A former community discussing the business of software, from the smallest shareware operation to Microsoft. A part of Joel on Software.
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Doug Nebeker ("Doug")
It's over a year now since I launched and sales have been minimal. Less than $500. Pathetic. But I know that the fact that I've had a few sales at all, means that there's interest. Nibbling on the fishing line, yes; but no big hauls.
To me, it seems marketing is the solution, because whenever my apps are mentioned on a site, I get a handful of sales. So, is this my future? Just constant updating and publishing of those updates to get 3 or 4 sales at a time? Yuck. It's not worth the effort for that many sales. I'd just as soon pack it all in.
I've seen in these forums that we're supposed to "hang out in your target market" and mention your products when the opportunity arises. I've tried that in various forums, but was quickly accused of spamming and to quit it. So how does one "hang out" somewhere without looking desperate or being labeled a spammer?
It sounds from past threads like you wrote and sold some utility software for PCs.
A "target market" is something vertical - a specific industry - like dog kennel or restaurant POS software, or stuff for gamers, or software for specific application areas like image editing.
If you sell PC utility software, you really don't have a target market. If you could be said to have a market, which is really a stretch, you'd hang out anyplace PC problems are discussed, like Tom's Hardware forums or something. But that domain is so broad that calling it a target market is almost useless.
You need to look for communities where people hang around. The problem with most PC help forums is that people use them parasitically. They drop in, ask for help for themselves, and leave quickly. Most PC help forums are filled with needy, lazy people who don't want to spend anything.
> I've seen in these forums that we're supposed to "hang out in your target market" and mention your products when the opportunity arises. I've tried that in various forums, but was quickly accused of spamming and to quit it. So how does one "hang out" somewhere without looking desperate or being labeled a spammer?
You have to have good social skills, including the non-asperger's ability to know when you're being overbearing, and understand how forums work. If you come out of nowhere in a thread and recommend your product, unless it's a specific question about that kind of tool, you'll always look ridiculous, w/o exception.
Assuming you found a real community and a forum for it, you mostly have to rely on being around there long term and being visible by helping people continually. The only "marketing" you could do in that instance is a forum signature block with your product in it somehow.
I consider forum presence ultra low probability and way more work than it's worth. You're probably trying to emulate these guys here on BoS and that ship sailed 10+ years ago. Nobody's disabusing you of that idea, which is irresponsible of this community, so I'm doing that here.
Frankly, given the difficulties you've described, you don't seem to have the right product, the right niche market focus (you probably have no niche market anyway), and if you've targeted PCs as a platform, you're in a declining sector anyway.
You can attain dynamics such as the old mISV business format used to have, but you probably need to move on to another platform such as mobile and Android, or develop a cloud solution for a real niche market. And this community doesn't support either area (mobile or SaaS) that well.
Yes, it little utilities that I (try to) sell. And as you said, there's nowhere really specific to hang out, for the very reasons you mentioned. I definitely should've targeted a specific niche after all, rather than try to appeal to everyone. Taken me over a year to realize that. :( Live and learn.
The giveaway that you've got a poorly targeted product is that you can't for the life of you figure out an effective way to market it. I think you can safely regard the past year as a good test marketing attempt.
Conversely, a good product idea should inspire you to think of ways to market it and what to say about it.
Just one other thing. EVERY developer I've ever known, when they think about creating a product, ALWAYS - without exception - wants to invent a system tool, or a utility, or a programming tool.
I don't get it, except that most developers don't seem to get out enough or to have enough diversity of interests in order to come up with decent ideas. Everyone does the same boring shit, like list organizers and task and memory managers and programmer's editors.
You're doing ok for what market you're in and that you're doing it all yourself. You should understand your strategy here though is to keep improving and developing your product line to be best in class, while providing A+ service, and in about 10 years you'll be well regarded and pulling in a stable livable income. There's lots of small one person operations that work under this model.
Can you make more just operating a fast food franchise? Probably. Can you make more getting a corporate job? Likely.
Some people do best working for themselves. I'm that way. I'm miserable and depressed doing work that is thrown away or pointless for corporations run by bureaucrats and salarymen. So I choose long ago to go the long haul no matter how long and suffering it takes. If one is able to work happily for someone else, that's usually a better path than take on the risk and misery of entrepreneurship. But some, a minority, don't have any other choice really since working for others is so depressing it makes one suicidal. Thus to survive one must build their own empire, no matter how small.
