I have put together a page of categorised links to blog posts and articles that I think might be useful to developers and marketers of commercial software in general, and microISVs/indie developers in particular. I intend to add more links from time-to-time. My rules for inclusion are secret, arbitrary and capricious, so please don’t ask to have your link added.
Tag Archives: microISV
Marketing for microISVS
Below are the video and slides of the “Marketing for microISVS – embracing the ‘dark side’?” talk I gave at ESWC 2009 in Berlin. This is a high-speed ramble through a vast subject. In the 45 minutes available I do my best to dispel some of the myths software developers have about marketing and discuss some marketing concepts, including: branding; positioning; pricing; and segmentation. Taking in Harley Davidsons, tinned tomatoes, Coca Cola and food blenders on the way. The first couple of minutes, where I dispel the myth that good software sells itself without marketing, are missing from the video due to a dead camera battery. But you knew that anyway, so I don’t think this detracts much overall.
Slides (which might not make much sense without the video):
NB/ When I said 47Signals, I meant 37Signals (brand inflation?). Thanks to Tarek for the correction.
Links to some of the things mentioned in the talk:
- Brief reviews of all the books mentioned (plus a few others)
- Bob Walsh’s ‘microISV sites that sell!’ e-book
- Neil Davidson’s ‘Don’t Just Roll The Dice – A Usefully Short Guide to Software Pricing’ e-book (PDF)
- Brandz ‘Top 100 brand ranking 2008’ (PDF)
- Will it blend?
- Headset hotties
- Alwin Hoogerdijk’s blog
- Eric Sink’s blog
A big thank you to Alwin and Sytske of collectorz.com for hot-footing it from Alwin’s talk to do the video (you can see Alwin’s excellent talk on web app pros and cons here). And also to David and Panagiota for all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes organizing ESWC.
If you found this talk useful you might also like 10 mistakes microISVS make.
microISV reading list
I have added a microISV reading list page to this blog. Please feel free to add your own comments to the page on the books listed or any other books you feel are relevant.
Bob Walsh has finally broken cover on his latest project and announced StartupToDo.com, an online community/web app for fledgling microISVs and web start-ups.
Starting a software business is a daunting prospect – you have a vast number of tasks to perform and decisions to make with limited time and resources. StartupToDo aims to speed up that process by providing a range of community requested/rated guides, community feedback on your website, a progress tracker, focussed discussion groups and more. Bob has put a huge amount of work into this and I wish him every success with it. A subscription is just $15 per month, if you pay annually.
The Web Startup Success Guide
Bob Walsh has followed up his excellent MicroISV: From Vision to Reality book with The Web Startup Success Guide. While the first book is aimed squarely at at developers of desktop software, the second is aimed more at web-based start-ups. I have to confess, I haven’t had time to read my review copy of the accompanying e-book yet (I’m moving house, moving office and putting out a major new software release). But I see from the contents it includes chapters on:
- the idea
- choosing a platforms
- fund raising
- social media
- getting the message across
And interviews with
- Dharmesh Shah
- Eric Sink
- Joel Spolsky
- Pamela Slim
- Guy Kawasaki
- …and others
If it is anything like as good as Bob’s MicroISV book, it will be worth a read by anyone doing (or thinking of doing) a web-based start-up. It is currently $19.79 on Amazon.com. You can also buy the e-book from Apress. Here are some reviews from people that have actually read it:
Where I program
whereiwrite.org is a photographic project showing science fiction writers and their offices. I started wondering what the offices of other microISVs and small software companies look like. Were they Zen temples of minimalism, with just a desk, a chair and a laptop? Or were they mad scientist labs, piled to the ceiling with obsolete equipment and empty pizza boxes? I rather hoped it was the latter, so I wouldn’t feel so bad about my own cluttered little office. I asked for photos of offices on some forums frequented by independent developers. I got a great response. Click the images to see larger versions.
This is my own cluttered office. The image comprises 6 photos stitched together using Autostitch to simulate an ultra wide angle lens. This makes it look bigger than it is. My unexciting view of suburban Britain is enlivened by regular sightings of Red Kites. I resisted the temptation to tidy up, beyond emptying the overflowing wastepaper bin. The garage is full of envelopes and CDs and there are lots of programming book’s in my son’s room. We are in the process of selling the house, partly so we can buy a house with a bigger office. I like the idea of a treehouse office – one where I pull up the ladder when I need some peace and quiet.
