Marketing Action Plans for Blazing Your Own Path

Paraphrasing the first item, the heads of large media companies can’t tell what audiences want. So they produce all this content and then try marketing gimmicks and special effects to ram it down your throat.

Here’s the kicker:

They’re stuck having to guess what creative properties will attract that audience. If you can attract your own audience, you’ve beaten the system.

The point for entrepreneurs is not to follow the examples of the big guys, trying to sell another spreadsheet or social networking site, but to sell your own story. Then you won’t need to use pricing, or coupons or marketing gimmicks to win customers.

The last link to Mark’s site I plan to post for a while is a pointer to some really good specific marketing ideas from a guy named Scott Kirsner. Boiling it down, the principles behind his action plans are develop for niche markets and be part of the community you’re marketing to (and market to the community you’re part of).

Product Activation is Neither Cure Nor Disease

There’s a flurry of activity on the macsb mailing list regarding product activation for software as a result of this post. It seems the purchaser of an RSS reader was denied the ability to re-install the program on his computer because he had done so too many times.

Product activation is one technique some software publishers use to reduce the theft of their products. Other techniques have been hardware-based, such as the dongle, and software-based, such as serial numbers, entering data from the printed documentation, etc.

And the problem, insofar as Charles Miller relates, is when legitimate users are penalized because the publisher or his server is afraid one legally purchased copy of the product has become thousands of stolen copies. It is always at the discretion of a businessman to decide what person he would like to do business with. It is also at the discretion of a person to decide what type of company will get his business. Some things you accept as a cost of the relationship, be they qualities of the software, customer support or payments.

A software publisher must decide a multitude of issues that relate to his customers: the features in his software, technical support, sales and distribution channels and how to combat product tampering and theft.

Anti-theft measures, such as serial numbers and product activation, generally operate by disabling functionality unless proof of ownership is demonstrated. For an RSS reader, which requires Internet access to begin with, it’s reasonable for the program to require validation with the publisher’s database of purchasers. However, it’s also reasonable for a purchaser to be able to re-install the software on at least the same machine as often as his needs dictate.

Now, given the choices between entering a serial number and your email address to activate a program, it seems to me to be easier to remember your email address. But then it’s also easier for a thief to guess at as well. And figuring out who holds a license for your products versus who’s broken into them requires additional manpower and overhead. Is the amount of sales that are protected worth the cost of one-upping the determined thief and degrading my customer’s experience, albeit slightly?

This was one of the bigger issues I’ve wrestled with as my own product nears completion, and when I began writing this entry I was determined to ship it with a product activation scheme as a theft deterrent. However, given its product category, the resources and delays associated with incorporating and maintaining some anti-theft scheme I’ve decided to forego adding one.

Not only do I want to remove every impediment to my customers’ enjoyment of the software, I want to reduce the friction and suspiciousness which every customer touchpoint sustains as a result of the “proof” dance. It makes for a better experience for my customers and myself.

Purchasers will be able to download a copy of the product they licensed, and the updates, as often as they need to, whenever they need to and whereever they need to without having to activate or register the software to use it. (After all, they’ve already purchased a license so I should know they’re registered, right?)

The only requirement for running the software is to have a copy of it. It won’t be keyed to a particular machine and it won’t report a customer’s activities back to HQ. The only mechanism that will be in place, and I’m explaining my planned implementation now in the interest of privacy advocacy, is licensees will need to use a licensed email address to download the initial purchased version or an update. The program will only submit the email address (as well as machine type and MOX version) when checking for updates, and the default setting for automatic checking is off.

In addition, customers will be able to track their downloads and, if they so desire, create an optional password to restrict access to downloads

What about the thieves? Well, the determined thief will have stolen regardless of company policy. The casual thief won’t find it as tough to steal from me as he would from others, but I hope my software is considered so valuable to potential customers that they would still consider it a bargain at several times its price.

Well, That Was a Day!

The launch has not at all gone smoothly. I had hoped it would proceed without a hitch, and to have the feature releases (Mori v1.7 & Clockwork 1.5) ready so the launch could start with a bang. Unfortunately, it was me and the users who suffered some banging up and getting a little shaken up. No bruises or black-and-blue marks though (I hope. Holla if something’s amiss.) So, I had to settle for releasing a point upgrade, such that it indicates Apokalypse is the new publisher, and properly points to the update appcast.

It’s been a roiling two weeks as I’ve been trying to get things ready for the launch of Mori and Clockwork as Apokalypse products. Besides trying to get the finishing touches on the product I’ve been developing for years, I was trying to familiarize myself with the Mori and Clockwork codebase enough to migrate them to my site.

Oh, the site. I also needed to migrate the relevant portions of Hog Bay Software’s site to my server, and have it looking somewhat like my own, but not completely so the userbase feels somewhat comfortable in their new surroundings. There are still some records that were added since the beginning of the month that need to be migrated, but hopefully everyone will make it through unharmed. Apokalypse was running on WordPress, Hog Bay Software on Drupal. They are joined at /products, and the seams do show. Most users won’t need to register for anything on the WordPress system as of yet, not even to post comments here. In a couple of months both systems will start getting integrated. In the meantime, I’m a tad busy.

