Sorry it’s been a bit quiet around here. I’ve been busy …..

Last Friday our first child was born, Tyler Richard Landsman. He’s 8lb 13oz and 21 inches long. What a cute little dude!

I’m already getting his hands on the keyboard and teaching him the HelpSpot internal API’s 🙂

a new product for userscape

So I’ve had this idea kicking around my head for a few months and I’ve finally started putting some ideas to paper (Omni Outliner actually). This one is a little bit bigger challenge in that it’s competition isn’t as clear cut as HelpSpot, but there are people looking for solutions to this problem. It will also be a self hosted web based app.

There’s no rush on this. I still have lots to do with HelpSpot before any actual work progresses on the new idea. I would expect it to be more than a year until serious work will begin on it, but I think it’s good to get things rolling early. I like to have time to ponder various aspects and make sure it’s the right market to enter.

Sorry to be so ambiguous, but I don’t want to put details out there until it’s a full GO. If it gets to that point you can be sure I’ll be posting about the idea and getting your feedback.

helpspot as a new feature for your product

An interesting post by Stephane, the founder of LandlordMax. He’s a new customer and his post details the new user manual he’s put online for his product. Of course the manual is powered by HelpSpot’s knowledge books. The interesting thing here is how HelpSpot is being leveraged beyond just customer service, but into a product differentiator for Stephane. The improved manual is a feature of LandlordMax and will help sell software.

I love when HelpSpot is used beyond just cost savings/organization into proactive revenue growth.

nextny follow up

Went over to the NextNY meetup yesterday. Not bad. A good turn out. I was hoping that the talk would focus on products, creating great products, marketing a new company, figuring out markets to enter, you know basically things someone starting out would need to know. Instead it focused entirely on VC funding and locations for your office. In fact only 5 minutes at the very end were left for actual Q&A from the crowd, though that was supposed to be the majority of the time.

I think the people running it have the right idea in mind, perhaps at the next event they’ll be a bit more focus and a few less invited speakers. Also one VC speaker is probably enough. At this event the majority were VC related and they tend to bicker amongst themselves.

Personally I think if you’re starting a business getting VC funding is the last thing you should worry about. If you can get customers and make sales you’ll be able to grow organically without worrying about all the overhead of a VC (excluding business which obviously need funding like hardware companies). I suppose it depends on your goals. Mine were to be my own boss and run a successful software company. If your goals are to be “famous” VC may be a better route. I’d rather be happy for along time then have a year of huge growth and back to the job market 6 months after that when the money runs out.

Just today there’s a great example of why getting caught up with lots of employees, VC’s, millions in bank loans and so on is not the way to go:
Bob Wyman – PubSub Death

I am looking forward to the next event though and continuing my participation in the community. It’s nice to have some tech momentum on the east coast.

nice markets for the potential isv

I’ve been asked to give my thoughts on the markets I’d be looking at if I was back in the planning stage of my ISV. This is truly the most important choice you’ll make in starting your business. Picking the wrong market will likely doom you no matter what you do. On the other end, the right market will at least give you an opportunity to succeed.

Below I’ve put together a list of a few markets I’d be looking at. These are not product ideas, simply markets where I think there’s an opportunity for a small ISV. Some are obvious and some are out there. I’m looking forward to your feedback.

1. Real Estate

Man I love the real estate market. There’s just loads of money in real estate. Better yet, the real estate industry is remarkably backwards. Most deals are still done face to face. Most contacts are still “who you know” Rolodex deals. I see a few opportunities here. While I’d love to see a good competitor to realtor.com that’s unrealistic for a small ISV.

What’s realistic is tools for real estate offices. Organizational tools, marketing management tools, customer contact tools. There’s lots of companies in these areas but none too big that I know of and also lots of unconquered agencies where they’re still not using computers as much as they should.

2. Celebrity Gossip

I love celebrity gossip. Again lots of money there. I don’t have a great angle on this, but I know there’s products in there someplace. Just look at night time TV. From 7-8pm on CBS and NBC it’s nothing but gossip. Look at the grocery checkouts, blogs like gawker.com, and daytime TV.

3. Project Management

There’s loads of PM tools out there, but honestly they’re almost all bad. That said I think the best bet here is a niche specific PM tools. Perhaps PM for ISV’s, PM for construction companies, whatever. Just something where you can customize the experience for that market and thereby have a better story to get your foot in the door.

4. Auto Service

I always wish my auto service providers had a nice website. Not just nice, but highly functional. Let me make my appointment online, get a loaner, get email reminders about my oil changes, histories of the work they’ve done. Independent auto service providers are having a tough time competing with bigco dealers. Great software could be a differentiator for them.

