Millions of people, apparently, are trying to make money by selling a software product ... such as "a mobile app." There are millions of "apps" in every on-line app-store today, and one very serious problem: most apps come nowhere close to earning any profit whatsoever. A very significant number are never downloaded at all. Over 65% of apps have never been updated in more a year – a clear sign that they were financially unsuccessful. (Yet it seems that "having an app in the App Store" is a requirement for serious consideration of your resume.)
It may seem strange for me to say, then, that I did achieve great success in marketing a niche software product ... and have sustained it from 1996 to the present day ... even though I did not know what I was doing at the time. Here, then, are: "a few pragmatic life-lessons in software marketing, learned from a ChimneySweep.®"
It was the aftermath of one such storm ... and its effects upon the local electrical grid ... which had me driving 110 miles (Phoenix is a big city ...) in 110º(F) heat, driving from one client site to another, repairing Paradox database tables using the clunky TUTILITY (TUTIL32) product which Borland provided. You couldn't ask customers to do it because the process only dealt with one table at a time, required knowledge of "master" database passwords which were not meant to be general knowledge, stripped away referential integrity and table-lookup information, and generally had only a so-so chance of success. As I was finally driving back home (at night, by then ...), I determined to find and immediately buy some tool that would automate this process for me. I was certain that I would quickly find one. Astoundingly, I found that no such product existed. Crazy programmer that I was, I decided to build one. Just for myself. Just for myself. After all, I needed it ... desperately.
Little did I know that I was the archetype for "people around the world" who would change my life forever . . .
Lesson One: Don't [Bother To] Build Something That "Somebody Doesn't Need ... Desperately."
The "truly-desperate need" that I had was for a program that would be sophisticated enough to perform the entire TUTILITY Paradox table repair process unattended, for any number of tables, without them having to know anything (like master passwords) that I didn't want them to know. And yet, it absolutely had to be simple enough for end-users ... my customers(!) ... to use. (I didn't want to drive 110 miles ever again, in any kind of weather.) It had to be, as the trademark line would one day say, "Click click, it's fixed!™" Nothing more, but also nothing less.
Lesson One-A: Don't Build Something Somebody Desperately Needs if They Can't Use It:
In a not-too distant past life, I had encountered a commercial software product (VMSecure™) that was driven by scripts to do most of the high-level work, leaving only the low-level stuff to machine language manipulations. Well, I'd been itching to write a programming language anyway (I told you I was a "crazy programmer!"), so that's what I did. The first incarnation of what would be called ChimneySweep took shape as a Delphi-1.0 program called CHIMNEY.EXE which had a built-in programming language in it. The program was designed to run "jobs" which, unknown to the end-user, would actually be programs written in that language. They wouldn't have to know this, because a program I supplied, the "builder script," automatically generated the jobs/programs based on the user's settings.
It was, in concept, "a fairly straightforward idea." The user could build a job by walking through a simple "wizard," thereby (but unbeknownst to them) establishing internal program settings which the "builder" script would express as a new "job." When the job ran, it re-established those same settings and then started the repair process by running another script, the so-called "system script," which I also supplied. But none of this was visible to the end-user. To them, "it just worked.™"
Lesson One-B: Don't Tell Them How It Works ... They Absolutely Don't Want To Know:
Needing a name for my new brainchild, I decided to call it "ChimneySweep," in reference to another kind of person who goes into really dirty places and does things you don't want to know, just so that "your fireplace works again." The first dozen copies were installed (for free) at client sites, and I waited not-so patiently for the next monsoon storm. It came and it went, and I called the cutomers next day. "Yeah, the database went down again, but we fixed it. Your product worked fine." My car remained parked. Hallelujah!
But I still had no idea – this was 1996 – that I had just stumbled onto something that anyone else in this world might actually care about. (Isn't "on-line success" supposed to involve venture-capital and "going public?") Yet, when I chatted-it-up on Internet news-groups ... which by-the-way was "the way that people talked about their common interests" at that time ... people began to ask how they could buy a copy. I had no idea. (There was no PayPal® then.) But, on a whim, I got a credit-card processing machine(!) and then told people they could call me with a number.
For several days, the telephone just didn't stop ringing.
To Be Continued ...