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.

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 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.

MacSanta: Great Discounts on Mac Software

MacSanta is back. Every day a surprise set of featured Mac developers will offer 20% discounts on their software, using the coupon code MACSANTA07.

After their featured day, all featured software will be available at a 10% discount for the rest of 2007 using the coupon code MACSANTA07TEN.

LicenseKeeper is featured December 9

Today, LicenseKeeper is one of the applications featured for the 20% discount. Enter the coupon code MACSANTA07 when purchasing LicenseKeeper at our online store, to receive the discount.

You can also head over to MacSanta to see the other featured developers. Remember to visit everyday because there will be a new set of featured developers through the rest of December.

New Podcast: The Business of Mac Software

A few days ago I mentioned The Mac Developer Network and their great lineup of podcasts.

Well, Steve Scott (Scotty) has added yet another podcast to the mix: MacSB: The Business of Mac Software.

The MacSB podcast focuses on the business issues of developing Mac software.

The show takes an interview format where the host interviews Mac Developers with solid experience of running a Mac Software Business.

Episode 1, Getting started as a Mac Indie Developer features two established Mac developers, Gus Mueller of Flying Meat (Voodoo Pad, Acorn) and Marcus Zarra of Zarra Studios (seSales, iWeb Buddy).

ShoveBox

Fellow Boston-based indie Mac developer, Dan Grover, has just released his third product, ShoveBox.

ShoveBox is a very cool application that lets you quickly capture bits of information you encounter during your work day.

Several times a day I’ll come across a URL or information that I want to read and grok later but don’t have time to concentrate on it now.

ShoveBox gives you an inbox-like place to capture these items to be dealt with later, when you have time to concentrate on them.

MicroISV Business Tips

This morning I came across two interesting articles about running a small software business that I thought were worth sharing. Both are from authors that made appearances in my “Marketing on the Cheap” list.

The first is another fine article from Daniel Jalkut, owner of Red Sweater Software and developer of MarsEdit, Black Ink, FastScripts and others. He discusses some of the challenges a small software developer has to tackle while running their business.

Respect For All Trades:

Working for yourself means a never ending list of outstanding questions. How do I improve my marketing? Can I streamline my quality assurance? Do I need a customer relationship management system? Maybe I should rent office space. When do I hire somebody? Is the printer ink deductible, even though I printed a couple concert tickets? How many free copies of my application should I be giving away? Should I be granting interviews? And if so, what’s my title, anyway?

There must have been some sort of mystic or planetary alignment at work here. Bob Walsh, owner of 47hats (formerly “My MicroISV”) suggests a logical method for tackling all of Daniel’s “outstanding questions”.

Sort By Money:

So what is a good strategy for prioritizing all those things you need to do – all the 47 hats you need to wear – to make your microISV successful? Here’s a piece of advice a successful microISV passed on to me when I first started: prioritize by revenue.

Marketing on the Cheap

I finally had a couple of hours this morning to catch up on my neglected news feeds. I subscribe to several hundred focusing on a large variety of topics.

This morning I found several related and informative articles on the topic of low budget marketing for the micro-isv. I thought that they might be interesting to my fellow indie developers.

Guy Kawasaki writes DIY PR:

So what I am recommending is not howto manage an agency, but something more radical: not hiring an agency at all. Here are ten reasons why.

My Micro-ISV with A great alternative to 30 day free trials:

What really got my attention is how Textexpander’s trial period works…

Because of a friend’s recommendation, I’m a TextExpander user myself. I too find the trial mechanism very good, not to mention helpful.

Coding Horror reveals How to Get Rich Programming:

What’s truly exciting about this is how the internet has created economic opportunity for a single programmer working alone.

Patrick McKenzie talks about Community-oriented Marketing:

If you attempt to sell something directly to the members of a community you are not a part of, you risk a great chance of falling afoul of community norms and an almost certain chance of wasting your time.

Daniel Jalkut examines Marketing a Negative:

You’d like to replicate us, but it just can’t be done.

Otis: Come to the Block Party.

Wonder Warp Software has released a fun little game called Otis.

I had the opportunity to watch from the side lines as Dan Grover worked on Otis. Dan and I are both members of the Boston chapter of Cocoa Heads. Every month we meet and talk shop, share experiences, and demo things we’ve been working on. Dan demoed Otis a couple of times for the group through out the process and it was great fun to see the progress he made over a relatively short period.

With Otis joining his other product, SimpleChord, Dan has a nice start on a successful indie Mac software company — and he’s still in college. Man, I wish I had started this indie dev stuff when I was his age. Yes, I know that makes me sound old.