Jesse Grosjean of Hog Bay Software is the latest microISV to be profiled. Hog Bay Software specializes in apps for Apple’s OS X operating system. Jesse is a full time microISV who offers his insights on pricing, user support and productivity.
How many people are involved with Hog Bay Software (coding, support, etc.)?
Hog Bay Software is just me, technically, but I do have third party help in Khoi Vinh, (www.subtraction.com) for my website. I would have much less freedom in my programming lifestyle without the support of Laurel Grosjean, my wife, who also helps with proofreading when she has a chance. I’ve also had a lot of help donated by users including the Hog Bay Software happy pig logo.
What was your motivation for starting a shareware venture?
I got a Mac when OS X was released because I had heard many good things about the programming API. Hog Bay Software started out as an after hours outlet to explore Mac OS X programming. After a few years I was having so much fun that I decided to turn it into my day job too.
Which product did you release first?
Hog Bay Timer. The goal with Hog Bay Timer was to create the most simple thing that people would buy. The real work on this first project was to figure out online payment processing, shareware download sites, build a website, license keys… all that necessary plumbing.
Is Hog Bay Software a full time endeavor?
Yes, it has been for a year now. Prior to that it was part time for about two years.
What are your goals for Hog Bay Software?
In the next month I will release version 3.5 of Hog Bay Notebook and for the first time spend some time promoting it. In the next six months I’m going to release updates to my other two products, HB Timer and HB Image Processor.
Long term, I’d like to continue what I’m doing now, only better. Better infrastructure for creating new products, stronger user community and presence in the Mac market, higher quality, and faster release schedules.
I like writing software and supporting users. I don’t want to grow large, move into an office, and have employees.
What forms of marketing have been most successful for you?
New product releases, followed by press releases, and posting to download sites (such as www.versiontracker.com) provide the most consistent bump in sales. I also get the big jumps from mentions in the press or on popular blogs, but so far those are unpredictable.
I haven’t done very much traditional marketing. Right now I consider “user support” to be my biggest marketing activity. People who actively ask questions via email and/or user forums also tend to actively recommend the product if they have a good experience. That’s my theory, anyway, and so far there seems to be some truth to it.
I’m sure this is not the best approach to marketing. From what I have read, however, it’s at least as effective as throwing up banner ads when you don’t really know what you are doing (I don’t), and it’s a lot cheaper.
How long did it take for you to code and release version 1 of Hog Bay Notebook? How long for Timer and Image Processor?
Hog Bay Notebook is my most popular product by far, making up about 90% of sales. The release milestones for the Hog Bay Notebook versions were:
(1.0) 3 months in evenings to develop. Released on 2003-02-10.
(2.0) 5 months in evenings to develop. Released on 2003-07-29
(3.0) 8 months full time to develop. Released on 2004-03-16
(3.5) Beta. 9 months full time to develop. Released on 2004-12-04
I haven’t kept track of Hog Bay Timer and Hog Bay Image Processor. I haven’t updated them much since initial development, and they are significantly smaller in scale. I am planning to update both after version 3.5 of Hog Bay Notebook is released.
How did you decide on pricing for each of your products?
I looked at competing products and priced mine similarly, if a little lower. This put my prices in the $5 - $15 range. I wouldn’t do it this way again. At those prices you don’t have room to charge upgrade fees, sell light versions, or sell add-ons to your product. I’m now in the process of moving my prices up to the $20 - $30 dollar range. If you look at other full time micro-isv’s you’ll see that most of them are in that price range or higher. I think less than $20 is too low in almost all situations if you plan to go full time.
Would you rather sell 5,000 copies of one of your apps for $10 or 2,500 copies for $20?
2,500 for $20. As I’ve mentioned, that wasn’t my initial opinion. It’s definitely what I believe now. Higher prices give you more pricing flexibility. You can also give better support to 2,500 users than you can to 5,000. If, as in my case, programming and user support are what you enjoy most, then I think a higher price is better. If you like marketing, and you’re attempting to create a process that efficiently sells many third party apps, then maybe lower prices make sense.
What would you consider step #1 when deciding to create a new shareware application?
Fill in this product-positioning sheet from “Crossing the Chasm”
- For (target customer)
- Who (statement of the need or opportunity)
- The (product name) is a (product category)
- That (statement of key benefit–that is, compelling reason to buy)
- Unlike (primary competitive alternative)
- Our product (statement of primary differentiation)
“For IBM PC users who want the advantages of a Macintosh-style graphical user interface, Microsoft Windows 3.0 is an industry standard operating environment that provides the ease of use and consistency of a Mac on a PC-compatible platform. Unlike other attempts to implement this type of interface, Windows 3.0 is now supported by every major PC application software package”
For my current products I didn’t use this advice because I was in programmer mode and hadn’t yet read anything about marketing. I wrote Hog Bay Timer because it would be fast to finish. Hog Bay Image Processor because my parents needed it. And Hog Bay Notebook because I wanted it. These are all great reasons to write software for fun after work hours, but not if you are planning to live off the income.
I’m now in the process of trying to fit my existing products into this positioning story, and it’s difficult to do after they are already released and have many users.
What advice do you have for other microISV’s?
The most important thing is to keep learning and improving, but that’s already well documented. So instead I’ll mention one change that made my daily ISV routine much easier and more rewarding:
Once your program is selling, answering email will begin to eat away at your time. This was becoming a problem for me so I decided to add a user forum, not expecting much. It made a huge difference, however, and I highly recommend it.
The user forum not only made email much more manageable, but more importantly, it helped to develop a community around my product. It also raised the quality of user feedback to the point where reading through the user forums is one of my favorite activities. User feedback is now responsible for some of the most important improvements in my programs.
The only negative is that the information in the user forums has become so useful that I don’t want it to get lost in old threads. I’m now experimenting with a wiki section on my site to complement the user forums. I’m encouraging people to use the user forums for short-term question-and-answer type communication, and use the wiki for long-term ideas and discussions. The wiki isn’t a clear winner yet, but I think it holds a lot of promise for growing a user community.
—————- About Hog Bay Software —————-
Hog Bay Software is dedicated to creating great software for Apple’s new Mac OS X operating system. We are located in Bangor, Maine and our name comes from nearby Hog Bay on the Maine coast. Hog Bay Software is led by fearless Genki the cat, supported by Laurel the wife, programmed by Jesse the husband, and all trod-upon duties are assumed by Kimchi the dog and DD the other cat.