Picking your micro-ISV niche

Bob Walsh of Safari Software and author of Micro-ISV has a great article up on his My Micro-ISV blog mentioning some basic tips on selecting your business niche and product.

His two main points: “Get off the Hype Cycle” and “Don’t write a product for programmers” both seem to be very smart things to keep in mind.

I know I’ve been tempted by both more times that I can count. I actually spent several hours coding up one of these “products for programmers” ideas this past weekend. I actually came to the same conclusion on my own, but I’m glad to find someone else thinking in the same direction.

Top 10: Things Keeping Me From My Micro-ISV

1. The Day Job

8 – 10 hours a day.

I earn a pretty decent hourly rate, I enjoy consulting, and I certainly need the income. But, that’s a ton of time away from working on my goals for a product-based company.

This also consumes the most energy and leaves little left in the tank after the day is done. I’m in awe of all those success stories from fellow micro-ISVers that have managed to release a product while holding down a day job.

2. Sleep

6 – 8 hours a day.

Yes, I know I need it. But, that’s the second largest consumer of time every day.

3. TV

1-2 hours a day (average).

Battlestar Galactica, Lost, 24, The Olympics. Soon to add to the problem: Red Sox Baseball, World Cup Soccer, Tour de France.

I don’t often just sit and vegetate in front of the television, but I do have a few shows that I follow almost religiously. I’ve tried using Tivo to capture them and watch the week’s shows in one commercial-free sitting, but Tivo is not HD and I love HD. I also hate watching a sports event after I know the results.

4. Reading and Writing Blogs

2-3 hours a day.

This is a tough one. I have learned more from this source than any other on all aspects of micro-ISV-dom. Writing and commenting to blogs has greatly improved my search engine traffic, my writing skills, and my business focus.

But, this is also getting out of hand. There are so many interesting blogs out there about all kinds of topics, that I find my RSS reader getting heavily weighed down with all the subscriptions that it needs to keep updated. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t keep up with all of them and often just click the “Set All to Read” button. My RSS subscriptions need a serious pruning.

5. Cooking and Eating

2-3 hours a day

Another necessity, but more valuable micro-ISV time gone. My wife and I cook and eat dinner together five times a week. It’s a fantastic way for us to catch up on the day, to chat and have some fun working on something together. We also both really enjoy great food, especially when we’ve cooked it ourselves.

6. Computer Games

1 hour a day (average)

Sometimes I play games for research. Playing games or actually studying games to find ideas and inspiration to some of the problems I’m working on in my game development is of great use. Other times I just like to forget about work and other obligations and get in a nice long session of Civilization 3.

7. Email

2 hours a day

I’ve recently been trying the approach of only checking email during certain times of the day, as opposed to opening up my mail reader every time an incoming email notification pops up. I’ve had mixed results. While this does keep me from context switching all the time, it does have a tendency to create a nice fat backlog of emails that I need to deal with. Dealing with all of them in one session is sometimes daunting, so I find myself putting some of these off “till later” and then the problem just gets worse. Dealing with email as it comes in seems to keep my inbox much cleaner.

8. Server and Computer Administration

1 hour a day

I’m a techie and I love computers, but sometimes I find that I’ve gotten myself in way too deep. I run my own Linux server (the one that served up this page). Back in the day, it made more sense to run my own server than it did to rent shared hosting. I often setup a website to test an idea and see if it flies (most don’t). Paying $25 a month for each of these experiments easily cost more than renting a dedicated server. Especially if I offset some of the cost by providing some web hosting services.

Well, four or five years later and things have changed. I’m still paying for this server and prices have dropped considerably for web hosting and many hosts allow “unlimited” domains to an account. But, I still check my server logs every day, perform software upgrades and apply security patches. I’m going to have to reconsider this time sink very soon.

9. Hobbies

1 – 2 hours a day (average)

I have a couple hobbies that I’ve been working on for close to 20 years.

I have a deep passion for photography, but find less and less time to actually do it. To do it right takes huge amounts of time. I can easily spend hours taking hundreds of frames of one subject trying to get the photograph in my head. Thankfully, my wife is very patient with me when I stop and take photos when we’re on vacations or even walking down the streets of Boston.

My Saltwater Reef Aquarium, in its current incarnation, has been running for nearly four years now. I love my tiny box of aquatic life. I used to go to reef keeper meetings to trade coral fragments and chat about success stories and failures. These clubs are much like computer clubs, lots of very smart geeks sharing fish stories. Unfortunately, time took away the clubs, but my aquatic critters still keep me company while I work at my desk.

10. Paperwork & Bills

1 hour a day

This is probably my least favorite task for the day. Running a small business requires an enormous amount of paper shuffling. Some of it directly related to my business: tracking time, invoicing, depositing checks, paying bills. Other paperwork is indirectly related: magazines, newsletters, and junk mail. Then there’s all the government forms. We have forms for forms, forms so I can pay for the “right” to do business, forms for taxes, forms for reporting that I haven’t hired someone, forms for reporting that I paid my insurance, forms for reporting payroll taxes, forms for… (you get the idea).

11. Procrastination

0 hours a day

While I spend no time on procrastination directly, since it’s the act of not doing something, it does have the nasty ability to create piles of paperwork, backlogs of email, and push back deadlines.

I’ve read all kinds of things on how to eliminate procrastination, or how procrastination is actually good. Either way, I still have piles of paper work on my desk taking up space, time, and energy (once I get to them).

Total Hours: 25 – 33

With out adding commuting time, socializing, studying, and reading my day is already overflowing. Clearly, I’m having a very hard time finding time to actually get any work done on my miro-ISV.

Sparkle: Self Updating Framework for Cocoa Applications

Mac Geekery talks about a new Cocoa framework that allows Self-Udating Programs, For Free. Sparkle is a BSD-Licensed Open-Source framework for Cocoa applications that is literally drop-dead easy to use.

This is perfect timing for me. Just this week, I started writing up some requirements that my next project will need as part of it’s base engine. At the top of the list: Software Update Notifications.

Sparkle is still in “beta” but once it reaches a stable release, I’m definitely going to give it a try.