Steve Troxell of Krell Software is a successful microISV who has created several tools for SQL Server users and developers. Steve has been kind enough to share his experiences of being a microISV and offers some great advice to those who are looking to do the same.
How many people are involved in your business (development, support, etc.)?
Only myself. I do subcontract a small piece of one product’s development, and custom graphic design.
How long have you been operating your microISV?
A little over 3 years.
Is Krell Software a full time endeavor for you? If yes, then how long have you been full time?
Full-time for about 18 months. I should have stayed part-time longer from an economic standpoint, but I was able to finance my cash flow shortages and figured I could do do much more in less time if I could devote full-time effort. Plus, I was finding it very difficult to get anything accomplished in “a couple hours after work”. In the first 6 months of 2004, I matched my total revenue for all of 2003.
What are your goals for your microISV?
I don’t ever want to work for someone else again. I don’t care if I become filthy rich; I would be happy just making enough to be comfortable if I don’t have to work for someone else. I work harder now than I ever did for an employer, but I am also happier with my work than I have ever been. It is unbelievably satisfying–and scary–to be in that much control over your own life.
What was your initial motivation for creating OmniAudit and OmniView?
1) The personal reason: After 15 years of big-company and small-company development, I moved from job-to-job and never figured out how to make myself happy in those environments. I was ready to move on again and I reflected “you know, I’ve changed jobs before and it hasn’t really helped improve my career satisfaction. What I *haven’t* tried is self-employment.” I could change jobs yet again without much of a track record that things would improve, or I could take the leap and try to do it myself. So I leapt.
2) The business reason: My forte was in writing database applications using SQL Server databases. I saw some third-party SQL Server tools on the market that were ridiculously overpriced (I’m talking $1000 and up) and not well-developed. I figured there was an opportunity for higher-quality, lower-priced alternatives.
One competitor I specifically targeted sold at a price of $1800 PER WORKSTATION. I released my directly competing product for $999 site license/$399 single-user license. Within six months that competitor cut his prices to $995 for an “enterprise” license with a new $450 “developer” license. I have no way of knowing whether that price change was influenced by my product release, but it makes you wonder. My product has been selling well in a market with established competitors and not much room for product differentiation.
How long did it take you to write/release version 1 of your products?
2 months of full-time effort, including development, testing, documentation (help file), installer, keygen technology, and so on.
How did you decide on the price for your products?
Mostly guided by competing product prices. Some were in a reasonable range, some were in a ridiculous range.
What are you doing to differentiate yourself from your competitors?
1) Better ease-of-use. Customers consistently remark that my product is easier to use than others they’ve tried. This is a programmer-to-programmer market. Most products exhibit noticeable weaknesses in UI design and product documentation, and as such some of the burden of product development is shifted onto the “technical customer”. They’re technical, they’ll figure it out.
I’m a technical customer too. I buy technical products all the time. And while I may stand a good chance of “figuring-it-out”, I resent when I have to waste my time doing so because the product manufacturer failed to design an intuitive UI and/or failed to writing quality, complete documentation. Apparently, my customers feel similarly.
When I am building a product, I consider tech support right from the start. It’s part of the design. This is not only for my customers’ benefit, but for mine as well. I’m a one-man show, and I can’t afford to be bogged down with tech support. Some features might be cut because they represent too much of a potential tech support nightmare. Other features are hammered until the potential for tech support has been whittled away.
In the three years my first product has been on the market, tech support has been virtually nonexistent. By this I mean customer reports of bugs, errors, or lack of understanding. What few bug reports have come through have mostly resolved to obscure SQL Server setup issues. The overwhelming majority of customer issues are pre-sales questions and “can it do such-and-such?” questions.
Once a product is released, if the same types of questions pop up over and over, many developers see this as a sign to add to the FAQ. I see it as a sign that something needs to be improved in my software.
2) More user-oriented features. Most competitors deliver the basic functionality and stop short. There can be a lot of different twists to what can be done in this domain. I see enough of these feature requests to know that while they don’t apply to everyone, they apply to a nontrivial market segment. I watch the competitors and I don’t see a lot of new capabilities
coming out of them.
What has been your most successful marketing strategy?
Google adwords. But different strategies work in different markets. There is mass-market consumer software, business-to-business software, and niche software in both markets. Some strategies work for $20 products and not for $500 products. What works well in one market/price segment does not necessarily work well in others.
What advice would you give to others looking to start a microISV?
If you are looking to build a business, part-time or full-time, and not just looking to make some spare cash on the side, read “The E-Myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber (ISBN 0887307280). And after you’ve read it, read it again. No other book so succinctly prepares you for what’s really involved in being self-employed, and gives you actionable guidance to succeed. After reading it, you may very well decide that being self-employed is not for you. But you’ll be MUCH better prepared to make that decision with this book.
Krell Software specializes in database development
tools for Microsoft SQL Server, catering to software developers, database
administrators…anyone who works with SQL Server.
Steve Troxell, Krell Software, Inc.
If you are interested in having your microISV profiled, please send and email to profile at microisv.com with a brief description of your microISV and the url to your website.