how to compete when all you do is solve problems

Scoble has an interesting post today. In many ways I think it sums up or represents some of the frustration I’ve felt working in the tech software world. Getting publicity, links, mentions, any type of reasonable attention when all your product does is solve real world problems is very hard, bordering on impossible. There’s simple no market any longer for reporting on hard working, profitable companies.

I’ve thought about this a lot and I don’t have a really good solution for how to bring the conversation back to our side. Short of building in features or even entire products devoted to just getting attention (and not solving real problems) I’m not sure what to do. My current thinking though is to try and ride it out. This environment can’t last forever, hopefully when it changes companies that have kept having good results and making real customers happy will be popular again.

On the up side, the impending downturn in 09 could help shake some of this up as there will likely be less ego companies around which should be good news for the rest of us.

blog blazers book giveaway

HelpSpot customer and fellow MicroISV Stephane Grenier just released his work of love, Blog Blazers. The book is a series of interviews Stephane conducted with 40 popular bloggers. I’m honored to be one of the bloggers, though there’s a lot more talented bloggers than myself in the book including the likes of Seth Godin, Eric Sink, Jeff Atwood, etc.

One of the keys to my success if not the primary key has been this blog. While I don’t write as much as I used to, the early years of UserScape and it’s success were almost completely dependent on this blog and the traffic it generated. Without this blog I’d almost certainly be working “For the Man”, filed away in some cubical farm.

While blogs are no longer “new” as they were when I started, I still think they’re a key component to any startups business, especially a MicroISV. Now, one problem with blogs is that it’s often hard to find concise advice on how to blog well. Even just figuring out where to start looking for advice is difficult. Sure there’s lots of “how to blog” links in Google, but few get into the subtle details that make a truly successful blogger. Blog Blazers does just that. If you’re starting out in blogging or want to grow your blogging presence this book is where to start.

Now, Stephane has been kind enough to offer my readers an amazing opportunity. He’s given me 10 copies of Blog Blazers to give away free on this here blog. I’ve thought a lot about how I might give these away. I don’t want to do anything cheesy nor do I have time for a very complicated give away. So here’s what I’ve decided:

To receive a free copy of Blog Blazers be one of the first 10 people to agree to write up a complete review of Blog Blazers on their own blog. That’s it. This is on the honor system. If you’re not going to write up a review about it then please don’t ask for a copy and let someone else have it. You must have a blog to be eligible.

If you’re ready to commit to doing a review then just do the following:

  • Post a comment below stating you’d like to review Blog Blazers and include your blog URL
  • Include your real email in the email field

I’ll email the 10 people to get their address information and ship off the books, probably next week.

If you have a blog and think your readers might be interested in this giveaway please link them over.


Update: We’re at 10. Thanks everyone!

are you hiring ive got your man

My friend Kevin Dangoor recently lost his position at a technology company in Michigan. He’s looking for new opportunities that can make use of both his project management and development skills. If you’re in the Python community you might already know Kevin from the popular TurboGears framework he created. If you or someone you know is hiring please look him up. You can get more details on his background and his contact information here:

another way your product may benefit in a downturn

Nightly news is mostly doom and gloom these days, but it doesn’t have to be this way for some of us ISV’s. If you’ve been smart (lucky?) enough to position your product mid market these could turn out to be boom times for you.

Fear and/or true financial need is almost certainly going to affect business and consumer software spending. However, there are some bits of software that companies (and to a lesser extent consumers) can’t or won’t do without. If you sell a product like that you may have just hit the lottery. Your product is now “right priced”, “the cost effect solution”.

This is not about being cheapest. In fact I think the cheapest software could be hurt. Junk is junk. However, many people purchasing software are going to take a closer look at mid tier when they may have previously only been interested in premium.

why now is a great time to start a software company

Is a depression a good time to start a software business? Of course I hope things in the financial system don’t get to that level, but even if things stabilize it’s obvious that there’s going to be a serious financial impact for some time.

As I’ve been thinking about this it’s struck me that this could be a great time to start a business, especially a MicroISV or small partnership. Here’s why:

1. The large or medium software companies are likely to feel an impact from the downturn. They have the most money out in advertising, payroll, etc. Some may not make it at all, others will certainly be cutting back to try to limit expenses. They’re likely to cut in places MicroISV’s can excel such as customer service.

2. #1 gives you a chance to get into an existing strong niche where the other competitors may have their guard down and generally be more focused on staying in business than providing great service and products. However, the niche itself still has the upside of these companies prior advertising and marketing. So customers are out there still needing this service which is the type of need that MicroISV’s can never create on their own.

3. Yes, customers will still need software. We’ll, certain types of software anyway. I wouldn’t go near consumer software with a 10 foot pole. Businesses, however, still need to run. And if anything they’ll be looking to run more efficiently than ever. If you can create a product that saves companies money you should be OK.

4. A small ISV can run on almost no money. Basically just the salary of the founder and a few bucks for hosting and computers. You probably only need to make 50-100K to do alright which is all you need to do in your first year. Meanwhile the competition must make many times that number to turn a profit and they’ll be distracted while they’re trying to do it. Perhaps a few competitors even disappear making it even easier to pick up market share.

5. Getting in at the bottom is often how you make the most money. Warren Buffet knows that, it’s why he’s buying up all these great companies. Getting in at the bottom means you can do things even cheaper than you’d expect. Server companies are discounting heavy to get sales, ad space will get cheaper, it may be cheaper to find high quality full time and part time employees or contractors if needed.

None of this means you still don’t need a great plan and a good idea for a product. All those things I’ve discussed before still apply, but if you’re on the sidelines and have some savings, it could be a good time to jump in.

lunch time walk over the mid hudson bridge

It’s a perfect day here today so we decided to take a little walk and enjoy it before Fall sets in. In the year we’ve lived in this house we’ve never walked over the Mid Hudson Bridge which is just down the street. Our Favorite Italian Deli is just the other side of the bridge so we figured it’d be a good day to take a walk over. Here’s a few pics (click for a large version):

This is the Poughkeepsie Rail Bridge (no longer active). It actually passes next to our house inland.

Poughkeepsie, NY

Me and the Boy

The best deli in town, Rossi’s

Down river

It’s a long way down

I like this picture a lot

cocoa framework for the helpspot api

Over the last few weeks I’ve been working with one of our customers, Audiofile Engineering, on a Cocoa framework for the HS API. This takes all the heavy lifting out of building a Mac based application for HelpSpot or for adding support for HelpSpot to your existing Mac application. Audiofile has done an
amazing job
(click unparalleled support) integrating their applications to their HelpSpot installation via the API. This new framework should allow others to do that as well as to come up with some interesting desktop apps and tools for HelpSpot.

We’re putting the finishing touches on v1 of the framework, if you’re interested in working with it please let me know and I can get you a copy of it when it’s ready. I’d like to get a few people kicking the tires a bit before releasing it to the general public.

A PHP library is also in the works, more on that when it’s a bit closer. It’s under development by CaseySoftware.