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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

OffTopic - MS advertizes beta software in mass medias !

Today, La Libre Belgique's home page features an animated ad for MS AntiSpyware Beta. FYI, La Libre is a major belgian newspaper.

MS is running an ad campaign for some utility that is still in beta! I mean that the ad outlines that it's beta software.

OK, I agree this is a good piece of software. I run it myself and install it on all infected computers that I'm asked to fix. But this is not the point.

Why didn't they wait until it's officially released to start their massive ad campaign. Or if it's ready for prime time, why don't they officially release it first ? Anyone with a clue, please tell me !

Friday, March 25, 2005

Good news from the first testers

I posted the first preview version of appTranslator two weeks ago. Yesterday, I contacted a few people who had downloaded it to collect their impressions.

People seem to be happy with the product. There wasn't any unexpected problem, which is very good news (Well... except for a missing file in the installer that prevented to generate satellite DLLs. But that one was easily solved) .

It looks like there is room for usability improvement though: Users don't know where to start. I think I'll add a wizard to help them get up and running more easily.

The first 3 minutes...

It's really important to make sure people will easily get started with the product. This usability problem that my users reported is an important one. It looks minor at first. After all, everybody managed to get it running. But how many people that I don't know of stopped immediately and won't come back ? The first 3 minutes of a product evaluation are probably the most critical ones. If users can't get started easily, they will obviously give up immediately, which means... lost sale !

Monday, March 21, 2005

Some funding is worth looking for

You don't want funding...

You have a nice product or service idea ? You want to develop it ? But you're not Jeff Bezos. (Beg your pardon ? Ah! You _are_ Jeff Bezos! OK. Please stay calm and drop that stuff you're smoking, because it isn't doing any good to your brain ;-) When your business becomes profitable, you don't want to have to share the profits with VCs, don't you ? (Well, OK, Jeff probably shares losses more than profits, but you get my point :-) )

So you don't look for external funding because you'll have to pay back some day.

... but what if you don't have to pay back

Be aware that many governments are ready to help you get started. It's really worth spending some time wandering through the maze of your local government web sites. You may probably find interesting subsidies offers.

I spent a couple of my vacation evenings plus the whole day today filing a request for subsidy for professional investment expenses. If my request is accepted, it should help pay for quite an interesting set of new equipment, including hardware and software.

It's not the perfect deal though: The biggest investment when your starting up as an ISV is the lack of salary while you're developing version 1.0. And these subsidies usually are about expenses, not salary.
But hey! It's way better than nothing ! A couple of brand new computers fully equiped with all the software I need plus some money to pay a professional designer for logos and stuff. It's well worth a day of paperwork !

Don't forget to join recommandation letters

Now, be aware that the people who are going to read your literature don't get a clue of what you tell them about your product. The trick is to look both attractive and serious. You need them to believe in you. An effective way to reach that goal is the recommandation letter: Respectable people telling nice things about you. That's what the guy behind the wallet wants to hear.

Ask your ex-boss to write that you are the super-heros of software, with the whole set of super powers ! No, wait, don't ask him to write it: Write it yourself and send him a copy of the text that he simply has to print on company letter paper and sign it!

I keep as a relic two letters written my first boss (back during my University years. The guy _looks_ like a university teacher, right ? :D) and by my final year thesis director. Each time I needed to send a resume to someone, I joined a copy of these two letters, even 10+ years later. It never made any bad.

Let's admit it! Vacation is a nice invention :-)

I'm back from a one-week family vacation. My last day off (OK, except for some saturdays and sundays ;-) ) was somewhere in last July. Still, I took my PC. I intended to write docs and online help for appTranslator.
Well... I did some work... but honestly: not much! Because as soon as we arrived at Valmeinier, I realized I needed a real break.

Aargh! Is this really interesting ? OK, let's come directly to the point : I'm back at work!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

blog moved

To whoever subscribed to my blog feed or bookmarked the blog URL:
I modified the hosting of the blog. So please update your newsreader and bookmarks.


