limited by the number of Post-it notes you can afford, the amount of wall space you have or the number of colours Post-it notes come in. You can even change the layout and colours with a mouse click. All with animation and easing curve loveliness.

The sorts of planning you can use it for include:

  • project planning
  • planning what is going into your next software release
  • event planning
  • Kanban / Scrum / Agile
  • planning a holiday
  • to do list (I know!)

Anything where you have discrete tasks that you want to be able to categorize (e.g. by person, status or type), schedule or track in a visual form.

Here is a 2:42 minute overview in video form (with audio):

Hyper Plan videoCan’t see the video? Try this mp4 version (10.7 MB).

Hyper Plan is quite different to anything else I have seen. That could be a good thing or bad thing. I am putting out an early beta to try to find out.

Hyper Plan is not currently for sale. I don’t want to take the time to set up all the payment processing and licensing until I am confident someone might actually buy it. The current beta version will run completely unrestricted until 17-Jan-2015. There are Windows and Mac versions. Hopefully a commercial version will be available for sale by the time the beta expires. If not, I will release another free version.

Currently it is very much an MVP (minimum viable product).

  • The UI is a bit rough around the edges.
  • The logo was done in 5 minutes in Word.
  • The documentation is just a quick start guide.
  • Some important features are not implemented yet (e.g. printing, exporting and undo).

But I have tried to follow my own advice and resist foul urges to spend months polishing it (which is hard!). What is there is pretty robust though, and I think it demonstrates the concepts. Hopefully I will know in a few weeks whether it is worth taking the time to polish it to commercial levels.

I would love to know what you think. Particularly how useful you find it for ‘real’ planning tasks. Even responses of the form “I wouldn’t use this because…” are helpful. Please also email a link to anyone else you think might be interested. Particularly if you have ever seen them sticking Post-it notes to a wall or swearing at Microsoft Project! My contact details are here.

buttonFAQ

Q: Why is it desktop, rather than SaaS/mobile?

A. I think stories of the death of desktop software are exaggerated. Also:

  • I can build a minimum viable product much quicker for desktop.
  • Differentiation. Some people prefer desktop apps, e.g. because they don’t have reliable Internet or don’t want to store their data on third party servers.
  • Less competition. Everyone else seems to be doing SaaS/mobile.

I might add SaaS and/or mobile versions later, if there is enough demand. Note that DropBox (or the Google, Microsoft or Apple equivalents) allow you to easily sync a Hyper Plan file across multiple computers.

Q: So it’s Trello for desktop?

A. Not really. I had the basic idea before I ever saw Trello. And I’m not stupid enough to compete with a free tool from the great Joel Spolsky! Trello is great at what it does. But Hyper Plan is different in quite a few ways. In Trello the emphasis is on collaboration and workflow. In Hyper Plan the emphasis is on visualization and planning. Hyper Plan allows you to present your information in lots of different ways with a few mouse clicks. It also has a built in ‘pivot table’ type feature that is much easier to use than Excel pivot tables. This is really useful for totalling effort and expenditure by different categories.

Post-it is a registered trademark of 3M.

The scrum photo is licensed under creative common by Logan Ingalls.

Signing Qt applications for Mac OS X 10.9.5 and 10.10

I have written previously about signing Qt applications for Mac OS X. It all worked fine until I upgraded to Mac OS X 10.9.5, which broke my signing script. Those Apple chaps do love to break stuff. Grrr.

The problem appears to be that the directory structure of the app bundle has changed and the Qt4 macdeployqt command does not conform to the new layout (I believe this is also the case for Qt5). Oh joy. I managed to work out how to get it working again after a bit of digging around. The good news is that Apple have also made the codesign command easier with a --deep option to traverse and sign the whole bundle in a single command. About time.

