Apr 2009

A Formula for Success as a Micro-ISV... Maybe

by Steve Wortham
I'll be very up front about the fact that I'm making most of this up as I go along. After all, I don't have anything for sale yet and I don't think of BucketSoft as a success yet. Ever since I first started programming at age 12 I had lingering thoughts about what it would take to start my own software company. I thought about how great it would be to write some awesome software, sell it online, and then sit back and rake in the dough. Since then my delusions of grandeur have changed a bit, but the dream lives on.

Before I go on, what is a Micro ISV? Well, it's simply a one-man independent software vendor. In the traditional usage of the term, a Micro ISV requires the owner to develop and sell his or her software all by themselves. So as you can imagine, the thing about starting a Micro ISV is that it requires you to wear a lot of hats. You're the owner, developer, accountant, and marketing expert all in one person. Actually that's only the tip of the iceberg. In reality, I think the title of the website 47hats.com sums it up perfectly, a site dedicated to Micro ISV news & resources. So my initial idea of "sitting back" is perhaps a little off. I fully expect I'll be a busy boy as BucketSoft takes off.

Preparing Myself
I think I've unknowingly prepared myself for this through my experiences, if that makes any sense. If you count the time I did it as a hobby, I've been programming for a total of 14 years now. And I've had 8 years of actual experience working for small (10-20 person) companies. I never really planned on it happening this way, but working for these small companies has helped a tremendous amount when it comes to planning and starting my own business. That's because at these various jobs I became involved not only in the programming, but also technical support, usability testing, SEO (search engine optimization), marketing, advertising, etc. I wore several hats and gained the type of experience needed for very small businesses.

Although I'm fairly confident that I'll be able to make a living off of BucketSoft alone at some point, I am still cautious by nature. My approach so far has been to take it slow. I still have a full-time job separate from BucketSoft. And I'm working on getting the BucketSoft name out there a little bit at a time. I don't have any investors and I don't expect I'll need it. For the most part all I have invested is time. And it's time that I would otherwise be spending watching reruns of House and Smallville. So why not do something productive instead?

On with the Formula
Put simply, my whole opinion about how business should be conducted can be summed up in a quote from the Bible, "Give and you shall receive." Obviously, this is not a new concept. I wrote an article about this when it comes to attracting the most possible visitors to your website. I wrote that article out of frustration of some dishonest business practices I've observed all too frequently. My thought is that what's best for your customers is also best for your company. I plan to go to great lengths to meet that standard.

So I want to give away a lot for free. As you can see with my first product, Data Comparisons Express, it's free. I want to be open about everything that goes on, making this site an inviting place to visit. And I hope to create dependable software while at the same time providing great support. The ultimate goal of all this is to establish a good reputation with my customers and ultimately attract new customers by word of mouth.

Back to this idea of wearing "47" hats, I'll just expand a little bit on the subject of support. One thing I expect will help me drastically is GetSatisfaction.com. The site is extremely well done and really takes the idea of online customer support to another level. They have an ajax-enabled widget that you'll see on my Contact Us page. Essentially, whenever you begin to type your question or request, an ajax call is made to find similar questions that other users have already asked. It's a way of more efficiently managing support requests and ultimately saving time for both me and the customer.

Will it Work?
When I first started thinking about starting up my own Micro ISV I was searching for advice, tips, and especially success stories. I found some good information, for sure. But I didn't find a lot of success stories. I know there are stories out there but I guess most people just don't blog about that. Well, hopefully a year from now I'll have a story to tell. So that's what I'll do, one year from today I'll make another blog post talking about my journey.