Commercial Product Development

There are many pitfalls to commercial software development. But that's not a reason to go for it anyway. I have read a number of tips from people who created failures in the commercial software world. I am one of them. Let's see what they have to say.

Launch early. Be warned that some software has a long sales cycle. Make sure your product has killer features that the competition does not have. Make sure you need the product yourself. Temper that with the fact that just because you need something, everyone else will not necessarily need it too.

Make sure you learn during the development process. That way even if you fail, you come out smarter and it is not a total waste. Conduct your marketing research up front before you sink unrecoverable costs in development. Be careful of sharing equity with other partners who may not put in as much into the start up. Also beware of potentially high software support costs.

You should try to save up money then go full time into product development. Make sure your market is not too small. A niche is ok, but too small of a niche is death. Talk with actual people during your research. Get feedback from your users early on. Make sure you have enough domain knowledge for the market you are selling to. Consider integration with other software to expand usefulness of your product. Good luck to all.

Marketing to Big Business

There are many pros and cons to selling your software to big business. One benefit is that your price can be higher. The volume might also be higher, making the final price even better. However this comes with some trouble as well.

Companies have lawyers. Legal needs to sign off before some big purchases can be made. You will need a software license agreement. Purchase one of these for a few grand. Best to do it upfront.

Give quotes that last for 60 days. Companies will cut you a purchase order and expect you to ship the software. The game is not over yet. You still need to collect. Luckily the purchase order is legally binding. It will just take a while for you to get your money.

Get to know the payment procedure for each of your big company customers. It will make your payments come quicker. Know this. Companies don't like to pay via PayPal. Make it easy for them to pay you by whatever means necessary, except for Monopoly money.

Snapfish Sucks

Some time ago I signed up for an account with Snapfish. They are a web site which does photo prints for you. I think somebody referred me there and I got free prints and shipping. I tried the thing out and it actually worked.

Later I returned to the site to do some more free prints. Turns out my free prints disappeared. That sucked. But I needed some prints so I paid for them anyway. It was still convenient. However I was a bit disappointed that my free prints went away without warning.

It has been some time since I used the service. I played some online game and got to choose a reward. One of the prizes was free prints from Snapfish. Great. I already have an account with them. I spend a bunch of time uploading my prints to them. I go to check out and use my free prints. Bam. My code does not work. All I get is an "oops" error message. WTF? The web site continues to find new ways of disappointing me.

Top Students

What predicts whether somebody will become a top student or not? You might think it is how smart they are. But researchers from the University of Pennsylvania discovered otherwise. It is not a person's IQ that accurately predicts how well a student they will become. It is their self discipline.

That sounds like a nice discovery. You want to believe that with a lot of hard work, anybody can rise to the top. It is not fair that some people are smarter than others. This is not something you can control. But you can have grit and will yourself into a better student.

Here is what strong self discipline will improve: standard test scores, quality of schools accepted into, number of school absences, amount of time spent on homework, and amount of time spent watching TV. Not only will self discipline improve these things, it will itself gauge how well you will improve in each of these areas.

Not many of the tired old excuses apply to success in school. Don't blame large class sizes. Don't blame books that are not interesting. And don't blame the teacher. You have the ability to improve your self discipline with some hard work. It will pay off in the end. Academic research backs this up.

Fast Turn Around

We live in a three story house. Now that summertime is approaching, the top level is starting to get really hot. The real shame is that my central air conditioning runs all the time running up the electric bill. However that just makes the basement cold. Time to buy a solution to this problem.

I tried going to the local Home Depot to pick up some window air conditioning units. Their stock was pathetic. Well at least I tried to buy from the local guy. Next I went online to shop at Amazon. They had every window air conditioning unit ever made ready to ship. There were even tons of user reviews that helped me stay away from the duds.

Amazon got me to buy a bunch of them. It helped that shipping was free. Later that night I got messages from Amazon stating that the units had shipped already. The next day, the first unit had arrived at my house. You can't beat this service. Free shipping that is very speedy. They exceed their estimated delivery time by a week or two. You can bet that I am going back to Amazon for all my big dollar hardware needs. Epic win Amazon.

Sex Sale

I got an email pitch the other day. "Stacy" wanted me to write about a software product on my blog. She also wanted a link to the product web site. In exchange, I would receive a free license to the software.

LOL. This is weak on so many levels. First off, the software looks more like some spyware. And I think my integrity is worth a little more than a free license. The part I love is that "Stacy" was trying to get the referral.

I don't think there is any such Stacy. It was a nice try though. At least the email pitch did not have any spelling errors. Still I was a little taken aback by the request.

I sometimes write about software. But that only happens when I am really interested in buying some software. And I don't take kindly to bribes to write about software. Yeah I might write about this particular software. However it won't be a positive review.

