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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

Starting a MicroISV around a Desktop Mac Application.

I started building my dream job: a mISV around a desktop mac application for organizing PDF files. I am still in stealth mode. I posted links on forums and I recruited some beta testers.....but I am afraid and demotivated by numbers:

- I received around 90 beta requests, 50/60 effective downloads. According my autoupdate stats only few are using it (around 5 people, maybe more).
-For sake of completeness Website had 300 visits in 2 months (I didn't any marketing activity)

My crucial feeling is that I expected more usage of the application from beta testers. I expected people disappointed by bugs. Instead I received few, very few feedbacks.

What was your experience ? With these numbers I can't figure out a future with this job. Is it the wrong product ? Am I doing mistakes not doing marketing ? You don't know my app I agree....but what was the experience of others? Internet is full of success stories of great apps who had a lot of feedbacks since day 0.
piero Send private email
Monday, February 20, 2012
I've never had luck getting much feedback from free beta testers, but one thing I have learnt on my micro-isv journey is that marketing is everything if you want to sell stuff!
DV Send private email
Monday, February 20, 2012
+1 DV

My experience with desktop app's and "free beta" testers has been dismal.  I suspect the "free beta tester" success tends to come from the web app community.  Maybe it's the immediacy of contact (it's a click or two) compared to a desktop app where it requires the loading of a not necessarily running browser, navigation etc - or emailing.

It's never been great (again in my experience) but recently it seems even less valuable.  I tend to think Google et al and their infinite public betas has done enormous damage to the meaning of "beta" to Joe and Jill Sixpack and the MSM.  Again from my own experience they seem to expect a finished product they can use for free - for as long as they like.

Additionally - I get the feeling some folks are driven by the byte version of kleptomania where by they download anything if it's free.  Regardless of whether or not they use it.

Admittedly I too have accepted betas for testing, from time to time, and failed dismally to report testing.  My excuse is time.  The older I get the less of it I seem to have. ;-)
Scott Kane Send private email
Monday, February 20, 2012
Two things are working against releasing beta products.  One, no one has the patience for workarounds in order to use your product while waiting for a final release.  Two, if it is free, the first response to a bug is to uninstall it and replace it with another program, or just quit using it.  You currently have about 1 in 8 downloaders still using the program, which doesn't sound that bad to me (especially for free software).  Why not put the finishing touches on your application and release it for sale?
Howard Ness Send private email
Monday, February 20, 2012
You're doing pretty well.
Bring back anon Send private email
Monday, February 20, 2012
(1) Keep iterating, make sure you test it well yourself - BEFORE you upload it. Try to recruit a friend or two as core testers - don't do it yourself (you'll never see the bugs).

(2) Since it's a public beta, pay attention to UI/UX and design issues -even beta testers don't like confusing / ugly software.

(3) Keep it for free in all 0.x versions, even if you think it's pretty stable. Never promise that it's stable or free of bugs ("use at your own risk"). Willing customers (the ones that are actually paying for a product in your category) will pay for a 1.0 version, mainly because it has a "production value" - you stand behind it and support it. This strategy is a bit more difficult for different buyer personas (private vs. commercial buyers), but in your case I would go for it.

(4) TALK to your testers, actively. You don't need more than 20 testers that actively work / play with your application. In the past, I had great success running beta groups of 20 users. I provided them with a closed beta forum that wasn't accessible to the public, this created a nice 'exclusive' atmosphere that testers loved (made them a bit privileged).

(5) Obvious and mentioned before: marketing is king - start with it right away, don't wait. Just make sure everything that is customer-facing is nicely groomed (textual content and design). Nobody wastes his time anymore for ugly, mediocre products these days.
Hans Fremuth Send private email
Monday, February 20, 2012
I'e seen apps that ask for feedback duirng uninstallation, e.g. with a radio button.
Documentation Doctor Send private email
Monday, February 20, 2012
Do you have a private forum for testers to discuss issues?
Scott Send private email
Monday, February 20, 2012
And, sometimes having 2 testers you know well is better than having 100 that are anonymous random people. Especially in the alpha stage.
Scott Send private email
Monday, February 20, 2012
In my experience users are far more likely to engage with you if they have paid you money.

I assume you got an email address from these beta testers. Have you tried emailing them to ask for feedback? Maybe offer to skype them?
Andy Brice Send private email
Monday, February 20, 2012
thank you guys for your answers which I mostly understand and I agree. Let me say other remarks.