So here is the basic process to build and sign your Qt .app on the latest versions of Mac OS X:

# deploy Qt frameworks into .app bundle
$QTDIR/bin/macdeployqt .app -verbose=1
# optionally delete unwanted framework and plugin folders, e.g.:
# rm -f -r <your_app>.app/Contents/Frameworks/QtDeclarative.framework
# rm -f -r <your_app>.app/Contents/PlugIns/sqldrivers
# correct .app bundle structure
python rebundle.py $QTDIR <your_app>.app
# sign .app bundle (including frameworks and plugins)
codesign --deep --force --verify --verbose --sign "Developer ID Application: " .app
# the 2 lines below are just for verification/diagnostics
otool -L <your_app>.app/Contents/MacOS/<your_app>
codesign --verify --verbose=4 <your_app>.app

(Sorry about the small font, but I wanted to avoid confusing line wraps).

I then invoke DropDmg to create a .dmg image file complete with licence and background image. This is all stuck it all in a bash script, which I can pretty much forget about it (until Apple break something else).

In the above rebundle.py is a Python script  written by some public spirited individual that can be downloaded from github (thank you, ‘kingcheez’). Note that you can just find and replace all the ‘5’ characters in the script by ‘4’ if you are still using Qt4.

The first time I ran my script I ended up with a whopping 50MB .app file. It turns out that the cp -r commands in my script don’t preserve symbolic links. So you end up with 3 copies of each framework library. You can avoid this by using cp -R instead.

On the subject of signing for Mac, Apple recently sent out an email stating:

Signatures created with OS X Mountain Lion 10.8.5 or earlier (v1 signatures) will be obsoleted and Gatekeeper will no longer recognize them. Users may receive a Gatekeeper warning and will need to exempt your app to continue using it. To ensure your apps will run without warning on updated versions of OS X, they must be signed on OS X Mavericks 10.9 or later (v2 signatures). … Apps signed with v2 signatures will work on older versions of OS X.

So you are going to have to start signing using 10.9, whether you like it or not.

“Wrong Way” Corrigan

While on holiday in Ireland I came across the wonderful story of “Wrong Way” Corrigan. Here is a summary from history.com :

Eleven years earlier, American Charles A. Lindbergh had become an international celebrity with his solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic. Corrigan was among the mechanics who had worked on Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis aircraft, but that mere footnote in the history of flight was not enough for the Texas-born aviator. In 1938, he bought a 1929 Curtiss Robin aircraft off a trash heap, rebuilt it, and modified it for long-distance flight. In July 1938, Corrigan piloted the single-engine plane nonstop from California to New York. Although the transcontinental flight was far from unprecedented, Corrigan received national attention simply because the press was amazed that his rattletrap aircraft had survived the journey.

Almost immediately after arriving in New York, he filed plans for a transatlantic flight, but aviation authorities deemed it a suicide flight, and he was promptly denied. Instead, they would allow Corrigan to fly back to the West Coast, and on July 17 he took off from Floyd Bennett field, ostentatiously pointed west. However, a few minutes later, he made a 180-degree turn and vanished into a cloud bank to the puzzlement of a few onlookers.

Twenty-eight hours later, Corrigan landed his plane in Dublin, Ireland, stepped out of his plane, and exclaimed, “Just got in from New York. Where am I?” He claimed that he lost his direction in the clouds and that his compass had malfunctioned. The authorities didn’t buy the story and suspended his license, but Corrigan stuck to it to the amusement of the public on both sides of the Atlantic. By the time “Wrong Way” Corrigan and his crated plane returned to New York by ship, his license suspension had been lifted, he was a national celebrity, and a mob of autograph seekers met him on the gangway.

Sometimes it is better to hope for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

2 Million Hits!

This blog just passed 2 million hits since I started back in the dim and distant Internet past of 2007 with How much money will my software make (and what has that got to do with aliens)?. Wow.

I haven’t been posting much recently, but I haven’t given up either.  Watch this space. Until then, here are the top 10 blog posts to date:

Post Hits
The software awards scam 265,427
Lessons learned from 13 failed software
products
82,088
10 things non-technical users don’t
understand about your software
78,561
Your harddrive *will* fail – it’s just a
question of when
54,775
Where I program 53,910
If you aren’t embarrassed by v1.0 you didn’t
release it early enough
41,531
SWREG customers beware 36,691
The 1% fallacy 35,327
The world’s fastest Rubik cube solver is
made from Lego!
30,662
The brutal truth about marketing your
software product
29,104