web 20 minions leaving money on the table for the rest of us

I’m here at BarCamp having a great time. They’ve done a great job organizing this event and Amit and his crew have obviously learned a great deal from the last one and really implemented some great changes.

There’s probably about 200 people here. The good news for those of you who read this blog is that I can report that most of the smartest people in our industry are distracted by Web 2.0 and especially social networking. There’s an incredible focus on solving already solved problems of social networking.

Part of me feels sad by this because there’s so many great problems these folks could be solving. On the other hand, they’re leaving all the really great problems to the rest of us to solve (and profit from)! Yeah!

helpspot 15 preview

I know there are lots of you out there waiting for 1.5 to come out so with it now just around the corner I thought it would be a good time for a preview. The images below show off some of the new features which are easily captured via a screenshot. There are at least a hundred other bug fixes and behind the scenes features which have been added. Please ignore the testing data in the images below, these images were taken from a testing server and are full of silly data!


Forums now have spellchecking and the ability to insert your predefined responses and knowledge book links into a forum post.


The unread column gets a huge new advancement. You’ll see above the arrows which now indicate if a message has been replied to. So you can see if you have read a request and in addition if anyone has responded. This column can also be included in filters so you can see if any staff members have replied to a request at a glance.


The public/private selector for notes has been retooled to more obviously be a selection. Also a new option has been added for emailing external notes. This allows you to email someone outside HelpSpot who is not the customer. This is useful for emailing related vendors and such. Their replies will be included in the history thread, but not be public.


The options for external notes.


Prepared responses get improved scrolling for long lists along with the ability to create groups of prepared responses.


The request filter interface has been completely redone. It’s now much cleaner and simpler to understand. In addition, you can now run your filter instantly. This is very handy for when you have a one time need and you don’t really want to permanently save the filter.


The order of columns is now selectable via the new drag and drop interface.


Dozens of new filtering options are now available, including better text searching as shown below. There are literally millions of possible filter permutations now available for filtering your requests.


Search around and within text fields.


Instantly running filters shows you the results immediately. By default about 30 rows are shown, but you can override that to show the complete result set.


Finally a quick shot of a few of the thousands of spam messages which the new portal anti-spam features will help capture. Spam is listed out with a simple select all option to help mass deletion. In addition, you can tell the system to automatically delete messages over a certain probability which you define.

back to 0

As the end of the month approaches I’m reminded yet again that the start of a new month is about to begin. This is always a sad time for me because my primary success marker is my monthly sales goal. So the beginning of the month means I’m back to $0 again and need to work my way up.

Of course it’s fun to work your way up, well at least when it starts fast. More often then not though the first 15 days are very slow and the majority of the sales come in the back half. This phenomenon leads to a stressful start and gleeful finish. I’ve been very careful though to always put the last month behind me so I always have a new goal to shoot for.

It’s kind of funny because my wife hates the stressful start of the month. Because I often know when big sales are coming in (because of working closely with the customer beforehand) she often roots for the sale to come in after the 1st while I prefer it to come in the existing month since I prefer chasing new monthly highs. It’s all the same in the end, but it’s a fun game nevertheless.

hawkins monday questons

Christopher Hawkins had some good questions in his “Monday Consulting Questions” segment this week. My 2 cents:

Q2: I’ve actually been wondering a bit about this myself in terms of how fast is common to return to your “day job” levels. Personally with 1 month to go until the 1 year anniversary of the release of HelpSpot I’m at about a 50% increase. Certainly way ahead of the goals I set out with. As a side note, that extra $ is going to enable some interesting developments in the coming months, stay tuned!

Q3: I agree, there’s little business reason to spend endless hours becoming proficient in a new technology. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep track of what’s going on, just that you don’t need to spend months learning them until there’s a business reason to do so. At least from the perspective of a business owner.

question 3 chrisc

Part of a series of responses to questions posed in the “have any questions for me” post.

Q: ChrisC

“Oh man, where to begin? grin

I’d love to hear more about your development environment. I’m not sure why but I’m always fascinated to learn how others are doing things.

Have you ever “run out of steam” midway into a project, e.g. lost interest, decided the project idea wouldn’t ever be successful, etc. If so, how do you deal with it?

That’s probably enough for a start.”


My primary development environment is a dual G5 mac with 4gb or ram and assorted other goodies including raid drives. I also have a windows machine with VMWare’s excellent server for testing various Windows setups (ick).

