|Column Tag:||Developer Notes
Marketing Mac Tools
By Steve Jasik, Menlo Park, CA
Jasik on Marketing Developer Tools for the Macintosh
Guy Kawasaki is fond of quoting Gassée on the difference between advertising and public relations. The former is when you say that you are great, and the latter is when your (former) girlfriends say you are great. Its been almost three years since I wrote an article for MacTutor on Nosy or The Debugger. This time I took Guys advice and let someone else write a review of the latest version of The Debugger.
While marketing issues are not usually discussed in MacTutor, every software entrepreneur has to give them consideration. As one who has managed to make a decent living over the past five years, I thought an article on my experience would be of some interest.
As two general references to high tech marketing, both Guy Kawasakis recently released book, The Macintosh Way (Scott-Foresman), and Regis McKennas The Regis Touch (Addison-Wesley) are must reads. Guy was the head of Evangelism at Apple from 1983 to 1987. His book contains many entertaining and informative insights into the Mac market. Regis McKenna (and his PR firm by the same name) have been associated with Apple since its founding days, he is one of the gurus of high tech marketing. I have used some of the strategies suggested in his book.
The opening paragraph of William Davidows book, Marketing High Technology (Macmillian) is:
Marketing is civilized warfare. If you find that metaphor too brutal, or if you are not prepared to fight, you should not enlist. As long as aggressive competitors exist -- and in this rich and dynamic world they always will -- you will be under attack. Your competitors job is to capture business and then defend that new perimeter. So is yours.
This is nothing new, the electronics industry has been a highly competitive, cut-throat industry since its founding days. The software industry is no different. As an example, consider the C compilers on the Mac. Bill Duvalls Consulair C was the first native C compiler for the Macintosh, and he cleaned up in the first year. Along came Think with LightspeedC, and now only the old timers have heard of Consulair . When the competition becomes unfair, court cases may ensue. IBM forked over its Service Bureau Corporation and $50 million in cash to CDC in 1974 in an out of court settlement over the issues of Paper Tiger machines and predatory pricing. The value of the settlement was about $500 million.
The Mac market is growing rapidly, but it is only one-tenth the size of the (IBM) PC market. The market for developer tools is a small part of the overall market, consisting of about 10,000 Apple Partners (certified developers), an unknown number of Apple associates, part time developers and students. Outside of Apple, the only company with a big presence in the tools and languages market is the Think division of Symantec. Apples developer software is sold at a loss, by an in-house APDA with an uneven discounting policy towards third party developers. Venture capital is not available for system related software. Borland has left the Mac tools market, Microsoft is a minor player with QuickBasic, and I hear that the Think division of Symantec is marginally profitable. Is there something rotten in Denmark??
MacTutor magazine is the only relevant (and reasonably priced) advertising medium for the third party developer of language related products. A full page in MacUser or MacWorld starts at $6500 a month.
As to Tupperware parties, there are only a few user groups that a developer of a tool can profitably appear before. They are the BCS MacTech group in Boston, the Mac SIG of the Software Entrepreneur Forum in Palo Alto, the Austin Mac Developers, and possibly the Berkeley MUG, or its tech group.
In addition to the above facts, one has to take into consideration that Apple, with its army of software developers, who are subsidized by hardware sales and propaganda from its publications, are taking over many areas which were previously the domain of third parties. Given Apples brand name recognition, a product has only to exist for them to move it, and possibly destroy your market in the process.
To be successful as a third party software or hardware developer, one has to find areas Apple has not or will not enter, move quickly, provide good support, and be prepared to change direction very fast in that event that the 5 ton elephant called Apple comes rumbling in your direction.
For those of us, like me, who are marketing products to a niche market, there are a variety of paths we can take. Freeware, shareware and self published are three alternatives to the standard route of letting someone else publish for you. Freeware is one way to get feedback about your product, but once it goes into the public domain for any length of time you may have trouble selling it commercially. If you need to make a living, then forget the shareware route, you will be better off buying lottery tickets. The only people who have made a living from shareware are Bob Wallace (PC Write), Don Brown (CE Software) and Scott Watson (White Knight - formerly Red Ryder). John Mitchell, the author of Fedit, eventually went self published with it. Boomerang, which I use and think is an excellent product, just changed from freeware to a shareware. I think that the author would make more money by going commercial with it as Raymond Lau has done with Stuffit.
MacNosy and The Debugger, a Case History
When MacNosy was introduced in January 1985, there was a clear need for more information about the Macintosh ROMs. The combination of the complicated and little understood Graphic User Interface used in the Mac, the lack of documentation, and the paranoia of Steve Jobs made it fairly easy for me to get ink from computer columnists such as John Dvorak, and John Markoff. Markoff wrote a terrific description of MacNosy in his column in the May 1985 issue of Byte that really helped sales. He is currently at the NY Times. Another important form of marketing is word of mouth via the electronic services. Dennis Brothers, the author of Microphone, was then the Sysop of the Mac Developers SIG on CompuServe, and a beta tester of MacNosy.