Price Escalation

I have heard an outcry from Zendesk customers. This is an online Help Desk software offering. It is released in a software as a service arrangement. Recently they have decided to redo their pricing plans.

Personally I have never heard of Zendesk before. Now I hear about them from customers that are complaining loudly. From what I gather, the average cost for each customer is either going to double or triple.

This company needs to do some PR damage control. If they do not think they can afford to not gouge their customers, they at least need to come up with a better explanation for the raping. The real kicker is that some people chose Zendesk based on their price advantage. Ooops. Bad show Zendesk.

Sense of Community

I read a chapter in a book about creating a successful startup. The book was published last year so I hope the info is relevant. Your company needs to belong to the community for it to thrive. To manage this you need a dedicated community manager.

The community manager will essentially keep tabs on what people are saying about your company and/or your product.

Blogging is key to a startup. It works. You must provide value in your blog. It cannot be blatant marketing. You also need to be on Twitter. These things might sounds fundamental. However I am guilty of not using Twitter to socialize my business.

Finally you need to do some PR. This can be done through bloggers and reporters. Get to know these people. Get to the point with your PR releases. And if you have the cash, hire a PR agency. That's all for now.

Anonymous Accusation

I read a rant from the makers of the Friendly Rank web site. They have a function where you can upload your pictures to the site. Then it asks people to rank which picture looks best. The site then let's you know what your best picture is. The idea is that you can use your best picture as your profile picture.

Friendly Rank allegedly tried to license the technology to the OkCupid dating site. However they were turned down. Now OkCupid has released their MyBestFace function. Guess what that does? It let's you upload pictures, has people vote on the best ones, and let's you know the results.

Now this may in fact be a case of OkCupied ripping off somebody else's ideas. If so, Friendly Rank should take them to court. Hopefully they have a patent on the technology. However the thing that seemed suspicious to me was that the Friendly Rank web page that complains about OkCupid ripping then off is signed "Shannon B".

LOL. Who is Shannon B? And why is she not posting her last name, company title, and contact information. It is almost like she is hiding behind the omitted last name. If you have a valid complaint, let people know who you are, and stand behind it. Your complaint loses all its power when you try to lodge it anonymously.

Software Mentality

I just read a rant about the right way to think of software. You got to make your customer king. Your software has no value other than making the customer happy.

Help your customer get a job done. Software should assist in getting the job done fast. Or it should make them happy. Users do not care about your software. Optimally it should be invisible to them.

Don't make your users learn how to use your software. Make the use transparent. Then you will get happy customers. Happy customers means you make money. Win win.

Great Deals

I saw an unusual offer for a bundle of older computer games this week. They were offering 6 games. You were allowed to pay anything you want for the games. You could further decide where you payment gets applied (e..g. to charity, to the original developers, etc). This seemed like a great deal.

Then I thought about this for a while. Would I actually play these old games? Probably not. So even for a low cost, they would not be a great deal. I was in the minority. A lot of people decided to buy the game pack. They mostly paid between $5 and $10 for the pack. The total revenue from this promotion was over a million dollars.

The deal was only valid for one week. The week is up. Now I am glad I did not buy the game pack. Turns out they are open sourcing the code for all the games. Now I can get them for free. I even get the source code. Nothing beats free. Free is much different than low cost. I bet this was the plan all along. I would have felt ripped off if I bought the games and they became open source the next day.

Nothing is Free

I was reading this blog today. The author had a technical argument with another guy. He really worked hard to defend his position in his post. What caught my eye was an advertisement on the side of his blog. The ad said that I could get technical books for free.

This is when I clicked the ad. At the very least, the blog author was going to make some cash from my click. The landing page for the ad emphasized that I could win free books, and that shipping was free too. For a second I contemplated signing up to be able to claim my chance at free books. Then I came to my senses.

Why would somebody be giving away books for free? Technical books are expensive. There has to be a catch. I don't need to even look further to find out what the catch is. There is always a catch. These guys are not in the business of losing money by purchasing free books for me. I will give them credit. They had me going for a second. However they could not close the deal.

Apps That Matter

How do you create an app that people like? It is all too tempting to create an app that is just a big ad. Customers will see right through that. You need to be more subtle. Functionality is king here. Make something useful.

You got to give in order to get. And in this case, the community wants you to do a lot of giving before they trust you. This is a difficult line to walk. Here is an idea. Put a video up on YouTube showing how to use your app. Personally I think it would be good to hire a booth babe to star in the video. But that's just me.

Before you run out and code your app, make sure you have a purpose. Write it down. That way you have a concrete goal. And it will show in the app you churn out. Good stuff. Now go and write that useful app. If you build it, they will come.