25 steps for building a Micro-ISV
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25 steps for building a Micro-ISV

As promised, here's my 25 steps for building a Micro-ISV which are hard learned steps based on our experience getting TimeSnapper to where it is today. Each of these steps is both harder than it looks, and easier than you'd think.

It's hard because there are pitfalls, procrastination, miconceptions, anxiety, conflicting opinions and confusion at every step. It's easy because, hey, you're a smart guy or gal, so you can do this stuff in your sleep.

I'm planning to write a blog entry on each of these, and yes if things go very well, it may be a book someday ;-)

The big news is that Scott Hanselman interviewed me, about this list, for this week's episode of hanselminutes, out now! (Hanselminutes, for those who live under sedimentary deposits, is a weekly audio talk show with noted web developer and technologist Scott Hanselman.)

If you want to get some early tips on all of these topics, please listen to the show! It was a real blast doing the show -- far more excitement than this little geek is used to. Scott and Carl were very helpful with all the technical aspects, and Scott was just as sharp and witty as you'd hope.

(He sure was enthusiastic about TimeSnapper too, which really means a lot to us)

Now, on to the list!

  1. Register Domain
  2. Reliable hosting
  3. Website design
  4. Basic Website content
  5. Install traffic monitoring on your site
  6. Create forums, encourage feedback
  7. Maintain a FAQ
  8. Get the best screenshots you can
  9. Configure email for domain
  10. Get payment account
  11. Allow payment from your website
  12. Create a PAD file -- portable application description
  13. Register at download sites
  14. Strategy: separate "free" from "professional" products
  15. Get a suitable end user license agreement (EULA) -- infact get two!
  16. Auto update strategy
  17. License activation webservice/website
  18. Get a license management database
  19. Build a proper installer
  20. Obfuscate your assemblies
  21. Automate your build+release strategy
  22. Free up enough time/resources for dealing with support/feedback
  23. Shiny, Usable, Helpful
  24. Plan and enact your promotional strategy
  25. Do it all again

As each article comes out, i'll update this list to point to the relevant article.





'Joseph Cooney' on Thu, 18 Jan 2007 20:24:26 GMT, sez:

I'm acting on your "new year's resolution" suggestion and trying to build a MicroISV product myself. Not sure if #20 is relevant tho since my product is going to be written in WPF and XAML, so it is already obfuscated as it is being written.



'lb' on Thu, 18 Jan 2007 20:41:51 GMT, sez:

>WPF and XAML, ... is already obfuscated

he he.

That's good news Jo!

From a strategy point of view you're really too far ahead of the curve, don't you think? WPF adoption -- even WPF/E -- can't be all that high now, or in the next six months.

But then again -- you can be already there and established by the time the consumers arrive.

cheers
lb



'Paul' on Thu, 18 Jan 2007 21:17:04 GMT, sez:

This list rocks! I know I am going to find it painful waiting for each installment though!!



'lb' on Thu, 18 Jan 2007 21:26:48 GMT, sez:

>painful waiting for each installment though

sorry about that Paul. it's just a matter of finding the time to write it all out. if someone can send me a personal assistant then i'd have it out in a jiffy. Meanwhile i'm prioritising TimeSnapper updates higher than this task, thus the delay.

stay tuned though -- the material will all come out in time.



'Haacked' on Thu, 18 Jan 2007 22:25:29 GMT, sez:

Great to hear you on the show. Good job calling out Atwood for his cheesy hosting. For the record, he hosts with his company, not at home.



'lb' on Thu, 18 Jan 2007 22:30:52 GMT, sez:

>Atwood... hosts with his company, not at home

y'know I thought that, but i sure wasn't willing to correct hanselman on air, nor would i ever be!

the next thing is to call out Jeff for having a splash page. Welcome to 1995, Jeff!

cheers



'Scott Hanselman' on Fri, 19 Jan 2007 06:15:54 GMT, sez:

Heh, I was teasing Jeff as he's the type who WOULD host in his garage. ScottStanfield at Vertigo lets Jeff host there.

Ya, what's with the splash?



'Lee Alexander' on Fri, 19 Jan 2007 07:54:24 GMT, sez:

I look forward to knowing why you added point 20. I find it irritating when people obfuscate their assemblies *especially* companies selling controls. Unless you have some fandango code you absolutely must protect then its more hassle than it’s worth, at least in my experience. Let’s face it most programs are hardly rocket science and if someone really wants to understand the code, well they can.

Regards
Lee



'DH' on Fri, 19 Jan 2007 09:49:28 GMT, sez:

Thanks for the list. Look forward to the details on each one :-)



'Marcos Meli' on Fri, 19 Jan 2007 11:30:01 GMT, sez:

Great Leon !!

I think that this can be a really good book !! =)

Some others random ideas:

- Create a NewLetter and let user to subscribe to it (maybe two one with main news and other with little release of beta versions or tutorials)
- Create some labs like google and other to allow customer to access beta products (The customers would love it and you get free TESTING =)
- Create a knowledge base
- Let the users to loggin your site and check the request support status and the last version, something like a User Control Panel. (www.devexpress.com are the best on this)
- Movie Tutorials and Web Cast, the users love to sit down, get a beer and see how you product works and look.

