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Successful Software

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BreezeTree Software

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Patrick McKenzie
Bingo Card Creator

How often to update with no sales?

Okay, so you know I released my app recently, but already I'm adding two new functions that improve it further.  Should I even be doing that when I've had no sales so far, and even though the app is new?

Should I be waiting for some initial sales first, before wasting my time on it further?  The version of my website is currently in a "minimum viable product" state, so while I'm working on this update I'm asking myself why.
PSB136 Send private email
Friday, March 21, 2014
 
 
Actually, I know why: it's because I dogfood my products, but why should I bother even thinking of giving it to the public when nobody's paid for it yet anyway?
PSB136 Send private email
Friday, March 21, 2014
 
 
You might make the update but hold back on releasing it until you have some sales.  If you're doing SaaS or if you have a maintenance plan people can buy, the improvements will give them something of value for their continued support.
Emily Jones Send private email
Saturday, March 22, 2014
 
 
> but already I'm adding two new functions that improve it further.

Seems to me that you have the added value *already* done, and so if you think it may make your product more likely to sell, or move it down a trajectory where you envision it ultimately ought to be to sell much better, why wouldn't you update the product? 

A better question might be, "Should I bother to *work* on new features before it is selling?"  That's different--because maybe you're wasting your time in working on that app if no one is buying it.  But here you have already blown past that point and have the new features coded, so I'd say, update away if it only takes a short while to do that.
Racky Send private email
Saturday, March 22, 2014
 
 
Is it possible that those 2 new missing features are affecting your initial sales? Then add them.

Otherwise, you must invest your time tweaking other areas like usability, stability, website & marketing (if there is no one else for marketing your product).
Gautam Jain Send private email
Saturday, March 22, 2014
 
 
> Is it possible that those 2 new missing features are affecting your initial sales?

No, I don't think so.  One of the 2 features adds command line support for the app, so the user can automate it without seeing the interface.  As the apps stands right now, they wouldn't be thinking about that.  Think of it like adding a command line feature to Microsoft Word to do a search/replace of text: most people would do it in the app instead of via command line.
PSB136 Send private email
Saturday, March 22, 2014
 
 
Dude, you're a software coder. You already know everything there is to running a software business.



(Yep, that was a little well-deserved dig in Scott's ribs)



AC
Reluctantlyregistered Send private email
Saturday, March 22, 2014
 
 
Developing software is your comfort zone.  You must get out of it and keep improving your marketing (website, adwords, landing pages, attract audience).

If you get ten thousand visitors and no downloads, or a thousand downloads and no sales, then you don't have a product/market fit as you may think. Time to go back to the drawing board and figure out what is wrong.
Mauricio Macedo Send private email
Saturday, March 22, 2014
 
 
Personally I would keep improving it and not give up unless I had gone 5 years with no sales.
Scott Send private email
Saturday, March 22, 2014
 
 
It hasn't been a month yet so I'm too concerned about no sales.  I did look at AdWords for the first time today; it's damn confusing though.  Set up an account and will start a campaign later this week when I get paid.  Fun times, though.  Always good fun when you release an app.
PSB136 Send private email
Saturday, March 22, 2014
 
 
Typo above: meant to say "not too concerned".
PSB136 Send private email
Saturday, March 22, 2014
 
 
Don't be surprised if the AdWords thing ends up money down the drain. Worth trying to see what results you get, but don't go into debt to pay for it.
Scott Send private email
Saturday, March 22, 2014
 
 
I'll give it a try once, to see what happens.

What about AdSense?  I just signed up for that too, but apparently they have to approve your website first.  I guess no harm in trying that, too.
PSB136 Send private email
Sunday, March 23, 2014
 
 
No sales, you say, but are there any downloads? And do you have a mechanism to reach out to those who downloaded to tell them that new features are available? Like periodic check for updates?

In general, do what is best for your users. Have any of them asked for those features? Are any users waiting for them?

Just note that "current users of my app" is not necessarily a subset of "intended target audience that is going to pay for my app".
Dmitry Leskov @Home Send private email
Sunday, March 23, 2014
 
 
Total downloads are around 200 now in a month, based on download stats from Softpedia, Download.com, Softonic, etc.  But no, I have no way to know who they are or how to contact them.  Nobody has contacted me yet, either.

My app does remind them to check for updates but it's not automatic, in that it never opens the website or anything.  No network access at all, which is in line with my principles.  It basically pops up a reminder once every 6 months, which I think is fair enough.  Two quick messagebox reminders a year is acceptable in my opinion.