Sounds like the last year has been pretty rough for you. Don't worry, you can make a lot of money in this business. I agree with what Scott says about refining your craft, and improving your product. But I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't met a bunch of people along the way.
Most of the people I know in the business are very successful. Where do I meet them. In the beginning I used to reach out to non competitive small companies in my industry and try to propose co-operating on something. Bundles, co-brands, links, private labels, affiliate marketing deals, whatever. I also used to build things specifically to be white labeled, and then approach the guy who already has the audience but not the software.
There are a few industry conferences I go to. I always learn things from talking to other people. The funny thing is often what one person thinks is "the secret sauce", is what somebody else thinks everybody else knows. So when you talk to each other people say things they figure everybody knows that was exactly the answer someone else needed.
If you can get to NYC this august, you might want to check out affiliate summit. There will be a lot of people there who know how to sell software but do not know how to make it. Those are the people you probably want to meet.
> The giveaway that you've got a poorly targeted product is that you can't for the life of you figure out an effective way to market it
I thought it was because I have no experience in marketing, but I see what you mean.
> I think you can safely regard the past year as a good test marketing attempt
It's been a good learning experience, that's for sure! :)
> EVERY developer I've ever known, when they think about creating a product, ALWAYS - without exception - wants to invent a system tool, or a utility, or a programming tool
True, that. It's because that's what we know best, and assume others will want it. I'm scratching my own itches with my apps, and because I've had some sales for them, I assumed they'd be more popular. Obviously not. :(
> You're doing ok for what market you're in and that you're doing it all yourself
Thanks Scott. I am proud of what I've done -- totally solo -- so it's not a wasted effort. I'm just torn now between continuing or abandoning. The only reason I haven't abandoned yet is because it'll feel like I ripped the buyers off, even though they can still use their purchases forever (their licenses don't expire and are not tied to their hardware).
I started a forum at my website on Feb 27 to support my apps and generate more involvement from my users, but so far only 10 people have joined, with only 3 posting something. I don't know if that's a good or bad measure of how it will progress?
I'll stick it out for a while longer, probably until Feb 2018, so that it's been 2 years since launch. If nothing's improved by then, I'll pack it in.
A range of reactions here.
Scott stresses knowing thyself and understanding that you WANT to be independent itself as a primary life goal. Completely agreed.
> You're doing ok for what market you're in and that you're doing it all yourself.
Agreed. But $500/yr revenue is horrible, unless the product is an afterthought that demanded no time to develop and no effort to market.
> I'm miserable and depressed doing work that is thrown away or pointless for corporations run by bureaucrats and salarymen.
What about doing work for yourself that is eventually thrown away that you never monetize? At some reasonable point a person needs to come out of the dip and start to see upside. In a regular job you receive a salary. With mISV you can pour years of your life down a rat hole. Also, with your own product you personalize the failure and it's REALLY hard to consider months or years of committed effort an "experiment" that failed. People go homeless and lose their families in these kinds of situations.
> You should understand your strategy here though is to keep improving and developing your product line to be best in class, while providing A+ service, and in about 10 years you'll be well regarded and pulling in a stable livable income. There's lots of small one person operations that work under this model.
But it's a desktop Windows utility, Windows is losing mindshare with users, and that entire commercial packaged software market is in collapse. I really see no future in the niche you're in.
> Don't worry, you can make a lot of money in this business.
DON'T WORRY? The guy's invested a year or more and has 500 to show for it. He has to be second guessing his talent, ability to market and to define a product based on facts alone.
> There are a few industry conferences I go to. I always learn things from talking to other people.
Takes disposable income that the OP is not earning currently to be able to afford conference attendance. Figure $2000 in airfare+room plus attendee fee.
PS136, you're getting a snow job from these guys here. This is your life. Are you wasting it? Choose carefully. It's great to be bullish but you have objective proof from your numbers that this biz is not working for you.
I'd recommend pivoting to something related, try to find freelancing gigs and anything else to keep the lights on, and consider whether this segment is a waste of your time, talent and life.