I have some other ones but for the next post =)

I forget it, on the Licencing topic I think that is better to buy a commercial solution like the one used by CodeSmith, it reduces the dev times, and you get third party support when problems arrise and a continuos evolving system with out effort.

And the last thing, where is the topic:

"Offer a useful product like TimeSnapper !!"

hahahah

Cheers
Marcos



'Ryan Patterson' on Fri, 19 Jan 2007 12:20:07 GMT, sez:

Great podcast! Subscribed, and such.

Okay but I have to defend Atwood. In the post where he actually says he used to host at home, he also says why he doesn't care about having high uptime, or something to that effect: he writes for himself, not for his users. Sure, if he were making money from his blog or planning to, then spending money on ensuring reliability might be worthwhile.

Right, well. Good job on the podcast, and I look forward to reading your articles!



'Ryan Patterson' on Fri, 19 Jan 2007 12:22:57 GMT, sez:

Forgot to link!
http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/000700.html



'Des Traynor' on Fri, 19 Jan 2007 23:36:37 GMT, sez:

Listening to the interview now, it's nice to put a voice to the words.


Just re: Google Groups, if you copyright/trademark the word "TimeSnapper", then no one can buy it as a keyword other than you.



'Frederic Torres' on Sat, 20 Jan 2007 02:25:53 GMT, sez:

Great list, great show and great web site (http://www.timesnapper.com).

I made 16 of the 25 points and going to work on some of the missing one.

Thanks.



'Christopher Wells' on Sat, 20 Jan 2007 12:39:02 GMT, sez:

The podcast seemed to end with item #21.

Thanks, it was nice to hear you.



'Farmer Jeb' on Sun, 21 Jan 2007 02:36:41 GMT, sez:

Yeah, I heard the podcast too. Been reading your blog since the early eighties but never heard your voice. Saw you at a few trade shows too but was too shy to approach. Throng of sicophants always put me off. What's with that accent? I know it's not British. Is it South African?



'Mark Allanson' on Sun, 21 Jan 2007 13:00:28 GMT, sez:

Don't forget step number 0, develop product :)



'Ang3lFir3' on Tue, 23 Jan 2007 17:39:07 GMT, sez:

Loved the show on HanselMinutes. Great work.
Noticed you say you never got your hands on Royale Noir....

http://www.istartedsomething.com/20061029/royale-noir/

keep up the great work.



'lb' on Tue, 23 Jan 2007 19:37:36 GMT, sez:

thanks Ang3lFir3, nice work.

I realise now I *did* get my hands on this already -- from that very place -- long zheng's site (fellow aussie blogger that he is). Just never installed it!

cheers



'Cameron' on Thu, 25 Jan 2007 13:08:18 GMT, sez:

Great show on hanselminutes... I am a ISV with a team of one for a fairly niche product and I will be using a few of the 25 steps. so thanks...

Also, on the show you mention only knowing about paypal for accepting payment from potential customers... I have been scouting Digital Locker/Windows Market Place when I get free time, and I haven't been able to figure out percentage off of payments made or anything but I do know its a free service.

Thanks again for all the great information and best of luck with TimeSnapper.


Regards,
-Cameron



'Jeffrey Palermo' on Sat, 27 Jan 2007 19:57:22 GMT, sez:

I loved the show and the tips. Great job!

Best regards,
Jeffrey Palermo, C# MVP, MCSD.Net
VP of Engineering, Vital Insight, Inc.



'Nick' on Thu, 01 Mar 2007 01:55:04 GMT, sez:

Where's "develop your application"? :)



'lb' on Thu, 01 Mar 2007 02:35:05 GMT, sez:

i'm leaving the "develop your application" point as an exercise for the reader.



'Skakunov Alex' on Fri, 09 Mar 2007 17:34:06 GMT, sez:

So what?



'Charlie' on Tue, 10 Apr 2007 21:03:34 GMT, sez:

Are you planning on continuing this series or is this DITW?



'lb' on Tue, 10 Apr 2007 21:06:08 GMT, sez:

@charlie
it's very much alive and kicking!
sorry for the hiatus



'Tarek Demiati' on Tue, 29 May 2007 11:56:42 GMT, sez:

I was not able to find the product idea, specifications & development steps ;-)



'Ubercoder' on Fri, 24 Aug 2007 16:22:24 GMT, sez:

What happen to the steps over 4?



'Ubercoder' on Thu, 06 Sep 2007 16:40:35 GMT, sez:

Friendly suggestion:

Don't start something you can't finish.



'mark' on Thu, 20 Sep 2007 15:38:40 GMT, sez:

great list, let me know if anyone needs help creating/regging domain names, (I'm not too bad at it!).



'oil portraits' on Tue, 27 Nov 2007 00:42:00 GMT, sez:

Great list. I hope you can prepare an article for each item in your list. I wanted a clearer and more elaborate explanation on things that may be encountered as you go through each item in the list.




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