Business Development

Building Internet Communities

In my last regular post, "Entrepreneurship (Part II) - Please Help!", I feigned indignation regarding the lack of comments my posts were receiving.  Without comments, it's very difficult to determine whether you're providing useful content to your target audience, but now something worse has happened ... Sympathy Comments (thanks Keith and Gavin).  This post is going to discuss a couple reasons why forming an Internet community is hard as well as a couple ways an Internet "host" can satisfy his or her visitors.

Contest: The Micro ISV Community

This is the fourth and final of the contest entires. Voting begins tonight in less than 4 hours!

I tried thinking hard about my entry to this contest, and I tried to think of a list of technology people who had influenced me, but it just wasn’t happening.

I stumbled into technology, so I couldn’t pick a single shining light that has driven or shaped me and my career. It’s rare that I make it all the way through a technical book. I’ve always tried to learn enough to accomplish the current task and then hoped to come back to it later, but later never comes. I’m trying to figure out whether this makes me a really bad person to give free books to, or whether I really need it, I’ll let you guys decide for yourselves.

So I’m thinking back over the road that brought me here, maybe I’ll find a winner there. Maybe I should pick a childhood neighbour. I remember playing Frogger and Manic Miner on someone’s Spectrum, which in turn made me bug my parents to get me one. Maybe I should choose my parents for humouring me and not forcing me to go and play outside? When I started work, there were various people who gave me a chance, mentored me, or steered me towards software development. There are a few candidates there.

Entrepreneurship (Part II) - Please help!

Last month in my post titled MicroIVs - Making Dreams Come True, I described trying to instill the entrepreneurial spirit in my two eldest children. In what can only be described as yet another manifestation of my insanity, I'm considering teaching an "Entrepreneurship 101" class at the Grace Prep School, where my son will be attending 10th grade. Two factors make me think this would work; First, I'm on the advisory board for the local public high school's Technology education programs, where I've seen this work. As part of the marketing curriculum, the students have managed all facets of a successful store, located right in the high school building. Second, Grace Prep is a pretty progressive school ... it has already embraced many non-traditional learning techniques and values education with experience over rote learning. There may be a third alterior motive, since I'm concerned that I'm not boring enough people through this blog (although, based on the lack of comments I've received, I suspect that you are indeed snoring before you reach the "add new comment" link). I suspect there would be some real satisfaction in lulling a student to sleep and then calling on them. In any case, I'd like your opinion on both the concept and the implementation.

Here's the elevator pitch: Have the students in the class create a real MicroISV. The students could be divided into groups (Sales/Marketing, Customer Support, Management, Product Research and Development) based on their interests and/or aptitudes, with each group responsible for a portion of the business. I would provide the domain name, web site and software development (a program I wrote in less than a week last year). I believe that this software is saleable and have considered creating a MicroISV for it, so I don't feel bad using it as the company's product. The students would have to start the business, market and sell the software, handle customer interaction and direct product development.

Why Open Source <> Micro-ISV.

Every so often since my Micro-ISV book came out, I get an email like this:

I'm currently reading your book "Micro-ISV" and am learning a lot from it. However, I have one question about something you said. On page 23 you said, "Open Source may just be the greatest way to create anything, but it's a lousy way to start a small profit-making business..." Could you explain what you meant by this?

I've tried to explain why I believe this to be true, but there's a better real-life example: the Death of NDoc. Kevin Downs, head of the Open Source project is pulling the plug on going to 2.0 and killing it off in a couple of weeks at SourceForge after freeloaders bitched he wasn't working on it enough.

MicroIVs - Making Dreams Come True

Hey! Where's the "S" ... that's the all important "Software" part! If you thought I misspelled the title of today's post, I didn't. I'm starting off today talking about "Independent Vendors". Does the same Internet that enables MicroISVs today also support the creation of self-sustaining MicroIVs of different flavors? I believe it does! If you didn't catch the thinly veiled recapitulation of the the title of Bob Walsh's excellent book, "MicroISV - From Vision to Reality", all I can say is "Shame on You" (okay, maybe you're in the wrong place ... you can find Google here). If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then maybe other businesses can follow the MicroISV leaders. Almost every topic in Bob's book is either directly or indirectly related to every small business.

Show Me the Money

... so went the famous line from the movie "Jerry McGuire".  And while it may be appropriate for a sports agent, it really doesn't sound as good when I hear the salepeople in our company say it (fortunately, never directly to the customer).  As a large company (C-COR has over a thousand employees), we are multi-faceted ... we have a hardware division, a software division and several mechanisms for making money via services.  In all these cases, what the sales group really means is "give me some money", with the often unspoken corollary of "and I'll give you something of equal value".  The rest of this article focuses on software businesses and what happens when a customer offers money for something you don't have.

Open Source Beer and more

It seems this summer the whole world is moving towards Open Source: from the Our Beer gang to Microsoft providing a tool to easily embed CC licenses in Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, opening Codeplex and giving in to OpenDocument, to the whole Web 2.0 use our API’s movement. What’s going on here? More importantly, what opportunities might there be for micro-ISVs?

If you missed that first reference, a group of students at IT-University in Copenhagen have created Our Beer, the world’s first beer brand with a Creative Commons recipe. Geeks being a thirsty lot, this Open Source beer has generated a nice buzz above and beyond the alcohol. And a lot of intriguing ideas: will open source shake up the tangible world as it has the intangible world of software and micro-ISVs? Is Open Source the antidote to brain-dead call centers, crappy products that fall apart in a couple years and advertising on every flat surface your eyeballs happen to rest on? Maybe.

Crowdsourcing for Micro-ISVs

One of the things a micro-ISV has to be on the lookout for are emerging trends they can get on top of and ride like the Devil. Crowdsourcing is one of those trends. There’s a great article, The Rise of Crowdsourcing, in the June Wired Magazine that any micro-ISV casting about for a product/service idea should read.

Finding a Thirsty Crowd for Your Software

Why do so many independent software developers develop a great product, with great features, and watch it quietly fade into oblivion due to total lack of interest?

The cliche is to say "Well, I just don't understand marketing."

I've got a simple formula for anyone who doesn't understand marketing:

1. Create an amazing offer for your product or service
2. Offer it to a thirsty crowd, desperate for it
3. Follow up with that crowd for repeat business

That's it. Now, let's tackle each of those points in a little more detail.

Bill Bows Out

In case you've been in a zen-like coding state for the past couple of days, Bill Gates is checking out the building. In hindsight, it's clear Bill has been edging closer and closer these last few years: first handing over the day to day to Steve Ballmer, then elevating Ray Ozzie to sit one step down from the throne.
Since everyone else with a heartbeat and a laptop have opined what this means for Microsoft, the software industry and the WBM (World Bill Made), I thought I’d weigh in with what a few predictions of what this means for micro-ISVs:

  • Go Live Go – Ray Ozzie gets the Net in ways Gates only reluctantly ever did. Now that Ozzie is The Man, expect to see the Live vision of the world get significantly more resources and prestige internally in Microsoft at all levels. On a practical level for developers, expect to see Microsoft build a true online ISV distribution channel – one that micro-ISVs will be able to get in on.
  • Big Ships Turn Slow – At the same time, Microsoft is a huge company nowadays, and huge companies at the top of their game turn very slowly. Office 12/Vista will unroll pretty much as planned over the next several years. After that though, I would not be surprised to see the next big Office/OS become a low cost core endpoint for consumers, business and enterprise pulling down from the MicrosoftNet added functionality tailoring the one size fits all to the era of customized everything.