515 git tag 516 git tag -a v1.0-beta3 -m "Beta 3" 517 git push origin v1.0-beta3
Everyone has their own opinion about why Apple has done so well over the past decade. My choice for why it has worked out so well for them is UNIX.
OS X gave developers a UNIX operating system with a usable interface on a beautiful bit of kit. My first Mac was a white iBook circa late 2001. I bought it because my girlfriend had one and I was blown away by Wifi, the UI and the UNIX underneath.
I was a developing software for a company that deployed to Solaris at the time and I’d spent years fucking about with either Linux on the desktop or Windows + Cygwin. Both experiences sucked but the Mac didn’t.
After living with a Mac for a year I started recommending them to people, my parents got one, my sister got one, her husband got one, my business partner got one. It was a better way of operating. I don’t, and haven’t, done any tech support for my family since everyone switched over. They just get on and get things done.
Of course Internet played a huge role in all this. We switched away from client apps and into web apps, that annulled the MS advantage in those rich apps.
I recall how much Apple sucked in the mid-90s. We had Macs in the CS department at Auckland. No preemptive multitasking, no protected memory. Win95 was way ahead. Switching to OS X/UNIX made all the difference when combined with a beautiful hardware package.
Pricing is strange voodoo.
We just picked a price and went for it to validate that people were willing, at all, to open their wallets. That validated that we had a solution worth paying for. The price was vaguely in line with the lower end other types of pricing in the market.
Beyond that the best piece of advice I can offer is that you shouldn’t be worried about raising your prices if you think you can. Leave your early adopters on the lower price, communicate to them that you’re doing so to reward their early support and then move on.
We had great success doubling our prices and that made that part of our business viable.
I think we can roughly categorise them into two camps. Those that depend on ad revenue and those that don’t.
There’s some, um, healthy competition between these stacks and I wonder if at some point those that have browsers but who don’t depend on ad revenue might raise the stakes.
Apple and Microsoft could pop mute buttons (ad blockers) into their browsers, features that allow their customers to turn off ads. They’re just like the mute button on a TV remote, right, so why isn’t that acceptable? Browser makers have killed off some forms of advertising in the past, it broadly improved the web. Might they do it again? It would be a wonderful benefit for their customers.
Technically this would be straight forward, there are free browser plugins out there that do this already and the authors are literally begging for some money.
Google has been sandbagging its position by building Android and Chrome so they’ve got some control over those channels however with Samsung dominating the Android market and with Chrome unable to compete with built-in ad blocking without cannibalising Google’s ad revenue those fortifications seem a little weak.
Facebook would be highly susceptible to this type of ad muting. I guess that we might see them burying ads further inside their user generated content so they’re harder for blocking software to find. That might apply generally across the web.
It would, I reckon, cause an Almighty shit storm. It would be quite fun to watch, well it would be if you don’t depend on ad revenue to run your business.
In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg is a radio programme and podcast distributed by the BBC.
It airs 0900 Thursdays, London time, on BBC Radio 4 and the show has been running or, at least, there are archives since 1998.
Along with the current podcast feed there is an archive is split into a handful of high level subject areas, e.g., ‘Science’ or ‘Philosophy’. I’d like to listen to this series of programmes chronologically but there’s no straight forward way to accomplish that within one feed.
I’ve written a Ruby script, using the standard Ruby 1.9 RSS library, which takes these iTunes compatible RSS feeds from the BBC and merges them into one master list, ordered by pubDate.
I’ve also hosted this RSS feed such that it will update regularly and you can File > Subscribe to Podcast… using the URL http://play.gatezero.org/iotu.rss
On the 31st of October 2012 we at Well Informed Limited completed our fourth full financial year.
Henry and I started the company in the summer of 2008 with the idea of creating a web product company with a software as a service model.
That product, Theory Test Pro, started life as a consumer product with an affiliate angle, our thought was to offer a cut of revenue to driving instructors who referred their students to our site, they could be our distribution channel.