“In my office, I kind of try to separate the digital and analog worlds. Some days I’ll be coloring with my kids at the oval, English partners-desk in the center and helping with homework, but most days I’m doing software development to the right. I love it here in the Pacific Northwest; if I’m awake early enough I can catch a beautiful sunrise over the lake right outside my office, and even go for a swim by afternoon in the summertime if it gets too hot.”
Steve Murch, www.bigoven.com
“This is my temporary office while on the road. I use the TV as a monitor for the second computer (Windows 7). The normal monitor can be switched between either computer. I sometimes miss the third monitor, lazerjet printer and other stuff but not often.”
A roving microISV, who doesn’t want his customer to know he (temporarily) has no fixed abode
“Living in Hong Kong, where residential and office space is so scarce and expensive, I work in a small corner of my small apartment. However, I have everything I need: my trusty two years old MacBook Pro, a not too comfortable chair, and a couch where I can take as many naps as I want. Oh, and a nice view of the mountains outside!”
Cesar Tardaguila, www.bambooapps.com
“This is me at my desk at the Collectorz.com HQ. As you can see, I am a Nintendo gamer, vodka drinker and Porsche fan. Now I must say that this not a real ‘where I program’ pic, because I don’t do a lot of programming any more. Check the 2nd pic for my developer team.”
Alwin Hoogerdijk, www.collectorz.com
“I *hate* having clutter on my desk. You’ll notice that I didn’t show the rest of the office. It’s pretty messy! I started with two monitors several years ago and then moved straight to 4. I can’t live without at least 3 and the 4th makes a nice place to stash IM windows while I’m working. My music computer is on the left side (yes, it’s a Mac!), and I’m not sure that it isn’t the most important computer I own since I could never work without music playing.”
Mitchell Vincent, www.ksoftware.net
“As you can see the office is as crammed as possible, and the distractions are pretty obvious — the wine is waiting for its place in the cellar, and there is a bottle of whiskey on the shelf. Oh, and there are two Commodores C-128 behind the desk (invisible on the photo, they worked the last time I checked) along with 1081 monitor and a Playstation or two. And yes, there is a guitar behind the chair. The bad news is that the plans for the new house are ready and the next office will be four times as big! Regarding the workplace as such — I have two 19′ monitors and a computer box under the desk. I spent a lot of time making it silent, which really improves work comfort, especially during quiet night shifts.”
Piotr Kuzora, www.powerkaraoke.com
“This is my home office, in the city center of Vitoria-Gasteiz. Nowadays I spend as much time, if not more, at the J1CK office, my other entrepreneurial project, but this office is great for ViEmu and Codekana work: a lot of light, and the irreplaceable Dell 2408WFP in vertical position. The chair and the table are from Ikea, nothing fancy there.”
Jon Beltran de Heredia, www.viemu.com and www.codekana.com
(who can apparently control his own opacity)
“This is in my office looking out on the larger office area. Our office is in a modern, purpose built office complex just outside the beautiful historic Saxon hilltop town of Shaftesbury in rural Dorset.”
Marcus Tettmar, www.mjtnet.com
(under monitors – where obsolete technical references go to die)
“My home office is a large basement, it has windows and good light, but it’s very cold. I am a very messy person, it’s full of books, boxes, old computers and even toys my kids left there. Luckily, it doesn’t show in the photo but my dog left some bones under my desk in the morning!!”
Javier Rojas Goñi, www.tekblues.com
“Melbourne city skyscrapers in the background – I’m 26 floors up. I should have done this yesterday when the sun was shining.”
Tony Bryer, www.greentram.com
“There is one thing that is missing in the photo. That is my two year old daughter. She likes to sit on the table and pull out the books from the rack. Unsurprisingly, her favorite is ‘MicroISV From Vision to Reality’ by Bob Walsh. Somehow she enjoys tearing papers off from the book while her father is busy coding.”
“I recently cleaned up my office so I took these photos… but my office is slowly returning to the big mess that it usually is. I need to do a tidy-up before things get out of hand again. I really like my Vornado 542B that’s clipped to a bookcase and set to blow air on me! Really cools me off. I have it on a remote control so I can easily turn it on and off from my desk. I am near Dallas, Texas.“
Albert Wiersch, www.htmlvalidator.com
“This is one of the offices at Gurock Software here at the Technology Park in Paderborn, Germany (that’s Tobias in the picture). When we originally looked for office space, we wanted bright rooms with enough space to accommodate large desks and small reading corners. Getting our new office space (and 3×24″ monitors ) was easily the best investment we’ve made productivity-wise.”