I recently saw a post on a forum about doing what my app does, so I responded as a user and pointed them to my website, which they thanked me for.  Admittedly I didn't disclose that I was the author... naughty, I know.
PSB136 Send private email
Sunday, March 23, 2014
 
 
"Total downloads are around 200 now in a month, based on download stats from Softpedia, Download.com, Softonic"

Don't trust these numbers, trust only what YOU count on your website. If necessary, replace your exe file with a download.php that logs downloads and mask this as an exe with htaccess. Meticolously exclude bots and spiders. You won't have true stats without this.

This may not be important for big players who receive thousands of downloads per day for non-human interaction will not make 50% of their traffic.

I can track back 95% of my sales to search engine or referral traffic, I'm pretty sure these dl sites are worthless for small niche products other than providing a free backlink.
Zka Send private email
Sunday, March 23, 2014
 
 
> replace your exe file with a download.php that logs downloads and mask this as an exe with htaccess

Could you please explain how? I know how to edit the htaccess file.
PSB136 Send private email
Sunday, March 23, 2014
 
 
I use this. Not a well written rule, I think all .exe references will call dl/dl.php instead.

<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
RewriteEngine On
RewriteRule ^(.*\.(exe))$ dl/dl.php?file=$1 [L]
</IfModule>

By the way, even the few downloads via dl sites I get are a result of people looking for "MyProduct" crack and landing on a dl site that added a lot of crack-hack-full version whatever strings to lure more traffic to their pages.
Zka Send private email
Sunday, March 23, 2014
 
 
I think the principle of "fake it, 'till you make it" applies here. Yes, keep updating the software and maintain a verbose keyword rich page that explains what the new features are. This will give your website a sense of life and show that the product is being worked on.

I think it would be worth you asking for some feedback on your website.  It's very easy to miss some fundamental things with your first product website. Tiny changes can reap big rewards.
Andrew Gibson Send private email
Sunday, March 23, 2014
 
 
You've got a "minimum viable product" out there - good for you. Now focus your attention on marketing, sales and engaging your target market.

Remember, your offering should be based on market first, product second. On the assumption your product is something your target market wants (preferably 'needs') your efforts should be directed towards getting it in to their hands.

Once you start generating sales, let your customer feedback tell you which direction further development efforts (if any) should go.
Marcus from London Send private email
Monday, March 24, 2014
 
 
> RewriteRule ^(.*\.(exe))$ dl/dl.php?file=$1 [L]

Doesn't work... I get a 404 error when clicking my Setup.exe instead.
PSB136 Send private email
Monday, March 24, 2014
 
 
It probably fails to find dl/dl.php.
Dmitry Leskov Send private email
Monday, March 24, 2014
 
 
My download path is:

http://www.mysite.com/apps/Setup.exe

So how would I use the rewrite for that? Sorry, but I'm a coder, not a website creator.  :(
PSB136 Send private email
Monday, March 24, 2014
 
 
This is in fact a coding problem. You need to learn the API. There are references available for you to learn this.

The rewrite rule is redirecting that link to

http://www.mysite.com/dl/dl.php?file=apps/Setup.exe

Obviously you need a script at /dl/dl.php, and executable permissions etc. If it's somewhere else you make the obvious changes. You should be able to do this with the info given already.
Scott Send private email
Monday, March 24, 2014
 
 
I am actually not sure why you would need a PHP script to count downloads. Based on my experience, bots won't download your product, so you can get away with analyzing Apache logs.

The only technical issue is that people on bad connections and people using download managers will download your installer in multiple chunks. So I have a Perl script (the only twenty lines I've ever written in Perl) that goes through a pre-flitered and pre-sorted log, adding up the sizes of chunks of the same file downloaded from the same IP address, and only counts them as a successful download if the total is not less than the size of the file.

Hotlinking is a different story though. If you want people to visit your download page to read some important information prior to download, you have to protect from hotlinking, and that would require some server-side Web programming.
Dmitry Leskov Send private email
Monday, March 24, 2014
 
 
Yeah, it's easy to count with logs. But there are reasons for redirecting downloads. Such as allowing certain updates only for registered users, and watermarking the downloads with info about who downloaded them.
Scott Send private email
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
 
 
It is also nice to see the download url in web analyzer software (statcounter, clicky) together with the rest of the clicks. At least statcounter was not treating a link to a file as all other links. With some kind of redirect (I actually use javascript) you can see all other clicks and the download link at the same place. Hm, until now I haven't though of the buy now link, it is similar. Statcounter shows them in a separate category as exit links. Overwriting them could be beneficial too.
ThistimeAnon Send private email
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
 
 
Apache log analyzer can also be good, but sadly, some robots WILL download your installer.
Some download sites will also download quite regularly and you don't want to count these of course.
Zka Send private email
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
 
 
Downloads are easy to track in Google Analytics.
Dmitry Leskov Send private email
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
 
 
>  The version of my website is currently in a "minimum viable product" state, so while I'm working on this update I'm asking myself why.