As for software I use BBEdit and I’ve been playing with Textmate as well. OmniOutliner for product planning. Subversion for source control. That’s pretty much it. I spend 98% of my day in a browser or text editor.

As for running out of steam I definetly have. I’d say I started about 5 products before HelpSpot. I ran out of steam on all of them. The reason I ran out of steam was that I didn’t understand the markets I was going into. So half way through the development I got scared and wasn’t sure if it was worth continuing. Being better informed about the help desk market is really what kept me from bailing and also allowed me to commit even more to development than I otherwise would have, such as leaving my day job, selling my car to help fund that and so on.

An interesting note is that of the 5 businesses (approx) that I abandoned only 1 had a real chance at success. It was a blog server back before blogging truly took off. It allowed the hosting of unlimited blogs from one codebase and was designed for schools, hosting companies, etc. Actually I still think this is a bit of an under-served market, but I wouldn’t want to jump in that game now.

question 2 lee

Part of a series of responses to questions posed in the “have any questions for me” post.

Q: Lee

OK, here’s a good question. Say you’re a programmer with a particular idea – what are the most effective ways that you know of to research and evaluate the market before you jump in? Both qualitatively and quantitatively?


Hmm, I’m trying to think back to everything I did getting ready for HelpSpot. First off I think it’s different for each market. Some have lots of data all over the place whereas others are a bit harder to find. In many ways I think that can be your first clue. If it’s very easy to find lots of good data on your prospective market then it may not be a great market for a small software shop. If that many people are spending time aggregating data about your market there’s a reason and it probably means lots of strong players.

As far as evaluating I like to find high dollar value markets that have lots of competition, but which are highly fragmented. Lots of competitors allow you to use their marketing dollars to create general awareness of the need for your product. That’s really expensive general advertising type stuff. Once they’ve created demand you can focus your limited budget and time on pulling in those leads they created.

Another thing I like to look for is who exactly the competition is. Personally I prefer to go up against relatively large companies and open source projects. What I don’t want to see in a space is lots of small ISV’s like me. The reason is that I rely pretty heavily on grassroots type marketing. The big guys have no idea how to do that and open source projects don’t really market at all, though they do get press which feeds back into creating general knowledge about the market and creates more customers for me to capture. If the market has lots of smaller ISV’s there’s likely to be a lot more noise in the grassroots streams you’ll want to use and it will make it harder for you to get noticed. For example, trying to create a hosted project management app (like Basecamp), a bug tracking application (like FogBugz), or a blog search engine (like Technorati) is going to be much more difficult because many of the grassroots channels are clogged up with talk of these other products already.

As a programmer one place I think you should never go to evaluate your product ideas is a programmers forum. Many programmers seem to think those are good places to ask about their product ideas, I completely disagree. Not for anything you’re truly serious about anyway. The problem is that programmers like to shoot from the hip on those type of questions. So you’ve got this really well thought out product idea and then you post about it and 20 people come in and say it’s junk in the first 5 minutes. I’ve seen many people get dissuaded by this, but the truth is those 20 people have no vision of your product, haven’t thought about the market at all and generally are trying to stir up conversation as much as anything else.

Otherwise I don’t have have much formal advice. I didn’t do loads of computational analysis. It was much more driven by feel. Searching around, reading everything, and as I found areas that felt right that felt approachable I followed those paths. You definitely can’t rush it. It takes months of research to really know the market and have a strong feel for where you fit in. I do suggest though that you go after an existing market that already has many millions or even small billions of dollars in sales. That gives you a nice big pond to work in. Trying to invent a new market or edge out a piece of a tiny one really lowers your chance of success IMHO.

question 1 kris

Response 1 in a series of responses to questions posed in the “have any questions for me” post.

Q: Kris

You mentioned a while back about a product idea you had kicking around outside of HelpSpot. Any news on this front?


I’m sorry to say there’s been no progress, in fact I’d say I’ve moved backward. There’s just too much to do in and around HelpSpot right now to even think about a new venture. I have made one decision about any future products which I hope to stick to though. I’ve decided that I’d like my next product to be ultra simple. Something that truly only does one thing.

Not “one” thing like run your help desk. I’m talking about truly one function with maybe a few supporting screens and that’s it. Perhaps it’s because HS has so many moving parts, but the idea of selling an ultra simple solution to some problem really appeals to me.

One page websites have been in vogue lately, I wonder if one page apps would be an interesting idea. Kind of like a useless Web 2.0 AJAX homepage site but instead it’s an app that actually does something useful in the B2B arena.