Bob Walsh has been very active in the microISV world over the last year and this week his book Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality is being released. Bob has been a contributor here at microISV.com as well as moderating the Joel on Software - The Business of Software forums, and that’s only in his spare time. Bob currently runs Safari Software which sells his product MasterList Professional. Because of all of his efforts, I wanted to learn more about his microISV business and his experiences writing the book.
When and why did you decide to become a software entrepreneur?
2002. I had been contract programming/writing software since 1982 - mostly desktop reporting systems for corporate clients in the San Francisco Bay Area. The dot.com bust and offshoring/outsourcing meant I was making half as much working twice as hard.
Has Safari Software become your primary job?
Since 1982 I’ve been a one person company; Safari Software, Inc. has been going since 1994.
What was the idea that sparked the creation of MasterList Professional?
Being a one-person programming shop meant I had become an absolute total time management fanatic. If there’s been a book in English on the subject in the past 20 years, trust me, I’ve bought it. But I never found a tool or method that really made everything work, stress free. The closest I’ve ever found is David Allen’s Getting Things Done.
I’ve seen the inside of several hundred companies and the absolute god awful truth is that most people in the business world don’t live lives of quiet desperation; they’re running as hard as they can to be able to hang on by their fingernails to their jobs and sanity.
There’s a crying need for better tools; I decided to try and write one.
Was MasterList Professional the first application you created?
As commercial software, yes. I had tested out some of the ideas behind it by writing and releasing a free Excel-based tool called MasterList-XL. That product validated the core ideas I was working with, and brought in so much contract work that getting MasterList Professional done took about 18 months longer than the 3 I had planned. (It’s very hard to say no to clients ready to have you start working on their project that day.)
What were your original goals for creating your first software product?
a. Make Money!
b. I think the whole traditional time management thing is hopelessly broken at a time when our need to be able to manage how we spend our time and what and how we get things done has never been greater.
c. See a.
How long did it take you to create and relase your first version of MasterList Professional?
Way, way too long! About 21 months because I would stop and start development in between the 1-4 paid contracts I was working at any given time.
What forms of marketing have been most successful for you?
Google Adwords, by blog (http://todoorelse.com) are top. Adwords returns about $3 for every $1 spent. The blog has gotten my name and my company’s product out there.
Because you are a software entrepreneur, author, and forum moderator among other things, I must ask since you are probably your own best customer, are you good at Getting Things Done?
Yes and no. Yes - I have found that the GTD process as I use it with my own product keeps the wheels moving. No - I think there’s a deeper level of organization I need to get to than where I am currently with GTD/MasterList Professional. I hope to get there this year as I develop MasterList Professional 2.
You have been very active in the microISV community and have now written a book. What are/were your goals for writing and releasing this book?
First off, when I released MasterList Professional last Jan., I knew squat about all the things I would need to be a micro-ISV. I wrote this book because I -needed- this info, and except for the Business of Software forum and your site, microISV.com, I could not find the answers I needed.
But I had one thing going for me; I had been a reporter before deciding to become a programmer, and I knew how to go out and get the story.
Let me be clear about this: This book did not get written because I had the answers of how to build a successful micro-ISV; it got written because I had a bagful of questions, knew how to go find and pester the people living the answers, and could come back and report it.
***Micro-ISVs are news.*** I firmly believe that the true “killer app” is that a whole new type of company - the self-funded 1-5 person, lives on the internet micro software, service or hardware company is going to be redefining capitalism globally. These micro-ISVs can go head to head and toe to toe with corporations - and win.
While writing this book, what things did you discover that will help you in your own microISV endeavors?
Well, I could write a book on that (pun intended)! For me personally, it was the importance of getting the development environment right: I’ve become a Test-Driven Development convert big time. Hence I will be developing MLP2 very differently.
Why will people be interested in reading Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality?
Well, it won’t be because I say “do this or do that”; it will be what David Allen has to say about GTD for micro-ISVs, or what the cofounder of Moveable Type and TypePad, Mena Trott, has to say about blogging and micro-ISVs, or what about 20 non-micro-ISVs and 30 micro-ISVs have to say.
If you ask enough people the right questions, you get some pretty interesting and useful answers.
What is easier, coding software or writing a book?
For me, writing words has come back on top over writing code; I stopped being a reporter despite loving being a reporter because reporters were becoming entertainers not journalists. I looked at writing Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality, and my next book already in progress (Clear Blogging) as news stories.
There’s a great scene in an old movie, “Deadline U.S.A”, when Humphrey Bogart says what journalism is: the practice of a skilled profession for the public good. I also think being a micro-ISV fits that description as well.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
1. Respect Law 1440: you’re biggest challenge is going to be learning how to get the most value from your 1,440 minutes a day. Value <> work, but the more value you get from your time, the more successful you’ll be.
2. The trick to making a successful micro-ISV? Find frustrated people online who have a problem you can redefine and solve. The process of finding those people on the Net will define much of your marketing, message, position and brand.
3. The secret to life? Love somebody and Build something.
Bob Walsh has been a contract software developer in the San Francisco Bay area for the past 22 years, specializing in desktop information systems. His company, Safari Software, Inc., has for the past decade amazingly focused on the same thing, albeit at a higher hourly rate.
In 2003, as outsourcing finished what the dot.com bust started, he developed MasterList Standard Version, an Excel-based project and task management application. Two years and 40,000 users later, Safari Software, Inc., became a real live tooting micro-ISV by releasing MasterList Professional, a Windows personal project and task management application that, unlike traditional time management tools, gives you total control over your business and personal life while improving how you spend your time.
Before joining the ranks of the computer industry, Walsh was a reporter for several news organizations, most worth bragging about being United Press International (UPI).
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