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Andy Brice
Successful Software

Doug Nebeker ("Doug")

Jonathan Matthews
Creator of DeepTrawl, CloudTrawl, and LeapDoc

Nicholas Hebb
BreezeTree Software

Bob Walsh
host, Startup Success Podcast author of The Web Startup Success Guide and Micro-ISV: From Vision To Reality

Patrick McKenzie
Bingo Card Creator

Is there money in developer tools?

I've got some ideas I'm thinking of implementing over the next few months. My favorite is a tool for developers to help them manage their individual development activities.

Does this idea sound intriguing at all? Is there any money to be made selling to developers?
anon. e. moose.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
I know there are people that say that developer tools are a bad idea for a microISV product.

And I agree.

But just because most microISV that start that way don't consider one fact:

If the problem you are solving is a trivial one, it won't work. Because most developers could do it themselves if they want to. Heck, they might never thought before about the scenario you are trying to solve and when they see a product appear, they think "hey, I could do it better".

And thats why most people say developer tools are a bad idea.

There is money if you solve a non-trivial problem, and solve it well.

IMO "help manage developer activities" as in 'issue tracking', 'to-do lists' etc, sound like trivial problems to solve, in my opinion.
not a guru Send private email
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Some people make good money selling developer tools. But I think it is an especially tough market.
-It is saturated because developers want to write tools for developers - a market they understand.
-Developers often won't buy a product because they think "I could write than in 2 days myself". Even if it isn't true.
-Open source competitors are always a threat.
Andy Brice Send private email
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
All of the above are perfectly correct reasons why its a poo idea for a misv.  Other programmers are demanding and you need to be solving some pretty big problems before a programmer will get their credit card out Vs trying to figure it out themselves.

That said if you can get into selling components, tools or whatever to corporate programmers Id say you could make a fair bit of money.  Ive worked or consulted at some large companies who thought nothing of dropping 1 to 2 thousand dollars on a fancy data mapping table component, an address checking component or similar.
Andrew Send private email
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
I agree that it's tough but I disagree that it's not possible. Having purchased many components like Telerik,Infragistics myself(I have 10 years experience in IT and last 6 years in .NET), I can say it's not impossible.

The truth is you can't sell simple things to developers. You should really be having a value in what you create. And it should be something that they can't create in a month!
Dev S Send private email
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
There can be money in developer tools. I sell a developer tool and it's doing quite well. My average monthly sales this year (Jan-July) is about US$ 27500.

It's not a trivial tool. The first version was released in 2002, and I have been working part-time on it since then (full time since February this year).
Developer tool developer
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Rather than "developers" per se, I think there is a huge market for those "in-betweenies".

Take a look at guru.com, rentacoder, odesk, elance and a dozen more.

What are they full of? Yeah but apart from that? That's right, willing buying customers who would dearly love a little bit more control and to do some stuff for themselves.

Installation makers, trial period makers, logo makers, license makers, shopping carts for downloadables that make vastly more sense than Zencart, all that kind of thing.

People are paying for coders to do the main coding but even the simplest of tasks rapidly gets expensive if the coder also has to build the installation routine, create the manual..

It strikes me that people tend to think either B2B, B2C or B2Developers - but ignore all the middle ground between those categories.

Adam Send private email
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
One thing to keep in mind is that there's another category of application that tends to do quite well. Apps that developers use, or have purchasing power over, but which don't actually have anything to do with code. So, bug tracking software, helpdesk software, project management software, etc.
Starr Horne (ChatSpring Live Chat) Send private email
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Rather than "developers" per se, I think there is a huge market for those "in-betweenies".

I like the idea of targetting related trades.  Take, for example, 37Signals -- their core use case started with small design firms needing to coordinate with multiple clients, and it grew from there.  The five second gloss for their entire product line is "Its for a freelancer what a programming firm might do with combination of Trak/Wiki/etc, without having to tie up an engineer making a customized installation of Trak/Wiki/etc"
Patrick McKenzie (Bingo Card Creator) Send private email
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
I think a key question is who will be your competition?  Too many competitors means you have a long uphill battle, unless you can differentiate yourself enough.  No competitors means you might want to reexamine the viability of your offering.
Andre Oporto Send private email
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
as everyone above says it depends on the product and the competition. a couple things for you that i've come across in my 10 years or so of supporting and selling a couple small shareware products:

1. developers are generally easier to deal with as customer than users are. their general level of knowledge is higher and they tend to be more patient.