1. You said you have a minimum *viable* product. If this is true, you don't need to add anything else to it.
2. What you think you should add and what your users think you should add will probably be two different things. Listen to them. I can't stress this enough. I've suffered myself from working on "features that I think are super important".
3. You actually need an MVP to prove the value of your idea, to give people a prototype that they can test and get their feedback. So, make sure that you do have a way to receive feedback. Gather their emails and connect with each and every person that downloads your product. If it's a free product (You said you had 200 downloads, but no sales), it's O.K. to send them one email and ask them what they think. If 10 of these 200 people respond, this is a lot of feedback. At this stage feedback is like gold. You want to know how they are using your software. It might be different from what you thought when creating it.
4. Make a landing page on your website. Here's an article that might help you: http://unicornfree.com/2013/how-i-increased-conversion-2-4x-with-better-copywriting
The author, Amy Hoy, might be a little bit too opinionated, but ignore this. The Pain-Dream-Fix strategy does work (I've tried it myself). I'm not affiliated in any way with her, just found that article helpful.
The main goal of your landing page would be to "sell" your MVP for an email. Ask for their emails and send them the download. I don't know what you used to build your website, but you can do this with Wordpress and a simple plugin (Double Opt-In For Download, for example).

> It hasn't been a month yet so I'm not too concerned about no sales.

You shouldn't be. It's a slow process.

The last and most important thing:

WHO ARE YOUR AUDIENCE? Reach out to them. Find them on forums/mailing lists/Google+ groups, whatever.

> I recently saw a post on a forum about doing what my app does, so I responded as a user and pointed them to my website, which they thanked me for. 

Exactly this. Try this type of marketing. It's not naughty, if you're helping someone. It's O.K. to receive money for your help.

I struggled myself a long time with self-promotion. "What if they don't like my product? What if it doesn't help them? ", I thought. Well, the answer is that you're an honest person. If somebody doesn't find your product helpful, you can always give them their money back. And, if it's a free product, you might be giving them something awesome for free! Think about all the people that you will be helping. Wouldn't that be great?

All the best of luck with your business!
—Gergana
SansMagic Send private email
Wednesday, April 02, 2014
 
 
> Gather their emails and connect with each and every person that downloads your product

Impossible.  It's a direct-link download on my website.  I have no way of knowing who's downloading it.  And no, I won't ever require an email address to "get it" as a matter of principle.  I don't like that, and won't impose it on others.
PSB136 Send private email
Wednesday, April 02, 2014
 
 
> Gather their emails and connect with each and every person that downloads your product

PSB136: 'Impossible.  It's a direct-link download on my website.  I have no way of knowing who's downloading it.  And no, I won't ever require an email address to "get it" as a matter of principle.  I don't like that, and won't impose it on others.'

Not impossible.  You do not want to do it.  That is quite a different thing.

You could ask for the downloader's E-mail address without making it compulsory.  Explain why you want it.  Some people may well be willing to give theirs.  For those who do not, they still get the download.

Sincerely,

Gene Wirchenko
Gene Wirchenko Send private email
Wednesday, April 02, 2014
 
 
I'm starting to think that principles shouldn't mix with business.
PSB136 Send private email
Thursday, April 03, 2014
 
 
I'll assume you're using the definition of "principle" that relates to morality, not the definition of "principle" that relates to fundamental truth.

Collecting emails is not immoral. It may or may not be a good idea for your business (test, test, and test some more to be sure). But it's certainly not immoral.
Wyatt O'Day Send private email
Thursday, April 03, 2014
 
 
Another issue is confusing one's considerations with what has to be.

I know of a game and comic store owner who does not open his store on Sundays for a religious reason.

If he were big enough to be able to afford an employee, would he be willing to have that employee work on Sundays?  It might well help his business if he did as Sunday is a good day for such a store to be open.

Were I living there, I might be willing to do it, but would he be willing to have me do it?  Some such employers would be; some would not.

Asking for is not the same as compelling.  PSB136 is quite possibly conflating the two.

Sincerely,

Gene Wirchenko
Gene Wirchenko Send private email
Thursday, April 03, 2014
 
 
I think of it like this: if someone walks into a bricks-and-mortar shop and wants to look at an item for sale, would you only allow them if they hand over their email address first?

Even making it optional seems dodgy to me, because it creates an impression that you're out to get them in some sneaky way.  That is, even if the shop owner said, "you don't need to provide it", then I'd be wary of them anyway since I know that's how they like to operate.

Or maybe I'm just weird and need help.  :)
PSB136 Send private email
Thursday, April 03, 2014
 
 
> Impossible.  It's a direct-link download on my website.  I have no way of knowing who's downloading it.  And no, I won't ever require an email address to "get it" as a matter of principle.  I don't like that, and won't impose it on others.

