5 companies that can help your business

One of the key factors for any small ISV is to realize you can’t do everything yourself. I was crystal clear on that from the very beginning of UserScape since I knew what I wanted to accomplish was ambitious and that anything which took away from my time working on HelpSpot was a big negative. Over the past few years there’s been a few companies that have really helped my business prosper. I rave about these companies whenever I have the chance and thought it might be useful to name them all in one place.

So here’s 5 companies (in no particular order) that I strongly recommend you take a look at. They’ve been fantastic to me and without them UserScape would not be as successful as it is today.

1. MakaluMedia

While the entire MakaluMedia staff seems great, I mostly work with Art Director Mike Rohde. As long time readers will know I’ve been praising Mike’s work forever on this blog, since he created the UserScape and HelpSpot logo’s along with the first and second UserScape.com designs. He’s the best and a pleasure to work with. He’s got a few big projects he’s working on for me though so if you’re in need of a designer please wait a few months to contact him!

2. BitRock

I don’t know how these guys don’t get more press. BitRock is a fantastic company that makes installers for web based applications. So, say you sell a web based help desk software product…

And you want your customers to be able to install your product without worrying about if they have the right programming environment, database and all that. BitRock’s installers can install your product and it’s full environment. So it will take care of making sure they have PHP, MySQL, Rails, whatever you need the server to have for your product to run. All configured exactly as you like them.

I currently use their installer for HelpSpot’s Windows Server 2003 installer and I can’t possible rave about it enough. It’s literal saved me hundreds of hours of customer service and created tens of thousands of dollars in sales.

3. Engine Hosting

Ah, Engine Hosting. They literally came into UserScape’s life riding a white horse, here to save the day. Some readers may remember that a company called ValiantHosting used to provide hosting and maintenance plans for HelpSpot when we first launched. They were acquired and the new owners decided to no longer offer HelpSpot hosting. Since this was where I sent everyone who wanted a full service HelpSpot hosting solution this was a big problem!

Thankfully Leslie Camacho of EllisLab (see below) was able to hook me up with the wonderful crew over at Engine Hosting. They were able to immediately take over the full service hosting options for HelpSpot customers. Not only that, but they had a lot more to offer with emergency support, years of experience hosting database intensive PHP applications (they’re the official hosting provider for Expression Engine CMS), and a much larger staff than Valiant had.

These guys are absolutely the best. It’s been a pure pleasure working with them. If you need hosting or dedicated servers these are the guys to call.

4. FreshView

Finding an effective, efficient, affordable mechanism for communicating with your customers is trickier than you think. The team at Freshview have been critical in making that process a pleasure with their outstanding product, Campaign Monitor.

Campaign Monitor is an easy to use email newsletter system. I use it for all mass customer communication. The reporting is great, it’s flat out cheap, and the design is first rate. In addition, they really know their stuff when it comes to email. The emails get through spam filters properly and they even offer services to ensure your HTML emails will display properly across the full list of email clients.

5. EllisLab

Besides playing match maker, the team at EllisLab creates darn good software too. This blog is running their terrific Expression Engine CMS (EE). EE makes it easy to manage a series of blogs and perhaps more importantly full websites. I haven’t had a chance yet to port the UserScape site to EE, but I hope to in the future (during my copious free time!).

Beyond EE, EllisLab is also the creators of Code Igniter a PHP framework that I use for all the back end systems at UserScape. My only regret is that they didn’t release Code Igniter a few years ago so I could have used it in HelpSpot itself. It’s far and away the best PHP framework, staying out of your way and making it easy to get things done.

apple iphone interface for helpspot

A special UI for the Apple iPhone is now available for HelpSpot. You can check out the details and screenshots here:


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I created this new UI primarily to scratch my own itch. I love the iPhone and while HelpSpot’s main UI works on mobile Safari and the mobile HelpSpot interface also works I really wanted a true iPhone experience. I also wanted to avoid the complexity of the full HelpSpot UI when normally while replying on an iPhone I really only need to do a public update to a customer or perhaps reassign a request.

The new UI isn’t part of the basic HelpSpot installation, it’s an add on that needs to be installed separately (by installation I basically mean uploading a few files). It uses the HelpSpot web service API to communicate with HelpSpot.

There’s a few reasons for this. First, I’m not sure there’s a big business need for an iPhone specific UI for all HelpSpot customers. Second, I’ve been wanting to do a more in depth example use of the new web services API. Creating this UI with the HelpSpot web service API allowed me to kill two birds with one stone.

This UI isn’t perfect. The code isn’t perfect, it was done in my limited spare time, but I do think it’s a useful example and a powerful tool for iPhone addicts like myself.

I’m looking forward to getting feedback from HelpSpot users on this. So if you’re a HelpSpot user and have an iPhone please give it a go and let me know how you like it.

helpspot iphone ui

A special user interface for the Apple iPhone is now available for HelpSpot. This new interface is a free, optional add-on. It’s implemented using the new HelpSpot API so it’s also an example implementation of the API in addition to being a useful tool for Apple iPhone users.

For more information and screenshots please see the implementation guide linked below:


making open source easy to install

My friends over at BitRock have put together an interesting site that makes it easy to get your favorite open source applications installed in minutes. I have to say I’ve tried unsuccessfully to install about half the software they’ve got packaged up and am looking forward to having an easy way to try these apps out.


belated three year blogiversary

I caught Keith’s post today on his blogs third anniversary and it made me realize that last October was my 3rd year anniversary. I actually had to go back and look to be sure it was 3 years because it didn’t seem possible that it’s been that long. It’s wild that I blogged for an entire year before HelpSpot was even launched.

Here’s hoping the new three are as good as the first three!

chamber of commerce

What’s the modern day chamber of commerce? I’ve almost joined my local chamber a dozen times, but there’s just nothing there for me. I want to be part of the local business community, but they simply don’t provide services I find valuable. They’re not designed for a web based business. They’re not designed for a company that’s never sold a product in it’s own area code (that’s right, never one sale in 845). Bank financing, no thanks. Pitches from the local paper and discounts on ads …. uh no.

I suppose the various shareware associations are along the right lines, but I’ve been a member of those before and don’t find them to be that great either. I think there’s an opportunity in there somewhere, but I can’t put my finger on it.

helpspot has great customers

One of the keys to the success of HelpSpot is the fantastic customer base the product has. I think having great customers is really something most entrepreneurs don’t consider, but they should. You have more control over your customer base than you might think. Having great customers makes your life so much easier. Great customers provide insight into how a product is used and how to make it better. Great customers become your sales force and your marketing team.

What’s got me on this rant is a really nice post by long time HelpSpot customer Stephane Grenier. It’s a perfect example of how great customers can help spread the word on your business. Not to mention it’s just flat out cool when a customer takes this kind of time to discuss your product.

HelpSpot a Great Customer Service System

installable software

Interesting post by 37sigs about why they don’t want to sell installable software. Pretty much it’s standard saas reasoning. Obviously I don’t think they need to sell installable software to be successful.

One thing I strongly disagree with them on though is their last point. The ability to offer instant updates is always touted by saas providers, but there is never any discussion of the significant down side of this. Namely that you’re throwing all your users into a new system randomly at the time of “your” choosing not the time of “their” choosing. So when you release a new update with UI changes, it’s just different one day when you login. As a business this idea is not very appealing to me, especially if I have less technical users who I would prefer to train or at least brief on the impending update.