2. this probably doesn't apply to you as you're askin about selling software, not sharing code, but one interesting thing i did was have two versions of software:
a. one was free - this was source code only. if someone can compile the code (a trivial task, i know) they could have my tool.
b. the second was a compiled dll. if someone wasn't capable of compiling it, then they had to pay me to do it:)
This might seem backwards (free source, but paying for a binary), but it actually was a good thing, i think. I didn't mind sharing my code, but didn't have time to support it. If someone wasn't knowledgeable enough to compile the code, they would probably need my help and should pay me. It turned out to be a good way to share.

best regards,
Don Dickinson Send private email
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
There is a simple reason that it isn't very profitable to sell developer tools: the target market is very small. Consider what the ratio of computer programmers to computer users is. It MUST be something like 100:1, at least (for the same reason that the ratio of car owners to car mechanics, or home owners to general contractors, is very high). By targeting developers you have already restricted your market to some tiny segment of the overall software market.

Now, this does NOT mean that this is a bad market for an mISV. Any mISV is chronically short on resources of all kinds (customer support staff, marketing budget, etc.). Targeting a small market is a good way to reduce your resource needs. Also, almost any niche that you choose is likely to be MUCH larger than you probably imagine it to be, AND much larger than you can reasonably service, so there will be plenty of room for you to profit and grow, even with competitors. Also, some small markets (e.g. software developers) are over-populated with deep-pocketed customers, which means you can charge higher prices, and offset the lost potential due to the small market size.

I think that people fret too much about these kinds of things: they seem to think that they only have one shot at success with an mISV and that they have to make their first attempt count for everything. This is why we always hear about people looking for that one great idea, and why we hear this question again and again. The truth is, however, that you do a lot of experimentation as an mISV: you can try out some small product to test the waters and get your sea-legs (so to speak) before you undertake a really big profitable venture. You can fail a couple (or more) times before you hit the mother load (or you can succeed modestly a bunch of times and NEVER hit the mother load and STILL make a reasonable living).

I think that this obsession with getting it right (and getting fabulously wealthy) on the first try is the fault of the media attention lavished on the likes of Jeff Bezos and Jerry Yang. It makes people think that the only way to succeed in business is young, fast and big, which is a serious disservice to most businesses out there, that have only succeeded after prolonged effort and only generated a moderate amount of wealth in the process.
Jeffrey Dutky Send private email
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
There are a LOT of money can be made by selling to developers.

There are 3 kind of products a developer would buy:
1. Product that solve their problem they can't do by themselves.
2. Product that makes them richer, ie: You sell some tools for $xxx. The developers can "re-packaged" your tools into something more valuable to their client for $xxx * yyyy
3. Product that helps them create something faster. This should be cheaper if they compare with their hourly rate.

Take a look at www.componentsource.com, you'll get the rough amount of money developers are willing to pay.
Rizal Firmansyah Send private email
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
"IMO "help manage developer activities" as in 'issue tracking', 'to-do lists' etc, sound like trivial problems to solve, in my opinion."

Issue tracking is probably the worst implemented. Either it is too inflexible, or it is so flexible that people totally f*ck it up!

I'm thinking more along the lines of that would help a freelance developer/mercenary keep track of development activities. Code snippets, todos and time tracking, with the ability to sync to other computers (online) or a fully offline version.
anon. e. moose.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Rizal Firmansyah Send private email
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Kind of but less focused on having the developers being managed rather than managing themselves.
anon. e. moose.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
I see a need to tie all these fragmented customer support tools like issue tracking, forums, discussion groups, etc together as ONE offering where I can pick and choose what I want. Right now, you have to source all this stuff yourself, install, skin to fit your site, look for icons you like, write helper code for single signon, etc. AND for it all to be hosted. I would easily pay for that if it was a first class offering. However if the offering is the least bit incomplete, I would simply do it all myself.
Stacy Murray
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Make developers look like heroes! is my mantra.

If I help a developer make their application look great, function better or get to market quicker then this can be a win.

That's my $1 worth (or £0.50 from where I am from).

Ajay Soni Send private email
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Ajay, great mantra but you should have a second one too:

"Make my product website look OK in Firefox!"

anon. e. moose.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
We sell what is at its heart developer tools. It seems to me that the reasons we are able to be successful are:

 ---We interoperate with a larger vendor, so to our customers buying a few of our licenses is an easy step.

 ---Even though a technical person is the end user, the problem we solve is a legitimate, quantifiable business problem. Thus, we can make a reasonable pitch to the guys with the checkbooks.

 ---We're in a niche with few competitors where we are both the nimble and cheapest (if not only) choice.