Speaking of busy…

Date Megabytes Requests Megabytes Requests Megabytes Requests
2007-06-20 163.67 11,753 158.744 11,753 4.928 0
2007-06-19 223.14 18,669 223.116 18,655 0.000 0
2007-06-18 40.79 3,027 34.021 2,994 6.768 33
2007-06-17 2.78 301 2.781 301 0.000 0
2007-06-16 5.33 155 0.791 150 4.544 5
2007-06-15 9.86 939 8.191 858 1.672 81
2007-06-14 4.47 474 4.472 474 0.000 0
2007-06-13 3.33 541 3.325 541 0.000 0
2007-06-12 2.13 354 2.133 353 0.000 0
2007-06-11 5.30 519 5.298 518 0.000 0
2007-06-10 8.77 1,002 8.767 1,001 0.002 1
2007-06-09 7.65 580 7.653 580 0.000 0
2007-06-08 2.64 455 2.047 406 0.594 49
2007-06-07 24.08 2,858 22.865 2,715 1.215 143
2007-06-06 11.32 2,935 10.138 2,761 1.180 174
2007-06-05 27.52 3,331 26.479 3,247 1.046 84
2007-06-04 47.35 1,056 7.395 1,005 39.959 51
2007-06-03 9.57 1,016 9.394 999 0.174 17
2007-06-02 7.22 1,137 6.569 1,017 0.651 120
2007-06-01 9.10 1,114 8.865 1,071 0.238 43

Can you tell when the Mori/Clockwork changeover occurred?

So there are release schedules for Mori and Clockwork, and my philosophies for their future direction. Hopefully, the first feature releases will be ready in two weeks.

In the meantime, I’ve got some press releases to put out.

Engineer, Marketer and Customer: Roles a Technology Entrepreneur Must Understand

For an entrepreneur, particularly a one-man shop like a microISV, the problem of product development is one of what to produce and the feature mix it should have.

The problem is that there are different cultural values that could be represented by a product. Not just the obvious geographical, ethnic, age and gender cultural values, but values which are more subtle, and reflect an individual’s vocation and skill set more than any genetic or environmental demographic factor. These are reflected in the ways an engineer, a marketer and the customer think about a product’s design.

The Engineer
The engineer is a problem-solver. His main interest is in using his tools to build solutions.

He thinks in terms of his solution to a problem versus the previous method. Ergonomic and aesthetic qualities are not considerations for the engineer, features are. Features. Options. Variability. He’ll look to add other components to his solution so it solves a wider range of problems and is thus more useful (volume, speed, duration, size, angle, etc.). Adapting his solution for other uses though, will throw the engineer into bewilderment. “Why would you want that?”

The engineer who makes use of a variety of tools to solve his problems will build solutions to others’ problems in the same way: a plethora of tools in a variety of qualities.

The Marketer
The marketer is a persuader and influencer. His main interest is in getting his message adopted by the customer.

Because the marketing department is one of the few which are customer facing, they generally have a sense of what issues their current customers face, what they need, what price point they’ll tolerate, etc.

Due to his preoccupation with perceptions and feelings (prestige, security, intelligence etc.), the marketer’s input on product designs focuses mainly on the physical attributes (e.g., color choices, materials, textures) that will reflect qualities that bestow intangible or perceived value to the user.

The Customer
The customer is a doer and a responder: performing his routines, following his processes. He may be looking for a solution to some problem he’s currently facing (e.g., new car, faster time-to-market, rising prices). Or, as is most often the case, he may not realize there’s a problem to which someone will happily sell him the solution.

While he might rationalize his decisions with some logical arguments (takes less space, improves productivity, etc.), it is for the emotional value (trendiness, security, etc.) of owning the product for which he actually chooses.

Putting it into Perspective
This difference in perspective is vital for the microISV to know and understand in developing his products, as the tool which was developed to solve his problem is often not what the general buying public will want. Engineering a solution is one thing. Creating the want for the solution is what business is about.

In the Mac market, this conflict in viewpoints is easily demonstrated in the topic of “Delicious Generation” applications.

Many of the indie developers/microISVs developing for the Mac have criticized the arrival of apps which they have denounced as all flash and no substance. Apps such as Disco, whose designers put more emphasis on the visual quality of the product (to the extent it rendered smoke effects when burning a CD or DVD) rather than the functionality it provided, are seen as providing very little value to the consumer. These developers have a dislike for the hype surrounding these types of products, seeing them as distractions from real needs which can be solved by more functions, options, and the like.

An interesting counter-reaction was given by John Gruber in his presentation Consistency vs. Uniformity in UI Design at the C4[0] Mac developer conference, however. His description of Disco? “That’s f—— gorgeous!”

The lesson for entrepreneurs, indie developers, and anyone overseeing development of a new product: while engineers may carry the bulk of the responsibility for developing the technology that goes into your product, until machines start buying products, or your target market isn’t other engineers, you must rein in their enthusiasm to over-engineer. Think about how you’ll market the product first. Understand what the customer is motivated to want to buy. Bring them into the discussion as early as possible. Then you can engineer a solution within that envelope.

Describe. Develop. Deliver.

As I was putting the finishing touches on this entry (links, pics, and such), I came across this fabulous example.