And now, I need to find a way to get this published to the former hosting so that you can read it ;-)

Somehow getting out of the dark

There it is, at last! Yesterday eve, I published a first version of the web site. It even contains a first preview version of AppTranslator (which will probably lose its uppercase A for logo reasons). And a video demo !

I confess the reason for the video is the lack of documentation. I realize it doesn't sound very serious to publish software with no docs but I really wanted to get it out to the world ! And docs are now my priority for the next 2 weeks (er... including some family vacation! I really need to breath some genuine oxygen for a while. And sleep a couple of real nights!).

I'm not satisfied with the quality of the video. I really need to make it better. Also, the quality of the sound is very poor. I'm busy with TechSmith tech support about it. I believe such videos are a great marketing tool but if you figure you can roll a good one in minutes, you're wrong!

The website is for sure a work in progress. I hesitated before publishing it. But I need some presence on the web. Also, I need people to start downloading AppTranslator as early as possible. And I believe the early adopters are conscious that this is only a start and will accept a few glitches.

The next step will be to finalize the logo. My logo contest deadline is today.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Logo Time !

I've seen too many ยต-ISV websites that look way too cheap. If their software is good anyway ? In most cases, I don't know. Because I didn't feel like digging deep. If these guys can't bother to put some effort into setting up a professional-looking website, how could they bother making quality software, which requires way more effort ? You'd better have a damn good concept and not too much competition if you want to sell software with a website that looks like... I did it myself!

Don't get me wrong : We all know that the nerds who do the good software are not the great-looking sales guys who sell it. We all know that if you switch the positions, there will be no sale, which is better because the software would be pure crap anyway. But what the visitor of your site sees is neither the nerd nor the sales guy, it's the company ! And her first impression is what counts. Sales guys are good at giving a good first impressions but they are unable to maintain this impression on the long term. Nerds on the other hand give a bad first impression but may eventually gain credibility on the long term. And that's why sales people and back-office developers are complentary. Why many of them (from both categories) don't get that simple fact is beyond me.

Your website is not only some kind of open window to the world, it's truly your sales guy! The one that must be great-looking in order to give a good first impression. Well... Actually, your software is your second sales guy. Would you consider hiring a sales guy who doesn't look clean and professional (whatever this may mean, according to your intended audience) ? So why don't you put effort in the professional look of your website and software.

Among all tasks to be performed by an ISV founder, there is one that I, as a software developer, am totally unable to handle myself: Artistic design. I can design software, code it, do admin stuff(not accountance but I don't need it yet), setup web hosting, write contents for the website (even though this is not as easy as it looks) and more. But don't ask me to mix colors, choose a font or hold a pencil. It's just that these tasks are performed by a part of my brain that I think I don't have (Note to self: Sue Mom and Dad for not delivering all parts as specified in the catalog).

Mia volunteered for the web site template (Edited May 5th: Removed now broken link). She's not a pro but she's doing far better than me. The one other thing that I need is a nice logo. The logo will be used both on the site and in AppTranslator itself. Also, I want a logo that can easily be turned into an icon so it would be a good idea if the designers could show me the logo in standard icon sizes: 48x48, 32x32 and 16x16. 12x12 may be interesting as well in order to make a document icon. And art is like software: It's a matter of professionals.

Er... You mean it's gonna cost me money? Real money? No, I mean it's a good way to make money on the long term. But, yes, in the short term, you'll have to spend some money to hire a professional. Actually, you'll want to hire several designers in order to see different ideas. Then, after many discussions, reviews, and... discussions, and... reviews, you'll end up with a nice logo that is the face of your product as much as what you see in the mirror is your own face.

The good news is that there are affordable solutions. Design Outpost is one of them. You can even look them in action. Wait! You can even look at them designing the AppTranslator logo right now!

Ever since I started the logo contest (and even a little before actually), I started to talk about it to people around me. It's great to see people coming back with design ideas some time later, such as the Babel Tower birthday cake (Thanks Crooks :-) and the multilingual keyboard (Thanks Goran!)