Tag Archives: review

Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer’s Guide To Launching a Startup

I recently read ‘Start small, stay small: A developer’s guide to launching a startup’ by Rob Walling. The preface states:

“This book is aimed at developers who want to launch their startup with no outside funding. It’s for companies started by real developers solving real pain points using desktop, web and mobile applications.”

Many of you are probably already familiar with Rob’s work, including: a blog, a podcast and the micropreneur academy. Rob’s approach has been to develop a portfolio of niche websites as a solo founder (for example ApprenticeLinemanJobs.com), funding it with his own capital and outsourcing work where appropriate. The intention being to have a business that produces a decent income, but allows the founder a flexible lifestyle. He uses the portmanteau ‘micropreneur’ to refer to this approach. It is not a term I care for, with its awkward shunting together of Greek and French. But I guess it is no worse than ‘microISV’. He develops on these themes in the book, with a particular emphasis on the early phases (as implied by the title).

The chapter headings are:

  1. The chasm between developer and entrepreneur
  2. Why niches are the name of the game
  3. Your product
  4. Bulding a killer sales website
  5. Startup marketing
  6. Virtual assistants and outsourcing
  7. Grow it or start over

As with Rob’s blog and podcast, there is plenty of insight and actionable information based on real experience. Some of the writing is taken straight from the blog, but I believe most of it is new. There are links to useful online tools, some of which I hadn’t come across before. It even includes some of that rarest of commodities – real data. He also dispells a few myths – for example: that creating a software product is a quick and easy way to riches and that Facebook and Twitter are all the marketing you need.

The book is particularly strong on market research – a subject I haven’t seen covered much in the context of small software companies. He includes a step-by-step methodology for measuring market size. It also covers other useful subjects such as: pricing, choosing web vs desktop vs mobile vs plug-in, website design, SEO, mailing lists and buying and selling websites. The paper version of the book is 202 pages long. There isn’t a lot of unecessary waffling or padding, so you are getting a fair amount of information for your money. An index might have been useful. Perhaps for the next edition?

While the book will have most benefit for those first starting out, I think even experienced software entrepreneurs will probably find some of it useful. The book is available in paper, electronic and audio formats from $19 at www.startupbook.net. Given its niche market, I think this is good value.

Full disclosure: I recieved a free (paper) copy of the book from the author.

TrialPay results

trialpayTrialPay is an interesting idea. In basic terms:

  • merchants (e.g. microISVs like me) want to sell products, such as software
  • customers want to get a product without paying for it
  • advertisers (such as Netflix and Gap) want to sell their goods

TrialPay brings the 3 together by letting the customer get the merchant’s product for ‘free’ by buying something from the advertiser. The advertiser then pays the merchant, with TrialPay taking a cut. The merchant gets paid, even though the customer might not have been prepared to pay the price of their product. The customer gets your product ‘free’ by buying something else, which they might have wanted anyway. The advertiser gets a new customer. TrialPay get some commission. Everyone is happy. I decided to give it a try and signed up in October last year.

get_it_free

I decided not to mention the TrialPay offer on my main payment page. I could visualise eager potential buyers of my table plan software, credit card in hand, being distracted by the TrialPay ‘Get it free’ logo. Off they would wander to the TrialPay pages and become so engrossed/confused/distracted by the offers there, they would forget all about my product. Sale lost. Instead I modified my Inno setup Windows installer to pop up the following dialog when someone uninstalls the free trial without ever adding a licence key:

trialpay_uninstall

If they click ‘No’ the software uninstalls. If they click ‘Yes’ they are taken to the PerfectTablePlan TrialPay page. I hoped that this would entice some of those who had decided not to part with $29.95 to ‘buy’ PerfectTablePlan anyway through TrialPay.

TrialPay allows you to set the mimum payout to any level you like. You can also vary the payout by customer country (e.g. less for poorer countres). The lower the minimum payout you set, the more advertisers deals are available to customers (and presumably the higher the chance of a conversion).

The Minimum Acceptable Payout (or MAP) is the lowest amount you are willing to accept per transaction and determines which advertiser offers are available to your customers. The lower the minimum, the more offers that will appear for your product and the more likely a user is to find an offer that compels him to complete his transaction. While you may set a low MAP, your average payout will greatly exceed the minimums you set. (from the TrialPay website)

It quickly became apparent that very few advertisers offer deals that pay the $29.95 I charge for my product (possibly none, in some countries).

trialpay map

I set a minimum payout of $25 in rich countries and $20 in poorer ones. After a few weeks with no TrialPay conversion I reduced the mimum payout to $20 in rich countries and $15 in poorer ones. TrialPay suggested that a $2 minimum payout was optimal in Africa and Central America if I was accepting $20 in the USA. $2? I don’t think so. That doesn’t even cover the cost of answering a support email. Especially if they aren’t a native English speaker.

I also gave the TrialPay option a mention in my PerfectTablePlan newsletter. Most of the recipients already have licences, but I hoped that that they might forward it to friends and colleagues.

The results to date have not been encouraging. Lots of people have gone to the PerfectTablePlan TrialPay page (approximately 1 for every 10 downloads), but the conversion rate has been dismal. The total number of TrialPay sales since I signed up over 7 months ago is two, for a total of $43.60. That certainly isn’t worth the time it took me to sign up, modify the installer and test the ecommerce integration with e-junkie. I am not sure why the conversion rate was so poor:

  • The TrialPay landing page isn’t compelling enough?
  • The advertiser offers aren’t attractive enough?
  • The concept of TrialPay is too complicated?
  • People are suspicious of ‘free’?