1. I have a get satisfaction public forum (and a link on application to go there) but I got only 1 feedback on it.

2. What scares me is that only few people that downloaded the app are using it (according my autoupdate stats). From my point of view this means that app doesn't solve a real problem. If I have so small usage when it is free and quite completed, what is going to happen when they are going to pay for it some bucks ? (24,99$ is my price range)

3. I calculated precise stats few minutes ago. For January/February (till now) I have these stats:
  261 visits
  49 download
  5 active users (that autoupdated the app)
  Few good feedbacks (around 10) of people enthusiastic about the app  but that I don't find in my stats (probably they feel guilty of not having tried the app and they answer with good feedbacks in private emails)

4. I tried to send them direct emails. They say idea is good, application is good but as I wrote above, it seems they tried one time and they have left it (and here is my scare: app doesn't solve a real recurrent problem :(

5. Is there any probability that my users are not a statistical dataset?

piero Send private email
Monday, February 20, 2012
1. I'm also in PDF software (SumatraPDF) and it seems to me you're attacking a niche that already has good direct (Yep, Papers) and indirect (Together, Yojimbo, Finder) competition. Outlook not good. My feeling is that outlook would be better if you attacked a pdf editor/creator niche.

For one, if someone needs to e.g. create a PDF out of 2 jpeg images, they have to use an app (and it could be yours) or else they won't accomplish their task. That's not the case with PDF organizer - it's optional and users have other options.

2. I don't get private betas. I release my software at version 0.1, write the best web page I can and hope for the best. At the beginning you have to fight for every download so I don't get why would you limit that number in any way.

3. I'll add another to voice to the chorus: don't expect good quality feedback from users. Do simple usability tests instead (http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/UsabilityTestingwithMorae.html)

At the same time I'm a believer in making it as easy as possible for users to contact you for any reason, including providing product feedback. I have a public discussion forum for my product, a prominent "Contact" page with my e-mail address etc.

4. Like you said download/usage ratio is crucial and yours is low.

It's a tough spot. On one hand you don't want to give up too early because http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000017.html. It took me about 2 years to get any traction for SumatraPDF.

At the same time, some products will never achieve traction, no matter how much effort you put into it.

For commercial programs written primarily in hopes of making money I would go with "abandon early if no traction, try again with another product". Opportunity cost is real.

For apps that I'm using myself (like SumatraPDF) I don't care how many other people are using it - I'll work on it as long as I find the need for it.
Krzysztof Kowalczyk Send private email
Monday, February 20, 2012
> a mISV around a desktop mac application for organizing PDF files

(Hmm... sounds like Google Desktop Search limited to PDF only. Anyway.)

How much work maintaining the order the application requires after the installation?

I wonder if it is possible to make it a background agent that silently indexes and organizes all PDFs ever entering the system (via download or otherwise) and make them available to the user on a click.

The point is: if user didn't bother to uninstall it right away, it may work for long, and one day user will open it and will see all their PDFs neatly arranged... at which point the uninstall is less likely.

The question "how to make them pay" is a more complicated though. I for one wouldn't buy it, but I have a system of keeping all my documents (not only PDFs) in a file system structure (and my desktop is Linux anyway).

I guess there are people in the world who work with enormous number of PDFs. E.g. lawyers and paralegals. May be it makes sense to tune the application to their needs?

Who are the users, anyway?
Siberian Send private email
Monday, February 20, 2012
>I guess there are people in the world who work with enormous number of PDFs. E.g. lawyers and paralegals. May be it makes sense to tune the application to their needs?

But are any of them using Macs?
Andy Brice Send private email
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
The need is sound, I do a lot of reading and research from academic journals.  There is a real need to organize such information.  A utility that could peek into the pdf for searching and indexing is a valid market. There is at least one solution in this area, and it's a mac only app.  I don't recall the name of it as I just use the file system myself.
SuperDuperUser Send private email
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
It's also a characteristic the pay wall academic journal system that once your collection of journal articles starts to grow, you guard it jealously.  One of my prize positions is a Knuth article from the late 60's.
SuperDuperUser Send private email
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
> If I have so small usage when it is free and quite completed, what is going to happen when they are going to pay for it some bucks ?

Keep in mind that people perceive the value of a free product very low and the value of a paid product as much higher. The people you're getting now aren't an indication of future success, they're a different market.

Although there may be some value in a free bug hunting beta, it's not the same as a marketing beta.

To know for sure you'll need to start getting into your real target marget, for example very slowly building an adwords campaign and seeing if you can get sales that way. Perhaps over a period of months, keeping your spend very low at first.
Jonathan Matthews Send private email
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
You may want to post your beta to MacDeveloper.net:

This is a web site that matches Mac developers to Mac users who enjoy beta testing software.  You may get more interested beta testers by posting there.

Beta testing is tough, and the feedback I get from paying customers is often very different from that which I get from beta testers.

John Brayton Send private email
Saturday, February 25, 2012
Nice idea for macdeveloper. Why haven't I heard of it before?
Bring back anon Send private email
Sunday, February 26, 2012

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