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bringing helpspot to the masses

January 25, 2007

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.

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