revenue update

It’s been a while since the last time I posted some UserScape sales charts so I thought it would be a good time to bring everyone up to speed. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to put them together, but a few posts by other ISV’s lately got me motivated to get on top of it.

The charts pretty much speak for themselves. The trend has continued upward at a very nice pace. This month is by far our best ever. I don’t have hard evidence as to why, but I think it’s a combination of a few things. The first relates to my previous post about adding the hosted trials and the installer. The other piece is a few adjustments I’ve made to HelpSpot over the past few releases to address common installation and usability problems.

Transactions and trials have also moved up steadily along with the average dollars per transaction.



Trial Sign Ups:


Ben just posted an interview he did with me on his Startup Spark blog. Ben did a nice job with it and I especially enjoy how he sets it up for his readers, provides a summary and does a nice job with the formatting. Thanks Ben!

bringing helpspot to the masses

One of the problems with HelpSpot has always been that it has a pretty big list of requirements. You need a web server, PHP, a database, Zend Optimizer all installed and running smooth. Granted there are a lot of organizations out there that have this all setup and ready to go. It’s not a very unusual setup, just a pain if you don’t have it.

A bigger problem is if you’re a help desk manager and you have no power over IT. You can’t tell them to install these things just to try some software. Even if you know your company has this software all setup it’s often …. unpleasant …. to deal with IT, especially for trial software which you may not even purchase.

I was OK with these limitations in the early versions of HelpSpot. In fact I thought they were a benefit in some ways in that it kept out people who weren’t ready to get dirty with a new software product. Now though, HelpSpot has matured. It still has a long way to go, but it’s definitely ready to reach out to less technical customers. Part of doing so it making it easier to try HelpSpot. With that goal in mind I’ve kicked off a couple of new programs in the past few months which have really helped out a great deal.

The first initiative was the creation of a Windows installer for HelpSpot. The installer will install Apache, MySQL, Zend, HelpSpot, create your database, setup automated tasks and get you ready to roll in just a few clicks. It will also hook into IIS and MS SQL if you prefer that over Apache. It’s not perfect yet, but for the most part it works very well. The great folks over at BitRock put the installer together and did some custom work just for HelpSpot to add the IIS/SQL Server hooks. If you’re looking for an installer for your application I definitely recommend you check them out.

The installer is great, but still requires server access. What about the poor help desk manager who wants to know the product he wants to purchase before approaching IT? Well for him there is now a hosted trial option. When you sign up for a trial you can request that it be hosted on UserScape servers. Nothing to setup or install. You get an access email and you’re off and running with your trial.

In the one month hosted trials have been available they’ve been a huge hit. There’s already been about $7,000 in sales directly attributable to the hosted trial option. In fact, it’s so popular that I’ve just ordered a big beefy Dell server to take over for the old and small server I rented from my colo facility.

I have to say that I highly recommend providing a hosted trial option if you sell a (downloadable) web based software product. I also want to emphasize that this is nothing like a “demo” that’s open to everyone and is a big mess. Each hosted trial is custom for just that company and gives them a fresh clean installation with their own email account and is fully configurable.

One of the things I’m enjoying most is that since implementing this I’m doing a lot less installation support. Rather than folks trying to get something installed which they don’t have the time, ability, or inclination to do they’re using the hosted option. This is great and means less support for me and a better experience for them.


In an unrelated note, if you’re in the market for a new server you should head over to Dell in the next week or so. They’re running a bunch of specials. I received 2gb of free memory, faster drives, a free RAID controller, and since my server cost more than $4000 when I put it in the cart they gave me $1000 off instantly! It’s practically free.

new help desk competitor

Looks like Ben will be starting a niche competitor to HelpSpot aimed at the Active Directory community. Ben has been a HelpSpot customer from very early on, it should be interesting to see what he comes up with here. Of course creating help desk software is probably one of the top things I see MicroISV’s with an IT background blog about making just after bug trackers so we’ll see if he makes it to completion. I’m wishing him luck (seriously)!

eric on boundries

Eric Sink has another one of his very insightful articles up. Basically about how all of “us” believe the little world we read and participate in every day is all there is and we’re so so wrong. I was actually thinking about this same issue the other day as I realized I commonly recommend people to products I’ve never even used based on this little web ring we’ve created. It’s like a little bizarro world and it’s remarkable hard to break out of.