Dennis & Tobias Gurock, www.gurock.com
Tim Haughton, www.homedocumentmanager.com
“This space suits us perfectly. It fits everyone very comfortably. It’s very, very bright, with lots of natural sunlight. The outdoor patio is perfect for morning group breakfasts and afternoon lunches when it’s warm. And … there’s a great pub downstairs to celebrate the days when we ship a new software product or a major update release.”
Andrey Butov, www.antair.com
“My office is a mess because I’m a very passionate person. I love my work and when I’m not doing that, I’m out doing something else I really love. I have no love of cleaning and organizing though. In fact, 99.9% of the time I prefer chaos. The other .1%, I purge my mess and the cycle starts again. I know this isn’t a good system, but for now it works.”
Ian Drake, www.notifywire.com
“My office is never really very messy… sorry.”
Ian Landsman, www.helpspot.com
“Here’s where a real code monkey works.”
Dan Hite, www.spellquizzer.com
“I work with specialized hardware for my software and there’s a school bell and a siren/strobe light flashing on the desk. On the far right side of the desk, I have a couple of IP phones and an IP speaker. I want some additional monitors. The two I have are a 23″ and a 24″, both at 1920×1200. I also use a second room as an office in my house and have another PC and a Mac. Below is the view from the window. The trail behind the house connects into a 300 acre park and there are usually mountain bikers and hikers on the trail on the weekends.”
Danny Weidig, www.acrovista.com
“Mine’s a bit messy. I stare out the window to distract me from it.”
Doug, who doesn’t want his blue chip clients to know he works from a messy home office
“The 16th fairway of the golf course is just through the trees. The group of 3 trees on the left is actually one tree and it is a magnificently old (opinions vary from 100 to 600 years) Moonah Tree. Below is an Echnida which waddled past on Monday.“
Neville Franks, www.surfulater.com
Not had enough yet?:
Scott Hanselmann’s home office
I am not sure which is more diverse, the offices or the software that gets written in them. Thank you to everyone that contributed.
Have you got a bigger, smaller, untidier or more stylish office than any of the above? Do you have a better view out of the window? Add a link to your photo in the comments.
Ten mistakes microISVs make
Here is a video of the “Ten mistakes microISVs make” talk I gave at the Software Industry Conference 2009 in Boston. Total duration: 27 minutes.
The slides aren’t terribly easy to read, due to the resizing and compression of the video. But you can also download the paper and slides:
A big thank you to Alwin and Sytske of collectorz.com for doing the video. You can read Alwin’s excellent software marketing blog at alwinhoogerdijk.com.
Feel free to embed this video, as long as you include a credit and a link back to this blog.
How many of these mistakes have you made? How many are you still making?
MicroISV blog aggregator planetmiscroisv.com has died, for reasons unknown (Floyd, if you are reading this, I hope you are OK). Glenn Rice of backupbrain.com.au has kindly filled the gap with new aggregator microisvcentral.com. Thanks Glenn! Hopefully he will be able to fix the problem that is causing posts from this blog to not be displayed properly.
Interviewed on the Startup Success Podcast
I was recently interviewed by Bob Walsh and Patrick Foley for The Startup Success Podcast, episode 25. We cover a wide ange of topics including: microISVs, conversion ratios, being specific, PerfectTablePlan, usability, the global recession, software award scams, ‘works with vista’ certification, stackoverflow.com and twitter. I wonder how much I have to pay them to edit out the ‘ums’?
Tips on travelling with a laptop
I recently returned from a month’s holiday in New Zealand. As a one-man software company I still have to check my email every day, even on holiday. Here are a few tips from my experiences of running my business from a laptop whilst travelling.
In theory you can run your business from a Blackberry or a mobile phone that supports email. But it is impossible to answer some support emails if you can’t run your own software. So I took a Toshiba laptop PC with a 13 inch screen with me. I find a 13 inch screen is a good compromise between portability and ease of use. Much bigger and it would have been too bulky. Much smaller and I would have struggled with the screen and keyboard.
The laptop contained my licence key generator and customer database. I owe it to my business and my customers to keep these secure and the Windows password is no protection at all if someone gains physical access to your machine. So anything sensitive was encrypted using the free Truecrypt software. Whenever I brought the laptop out of hibernation or restarted it I just had to type the password to mount the Truecrypt volume as a virtual drive.