Hearing the Concerns of a 20th Century Tech Survivor

This morning a visitor to my blog posted a rather interesting comment as a reaction to my purchase of Mori and Clockwork from Jesse of Hog Bay Software. The writer isn’t a current customer, nor was he aware when the transaction occurred. So being in the market for notepad and organizer software (digital notebook), he was naturally cautious regarding which product to purchase. The reasons why I’m publishing his comment as this blog entry rather than leave it as a comment are, first of all, he’s expressing a sentiment shared by many visitors which I wanted to address again to reiterate my commitment to the products purchased from Hog Bay Software, and secondarily, he expresses a rather alarming state of mind which technology purchasers now have and which I wanted to bring to your attention: customers are quite gun-shy when it comes to making technology purchases in this day and age, expecting very little in terms of stability, lifetime, and service and support by the provider.

As a result of a business climate which values short-term gains and maximizing profitability and privileges at minimal cost, and a society which celebrates independence and adversarial relationships over cooperative ones, (Over the course of a week, measure the quantity of media impressions you would classify as self-indulgence, community, conflict and cooperation to which you subject yourself.) buyers no longer expect to be able to engage with the people in the supply chain of the goods they purchase and use, nor that those people will actually stand behind those products.

Most people are willing to accept a loss and chalk it up as a lesson learned rather than assert their rights and demand to be treated as more than someone else’s ATM. You should be able to tell when a relationship puts you at a disadvantage, when to impose upon your relationship partner to meet your own needs, and how to work out differences in understanding. If you’re unwilling to fight for your interests, how do you expect anyone else will? Don’t put it off hoping someone else will know and anticipate your every need. And if you see that your prospective partner has significant failings in the way it treats other customers, it’s wiser to accept the short-term pain by not adopting his technology than it is to delude yourself that you’ll get better treatment. Eventually, tech companies will learn to value their customers more highly than they do their marketing partners.

Here’s his comment. My reply follows.

A new comment on the post #44 “Apokalypse Software Corp. Acquires Mori, Clockwork from Hog Bay Software” is waiting for your approval

Author : Don (IP: n.n.n.n ,
E-mail : email withheld
URL : URL withheld pending response
Whois :
Comment: Just discovered Mori. Looks great on first glance. But I’m hesitant to spend $39 on an app that’s just changed hands. And even more important than the money is the possibility ones “life” – notes about an enormous myriad of stuff, could become useless in the future. It wouldn’t be the first time such a change went well and smoothly, perhaps even improving substantially over time, but it also wouldn’t be the first time one didn’t (or even that an app went downhill in both functionality and level of bugs).

I had such an experience, about eight years ago, when the makers of PaperPort and the software that went with it (I should have guessed that having one company make the hardware and another the software was a recipe for disaster) failed to to offer software for the then-new OS X. This was after I invested in several copies and we converted our office, as much as possible, to scanning and filing all paper documents using the system. Many hundreds of hours went down the drain with their self-serving decision, and our easy access to the old data went with it. And we had to go back to dealing with paper.

There were a number of similarly worrisome user comments in your forum. My take: Good, that you were willing to leave them there – shows integrity. But your “base” is going to be mighty nervous until you (1) answer all relevant posts promptly and (2) actually get a track record in moving forward on product updates and bug fixes. And inheriting a product that apparently has as part of its plusses an expectation that it will be modified by user consensus makes the weight all the more heavy!

So I’ll watch to see what happens in the next 30 days before I decide to migrate our ways of organizing much of our data toward Mori.

It looks promising. Good luck to you. I wish you success.

I certainly understand your apprehension in risking an investment in time and effort in moving your firm to a software product, let alone one which recently changed hands, and is now published by a tiny, tiny software outfit (microISV). Considering the issues certainly is a demonstration of wisdom on your part and requires a disclosure of the facts on mine.

I purchased Mori from Jesse because it represented a savings of substantial time on my part in developing a system I have had in development for some time. So I’m not abandoning the vision of my ideal system (which Mori is still quite short of) by dropping the product or not furthering its development.

The actual risk assumed by Mori’s customers (as with any microISV) is that I am somehow incapable of continuing development and my heirs are unable or unwilling to do so in my stead. The saving grace in such circumstances is that ownership of Mori and Clockwork will revert to Hog Bay Software. This is quite a distinction that Mori enjoys over comparable offerings, in that its survival is assured by contract.

Issues of future compatability have always been a concern for technology. While the differences between Tiger and Leopard are much smaller than those between Mac OS 9 and X, current releases of Mori and Clockwork are known not to work on Leopard and won’t be rectified until the night of its release, at the earliest. (Let’s pray there are enough copies of Leopard available on its release date so I don’t have to physically harm anyone to deprive them of same.)

The question of our expectations for future technology persists through any purchase cycle. It was present when I decided Jesse’s work on Mori and Clockwork sufficiently corresponded to my goals to make the investment. It is present when someone selects the software on which to run a website (Apokalypse has four main CMS packages, with several versions, on which its various web properties are run, so I understand the frustration caused by a lack of interoperability and upgradeability.), purchases a new computer system, etc. It is a sad fact of the current state of technology that until it’s advanced enough to adapt itself, we cannot hope to be certain that our choices will continue to match future needs. The best course of action is to select technology which will serve our needs for the present and next three to five years, and ensure that there is some bridge to preserve our investment should we find that the chosen technology has hit an evolutionary dead-end.

