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.