I took a combination laptop lock, but I rarely used it. The problem with laptop locks is that the only things strong enough to secure your laptop to are usually in plain view, and a laptop left in plain view is a bit of an invitation. Locked or not. I am also not convinced how strong the laptop security slot is. I suspect an attempted theft would wreck the laptop, even if it wasn’t successful. So I generally prefer to keep the laptop with me or hide it somewhere a crook wouldn’t think to look. I have since found out that laptop locks aren’t even very secure (see here and here). There are still occasions when a laptop lock is better than nothing though. Incidentally, don’t rely on that padlock on your hold baggage either.
The laptop was also invaluable for playing Thomas the Tank Engine DVDs (using Windows Media Player) to keep my little one occupied for part of the very long flights and for backing up photos from the digital camera. I also took a universal power adapter.
I have a traditional Targus laptop bag with a shoulder strap. But I have found this uncomfortable for carrying a laptop any distance due to the uneven distribution of weight. It also makes it extremely obvious that you have a laptop. A fact I would rather not advertise.
For this trip I purchased a Swissgear Hudson laptop rucksack from Swiss Army knife manufacturer Wenger. It was much more comfortable to wear with the weight distributed across both shoulders and left both hands free for dealing with passports, boarding passes and a bored two year old. It was small enough to take on to an aircraft as hand luggage, but surprisingly spacious. It also had some useful extras, including: a carry handle, a breathable back and a compartment for an MP3 player. I was impressed with the quality of the construction and finish. My only quibble is that there wasn’t as much padding around the top and bottom of the laptop as I might have liked. So I wrapped my laptop in bubblewrap for additional protection. But on the whole I would recommend this bag highly for travelling.
As well a backup on DVD I also took a 2 Gig USB memory stick that contained everything I would need should my laptop malfunction or be stolen. This included copies of my licence key generator, customer database and various passwords. All the sensitive files were encrypted using the free Axxcrypt software, except my passwords which were encrypted using the free Keepass software. The memory stick also stored various third party software installers (including Axxcrypt and Keepass). I kept the memory stick on a lanyard around my neck when I wasn’t sleeping.
I also stored an additional encrypted back-up on a secure server.
Trying to find holiday accommodation that was the right size and budget, in the right location and free at the right time was problematic. Insisting on broadband Internet as well was a step too far. I also wasn’t keen on relying on broadband at accommodation. What if it didn’t work? Relying on Internet cafes seemed an even worse idea. What if I couldn’t find one? And the security issues of using Internet cafes are very real. So I needed my own mobile Internet access.
The roaming charges for using my UK three networks mobile Internet in New Zealand are an outrageous £6/MB. Vodaphone has more sensible roaming charges for some plans, but I couldn’t justify the high monthly price for the occasional trip abroad. So I tried to find a company that would rent me mobile data access in New Zealand for a month, without success. In the end my brother-in-law very kindly sorted me out with a USB mobile modem and a 1GB/mo data plan with Telecom New Zealand. He picked the modem up cheap second-hand on trademe.co.nz and the data plan was of the order of $70NZD/mo, with no minimum term. So, rather than paying >£1000, I ended up paying about £50 (thanks Derek!). There is definitely a business opportunity for someone there.
I am glad I didn’t rely on broadband at the accommodation. It turns out that most of the New Zealand ISPs have restricted SMTP access to prevent spam. So I could receive email via IMAP when plugged in to an xtra.co.nz broadband cable, but I couldn’t connect to their SMTP server to send email. Thankfully I didn’t have this problem with the mobile broadband or I would have been stuck with webmail for a month (the horror!).
Mobile coverage is patchy outside the bigger cities in the South Island of New Zealand, due to the low population density (sheep can’t afford broadband). But I was able to get some sort of signal everywhere we stayed. This might have been helped by the aerial attached to the mobile modem. During the month a I used approximately 40% of the 1GB allowance. I could have used quite a lot less, if necessary.
Stopping over in Singapore I just purchased wifi access from the hotel. It was quite expensive, but I didn’t need it for long. Wifi and hardwired Internet access are available for free in Singapore airport (I couldn’t get the wifi to work, so I just plugged in a network cable).
Running an Internet-based business while travelling isn’t that difficult, with a bit of planning. I doubt my customers even realised I was on holiday. What are you waiting for?
PS/ New Zealand is lovely.
 Truecrypt can also encrypt the whole OS, but that seemed excessive for my requirements and I wasn’t sure what impact it would have on performance.
 If Truecrypt is so easy to set-up and use, why is it apparently beyond the capabilites of the UK government to encrypt sensitive data?
Photo of Airbus A380 by Claire Brice