To address that issue, and overcome such objections, Mori will have better export options in the post-v1.7 future. As for the present, my continued development of Oneill (Mori v1.7) has revealed further bugs in the v1.6 branch which will see an additional bug release to rectify them for current users. This v1.6.4 release will ship before Leopard, but I don’t expect it to resolve the incompatibilities with it.

You’re welcome to continue monitoring the progress of Apokalypse’s products. Honest questions and discussions are welcome here and the forums. It’s unreasonable to expect customers to have confidence in what a company does if its employees and principals don’t, which is why I make rare exception to letting comments remain on the forum which aren’t euphoric or gushingly pro-Apokalypse. As the line in 1776 goes, “The king is a tyrant whether we say so or not. We might as well say so.” Public perception of my commitment to my offerings will be echoed through other locations on the Internet regardless of any posturing on my part. So I might as well permit them here, where I (and hopefully future employees) have a duty to read and respond to them, and those who’ve invested their time, effort and money in support of Mori and Clockwork (and all future Apokalypse products) can trust their concerns and sentiments are reproduced accurately and honestly and answered in a similar spirit, respecting their intelligence and value to the community. Thus I won’t attempt to dismiss the forum postings which you characterize as worrisome as I recognize their concerns as legitimate when it seems as if there’s noone responding to customer needs. To that end, I’ve made my contact information more publicly accessible. (Now I just need to remember to properly set my status messages as necessary!)

The Facade of Success

People look at the trappings of materialism, of possessions, and of an indulgent lifestyle, and they infer the absence of hard-work, sweat and struggle. They associate the possession of goods with success, representative of a successful person or someone who can get things done; being obviously done, because he’s no longer working hard.

However, the true measure of one’s success are the goals he has set for himself. For success is the achievement of goals, and unless your goal was the possession of great many material possessions, you are no more successful by having them then you are in not.

Understanding this, we can say Bill Gates isn’t a success although he has achieved great material wealth. The goal he had established for Microsoft, as defined in their original mission statement, was “A computer on every desk and in every home, running Microsoft software.” This is the reason why Microsoft competes vigorously in any industry related to computer software or which is heavily dependent on software.

If you think I’m just nit-picking over minor details, then you’re getting the cart before the horse. You’re looking at their position of prominence and wealth as establishing their character; whereas by focusing on their mission, the people of Microsoft didn’t stop once they achieved a measure of material wealth. They kept trying harder and harder to dominate other markets, and risked that material wealth, until they eventually dominated those markets.

You’re also demonstrating a great deal of self-centeredness, measuring others against your own personal standard for success.

Chances are, when you first read the title of this entry you thought of the facade rather than the success. Hopefully, by thinking more clearly on what is the true measure of success, your personal measure of success, you’ll concentrate on those critical areas which will help you achieve them rather than the facade.

Well, That Didn’t Take Long!

So it turns out the announcements were not as spectacular as we had hoped for. A lot of the keynote was in fact a repeat of last year’s. What was new was the disclosure that EA and id were developing new games for the Mac, Safari was going to be available on the Windows platform, and that XHTML/AJAX was the API for the iPhone.

Very underwhelming. Very un-spectacular. And very significant.

Gaming for Mac gives less cause for users to run Windows on Mac hardware.

Safari for Windows gives more reason for web developers to support the lowly Mac user, who could otherwise be ignored.

And XHTML/AJAX, or Web2.0, means that the iPhone has no significant programming hurdle for users. You could write up a simple iPhone app using Safari on your Mac or PC, and download it to your iPhone when it’s ready. You could even tweak other apps to your liking. Perhaps Apple will be motivated to release DashCode for Windows as well. But it just goes to show that scripting has already won.

It will also inhibit the adoption of Microsoft’s PopFly!, Silverlight, Adobe’s AIR, and other proprietary “solutions” to ubiquitous, networked apps.

It also means the iPhone has no significant programming differentiator from any other platform. Thus, whatever apps you write for the iPhone will operate with minor modification on the Nokia N90, which also has an embedded WebKit.

And, finally, it means my plans are not only safe, but will carry more weight than I thought.

Mori, PIMs, Pricing and the Business of Software (Was Re: Mac PIMs in General (was NightHawk)

A few days ago, there was a thread on the Macintosh PIMs group that descended into a diatribe against the current state of PIM software and the cost of software. In response, I wrote what turned into a very long, poorly-conceived, and most likely ill-advised response to some of the opinions voiced. Very few quotes are enclosed, as it’s mainly a response, not a rebuttal.

Please forgive what is sure to be a foolish action on my part, but nothing concerning the current state of affairs will improve by actively avoiding public discussion of the issues. None of my comments are an attack on the people whose comments I responded to, particularly db whom I responded to especially. Consider his remarks a proxy for a lot of the “it costs too much” complaints I see on sites like VersionTracker, MacUpdate, iusethis, and elsewhere on the Internet. And it’s with the intent to publically respond to those complaints that I choose to do so here, rather than the Macintosh PIM group’s mailing list. My apologies to the Mac PIMs group, and the rest of the netizens (although there are worse things one should unsee). With that in mind, here is Apokalypse’ contribution to the conversation. Your comments are welcome.

