My First Micro-ISV Product Ideas

[Note: I have a phone meeting on Wednesday with an old colleague where the result could change my plans. I will keep you posted]

OK, here it goes....for better, worse or the other, I am letting the world know my first product ideas. We'll see if announcing these now was a good idea or not. ;-)

Before reading my specific ideas, make sure you obtain some context by reading my previous post about goals.

As you will notice below, I am entering into pretty saturated markets (i.e much competition exists). However, I have subscribed to the theory that while a totally unique idea that is a hit may provide the best overall outcome, those come very far and few between. Instead, it is much more normal to add value to existing ideas, and let the execution and marketing of the added value bring success. Looking at it from the glass half full perspective, having competition means that people want the product or service (i.e. there is a market).

Also, I have a motto that I want to develop products that *I* will use on a daily basis. That is important to me because it makes me my own customer -- and I don't want to use crappy products either.

So without further ado, here are my product ideas for the next year or so. Again, these products align with my goals.

 

RSS Reader (Desktop)

Yes, there are many RSS readers out there, both web (e.g. Google Reader) and desktop (e.g. FeedDemon) based. I am going to enter my hat into the desktop ring. I will offer the basics, of course. But, I do have some ideas that I hope, in conglomeration, will differentiate mine from others. One is having both a Mac and Windows reader, with the same user experience. The second is being able to sync your feeds (e.g. read/unread) so you can be up-to-date no matter which computer you use the reader on (this requires some sort of web-based storage solution, probably). The third is being able to....well, I don't want to give this one away yet :-)

Business Model: Free basic version; Fixed-price premium version [Note: I am still working out if the free/premium model is the best way to go.]

 

Fantasy Football Information Web Site

Two of my many passions are sports and technology. I figured, hey, why not merge the two. I love playing fantasy football (NFL). There are many fantasy football websites that offer information about who are the best players to play during a given week, game previews, answers to emails, draft software, etc. Some of these sites are from the big boys (e.g. ESPN) and some smaller, yet popular, folks (e.g. Fantasy Football Today). I figured I would offer the same sort of valuable information and tools, but try to do it better and/or differently. In the end, when it comes to sites like these it is all about providing good, relevant and as accurate as possible information.

Business Model: Advertising

 

Package of Tools and Utilities for Windows

I have always like building small tools and utilities. Most of the tools I have built, either for my own uses or for work, I was doing back in my corporation days. I have had folks appreciate the tool work I have done. So I figured why not come up with a list of (hopefully) useful tools and utilities and offer them up free for people. I don't consider any of my ideas here earth shattering, nor unique, but just things I have found a need for. I don't plan for these tools to make money, nor get bought out by Microsoft like SysInternals. I just want to provide them for fun and test an open source business model -- where my goal wouldn't be to make money, but more just get my name out there. Here are a few examples I am thinking of implementing (and, yes, initially these will be Microsoft centric because that is what I know)

  1. An Outlook mail component that makes sure you actually have an attachment in an email that is supposed to have an attachment.
  2. A component for IE7 that automatically puts widely used links in the Links portion of the IE7 browser and makes sure they are bubbled to the "top" of the Links portion (e.g. they are visible in the max screen browser window)
  3. A small utility that allows a user to increase/decrease the number of simultaneous downloads allowed from IE7
  4. A tool that finds all the files where there are multiple instances on your computer (this could be Mac and Windows)

Business Model: Free, Open Source

 

I will provide specific details on each of these efforts as I move along the development path. Right now, I think I am going to work on the Fantasy Football website first so I can have it ready in time for the next NFL Fantasy season, which begins in full force around August.

So there you go. The cat is out of the bag. :-) Now it comes down to execution. Also, I am not adverse to discussing/collaborating/partnering on these ideas or any other ideas. So if you have any thoughts you want to share with me personally, feel free to contact me by email or leave a comment.

Goals For My First Year In Business

I have been convinced, after a blog comment conversation with another fellow Micro-ISVer, to let the cat (or cats in this case) out of the bag with the ideas that I am targeting as I get my Micro-ISV business off the ground.

The specifics of those ideas will be my the focus of my next post. There will be a couple of teasers in this post ;-)

But before I reveal the ideas that I have been keen on, I wanted to set some context about my goals that I want to accomplish as a result of developing these ideas.

I have 3 ideas that I would like to flesh out and develop by the end of 2008 / beginning of 2009, if not sooner. One is, for the most part, an informational website idea. Another is a desktop application. The third is still a bit fuzzy, but the idea lies around downloadable tools/utilities.

Of course, as with any commercial business, a main goal is to actually make some money. However, for my first foray into this "run my own business" process, it is not my only goal. In fact, I would even go as far as to say that making money isn't my only top-tier goal.