Beyond the initial excitement of developing the software and our first few consumer sales there wasn’t much joy or progress, we signed up a handful of affiliates but business was slow and it certainly wasn’t going to let us quit our day jobs.
Oh, yeah, we were both working other jobs. Henry had his publishing business to attend to and I was doing some Rails contracting on the side. That wasn’t a problem, it took some of the pressure off and allowed us time to get the business model right.
We started casting about for new business models, some other way to sell the site, an outlet where the product produced real value for customers (the biggest problem for driving instructors was that a big cut of a small price just wasn’t much of an incentive at the volumes they typically see). The new market that we found was libraries and we took a stab at it by sending a letter to the purchasing officer at each of the libraries in the UK, 200 or so envelopes to stuff, 200 stamps to affix. We did this before we wrote any new software to deal specifically with libraries.
That ability to get our heads up, look around the market and try something new, cheaply, changed everything. Within a few months we had a bunch of library customers paying us annual subscriptions to enable their borrowers to use the site for free. We slotted a second product, directed at the same market, into our offering and that gave us the ability to sell more stuff to the same customers, people who already trusted us.
With this change of tack Well Informed became profitable and we were able to work on it full time.
Since that first shift in market we’ve been able to return to our original market, driving instructors, and offer them a valuable product they’re willing to pay for. We learned more about their needs, understood their business better and produced a product sympathetic to those needs. It has meant a couple of thousand new customers for us and we’ve had a lot of fun learning how to create and sell a product for this type of small business market.
Henry and I have learned a lot about finding product/market fit since we started, by remaining otherwise employed while starting off we gave ourselves time and space to find our initial market. By paying attention to customer needs we were able to find our second. As I wrote about here, we’ve also managed to keep our heads up to do this by investing in process delegation and automation. Running a small business isn’t easy but I think these are some of the things you can try to give yourself a decent shot at success.
At Well Informed we spend a fairly large chunk of time and money trying to improve our internal processes in such a way that things operate smoothly and routinely as we grow. We started small, by dividing work amongst the founders and then as we could afford it started outsourcing some of that work to people through oDesk. As we’ve grown we’ve expanded the number of support staff we’ve engaged and the software systems required to support them.
Along with software automation we also delegate process to people such as Camella (our fantastic support and admin person), to our wonderful accountant Hugo, to an outsourced bookkeeper and now to our recently hired in-house bookkeeper Beatrix.
Henry, in particular, has invested a bunch of time in designing, documenting and delegating things like end-of-month accounts, royalty reporting, business analysis. In support of this I’ve built reports that get us the data we need to make this possible.
These processes are amazingly well supported by Xero1, our SaaS accounting software which has automated bank feeds, payroll and allows everyone in the organisation to see the financial information they require to get their jobs done.
Right now this process is codified in Google Docs by role and when it needs to happen. We also try to give our staff the ability to design and document their own process so as we walk through what needs to happen they can capture it and feed it back into our operating manual.
Having all this in one place and well understood has allowed us to avoid being snowed under by day-to-day operations so that we can concentrate on the high leverage tasks that bring in more business and make the product better.
On the software front we use unit and integration testing to make sure our software stays manageable as it grows. We use continuous integration and automated deployment to avoid configuration management hell. I suppose we’re lucky that the tooling for this type of thing is so readily available now and such an endemic part of the Rails world but it’s important to stay on top of things and keep them running smoothly.
While we’re doing quite well at this there is always room to improve and I’m keen to know if and how other small businesses manage their operations and what sorts of techniques they use to keep their heads up so they can concentrate on the core things that make their customers happy and make the business more money.
On a related note, I’m fascinated to watch what the chaps over at Go Free Range are doing with Harmonia, a system that manages routine operations through random assignment of tasks. Clearly we have taken a process delegation path but for certain organisations that might not work (though can be cheaper than you think) and Harmonia might be perfect for them.