Ted Goranson wrote [Context added so his position is somewhat clearer. His remarks are included as Mori is mentioned. — AG]
> the value added. Users who know nothing about development somehow
> expect the same, unreasonably low pricing scheme.
> These people, for example are why we don’t have Incontrol and
> Infodepot, why we lost MORE. Why Mori was all but lost.

db wrote:
> I’m going to try again (to change this topic ;-)
> Ted/Edward,
> I appreciate the understanding and constructive disagreement, however
> large or small, though actually I don’t think we really disagree about
> anything substantial, other than pigs flying. I have proof, from the
> state of Maine no less, which is the original home state of Mori and
> still the home of Mori’s original Developer, HogBay Software:
> Mori got smart and moved to Florida, well before winter set in. I have
> no idea where the pigs went.

db wrote:

> And you expect Mori to get
> it right with a part-time developer.

Since there’s been some mention made of Mori of late, I believe it’s in the community’s best interest for me to stir things up a tad bit more in the hope that by sharing my experience as Mori’s owner/developer, a better understanding of the current state of the Mac software market might help to improve the situation for us as users and businesses.

And I know, db, that you like to constantly talk about Mori’s “original” developer, in a wistful (or rueful) tone, but the truth is Jesse wasn’t developing Mori when I purchased it from him, had lost all interest in continuing development months before, and never wants to touch Mori code again. This isn’t an attempt to be cruel, but to make the point with finality. If anyone has any bugs to report or feature requests they want to make, they’ll have to tell me. I’m the only one who’s responsible for the condition it’s in now, and the only one who’ll be able to make the necessary changes. I’m the one taking Mori into the future. Or to put it into less delicate terms, Mori may once have been Jesse’s little girl, but I’m making her a woman.

The Low-Baller Wins Myth

> There are some folks who will defend M$ pricing, or the price of an
> unlocked iPhone in Germany. That’s OK, but not me.

> If you recall, I am asking for a more modest personal edition price,
> to help the product succeed by increasing market penetration (and
> frankly, user goodwill) in order to make an integrated PIM available
> to more users. I’ll bet that your Mac and it’s apps save you $1000s
> more than they cost if you use them effectively in a work environment.
> But if Apple sold them at a price that more closely approached the
> savings gained by it’s users, users would have revolted and there
> would be no Macs. The Apple IIe saved me a ton of time in college but
> that doesn’t mean I would have been willing or able to pay two or
> three times as much for that option. My strategy is to charge as
> little as I reasonably need to and I’ll keep busy. If some fool wants
> to pay someone more thinking they must be getting a something better.
> Fine. I don’t like working for fools anyway.

> I think their is a marketing possibility that more at lower pricing
> will offset less at higher. Not everyone is a fool.

The problem with your strategy is it fails to account for shortfalls in sales volumes, changes in the market, and other unforeseen events; both corporate and personal. For a lower price to make a difference it has to be substantially lower, and for volume to make up the loss in margin it has to be several times higher. Selling 25% more of a half-off product won’t cut it. And when your target market is the price-conscious, economic conditions which impact their budget also impacts your sales. Wal-mart successfully, though unintentially, demonstrated that for us these past two years.

People spend 50-300% more for an Apple iPod than for anyone else’s portable media player. Not just 20-30%, but up to 300%! That’s two to three times more for a device to play songs or display pictures. The multiple is even higher when you consider the features lacking in an iPod which are available in other players. So you think iPod buyers are fools. I think your opinion that price is the main consideration for consumers is faulty. Or is there some special excuse we give Apple for pricing above the market, instead of “a more modest personal edition price”? (The iPod Shuffle furthers my argument, not yours, as the Shuffle is priced against Apple’s own products, not the rest of the market: it is has even less features.)

When you made that crack about me developing Mori part-time, I was insulted. But then I realized that, in all honesty, I am only developing Mori part-time. I’m also handling web-site duties part-time, which include controlling spam, updating the site software, touching up the databases, writing blog entries, performing backups, and preparing traffic reports. I’m also fielding customer support, whether it’s email, IMs, the fora, or bug/feature tracking. I’m also handling marketing, which includes contacting blog writers, contacting writers and editors in the media, preparing market plans, product literature, artwork, etc. I’m also writing user docs, screencast scripts, tutorials, and the like, in several languages. I might be doing all this, but my development work on Mori itself is, as you say, strictly part-time.

Most software developers in the Mac market are small shops. MicroISVs. Indies. Whatever the term, sometimes it’s a shop of two or three people doing product development. By far, though, the bulk of the product developers today are one-man shops. Somebody working solo. And that solo developer typically doesn’t make enough to support himself on his products’ sales. It usually doesn’t matter because these indies are usually students or employees of another company. Their product is just something they whipped up for their own needs or interests, and they decided to offer it for sale to make a few bucks (just like the Apple story we’re all so fond of).

However, I’m neither a college student nor employed anywhere else. I’ve even turned away contracting offers due to the backlog of development tasks. So I have to question what your beliefs are when I read your crack about my work on Mori as nothing more than part-time in the same paragraph where you complain that Mac software is overpriced, and how small shops can’t afford market research!