5. CRM

Sure there’s loads of these out there. Again though I think lots of room for improvement. Better yet lots of room for customization. What about a CRM tool that was nothing more than a framework for modules. You provide some core modules, but leave the API open and simple so that customers can truly have a custom application at a fraction of the price. Right now everyone is shoehorning their data into Sugar and Goldmine. A web based truly customizable solution would have a strong market. You could also sell modules for harder components.

6. Wedding Planning

What a great niche. Loads of opportunity here on both the B2B and B2C sides. Management tools for event halls, bride helpers, and my favorite … communication tools. In the weddings I’ve been involved in the biggest issue is communication amongst all the various parties. The families, the wedding parties, getting dates for bridal showers, bachelor/bachelorette parties, rehearsal dinners, who’s bringing what and to where on and on.

Wrap Up

Of course this list is by no means complete. There’s as many markets as there are problems. I’m looking forward to a bit of banter about these and your own ideas.

i love spam

The next version of HelpSpot will include a tier of protections for the portal to protect it from spam in both the forums and request submission page. I’ve been testing it out this week on the UserScape support portal which was getting loads of generic form spam. I’m happy to report that it works super fantastico! The spam protection has 3 layers.

  1. Link Counts
    Any submission/post that has more than X links in it is autoclassified as spam. This defaults to 4 links by default, but it can be adjusted as needed. This instantly filters out the huge link spams, even if they’re brand new and never used before.

  2. Timestamp Forms
    Each HTML form now includes 3 hidden fields. One with a timestamp, one with the IP the form was created for, and one with a secret hash of the two. When the form is submitted if the timestamp or IP is not original (checked via the hash) it’s marked as spam. If they are original then the form cannot be older than 2 hours or it’s marked as spam.

This works well because most form spam is done by crawling the site once for forms and then just submitting the same form over and over. Now those stored forms will be invalid after a few hours.

  1. Bayesian Filtering
    Finally each post is run through a new set of bayesian filters. These filters learn by manual deletions and also when spam caught in the above two methods is deleted.

Really just the Bayesian filter would be enough, but the above two help to keep spam from ever showing up at all. So if the spammers move over to a new set of words rather than having some spam show initially, the first two filter types help to keep them from ever being displayed.

I’m back to enjoying checking the forums. It’s great to see the little spam icon with the number of spams captured.

Now I just want them to keep spamming so the filters can get trained up well and I can check this feature off as real world tested.

Oh and if any customers are having trouble with spam drop me an email and I can send you a link to the beta build of 1.3.5 with the spam protection.

Update: I meant to mention, but forgot to that #2 was found on Keith Devens blog. I had been tinkering with something along the same lines, but his solution was simpler and had the added plus that he’d already verified it worked.

ok one more thing

I think a much stronger competitor to Excel than Google Spreadsheets is Dan Bricklin’s WikiCalc. First it’s buy the guy who basically invented the PC spreadsheet. That goes a long way in terms of street cred. Second, it’s open source and free. Normally I don’t think that’s a big advantage in software, but when you’re trying to dethrone a single monolithic company I think it can be. It makes it easy for people to try with no hassles of getting involved with Google’s sales team, needing a rack for a boxed server, etc (nobody likes dealing with IT trust me). Finally, it can be self hosted so there’s no worries about data security.

Sure it still has all the connectivity issues, but I think it’s got a lot better story than Google spreadsheets for the enterprise.

Props to Kevin for getting me thinking in this direction http://www.blueskyonmars.com/2006/06/09/socialtext-partners-with-dan-bricklin-on-wikicalc/

more on google spreadsheets

Kevin talks a bit more about the notion of a Google Office Box (GOB) which was first brought up by Mark Lubischer in the comments of the last post (I first heard it there, I’m sure Kevin came up with it on his own).

I think this idea has more plausibility, but I still don’t know if it’s a money maker for them. Here’s why:

  1. It still doesn’t address the primary issue which is training. Saving $50K a year doesn’t mean anything if you have to retrain 10,000 workers.

  2. It’s not a game changer. Spreadsheets/word processors have been around for some time. This is just a spreadsheet/word processor with less functionality.

  3. Google has never shown much prowess at providing customer service. Business users need LOTS of customer service. Many folks seem to underestimate the challenges of a B2C company going B2B.

  4. I still have my doubts about performance, especially with large complex spreadsheets.

  5. Microsoft still has tremendous leverage because of Windows. They can package deals of Windows/Office and Google has no counter.

  6. Will I have access to the GOB when I’m on a plane? in a train? on a bus? in the park?

  7. When people at other corporations send me complex Microsoft based documents which the GOB cannot correctly import since it lacks the equivalent features what will I do?

I’m not saying it’s impossible to pull off, but we need to see a lot more before thinking it even has a shot at success. It might also be helpful if they actually stand behind any product they do eventually release instead of hiding behind the beta label.