Outer Level Welcomes New Developer to the Team

As I mentioned in my 2010 End of Year post, it’s been a crazy year for Outer Level. Adding two new products (Knapsack and LicenseKeeper for iPhone) and jumping in to Apple’s new Mac App Store has kept me really busy. So busy that I’ve been struggling to get everything done that I need to.

I’d like to welcome Kirby Turner to the Outer Level team. Kirby will be helping out with new development on Knapsack, our travel app.

I met Kirby about a year ago when he first started joining us at the Boston CocoaHeads meetings and we got along right away. As I started considering the need for help, Kirby seemed like the perfect guy to help since he was always asking me about new Knapsack features and when the heck was I going to make an iPad version.

Kirby is an outdoorsman, long-time programmer, and even a budding author: “Learning iPad Programming, A Hands-On Guide to Building Apps for the iPad”

New Online Store

Over the past three years Outer Level has been selling LicenseKeeper almost exclusively through our custom built online store. It was built quickly and supported one product and only one payment method.

The store accepted payments by sending customers over to PayPal‘s website using their standard payments system which was hard to brand and was often confusing to customers.

During this time I used Aquatic Prime license files for licensing which was quick and easy to implement and did a pretty good job of preventing leaked and pirated licenses.

Warts

This setup was great for getting started, but as sales grew I started to discover all of the warts in my store’s implementation and registration strategy. These warts not only hurt my customers’ purchasing experience, but they also lead to a pretty decent support load.

By far, the most frequent support requests I received were the following:

  1. Registration Email mistakenly caught by spam filter
  2. License Files getting renamed or modified by overzealous virus filters
  3. Non-ASCII names leading to broken license files and purchase records
  4. Lost licenses (ironic, I know)
  5. Questions on how to pay with a Credit Card

In addition to the support burden, there were a bunch of things I really wanted to improve about the purchasing experience. I desired to better track daily sales, long-term sales trends, abandoned purchases, and more. These were my top items:

  1. Keep customers on my site and domain
  2. Provide a secure purchasing experience
  3. Ability to fully brand the entire store
  4. Support for selling multiple products
  5. Family Packs
  6. Automated Lost License retrieval
  7. Automated NFR licenses
  8. Sales graphs and charts
  9. Complete ownership of my customer data
  10. Integrated Newsletter subscriptions
  11. Web traffic statistics

As you can see, I had a big list of items that needed my attention. But, being a one-man shop did not afford me the time to easily put all of this together and still be able to get everything else on my plate done.

Potion Store

Back in June of 2007 Andy Kim of Potion Factory open sourced their online store, dubbed Potion Store.

Potion Store offered all of the things I was looking for and had the benefit of being used and tested by many other companies.

I looked at it many times over the years and always hit the very big road block that Potion Store was implemented in Ruby on Rails. I didn’t know Ruby on Rails and I was using shared web hosting that didn’t support Rails.

Success

Finally, Outer Level grew enough for me to justify a dedicated virtual private server and I now had the ability to run Rails.

Now that the stars were all aligned, I dived in and converted the Outer Level Store to use Potion Store and revamped the LicenseKeeper registration system to use Serial Numbers.

Boy, did I noticed immediate benefits. After every past release, I invariably received a good number of the previously listed support requests. Not this time.

Since converting to Potion Store and serial numbers, I have not received a single email message about any of my typical support requests.

With about a week’s worth of work I have significantly reduced my support burden and greatly improved the purchase experience and my ability to monitor sales and traffic through my store.

I’ve also gained the ability to expand my business by selling multiple products and offering family packs. Not to mention, I’ve been able to checkoff a dozen or so long standing items in my task list.

Success all the way around.

Marketing Software with Daniel Jalkut and Dan Wood

I’ve been following a relatively new blog about marketing indie Mac software, written by Dan Wood of Karelia Software (Sandvox). If you’re a software developer, you should definitely check it out. It’s filled with all kinds of experience backed advice.

Dan’s latest post is an interview with a good friend of mine, Daniel Jalkut of Red Sweater Software (MarsEdit, Black Ink).

Daniel has long been a mentor to me since I met him three years ago through Boston Cocoaheads. He’s often filled my head with all kinds of great advice over after-meeting-beers. While I’ve tried to absorb his teachings, I fear much of what he’s told me was lost by the time I woke up the next morning.

Lucky for us, Daniel has shared much of his experience and great advice in this informative interview.

I consider marketing to be a very soft art and try to market my products and business on as many fronts as possible, but in a fairly casual way…

“Always Be Marketing” sounds like a pretty good catch-phrase for the kind of attitude I try to keep in mind as I’m developing the relationship between me, my company, and the rest of the world.

Update: Daniel follows up the interview with some further thoughts on his blog.

Happy 9th Birthday Outer Level

Today, I realized that I’ve been in business for myself for nine years. It took a minute for that to sink in.

Roughly nine years ago I quit my last full-time permanent job and went out on my own to do consulting. This was a decision based more on unhappiness with my situation than any drive to run a business.

My first big client told me that they couldn’t hire me for their project unless I was incorporated. So, after several hundred dollars to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and a couple of hours of consultation with a lawyer and accountant, my company was born.

Having no idea what I was doing and certainly no long-term plan, that decision lead me to slowly morph from a one person consulting company into an indie software shop.

Just amazing where seemingly small decisions in life lead you.

Starting up with a Friend

Daniel Tenner shares some great advice for starting a business with a friend (or anyone else for that matter).

What could possibly go wrong?

It seems like a fool-proof plan: start up with a close friend. You’ll get along (obviously), and you’ll get to share the exciting, fantastic, scary experience of starting up with someone you care about. It’s not a bad idea, but there are a few caveats that you should be aware of before you proceed.

(via: Miguel Sanchez-Grice)

The App Store Effect

Paul Kafasis (Rogue Amoeba) writes about The App Store Effect on iPhone software pricing.

If developers could charge a price lower than 99 cents, there’s no doubt that some would, and the price curve would shift even lower.

Update (Dec. 28, 2008):

Daniel Jalkut (Red Sweater Software) ads his take in Touch and Go Pricing.

iPhone applications are too cheap, and changes are needed to encourage the development of premium applications that sell for a fair price.

Brent Simmons (NewsGator) follows up with On the App Store and Free Markets.

Some of the response Paul’s and Daniel’s recent writing about the App Store has gone something like this: It’s a free market — deal with it.

Here’s the thing, though: it’s not a free market.

The Village Toy Maker

Brent Simmons: Advice for Indies

You have to work every day. You have to sit in the chair and stay seated. And sleep and come back to the chair. You need to wear out that chair and then buy a new one and then wear out that one.

I shouldn’t even have to say it, but I will: you need a weblog. People in the village love toys, but they also like to get to know the village toy-maker.

That’s you, and it’s a great job.