Creating a Successful
Micromega Systems, Inc. S.F. CA.
Good ideas are plentiful
If you're a developer, it's likely that you think of good ideas faster than you can do anything with them. It's also likely that you've had at least one idea for a "million dollar" product during your career. Maybe it was a clever utility you wrote to help your client with some problem, or perhaps it was a new vertical market application that you thought of while talking to a prospect. The temptation to create a product is strong and inbred to programmers. And from personal experience, I promise that if you decide to go ahead, it will be one the most exciting, frightening, educational, and rewarding experiences you've ever had -- even if you go broke in the end.
Bringing an idea to market is difficult and risky
This discussion will cover some important points for turning your idea into a product, including potential and actual problems, traps, tricks, and rewards of doing so. We will begin by briefly reviewing my experience which includes some failed attempts at creating a product (this history illustrates not just to how easy it is to fail but also provides insight about my current point of view.
The last case study will be the inside story of Foxfire! Report Writer, my first really successful FoxPro add-on product. We will study some important lessons that Ive learned from my efforts, and I will make observations and recommendations that may help you avoid some problems. Finally Ill answer individual questions and you are most welcome to contact me during the conference (Ill be in the Foxfire! booth) or by email later at email@example.com.
Early warning -- your two biggest traps
I want to caution you about the two biggest pitfalls a programmer faces when trying to create a product:
These two factors come from inside you and are at the core of most of the unsuccessful products Ive studied. By the way, Im not immune to them. See if you can identify them as we proceed.
Paying your dues
In his book, Secrets of Consulting, Gerald Weinberg shares an important "secret ...
"Things are the way they are because they GOT that way".
The know-how for creating a successful product does not come by magic. It is acquired from experience (we call it "paying your dues"). The typical progression is for a product developer is ...
Fact: Most commercial products start out as a custom application
Paying my dues
Is it a million dollar idea or "Entrepreneurial Seizure"?
Entrepreneurial Seizure (n) - a sudden, extremely strong urge to start your own business. If ignored it quickly passes, but repeat episodes will typically occur throughout your life. The tendency to have such urges cannot be cured, but the seizures can be controlled by learning to ignore them.
My first Entrepreneurial Seizure was starting my own part-time, after-hours (moonlighting), programming business while I was still a civil servant. Eventually I incorporated it as Micromega Systems. In 1982, I became the first full-timeemployee.
Tip: Choosing a name for a service business, pick a trade name that describes the service. Originally Micromega was supposed to mean "We can work with both big computers and small ones (because the Apple computer was starting to become popular)". Now we say it means "We do big things with small computers".
For a product business, pick a clever "trademark" which is combined with the product. Foxfire! was chosen because of its association with FoxPro (Fox), and the fact that it was fast and hot (Fire). But the proper name for the product is Foxfire! Report Writer.
My second Entrepreneurial Seizure
Problem: Independent consulting generally does not give you more free time than employment . You only have a limited number of hours to sell, so when you stop working, you stop making money. To make more (the " real money"), you have to sell something that has a more abundant supply.
Logical solution: invest time to create a product (it can be recreated in a few minutes).
Product Idea #1. As an independent consultant for Micromega, I was engaged by a client to create a vertical market product in dBASE II. I agreed to accept a lower fee in return for a percentage of sales (royalties). But the unethical client never signed an agreement. I proceeded to do the work and later, they refused to pay me the royalties. In fact they replaced me with an employee, claiming I was taking too long (the system was finished and they were asking for an estimate for version #2.
Tip: Put understandings in writing before the deal. Afterwards is too late.
Product idea #2
A "... uh ... Banking Application" (we werent clear on what kind).
Tip: You must appear to make an obvious contribution. Smart partners look at you very carefully. They arent in the deal to do you a favor.
Product idea #3
Tip: Always pay attention to your cash flow. It can change in an instant.
Product idea #4
Know your customer
Estimate conservatively and plan for a worst case
Product idea #5 (Foxfire!) was different - We Knew Our Customer
In 1991, from our own experience we decided a FoxPro add-on query / report writing tool would sell well.
Tip: Youre more likely to succeed at things you understand (but thats not guaranteed)
Creating a product is risky and expensive. After you start, at some point it becomes impossible to stop. Before you proceed, you must research several issues carefully because they can cost you a lot more than simply money. You must to be able to keep focused and defer gratification far longer than you think. If you want to proceed, what do you do?
Understand why people buy
Listen instead of talking
Selling a successful product
How Foxfire! fits the "contentment" paradigm
Evaluating alternatives for "THE" product
Bornheims Magic Five Criteria For Picking A Vertical
Risks and how to minimize them
Product opportunity areas
Should you enter into a joint venture?
Marketing and Selling in the U.S. and Canada
Advertising and promotion
Unless you have an unlimited budget, where and how you advertise depends primarily upon the characteristics of the specific product -- for example who its customers and ultimate users are, its industry and purpose, its retail price -- almost every factor affects the advertising.
Where to advertise? Position yourself along the path a customer follows while seeking help (and see the session E-BUS2).
Sources of Marketing Help
Listed in order of overall effectiveness in
reaching the largest number of FoxPro developers and convincing
them to try your product.
A small directory of products and services which
comes inside the Visual FoxPro box for U.S. copies. A
one time price buys 350,000 copies (boxes). Its
too late for the first printing for Visual FoxPro
3.0. Contact them for information about the next
This is the largest circulation magazine dedicated to
A high quality FoxPro newsletter that goes to about 6200 developers in the US and Canada and a few hundred more English speaking ones in Europe and elsewhere.
Note: Pinnacle Publishing publishes and
markets products from independent developers.
Hallogram is a distributor of third party products. They dont have their own magazine, but they advertise in other magazines like FoxPro Advisor and FoxTalk, and publish their own catalog.
Galen Hall, (the president) is a former FoxPro programmer who understands this market. He also maintain a staff of FoxPro developers to provide support to customers.
Note: Hallogram also publishes and markets
products acquired from independent developers.
Note that couriers such as FED EX, UPS, and
other wont deliver to a POB (Post Office Box
from the U.S. Postal Service) in the U.S. So if you
want to communicate by these couriers, contact Les
first by phone or fax to get the regular, non-POB,
Although these people may distribute some products, they simply resell most calling you for product as needed. You can find these sources advertised in FoxPro Advisor, Database Advisor and other magazines like PC Magazine. They will give you a small free listing in their huge catalogs, and resell your product. In my opinion, it is not worth the price for a larger ad unless your products name is already well known by catalog recipients.
Licensing & legal issues in the U.S.
Maintenance & Tech Support -- A Survival Strategy