A Cowboy [Coder] Isn’t A Landowner

> I think many (not all) of the little one-man shops fail because they
> lack the willingness or ability to see or use the advantages of
> cooperation with others. They sometime simply want to be in charge,
> their own boss, and see cooperation, of course, as giving up control.
> That’s the way it is when you work with others. Unless they have such
> a big hit that allows them to hire others, they’d be far better off
> cooperating with others. Look how many GTD and info management apps we
> have from very small shops. Few have a chance at decent success
> working alone, and especially when competing with the larger shops
> which simply engender more consumer confidence because of their size,
> never mind having more resources to begin with.

Now you’re finally saying things I can almost completely agree with: most indies want to strike out on their own so they can be their own boss. The problem is most lack the chops to do it. Being intelligent in one field, many assume they know what it takes to be successful running a venture entirely on their own. Being socially awkward, many are too untrusting of others to risk venturing with them. Indeed, many realize the likelihood is that any new venture will go belly up in less than five years. Though most entrepreneurs fear personality clashes with potential partners, the most common cause of failure is insufficient resources.

What incentive does one developer have to cooperate with another? to give his source code and a promise to share profits with a competitor? I’ve repeatedly attempted to persuade other developers to work with me, but loved as I am for my winning personality and disarming smile, I’ve been unable to convince them to abandon their products and support mine instead! Crazy, no? Perhaps they need some sort of compensation for their investment in their product and their customers; some security or other evidence of the legitimacy of the deal, and its probability of success. Would having a bankroll improve the likelihood of him joining me so that we “have a chance at decent success”? How do I accumulate this bankroll with your strategy “to charge as little as I reasonably need to and I’ll keep busy”? While being a low-price leader may be a marketing strategy, volume isn’t proof of commercial success. Long-term commercial success is dependent on your money being busier than you.

There are a couple of your comments that undermine your entire “more modest personal edition price, to help the product succeed by increasing market penetration” fallacy. One is, “Unless they have such a big hit…” Unless? So you admit the chance of that happening is slim. And if the chances of having a big hit and the volume that it creates are slim, then prices will have to remain high to stay in business. Also, if you think having a low price will guarantee a big hit, you are guaranteed that a competitor will come along and undermine your sole competitive advantage with an even lower price.

The other comment debunking your assertion is, “…larger shops which simply engender more consumer confidence because of their size, never mind having more resources to begin with.” Without the margins and volume to build up your resources, how do you expect to engender more confidence in consumers?

If you don’t make enough profit with the early adopters of your program, you’ll never last long enough to develop the additional features, user resources, documentation, etc. to be purchased by the mainstream. In addition, your organization will likely implode due to an inability to adequately provide service for your customers.

You probably have a larger selection of PIMs to choose from now than ever before, so why aren’t you satisfied? It’s because they aren’t as powerful or feature-rich as the old ones were. You’d say they lack the quality, or aren’t of the same caliber as the old apps. I’m pointing out that, twenty years later, the apps are substantially less expensive as well; and they don’t get better because the developers can’t afford to invest more development time and money in them!

Road Closed Due to Growth

Do you know what it takes to add that power and those features you long for to the software on the market? It doesn’t take listening to the customer, because customers have been talking about their needs for years. It doesn’t take writing better docs, which people don’t like to read anyway. It doesn’t take promotional discounts or educational versions, which have a limited lifespan in effective marketing.

It takes engineers. Software engineers and time. Time to think about how the current product was architected. Time to think about what features need to be added. Time to think about what features can be added given the current state of the product. Time to design the code to add those features to the product. Time to code the features into the product. Time to test the code. Time to fix the code. Time to redo the steps again and again until it’s ready to be released. Or worse, until they run out of time.

Do you think engineers are given special treatment for all this wonderful code they’re adding? Do real estate developers or hotels put a roof over their head because they’re improving products? Are hospital visits, medical treatment, or even health insurance without a price because we’re indispensable? Do engineers get any food or caffeine of any quantity without charge because of their role in society? Or should they be required to sacrifice their own needs and wants for transportation, entertainment, family, etc. to fulfill some “higher calling”?

Someone who enters the PIM market as a business isn’t looking to scrape enough money to buy himself a shiny new MBP for Xmas. There’s more than just the cost to purchase equipment. Or pay electric bills. Or Internet access. Or to purchase technical books and journals. A business can’t just make enough to cover the salaries of its employees, its legal fees, its taxes, etc. It has to cover the cost to invest in growth: of its products, its corporate infrastructure, and its owners.

Someone has to foot the bill for all these things while time is being spent adding those improvements you want so much, whether it’s a VC, an angel investor, a spouse, family, friends, whatever; and that someone is going to want a return on their investment. You get a lot of turnover in this industry because these would-be entrepreneurs discover the return on their investment just isn’t satisfactory.

A competent software engineer can make at least $75K/year, even as a fresh graduate. For a 2080 hour year, your product has to bring in $36.06 per hour to cover his salary. His salary alone. If you don’t want him to work on development part-time, like I do, you have to pay others to do the marketing, technical writing, artwork, administering servers and websites, the business-administration-type stuff, etc. So, say you as the business owner make a worst-case salary of $80K, and your developer makes $75K per year. So after other operating expenses of $65K, and a 20% profit for the year, a business should bring in $264K. That is for strictly online sales without a marketing program. It excludes marketing expenses such as advertising, sales commissions, packaging, product literature, trade show exhibitions, etc.