> The guy's invested a year or more and has 500 to show for it
Way less than $500. I only said $500 because I didn't want to add up what the horrible reality was. :) It's between $200 and $300 I think. Beer money. Paid for some nice lunches, too.
I still have a full-time day job, so I've got that to fall back on, even though I truly hate it with a passion. But I was really (but foolishly?) hoping to sell some utils on the side that might bring in some big bucks after a few years; even just enough for a home deposit (down payment). At the moment, it's a pipe dream. Meh.
PSB136, first of all, congratulations for building and trying to market Windows software in this difficult times.
Let me give you my two cents:
- Do not give up. You are building something.
- Do not add new features to software products that do not sell.
- Build different small products until you find one that gets traction. Then focus on it. All your previous work will add up.
- Start small with any new software program. Do not spend a lot of time in version one.
- Imagine a software product that you would recommend to friends, family or co-workers. Then build a freemium program (free version and premium with some added features).
- Think about making your products Freemium, when possible. This will give you more users and more exposure.
- Forums and other marketing strategies are time consuming and do not bring great results if your software is not "popular". The best marketing event I can think of is a review of your software in a software magazine or in a software website. This miracle will only happen if your program is really useful.
- If you have built a program that you consider good enough as to be reviewed in such magazines and websites, contact them and ask for a review. Not easy, but who knows.
I wish you best of luck in your endeavor.
Monday, March 28, 2016
> Just one other thing. EVERY developer I've ever known, when they think about creating a product, ALWAYS - without exception - wants to invent a system tool, or a utility, or a programming tool.
Maybe I'm not a real developer (though I do develop), but I never once thought about creating a system tool, utility, or programming tool for selling. (Have thought about releasing, open source, a horrible bug tracker just for kicks). I wanted to make software for life, not for programming. And of course, the whole iPhone app craze is 99.999999999% driven by non-programming-related apps.
Lots of way better examples on this forum, too, of course. Wedding planning, Bingo cards, and the software that Scott makes, which we can only assume is for setting your dog up on a date.
Thanks for clarifying you still have a day job.
I wouldnt want to sdvise you to risk becoming homeless
Here were my numbers at the beginning
Year 1 was one sale just one
Year 2 average of $50 per month
Year 3 finished at $1000 per month
sometime in year 4 things took off
I am on year 17 now and the software business
Has been very good to me.
If you want to stay in the game of consumer desktop software
My advice would be to learn marketing next
Join any affiliate network that has software products
Pick one that is a top seller and figure out how to sell it
Plenty of people on the affiliate forums be happy
To show you how to do it
Marketing is much easier to learn than programming
But it is still lots of tedious hard work to do it right.
Join what i call the software tri-lateral commission
Master of business operations
You got one so far. Get the other 2 and
Your earnings can grow to "no limit"
Thanks for everyones' encouragement. :)
I am trying different types of apps to see what gains traction, and I've even had positive reviews on a couple of sites (Ghacks.net and GuidingTech.com) of my latest app. It's actually freemium so I can "pimp" it on forums without looking like a spammer too much; indeed I've done some "my free lite version can do that" comments in various Reddit posts without accusations of spam, so I'm encouraged by that.
At this stage, though, it just feels like I'm forced to make silly pointless updates just to get relisted at the top of MajorGeeks every few weeks, to generate a handful of sales. So if that's going to be the lifecycle, then I'm not sure if I want it. Updates solely for updates sake will lead to bloatware and more bugs.
I had 8 x $19 sales in February, with the last on Feb 25. Nothing since then; just crickets chirping. My website averages around 150 unique visits every day, so people are coming, but they're not all buying. It's frustrating and disheartening at the same time, because obviously the apps have merit to generate any sales at all.
I'm working on my next app which will definitely target a specific niche customer, rather than being a utility for tech heads. Maybe that will fare better.
Please read the threads in the links below.
What do you think about this suggestion?
Stop coding for a while, start hanging out in forums like those and just focus on learning internet marketing. Until you are able to do what those guys do. Once you have mastered that aspect of the business. Then go back to making products that you know how to sell.
what do you think?
I agree completely with C. Stark and Marcus.
PS136, you have irrevocably proven through your business experience that you have no insight into what will sell. Which is an almost universal experience when you are working in isolation.