 --We don't sell consultingware, but having a professional services group does help feed us business to our product group.

I think the real key is, don't sell a developer tool. Sell a business solution that just happens to be used by developers.
Dev tools developer
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
"Is there money in developer tools?"

There used to be.  Then dev tools became one of the major targets of the open-source-devalue-professional-programming movement.  Now everyone expect dev tools to be free.

Most popular tools are quickly devalued by open source when their popularity causes them to be knocked off and given away for free.

Sure is amazing how some programmers just love to devalue the industry.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
I hate to say this but,
some ordinary people expect software to be free as well, not only dev tools :(

The free-software movement is killing people who make a living from software.

"Sure is amazing how some programmers just love to devalue the industry."
+1 Our own mistake... now look at the price we have to pay.
Rizal Firmansyah Send private email
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
"The free-software movement is killing people who make a living from software."

Absolutely false. Imagine a parallel world where open source doesn't exist. For example, anybody who wants a website has to pay for the OS, web server, compiler, scripting environment, database, etc, etc. Will the demand for developers be higher or lower than in our world?
3.1416 Send private email
Thursday, August 07, 2008
For that, there's always shared hosting.

But is there any free hardware for your dedicated server?
Is there any free lawyer? free doctor? free medicine? free house? free cars?

I think the needs for doctor and lawyer are still high...
Rizal Firmansyah Send private email
Thursday, August 07, 2008
I do not know if ours counts strictly as a developer tool (it is a testing tool) but we are doing quite well. Our sales started this March and are now at a level which is a lot higher than most people here consider good enough for a 1-year old product.

Then again ours is not something trivial, cannot be easily reproduced, solves real problem and we have big and slow competition. YMMV.
Thursday, August 07, 2008
BTW, regarding free tools killing the market.

We have a free competitor product in addition to another 3 competing products that cost $4K-$9K per seat. None of these prevent us from selling our product.

And I worry the least about the free one because it lacks one very important thing: customer support and this is what our customers love.
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Somehow this thread seems incomplete without observing the obvious:

Both Joel and I have reasonably successful small companies which sell developer tools.

All the other caveats and concerns in this thread are of course still valid.  But the truth remains:  Yes, there is money in developer tools.
Eric Sink Send private email
Thursday, August 07, 2008
I am honored that Eric Sink would reply to my thread. I stand convinced. Just. Need. To. Tweak. The. Idea.
anon. e. moose.
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Most developers will happily spend a day working on their own implementation of a product that retails for a half hour worth of their salary. And the end result will not be as well tested and documented as the comemrcial offering.

So the trick is to have a tool that's clearly useful and substantially difficult to create, and then sell it at a price that's profitable without being so expensive that it's still not worth the effort.

And while Joel and Eric have made businesses selling developer tools, they didn't make their fortune with some ideas they implemented over a few months. They actually had to do a great deal of work. Which means its nice that you're convinced, but if your ideas will really only take a "few months" to implement, your chances of profit are pretty slim.

(Worse than that - if we've somehow "convinced" you that you'll make money then when you're a few months in and find that you're still a year or more away from making any profit, we're not going to be there paying your bills and keeping you motivated.)

Thursday, August 07, 2008
Oh I am under no impression that I will start making money in a few months. I need to get something DONE in a few months so I can start working on the other things that actually bring in the money. Though I do wish Day 1 brought me 50K like the Delicious guy says it brought him. WTF?
anon. e. moose.
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Thing is, Shipley was selling a much wider audience app. That said, there is money in developer tools. My main product is a developer tool. What you do need to realise is that many devs don't have time or expertise to build bigger tools. If you're building something that anyone writing code can use then you've got the huge market of web devs to sell to.
Martin Pilkington Send private email
Friday, August 08, 2008
Martin, would you be willing to give any numbers?
anon. e. moose.
Friday, August 08, 2008
I'm only averaging around £200-500 a month at the moment but I've not been able to do a huge amount of development work the past few months due to university work and working on my 3rd app, so I've not been able to add features that people have been asking for. If you're able to dedicate your time to a product that is going to be truly useful then you could make a pretty decent amount of money, but as with any app, I'd always aim to have a few different apps planned for down the road.
Martin Pilkington Send private email
Friday, August 08, 2008
I know flaming OSS is pretty easy, but they do have business value. Take for eg : Is Joomla an Open Source ? Yes and it is free, but price people pay for Customizations and developments is amazing.

The main notion behind OSS is give something for free and mock up money in support and customizations! In the end, it pays much more!
Dev S Send private email
Sunday, August 10, 2008

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