That’s $129.513/hr in sales for a company to be comfortably profitable. (Oh, did we forget to deduct the processing fees deducted from sales by the payment processing firm? You can go out of business if you forget these details!) If we don’t make that, there isn’t a point pretending we run a business. And if you don’t have a business standing behind the software you use to manage your information, quit pretending to be surprised when it’s no longer under development, being supported, or that the features you enjoyed on the old packages will ever return in anything new.

Companies are bought and sold. So are product lines. Products with a sufficient revenue stream continue in the market, regardless of their origin. Products that aren’t worth the trouble die; regardless of how loved they were and how missed they’ll be. So if you’re not prepared to spend the money necessary to obtain a solid, powerful package now, then let time take its course. The part-time developer you’re supporting will either get the features added in there eventually, or drop the product for something more rewarding in his life.

Those who cannot learn from PIM history are doomed to re-key their data

Let me explain why there isn’t a strong third-party PIM in the Mac market. Future product development is based on past product development. Whether it’s the profits from past products, or using the codebase of previously engineered products (e.g., Cocoa and Carbon), one product is built upon others. And whenever someone gets the bright idea to write another to-do list or contact manager or agenda application, whether it’s to learn how to develop for the Mac, or because they have more time than money, they have to develop the basic functionality first. Then, they think, “This is so helpful for me, I bet other people can use it too,” so they make it available to others as freeware or shareware, presumably to others who perceive a similar lack in existing apps or possessing a similar lack of funds.

Then, his app begins to find users. Slowly, of course, because it’s new and the majority of people will let others be the early-adopters. But his app will find some users because it sufficiently meets their feature/price requirements. But! its feature set is shallow because he started from scratch. And! there are a few bugs here and there that need to be fixed. And! it doesn’t sync with Apple’s bundled PIMs. And! it lacks support for their phone or pda. He doesn’t have time to add innovative features because he’s too busy trying to catch up. Now it stops being just a hobby and starts to be real work. Then he thinks, I’ve got to get something more out of it. If he feels he can do it, he’ll start charging (more) for it.

Now there are people who don’t mind spending hours in front of a TV set, playing video games, or downloading and reading stuff off the Internet. It’s something to occupy their time. A way to unwind. Maybe someone likes to tinker with cars, spending months to strip down a junked Mustang and rebuild it into a street monster. It’s a nice way for him to while away the days. Perhaps when he’s finished he’ll just cruise the strip in it. Maybe he’ll street race. Maybe he’ll sell it off and use some of the money to buy another clunker and start over again.

Regardless of the number of times he rebuilds cars for fun, his mindset changes when he begins to treat it as more than just a hobby. His goals will be different. The decisions he makes will take on a whole new importance, and even the tools and processes he uses will have changed.

It’s the same way with software development: you can afford to waste time and money on it when it’s just for kicks. But when it competes with the rest of your life, when a child becomes ill, your spouse loses a job, or your kids are in college, those things that occupied your time are re-evaluated; and you decide whether or not it needs to be treated more seriously, and how committed you are to its success.

And businesses that were profitable in this market re-evaluate their returns due to the competition. They consider whether branching out to other product lines or other platforms will be more rewarding. Developers, large and small, let sales coast without active development. Eventually, their products are outdated, or the platform is (like Mac OS 9 or Tiger). Then some developer decides there’s no to-do list or contact manager or agenda app that matches his feature/price requirements, so he writes one from scratch…

And that is why the PIM market, indeed, the Mac software market in general, is so poor today, and only a few categories have clear market leaders.

As far as PIM goes, it’s obviously an inadequate term for the types of products that fit in that category. There are calendars, to-do lists, project planners, address books, outliners, and on and on, but Mori is specifically a digital notebook app. And while users and developers can add agenda, contact management, GTD, file management or even wordprocessing and spreadsheet functionality through the use of scripts and plug-ins, it doesn’t come with the features typical of those applications. In fact, a lot of the design work I’ve been doing over the past couple of months has been to reduce the excess behavior in Mori and recast its feature set with an eye towards note taking and organizing superiority. Any additional behaviors will have to be the result of plugins. This means the plugin API will be more sophisticated though.

The point is, I’m not going to add features to Mori to handle all PIM needs. And I’m not going to cater to the notetaking needs of every Mac owner out there. Apokalypse will be focusing on the professionals who understand the value of their time, and demand software that delivers productivity gains that make them look good. SOHO users. It isn’t that I don’t appreciate everyone else, but I can’t afford to help everyone else, and the quality of the products will suffer badly. This is one reason why I’ve continued Jesse’s practice of sending prospects to other products, you can’t be all things to all people.

So, as a user of PIM products, figure out what your needs are. If you’re just looking to keep a list of your friends and family members’ contact info, track class activities or have the occasional sticky, the iApps bundled with the Mac should be enough. If your needs are more sophisticated and your time is a resource you use to produce money, find the software that will maximize your productive use of time in managing your tasks, contacts, info, etc. and purchase it. Even at minimum wage rates, you should recoup your investment within the first week!

