10 years a microISV

I have been running my own one-man software company for 10 years today. Coincidentally it is also my 49th birthday, so it is perhaps a good time for a bit of reflection.

I did a physics degree and then worked full-time as an employee for nearly 20 years. I developed systems in FORTRAN, C and then C++ for operational research, satellite image processing, printed circuit board design, environmental modelling and distributed systems. I learnt a lot and met some great people, but I yearned to strike out on my own.

I set up my own company in January 2005. I was a techie and had very little experience on the business, sales and marketing side of things. It was quite scary.

I released v1 of my table planner software PerfectTablePlan at the end of February 2005. It was very rough and ready, but I sold my first licence in less than 24 hours. PerfectTablePlan has exceeded all my expectations and is still selling well. I have sold over 40,000 licences with revenue well into 7 figures (£) to date.

I started this blog in April 2007. It has had over 2 million hits to date and has been helpful for promoting my consulting. But mostly I do it because I like writing, when I can find the time.

I started offering a consulting service in January 2008. I have provided consulting to lots of other software businesses, mostly 1 day engagements concentrating on marketing. That has been very interesting and has added some variety to my work. It has also been helpful to find out what works and doesn’t in other businesses.

I ran a weekend face-to-face training course for people wanting to start their own software business in November 2013 and March 2014 in the UK. The course is 460 slides + various exercises. I enjoyed doing it and the feedback was very positive. But it was hard work to get enough people in one place at one time to make it viable. I could do it online, but I think it would lose a lot of the interactivity that made it work so well. I would like to run it again in 2015. Email me if you’re interested.

I released v1 of my AdWords keyword tool Keyword Funnel in March 2014. This was a commercial quality re-implementation of various tools I had written to help myself run my long tail AdWords campaign for PerfectTablePlan. The plan was to produce v1 within a couple of months, part-time. But it ended up taking nearer to 6 months. Feedback became more patchy and ambivalent as I got closer to v1. But, having got that far, I decided to push it out anyway. It didn’t sell well, for various reasons which I might go into in a future post. I also decided I didn’t want to spend all day thinking about AdWords. So I stopped selling it and took the site down. But it seems a shame to have wasted that work, so I may resurrect it later this year as a free product.

I am just about to release v1 of my visual planning software Hyper Plan. I have worked on this part time since September 2014. I am very pleased with how it has turned out. But I have no idea how successful it will be (as was the case with PerfectTablePlan and Keyword Funnel). I think a lot of people could benefit from it, but it is in a crowded market. Watch this space.

I have attended various conferences for small software businesses and spoken at MicroConf (Europe), ESWC and SIC. It is always great to meet other people in the business.

I am a moderator and regular contributor on the Business of Software and bootstrapped.fm forums.

All sorts of strange and wonderful things have happened, including:

  • PerfectTablePlan has been used for some very famous organizations for some very famous events (which I sadly don’t have permission to mention). It has seated royalty, celebrities and heads of state.
  • PerfectTablePlan was used as part of a demonstration of the (controversial) first commercial quantum computer by D-Wave.
  • A mock-up of PerfectTablePlan, including icons I did myself, was used without my permission by Sony in their ‘Big day’ TV comedy series.
  • I got to grapple with some interesting problems, including the mathematics of large combinatorial problems and elliptical tables. Some of my customers are now seating 4,000 guests and 4000! (4000x3999x3998 .. x 1) is a mind-bogglingly huge number.
  • A well known wedding magazine ran a promotion with a valid licence key clearly visible in a photograph of a PerfectTablePlan CD. I worked through the night to release a new version of PerfectTablePlan that didn’t work with this key.
  • I found out that CDs are edible.
  • An early article I wrote for the blog generated 56k hits in a day and got me a mention in the Guardian newspaper.

I employed my wife as bookkeeper a few years back. But decided I didn’t want to take on any other employees. I outsource a few things that I can’t do, but I still do most things myself.

It has been hard work and a bit of a roller coaster ride. But overall, it has been great! I wonder what the next 10 years will bring?

See also:

Lifestyle programming

15 thoughts on “10 years a microISV

  1. mranalogy

    Have you ever considered a mix of Virtual and Live Workshop?

    I think the relative benefit of Attendees being in the same place is much greater than the instructor being in the same place. And the instructor can be the really expensive part (b/c their time is so limited).

    What about a workshop where there are several groups of attendees ( and one set of presentors? That would also allow you to bring in big name speakers b/c you don’t have to pay their travel time.)

    (Our local startup group brought in the Lean Startup author that way. Just skyped him in). I’m sure an hour of his time was a LOT less than a day of his time.

    1. Andy Brice Post author

      Sounds like a bit of a headache. I want to concentrate on teaching, not worry about whether the tech is working. Also I think having the instructor and the attendees in the same room gives a lot of benefits.

  2. Gad D Lord

    Congrats! I have been running a microISV (mtgstudio.com) since 2003 as well. For the last 5 years you have inspired me to keep pacing in the same Shareware desktop development direction in many times I was just on the edge of quiting. I myself made a 5 digit figure and have sold over 3400 licenses across 175 countries. I have happy customers. I was able to do 93 public versions. My software is used in over 15 000 cities in the world (even in a North Pole Meteorology Station).

    We need more people like you in the Shareware/Trialware/XXXWare industry to keep the new generation of developers motivated and believing that one can live a happy developer lifestyle without having to knee bosses, wake up at 06:00 in order to avoid the traffic traveling to the office, or spilling time over educating or mentoring colleagues which simply might not have what it takes to be in this industry.

    I would be very interested to reading a blog post from you in regards in how you find QT, what obstacles you overcome while using C++, how many times you considered switch to another language or framework, in general – a bit more on the technical side of your daily work and what do/do not do advices you have.

    Anyway, keep up the great work!

    1. Andy Brice Post author

      I don’t think I have any customers in the arctic, so you have one up on me there. ;0)

      I have started to write a post about Qt a few times, but never finished it. It is a big subject. Also there are lots of blogs about programming. I prefer to concentrate on other aspects of the software business.

  3. Mehdi

    I remember when you started blogging (and I was one of your early readers)
    Congratulations for your successes (and thanks for the inspirations to many younger techies, like me)

  4. analytics

    Congratulations Andy!

    P.S. Please don’t tell me that the Royal Family spent $29.95 and covered seating arrangement software licensing costs?

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