TrialPay’s poster child LavaSoft claim an impressive  5,000 additional sales per month through TrialPay. At $26.95 per licence this is an additional $1.6 million per year. But the numbers look a bit less impressive on closer inspection. 5,000 additional sales/month from 10 million visitors/month is only an extra +0.05% conversion rate[1]. And TrialPay probably didn’t pay out the $26.95 per licence Lavasoft normally charge. It is also noticeable that TrialPay only seems to get a mention on the download page of their free product, not the products they charge for.

Obviously the only way to know for sure whether TrialPay will work for you, is to try it. Your results might be very different from mine. If you do still want to try TrialPay, you can find out some details of how to integrate it here [2].

[1]I am being a little unfair here, as the quoted 10 million visitors probably aren’t just for Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware product.

[2]Note there is a bug in some older versions of Inno setup which means you can’t continue with the uninstall if they click “No” when you display a dialog, as shown above. So, if you are using Inno setup (which I recommend highly), make sure you are using v5.2.3 or later.

Getting website feedback with Kampyle

kampyleGetting good feedback from customers and prospective customers is essential to any business. I think I already do quite a good job of getting feedback from paying customers. But what about visitors who click around my site for a few minutes and then leave, never to return? I would love to know why they didn’t buy. This sort of feedback is much harder to come by, so I was interested to read about Kampyle in the article 14 free tools that reveal why people abandon your website.

Kampyle adds a clickable image to a designated corner of your webpage. If a user clicks on this image they are shown a simple (and customisable) feedback form. Any feedback is collected by Kampyle and presented through a dashboard on their website. All you have to do is register, customise your feedback form and add some javascript inside the <head> and <body> tags of each page. Best of all, the service is free. You can see it in action on Kampyle’s own website.

kampyle1

Click the floating image in the bottom-right corner to show the feeback form

kampyle2

Leave feedback

You can also have Kampyle pop-up a survey question for a given percentage of users as they leave your site. I find such surveys annoying and never fill them in, so I haven’t felt inclined to try this yet.

Kampyle sounds great. Users have a simple way to supply feedback which doesn’t distract them from my key goal (buying my software). Sadly, very few visitors actually supplied feedback through Kampyle. I ran it for a month on some of the highest traffic pages on my Perfect Table Plan site and got a grand total of 4 comments from 3 visitors. Only two of these comments had any really useful feedback and both were from a single paying customer who probably would have emailed support anyway. I don’t feel the feedback justified the ‘cost’, in terms of the potential distraction of visitors and another potential failure mode for my website. Consequently I am now only running Kampyle on a couple of peripheral pages. Maybe the results would be better for different types of site. It only takes 10 minutes of so to set up, so it might be worth a try.

Blog Blazers : 40 top bloggers share their secrets

blog-blazers

I have just finished reading “Blog Blazers, 40 top bloggers share their secrets to creating a high-profile, high-traffic and high-profit blog” the new book by the indefatigable Stephane Grenier of followsteph.com.

The bloggers interviewed are a diverse group, blogging on everything from personal finance to fashion. It also includes interviews with a number of software-related bloggers: Jeff Atwood, Ian  Landsman, Patrick McKenzie, Dharmesh Shah[sic], Eric Sink, Rob Walling, Bob Walsh and yours truly. Stephane also interviews himself, which must have been a strange experience.

Each of the interviewees was asked a standard list of questions. Some of the questions are more interesting than others. For example the question “What makes a blog successful according to you” resulted in 40 minor variations on “It depends”. But there is a wealth of useful information for bloggers, beginner or veteran. It will take me a long time to work my way through the many links and digest it all. I might even end up buying The elements of style by Strunk and White, which is recommended several times.

Stephane has done a great job of pulling together interviews from such a wide range of bloggers, including A-list blogging celebrities such as Seth Godin. I was very flattered to be included. At $16.95 I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who writes a blog, or is thinking of writing a blog. You can buy the book and/or ebook online from blogblazers.com. The book is also available from amazon.com.

As an interviewee I received some free copies and I am giving away two of them. If you would like one, please add your email address in a comment below. I suggest you obfuscate it to avoid spam-bot harvesting e.g. me [at] domain.com . I will pick two at random on Friday 21st Nov.

How to generate traffic to your website

Fellow software entrepreneur and blogger Stephane Grenier sent me a review copy of his “How to generate traffic for your website” ebook a while back. I have finally had time to read it. It is an introduction to marketing your website, covering a wide range of topics, including: SEO, Google Adwords, social news sites, blogging, directories and PR.

On the whole I think it is a very good introduction to marketing websites. At 136 pages there is plenty of ‘meat’ and a good balance between depth and breadth of coverage. Steph illustrates many of the topics with his own real-world experience with landlordmax.com .

There is less there for experienced marketers, but I still picked up some useful tips and there were links to resources I hadn’t come across before. I found his illustration of optimising a Google ad particularly interesting. But I disagree with his recommendation to allow Google Adwords to optimise which ads are shown most. The problem with this is that Google may choose to show ads which are making lots of money for them, but not much for you (e.g. high clickthrough, low conversion). I prefer to show all ads equally and then kill off the under-performers myself.

I have a couple of quibbles:

  • Some of the writing isn’t as polished as the prose in Steph’s blog and there were a fair number of typos. I have pointed some of them out to the author, so they should hopefully be fixed in the next version. Also some of the screen captures looked a bit mangled. But this may be due to the vagaries of PDF formatting.
  • I am not keen on the use of undisclosed affiliate links in a paid-for ebook. Affiliate links call the impartiality of the author into question. Is he sending me to this site because it is a useful resource, or just for the commission? I feel that any affiliate links should at least be clearly marked as such. But this is a grey area and that is just my opinion.

You can read the first chapter for free here and purchase a copy here.

Full disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy.