help desk talk redux

So a few years ago I tried to launch a forum/community website around the help desk/customer service world. It was a complete failure. It’s unfortunate because there was some early traction, but I couldn’t devote the time or money to maintain it and it was overrun by spammers so I ended up taking it down.

Over the past few months I’ve thought of bringing it back and after asking around a bit I’ve decided to do so. I still don’t have much time, but HelpSpot is in a much more established position than it was then, so is the business and so is my ability to bring on help if needed.

The thing that keeps bringing me back to this idea is that there’s simply nothing else like it out there. Help desk related forums are always buried deep within general IT sites where they don’t belong. The help desk organizations have forums, but those are usually buried below white papers and conference announcements. There simply has to be room for a forum dedicated just to help desk professionals.

So this will be my last, best attempt at it. As often is the case I’m really going to lean on the support system that’s been built up on this blog and elsewhere online. If you have a blog, a link would be insanely appreciated. If you work on a help desk, tell your co-workers. Little things make all the difference in this type of venture and your support is truly appreciated!

Visit Help Desk Talk

helpspot price nudge

A price nudge sounds better than an increase, no? I think so. In any event today I’m announcing a small price increase for HelpSpot. The short of it is that HelpSpot is moving from $179 a user to $199 a user as of August 31st. This is about an 11% increase.

Important to note is that the support costs remain unchanged. So it’s still $49 per user per year for ongoing support.

There are a number of factors that went into making this decision. As always I thought it’d be nice to share, so in no particular order here’s some of my thinking:

1 – In September it will be 3 years (Wow!) since the first HelpSpot beta launched. The final release was in late October. During the past three years HelpSpot’s price has remained unchanged, while our competitors continued to increase their prices. Currently HelpSpot is less than half the price of many major competitors and many times less than others.

That said, HelpSpot does have a unique place I think in this market. It’s very accessible price wise and I didn’t want to put it out of reach for smaller companies, departments, and non-profits.

2 – Probably my favorite pricing article is Product Pricing Primer by Eric Sink. One of my favorite lines is “In fact, if nobody is complaining about your price, then it is probably too low. The trick is to tune your pricing until the volume of the whining is just right.”. For the past year or so we pretty much get no feedback on the price being too high and a great deal of “Wow, you’re giving this away, I’d pay $350/user”. Now, I’m not going to jump to charging $350/user, but I think Eric has a great observation here and it’s been a big consideration as to the timing of the increase.

3 – As with most businesses increased growth leads to increased costs. So far I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping those costs down, but I think over the next year we’ll be taking on some new costs and this increase is going to help offset those.

4 – One thing I don’t want to lose is the perception of HelpSpot as a high quality product (which it is). A products price unfortunately does have an impact on that perception. As with most companies I’m trying to find the right balance and I certainly don’t want to fall down into the “cheap” bin. This one is a little more fuzzy I know, but it just felt like time to nudge up a bit.

5 – A price increase helps to bring our support cost percentage inline with customer expectations. Many customers like to see maintenance costs at 20-25% of the license costs. I personally find this a little unfortunate for us as most companies are buying only support for that percentage and are not receiving major versions as part of it. So they’re paying that and then paying more license fees when the next major release comes out, where that’s not the case with our plan. In any event, this will be one positive side effect of the increase.

That’s pretty much all the hard facts. So much of pricing is just feel, so this is my first chance in three years at testing my feel. Given how conservative the increase is I don’t think they’ll be much controversy, it’s probably going to come down to deciding if I’ve left too much on the table. My initial reaction was to go for something like $229, but I’m very hesitant to move over $200 especially given the economy.

Time will tell and I’ll try and report back towards the end of the year when I’ll know a bit about how it’s worked out. If you’re interested you can see the new pricing for the various packs here:

building an app in 30 days is stupid

All the rage the last year or so seems to be trying to build an application as fast as possible. The common length of time seems to be 30 days, but it sometimes goes down as low as 7 or even 5. While this may be an interesting idea as a publicity stunt for an established company or for a Google engineer using their 20% time it’s about the worst idea a would be MicroISV can take up. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to ensure failure in a software venture (a venture you hope to replace your full time job with).

I assume this has come about from the new mantra of release early and often. Those ideas may be good ones, but for a one man show putting an arbitrary limit on the development of your product is suicide.

Let’s address some of the obvious problems first. Software worth building is likely to take you more than 30 days! If it was that easy it’s more than likely already been done or will be copied in moments. A more pressing issue is that it trivializes the rest of your business, which as you know is 95% of having a successful business. So the developer kills themselves for a month to get out a product. Now what. No groundwork has been done to make the product a success. You have a product and have done no marketing, have no plan for support, and no back office tools for management of your ecommerce and application delivery. In short you have a product with no business.

Sure, it’s possible this 30 day app will be the one in a million that’s so spectacular that all those things are optional. Personally I prefer to work towards success rather than hope it finds me.

My biggest problem with the spread of this idea is that it leads the MicroISV down the wrong path. The path of the quick buck. But there’s no successful business down there, there’s no quitting your day job down that path. So when the 30 days are through and many of the most important features have been cut for time the developer is stuck at the end with a half an application and so much to do.

30 day apps are just the dork version of a grapefruit juice diet or buying foreclosed real estate with no money down. My advice to those tempted by it are to put that month to work on marketing, product idea research, business reading/research or just enjoying the summer 🙂