I always notice this when I find a new blog. It seems like so much work now to start reading a new one. I have the ones I’m comfortable with, the ones who all link to each other and share a sort of common understanding. Starting to read a new blog just feels like so much work because I don’t know their world, when they link to Bob do they always link to Bob? Is Bob someone I should be reading? Can I understand this blog without delving into Bob’s? I usually end up just leaving the blog because I don’t feel I have the time to devote to a new one.

I guess by linking to Eric now I’m only digging myself deeper in eh?

netflix offers downloads who cares

Netflix attempts to fight BlockBusters Total Access with online downloads. Unfortunately this is not going to help them one bit. Nobody but the largest dorks are interested in watching movies on their computers. Hooking your computer up to a TV is also a non-starter. No ones computers are next to the TV, nobody wants to crawl behind the TV and hook them together (nor do they know how). Sure this is the future at some point, but the future isn’t now.

Once the cable companies put this in the set top boxes in a complete manner (not the bogus integration and offerings they have now) then it will work. I still think they’d be much better off bolstering their DVD offerings and somehow making them more appealing than BlockBuster.

help desk software bug tracking software crm oh my

I saw the post by Dharmesh in the BOS forums and thought I’d throw my 2 cents in. I generally try not to pitch in threads that specifically ask about HelpSpot so I’ll leave my 2 cents over here.

The basic gist of Dharmesh’s post was what he should do in terms of bug tracking software vs help desk software. Could he use the bug tracker (FogBugz in this case) as a help desk tool, should he use HelpSpot (or similar) as a bug tracker, or does he really need both. For purposes of the discussion here I’ll also expand the conversation to CRM as well since that normally enters these types of discussions.

My personal opinion is that about 80% of software companies and 99% of other companies need all 3 to be separate applications. So you should have a bug tracker, a help desk tool, and a CRM solution all relatively independent.

My main reasoning behind this is that these applications normally serve separate staff within an organization. Even in a small organization the programmers have their own needs separate from your customer service people, separate from your sales group. While having all 3 applications mashed together sounds like it should be more efficient it really isn’t. Your sales team will hate seeing “bugs”, your programmers don’t care about the last time you mailed a customer a holiday card, customer service also doesn’t care about bugs or this years sale conversion rates and so on.

Sure you’ll always have some people who overlap and for those few people it may be useful to have these apps together, most of the time that’s not the case. And by having them all together you’re getting a very bloated UI for everyone involved. Even in a dedicated piece of software the average user is only using 20% of it. When you mash these 3 apps together the average use is now probably only using 5%. That means the 95% they’re not using is simply in the way.

My other issue is that most systems which try and do everything end up doing nothing well. I’d rather have a top of the line help desk, bug tracker and CRM as opposed to a half ass do everything application.

Now specifically on the help desk front, my experience has been that using a bug tracker doesn’t work well if you have dedicated support personal or if the people doing support are not the programmers. I’ve sold many HelpSpot licenses to groups moving away from this very model. That said, you can get by using just a bug tracker if your programmers are your support team. In that scenario the added convenience of one application can be helpful. If you’re not planning on having a customer service portal and you’re really only dealing with email then this can work.

Personally I don’t do this and actually use separate apps for each, but that’s my preference. I simply feel it makes my life much easier to do so. Also using HelpSpots Live Lookup API I can integrate with my home grown CRM and pull in all the data I need. I could also integrate with my bug tracker if that was required, but I currently don’t.

mini site marketing experiment update

I thought I’d update everyone on the progress of my mini site experiment. You may recall that back on October 4th I launched a mini site called Open Source Help Desk List. It’s a singe page site that lists the primary open source help desk solutions, while also containing a small pitch for HelpSpot. So far I’m happy to report that it seems to be a success. The site has sent hundreds, perhaps thousands of new users to various open source help desk packages. At the same time over the past 3 months the site has generated just under $7,000 in sales for HelpSpot. Not too shabby for a days work. I expect both numbers to increase as more links to the site show up and it’s search engine indexing improves.

I think this could be a new type of collaboration for commercial and open source project to undertake. More exposure for their work while also providing an opportunity to offer commercial alternatives to people who may be interested without building a spam filled, adsense supported page. I’d also note that the feedback I’ve received from several of the open source projects has been universally positive, which I’m very happy about.