If you want engineers and small businesses in general, and me in particular, to improve the quality of your life, you’re going to have to improve the quality of mine. How can we maintain a continuing relationship otherwise?

Now That It’s Winter, Developers Should Develop Some Thick Skins

How timely! I had been working on the last entry for nearly a week, and was giving the 8th or 9th proofing when Manton Reece tweeted, “Finding the comments on CandyBar upgrade pricing kind of interesting.“.

That’s happened quite a bit lately, as I’m a bit of a perfectionist and entries I’ve began have been bogged down in my proofing stage. At least I was able to finish and publish the entry when those comments began. I guess I’ll have to do less polishing and just more shoot from the hip, dangerous though that may be for a corporation; and likely to result in a retraction or two in the future.

But it’s precisely those retractions and changes in policies and reactions to public opinion that developers should learn to handle. Most just don’t like having to say no. Well, most people don’t like to say no. But it’s important to know to say no, as you don’t have time to do everything you want, and you have to learn to prioritize based on what’s important to you.

Here are a few of those interesting comments left for that article:

I bought CandyBar 1 & 2. I won’t be paying Panic for 3, they priced it outside of my impulse range by trying to make it into more than it needed to be. I’m sure it was a lot of work, but that upgrade price is just too much for some icon swapping.
– Aurich

Another $5 product priced at $25.

Sounds like a job for serial box!
– Greasy Breakfast

There’s always LiteIcon. Not nearly as pretty and doesn’t do the dock trick — but it’s free.
– Insomnic

And that’s the point: if you want more functionality, expect to have to pay more for it. If you don’t want to pay for it, settle for less or do without. You’re not obligated to work overtime on your day off so your company can make more money off you, nor are companies obligated to lower their prices just so you can afford to buy their products.

Why are some people so against paying for something that had a lot of work put into it?
Because it doesn’t DO very much! If I put a lot of work into taking a dump are you going to pay me for it? What if I were to wrap it in shiny plastic? Would you pay me then? CandyBar is about 99% interface and 1% function. The point is that what this program actually does is largely unspectacular and is available for free by other means regardless of how much work was put into it to make it look nice.
– Fiendish

Schools used to teach that things could be separated into wants and needs, but back then parents used to take responsibility for their kids’ education. A Lexus is no more effective, yet is far more expensive, than a Kia for driving from one place to another. A Ferrari even more so. Not everyone wants or can afford the more expensive vehicles, yet they sell very well. A man has to pick the standard of living he’s content with.

If you’re running a business, the most important thing has to be the money (or some reasonable substitute). Some people like to espouse terms like ethics and morality and customer service, but those aren’t requirements for running a business. Those are principles by which you make decisions for how to run a business. And making decisions with those principles can make for a healthier business in the long run. But they aren’t necessary for a business. An unprincipled business that is profitable will outlast a principled business that isn’t.

People are afraid of money. People don’t want to be greedy, or worse, don’t want to be seen as greedy. Most people have a dysfunctional gauge for money which varies wildly depending on its context and is completely disproportionate to its true purpose. Money is just a product, made by man, used to trade goods and services. It is a way to shift one asset you have to another. Like your health and time or a house or car, money is just another resource that you can manipulate and assign a value to. Money doesn’t exist or accomplish anything on its own.

From a moralistic point of view, money lacks any. It is neither good nor bad. Even the saying “Money is the root of all evil” is a misreading of text from the Bible, which doesn’t condemn money. The actual text is, “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith…,” and you don’t have to have a dollar to your name to covet. You don’t need a dime. In fact, a great many people in the world who criticize those who work hard to achieve financial success are also out there buying lottery tickets every week. Is money attained hastily in a desperate attempt to improve your life better than money gained after working a lifetime, or inherited?

You should think of your role in business as a farmer, looking for a harvestable crop. Disregard what you’ve heard about money not growing on trees. Everything grows. It’s a universal truth. You just need to recognize what the tree is for a business: its relationship with its customer. Now you can’t just have any customer and expect to harvest cash from him. Just like expecting walnuts from an apple tree, there are customers that don’t produce money for you because they aren’t the right tree for your business. And even the right tree requires the right soil conditions, the right amount of sunlight and the right amount of water. If you don’t have the right environment for the tree, pick another tree or you’ll waste a lot of your time and effort and trees.

But some trees are unhealthy. Some trees won’t bear fruit no matter how well you nourish them. Letting yourself be cheated of your hard work is just as bad for business as cheating your customers. There has to be a balance which is healthy for both parties in the relationship.

Now there may be a lot of customers who cannot afford your product, who will have to go without, or resort to unethical behavior to obtain it. But the same is true for your business, it cannot afford to buy everything to maximize its efficiency. You have to compensate and adapt and act based on your abilities.

But if you can’t refuse to take work which isn’t profitable your business won’t be profitable. And if your business can’t be profitable it can’t survive (unless its main purpose is to be a tax write-off!).

Uproot the wrong trees so they can be replanted in the proper environment, and plant the right trees. You’ll be able to take better care of them, and the remaining trees will be better off as well.

So this winter, do the right thing by your business and your customers: learn to turn away customers which are unhealthy for your business so you can take better care of the ones who aren’t.