My goals as I get my business off the ground are the following:

Tier-1 Goals

  1. Develop products that I myself am excited about and would use
  2. Determine the best business model(s) for me
  3. Learn how to run a virtual business
  4. Answering the "Is being a Micro-ISV right for me?" question
  5. Make money

Tier-2 Goals

  1. Ensure I remain technologically relevant
  2. Get my name out there (not just through the products, but by participating in forums, etc.)
  3. Balance contracting/consulting, other business opportunities with a Micro-ISV business
  4. Determine if I need/want/can support a partner(s) or employees 
  5. Answering the "Can a Micro-ISV succeed in markets that already exist?" question
  6. Find the right Micro-ISV resources to utilize (e.g. is Microsoft's Empower program worth it?)
  7. Help other Micro-ISVs as appropriate and as best I can

There may be a few other goals that I am missing, but I think I have covered the major ones.

Let discuss some of the Tier-1 goals just a little bit.

Develop products that I myself am excited about and would use

I think this might be the most important goal. I believe if you don't like the work you are doing, the product quality suffers. And when that suffers, it is like a domino effect to all other goals, including making money. Also, I believe if you develop a product that you will personally use, you tend to put more of your heart and soul in the product because, hey, you want to use good products too, don't you?

Determine the best business model for me

Web-based applications with advertising and/or paid subscriptions? Desktop applications for sale? Open source / shareware applications? Donationware? Freeware? Which is the best route to go? Do I develop for both Windows and Mac? The three ideas that I am considering will each showcase a different business model.

Learn how to run a virtual business

Right now I am a one-man show (although I may have a partner for one of my ideas). I have to not only develop the products, but also market them, support them, maintain a good website, keep the financial books in order (assuming I make any money ;-)), etc. Do I need to hire a website designer? An accountant? An attorney? This is my first time doing this and this first year or so will be a learning experience more than anything.

Answering the "Is Being A Micro-ISV Right For Me?" Question

I am going to use this opportunity to decide whether I am cut out to be a Micro-ISV; or whether I am better served to be a contractor/consultant -- or -- a corporate employee full time. Many factors go into answering this question, not just the product development work. For example, how does the Micro-ISV lifestyle affect my family relationship?

Make money

All three of my ideas have been implemented before in one form or another. So I will not be making any money because I am inventing a totally unique product. However, I want to see if I can make money by adding interesting, unique features to the products, along with providing ancillary value through pricing, support, etc. So, I am hoping that it is not just the product that people look at, but also the total business package.

I may go into some descriptions about my other goals (e.g. Tier-2) in a later post. Let me know if you are interested.

To summarize, I want to use this first year as learning experience, first and foremost, so that I can better prepare for my business future.

I am hoping this a worthwhile strategy for me. I guess we will see, huh? :-)

How To Go About Getting a Micro-ISV or Software Company Started

I posted this on the Business of Software Forum today: <Update: One of the replies to my post was that I was to the effect of me looking for free work while I sat back lazily and rake in the profits. My reply was basically that is ridiculous. I am taking a huge risk here, so why would I even think of running the business from the sidelines. I am a software engineer at heart, so I will be deeply involved in that and all aspects of the business. It would be a horrible mistake on my part to even think of running my business with the "Someone does all the work while I make 1/2 the money model" --- the business would die a fast death.>

Hello,

A little background. Next Friday is my last "cubicle" day. I needed to end the madness. I am going out on my own. I believe I have a temporary contract lined up in the next couple of weeks where I can work part time for a few months while I get my business started. I am super excited (and nervous).

So, I have some software ideas. 40-50 maybe. From really tiny components, to full-fledged, I would need a server farm type of app. Some are surely non-starters, some might have legs. Some could beget future ideas and products. That is what brainstorming is all about. I even have the beginnings of a business plan -- it needs a lot of work.

Now, I consider myself knowledgeable in many areas (an advanced jack of all trades, if you will). However, while I can hold my own for sure, I don't consider myself the best programmer in the world. And I surely would prefer to work with somebody in starting a business and doing development. While others have proven otherwise and will disagree, I believe having the right partners and team can only be a benefit in any business.

I want a partner or two. I want some people that have ideas like I do, where we can choose the best one or two to go after and sell.

I am all about sweat for equity here. I couldn't afford to pay anybody, nor would I expect to be paid.

So how do I go about finding a partner or two? I have a couple of colleagues that I have pinged, but it hasn't really gotten off the ground.

I sort of wish there was this virtual place where aspiring software/micro-isv entrepreneur's could get together and try to form a business. I have not found that place. Maybe this is that place. Or maybe such a virtual place is an idea all of its own.

What are your thoughts? If you really had the itch to start a micro-isv/software company, had some ideas to bring to the table, wanted to work sweat for equity, but wanted to partner up with some folks who also may want to start a micro-isv/software company, who you could bounce ideas off of and also listen to their ideas --- how would you go about it?

Anyway, this is my thought for a Saturday morning.

Joel

P.S. I do have a meeting next week with an old acquaintance of mine where we are going to discuss partnering up, but, like anything, nothing is for sure.