I'm sorry, maybe I didn't sound quite the way I wanted to. You shouldn't go against your principles, ever.

I tried to say what Wyatt said:
> Collecting emails is not immoral. It may or may not be a good idea for your business (test, test, and test some more to be sure). But it's certainly not immoral.

I'm not saying that you should spam people. I'm saying that you *could* ask for their opinion *once* and that, if you have an MVP, feedback is your next step.

> if someone walks into a bricks-and-mortar shop and wants to look at an item for sale, would you only allow them if they hand over their email address first?

I'm a bit confused, as you said you were not selling anything at this point. And what do emails have to do with real items? Of course, you will not be asked for an email at a store, but will you not be "spammed" with a thousand brochures upon entering the store? Will you not be asked if you were happy with the service at the cash desk? They have their way of receiving feedback.

 Let me try to counter-example your brick-and-mortar example :)

I'm one of those girls who let you sample an item at a store. You're desperately searching for some white paint. I say "Hey, there! Would you like to try SuperPaint's white paint for free? It will help you blah-blah-blah" and you say "Uhm, okay sure." Then I let you paint for a while. Should I let you walk away without asking what you thought about our paint? If you don't like something about it, I'd have to know. At the end I might even say: "Would you consider purchasing paint from us? You'll get a 20% discount as the first customer today." And you'll happily walk out of the store with a bucket of SuperPaint's white paint. Supposedly. This could happen.

To have such a conversation with your potential customers you need a way of contacting them. And you can't ask any questions before they have downloaded and tried your product.

When gathering emails, you don't have to be sneaky. It depends on what words you use. It's all about perspective: If you say "I'm selling it for an email, so that I can spam you", nobody will download it. But if you say: "Here's something that you need and will fix your problem and it's free. Do you want it? I can send it straight to your inbox." Sounds like an offer to me. I know I might be spammed afterwards, but if I really need it and if you give me the option to "unsubscribe" later on, why not?

If you still think getting emails is sneaky, you could embed a feedback form in the application. You could make it pop up only once.

Just do something to receive feedback, because right now you are like a street musician who doesn't even have a hat to gather coins. You just play and give people joy and hope that a random passer-by will stop and say: "Wooow! You are incredibly talented!"

I'm sure this will happen, too, but the volume of opinions will definitely be greater if you ask people first.

> Or maybe I'm just weird and need help.  :)

No, you are not. Everyone struggles with that: " Why should I go impose my stuff on people? Who cares about that?" Because your product is awesome and because it will solve a problem for them and make them happy. Go help them. :)

Sorry for a long post.

TL;DR: I think it's natural to ask for somebody's opinion of your work when you help them *for free*. Choose the way of doing this that fits your principles.

@PSB136
Please, don't take this the wrong way. I don't mean to force my worldview on you. Just trying to help.

Best
—Gergana
SansMagic Send private email
Friday, April 04, 2014
 
 
I love your advice, Gergana.  I'm currently changing my app as I type this (well, the source is open in another window) and I'm modifying it so that the user must get an emailed (and free) license to use it.  Said license will only last for one month at a time, so they can either keep emailing every month for a new one, or pay a small fee for a lifetime license.  I think that's fair enough.
PSB136 Send private email
Friday, April 04, 2014
 
 
PSB136: 'Even making it optional seems dodgy to me, because it creates an impression that you're out to get them in some sneaky way.  That is, even if the shop owner said, "you don't need to provide it", then I'd be wary of them anyway since I know that's how they like to operate.'

So you explain why.

Sincerely,

Gene Wirchenko
Gene Wirchenko Send private email
Friday, April 04, 2014
 
 
@PSB136

> I type this (well, the source is open in another window) and I'm modifying it so that the user must get an emailed (and free) license to use it.  Said license will only last for one month at a time, so they can either keep emailing every month for a new one, or pay a small fee for a lifetime license.  I think that's fair enough.

That's a really great solution! I really didn't think of this approach of handling the problem.

It reminds me of the "Avast model": they require an email registration, which lasts for one year, for the free version,

What really made me happy about your reply is that now you sound more determined to charge for your work. We tend to underestimate the value of our creations and the value of our knowledge, while there are people who'd pay money to "have Windows installed". Not that the latter is a bad thing.

Please let us know how that licensing thing worked for you and if you improved your software based on user feedback. I think everyone will benefit from knowing. :)

—Gergana
SansMagic Send private email
Monday, April 07, 2014
 
 
"What really made me happy about your reply" -- A lot happened since then, but I will be moving forward again soon with a fresh relaunch and new domain.  Probably as freeware for a limited time at first.
PSB136 Send private email
Tuesday, April 08, 2014
 
 

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