Micro-ISV Tip #19: The nine-year old Micro-ISV.
One question that often comes up in micro-ISVs circles is that once you’ve gotten your product out the door, what do you do for an encore? David Michael of DavidRM Software has been successfully selling, improving and growing his micro-ISV since 1996 through the sale of just one application: The Journal.
Recently, I talked to David for my forthcoming book, Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality. Here’s the interview.
Q. Can you tell me a bit about the software or Web services or products your micro-ISV sells?
A. The Journal is journaling or diary software for Windows. Originally released in 1996, The Journal 4 is the most recent version. The Journal has evolved from a simple daily entry journaling program to be a robust personal organizer where people can store just about any information, in just about any digital form, text, images, objects of all types. Throughout the growth of the software, though, I’ve worked to keep it simple to use.
Q. Is revenue a) less than what you hoped, b) about what you predicted, c) exceeding expectations, or d) you’re going to buy a small Pacific island later this year? Can you share your sales per month?
A. For 2005, revenue has been about what I expected. Of course, I always strive to exceed my expectations. Summer was a bit sluggish, as it has tended to be over the past eight years, but sales always pick up again in fall and build towards January, historically our best month of the year.
Revenue for 2005 has averaged over $7,500 per month. Comparing the first eight months of 2005 to the same period in 2004, 2005 has seen a 32 percent increase in new sales. 2004 had a 41 percent increase in new sales over 2003.
Q. What has been the biggest surprise in getting your micro-ISV started?
A. Well...the first surprise came in 1996 when I realized my “learn Delphi” project interested other people, who found the software as useful as I did. Then there was the whole “people will pay me for this” period of amazement and wonder.
On the “nasty surprise” side of the aisle, there was the effect of this new income on my taxes. First while I was still working for another company full-time, and again when I went full-time working for myself. FICA (the so-called self-employment tax) can be painful if you don’t plan for it properly.
As sales began to trickle in, as I tried to be as professional as I could with this sudden new business venture, I realized that my computer science degree (of which I am still immensely proud) had been deficient in several areas, specifically, business management, accounting practices, marketing, and sales.
Q. Where are you based and where did you get your degree from?
A. I live in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I received my computer science degree from a local, private university (Oral Roberts University). I’ve been in Tulsa since 1996 and for 19 of the last 20 years.
Q. How have you marketed, and did you/do you have a marketing plan as such?
A. In the early days, the extent of my marketing was getting listed on Delphi pages and on shareware pages like ZDNet and Download.com (remember when they were separate sites?).
Over the years, though, I’ve tried to improve my marketing in a number of ways:
- Targeting a specific segment of the market (people who want to do traditional journaling on their computers).
- Building a Web site that has an ever-growing selection of articles about journaling, about how different people use the software, and about tips and tricks for using the software.
- I continue to pursue listings on software pages, though not so much as I did. Now the goal is more to have incoming links that get exposure. The growth of PAD has made this aspect much easier.
- Bidding on search phrases at Google and Yahoo.
I don’t have a single, cohesive marketing plan that I follow. Mostly [I have] a collection of things I want to achieve, and when a chance to achieve one of those comes up, I act on it (or try to).
My plan, such as it, is like what I mentioned for the Web page: try to accumulate good stuff and good decisions over time.
Q. What do you attribute both the success and the longevity of The Journal to?
A. I think that a big reason for the growth of The Journal over the years is that I listen to my users. This takes a few different forms:
- I make a point of responding to all customer support emails in less than 24 hours.
- I try to notice when a particular customer service question is becoming common. I use these to help direct new development and revisions and, of course, bug fixes.
- I take all user requests seriously and try to see how the request would fit into the software and how it could be used for more than what the user initially intends.
The Journal started out as a more convenient daily journal for myself. I had been using Microsoft Word for Windows since 1993. While Word provided an adequate solution to my main computer journaling goal (copy and paste; I’m not kidding; I hate having to retype anything), it was too general purpose to be an easy journaling tool. Because I made it a point to listen to my users from the beginning, though, that very personal design goal has been expanded into something I could never have created on my own.
In other words, The Journal is not just *my* vision of what journaling software should be. It’s the combined vision of over 7,000 people, accumulated over 9 years. I take a lot of the credit, of course, but I acknowledge my influences.
Another reason The Journal has been around so long is that I’ve never grown tired of working on it. That’s probably related to my using the software daily. I live in this software, tracking progress on my development projects, planning my week, writing articles for blogs, planning projects, writing books…everything. (I’m not the only one, either; I hear from users who say much the same thing.) As I use The Journal, I find new ways to extend it and sometimes recognize in a user’s suggestion something that has been bugging me, as well, and even see a possible solution.
Yes, I can talk on and on about The Journal.