Stop the freaking coding. Start researching more/different product ideas. And the markets for them. Just open your mind. Stop being a narrow code head. Look at real life. How people actually do things and what they buy, play with, what entertains them, what they value.
NO CODE! NONE! Just stop coding. Until you get your bearings.
I worked with an mISV owner who told me that once he started to grasp marketing online, he would rather have just sold an affiliate package or resold something like drop shipped furniture, than wasted the time building his own product. In other words, his coding was an extremely low-value use of his time. He made more money more easily just marketing other people's stuff.
> Stop the freaking coding
The harsh reality. :( I haven't touched my apps for a few weeks now, so I think you're right.
The whole thing is just stressing me out. My wife took a small job doing ironing for people and she's now actually bringing in more money than my apps now, and on a weekly basis! That is truly humiliating. But it does show that people only pay for necessities in life, and not luxuries like software.
It's crap when you build up hopes but reality doesn't agree. :(
"But it does show that people only pay for necessities in life, and not luxuries like software."
Well you've just touched on one of the issues you'll need to address in your market research.
What problems are people experiencing that is costing them (time, money etc.) that a software solution could be seen as a necessity because it either saved them time (good), saved them money (better) or both (best).
More than likely this will be in the B2B space rather than B2C where a software solution addresses a pain rather than satisfies a whim.
As an aside, may I also suggest that for any solutions you consider you critically assess the price points that solution would address (do you want this to be a hobby or a businss?).
Stop focusing on $9 apps (at least add a zero to the price) or you may have a better ROI joining your wife.
Great posts from C. Stark. The doggie dating app Racky refers to had similar numbers for the first three years.
OP has several finished products, to the point he feels he is adding pointless features just to get relisted as a fresh release. Stark advices to stop coding for a while and become an expert in marketing and sales. That's great advice, and use those products to experiment with your new marketing skills.
> OP has several finished products, to the point he feels he is adding pointless features just to get relisted as a fresh release
Pretty much correct, although usually my added features aren't always pointless.
I saw an app at MajorGeeks that gets relisted by them every couple of weeks or so, with the change log always just solely described as "minor fixes". People were commenting underneath that the author is always just doing "minor fixes" with no visible changes or enhancements. I don't want to become that guy.
Yeah I understand that, I was just empathizing with your statement "it just feels like I'm forced to make silly pointless updates just to get relisted". That means to me your software is stable and feature complete and now it's time to stop fiddling and get to marketing. We've all been there, we are developers and would rather fiddle with code and make those last tweaks than deal with marketing.
However, marketing can be an intellectual analytical and also creative process that you debug and optimize as well, just like coding. And one that takes years to become good at. So get going there!
> The whole thing is just stressing me out. My wife took a small job doing ironing for people and she's now actually bringing in more money than my apps now, and on a weekly basis! That is truly humiliating.
It sure shouldn't be. Nothing about that strikes me in the least bit humiliating. Why should it be?
> But it does show that people only pay for necessities in life, and not luxuries like software.
[Sorry, this triggered my "Something is wrong on the internet" alarm]
Oh, that is very much the wrong lesson to take from that observation. The whole modern economy is running to a good extent on people paying for luxuries--not just necessities. Few people truly *need* a cell phone of any sort. They may tell you they do, but it's not true. How did such people exist pre-1990?
No one *needs* any games, music, films, TV, magazines, toys, sports swag or gear (or the hardware that runs them), make-up, sports cars, season tickets, iPads, cosmetic surgery, pets, interior decorating, dining out, Netflix, ice cream, alcoholic drinks...ski weekends, hot tubs, vacations, massages, crystal healing, tarot readings, Christmas lights, chocolate....Hello, Kitty....
...and yet in total these are, what? a trillion dollars or so of economic activity?
Some of the biggest moneymakers in the software world are games, obviously. Not one of them was needed.
How does this affect your decisions? I'd just say to no go off to your idea lair thinking that only "necessities" will sell in software. Of course, how you define "necessary" matters, but little in life is arguably necessary, and I mean that even given more than just life support. (A simple dwelling and clothes, healthful food, and thermal regulation and a modicum of comfort at home is sufficient. Everything else is gravy.)
That said, if you try to sell software no one needs OR wants, sure, it's not going to sell.
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