Version 1 of Nosy did not have a window mode, and was hard to use. Early in 1986 I added a window mode in which most commands could be performed. After a conversation with ICOM Simulations, it was apparent that they were not going to extend their debugger, TMON, to do some of the things that I considered essential. We also had some conversations about me buying it, but nothing ever came from them. I set to work on extending the technology in Nosy to produce a debugger. The Debugger was introduced in November 1986, as a high level symbolic debugger for applications only. My article in the April 1987 issue of MacTutor (reprinted in Volume 3 of MacTutor) describes its features.
With the introduction of the Mac II, I changed direction by putting the emphasis on The Debugger. The shift was due to the discovery that more people wanted to look at the workings of their own programs than others, or the ROMs. I later changed the name of the package to The Debugger and MacNosy to reflect the shift, but most users still refer to it as Nosy, and get the two products confused. Version 2 of The Debugger which supported the debugging of code resources (INITs, DRVRs ) and multiple tasks at a time, was introduced in June 1988.
With the advent of MPW 3.0 and the .SYM file format I was able to add source level debugging to The Debugger. Now Apple both giveth, and Apple taketh. They gave us a semi-open architecture product, namely MPW, and a spec for source level debugging that their compilers and linker met. They also gave us their rendition of a source level debugger in the form of SADE, which is an obvious threat to my market. In the process of doing this, they forgot to do a number of things, foremost being to make the system run at an acceptable speed. Compile times were up by a factor of two, link times by a factor of three, and SADE was slow to the point that I usually write its name as SADe. That some heads havent been chopped off for it is rather amazing. Ive seen vice presidents escorted out the door for less! But in deference to large corporations in general, I should point out that we used to say that XYZ doesnt release software, it escapes (despite the best efforts of the Software QA group). It appears that MPW 3.0 is an example of that.
For a few months I fumed at the Apple for producing a system which was so slow. Then the impetus for doing an incremental linker for MPW came from a conversation with one of my customers (this is what it means to be market driven). That was in March of 89. Two months later I had PatchLink running, and the Pascal compiler patched for incremental compilation in time for the Spring Developers conference. When I demoed it at one of the sessions, Apple engineers in the MPW group who I had given up on talking to, visited my booth. I shipped the release version of IBS on September 1, and in the process of beta testing it has converted many of the major users of MPW (Claris, Aldus, Odesta, Oracle, Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Acius, ) over to using my debugger and IBS. The lesson to you is that in order to beat Apple (or any other company) in a given market, you have to offer the potential customer something unique that sets your product apart from theirs. IBS with Instant Link did just that. Many large programs that are being developed on the Mac, such as the next version of PageMaker, have link times that run between 5 and 15 minutes. This slow turnaround time negates the interactive nature of program development on the Macintosh, and is expensive to companies that are paying real money to their programmers.
The penalty for failing to position your product as a unique entity in relation to your competitors is that you may end up in a commodity war in which price, availability and the market identity of your brand will be the determinants. As an example, consider Resourcer by Doug McKenna. It is a distinct improvement over Apples ResEdit, but is there enough utility or difference in it for you to spend $100 or so on it?
While the taste of victory is sweet, one has to keep in mind that there are more of them at Apple than you or I, and eventually like the Russian Army and Napoleon, they will get us by attrition in the long Russian Winter. While they are promising an incremental linker for a future version of MPW in 1991, I still have a couple of rabbits in my hat that will keep me a step or two ahead of MPW. Given their financial resources, the question is why havent they built a system with incremental linking years ago? Both Thinks Lightspeed C and Pascal have had integrated project managers with incremental linkers for over four years. If they are so smart, why has it taken Apple so long?
Now a bit more on my current marketing strategy. When APDA moved in-house last year I lost one of my primary distribution channels. The old APDA sold my product at the discounted price of $275, and the new (Apple) APDA has deemed that my product is not popular, and should be sold at my suggested list price of $350 (catch-22). This has cost me about 20% of my sales. My solution to this problem has been to go after site licenses at the major Mac developers (Claris, Aldus, ) to make up for the slack. The reasoning being that a sales trip via airplane costs about $800, and if I can put myself in front of $10K or so of potential customers, then it is worth the trip. So far this strategy appears to be working.
Let me close by saying that I havent recounted horror stories that some developers have had with their distributors, or talked about what trade shows are worth while for tools. The MacWorld conferences are not attracting the right crowd for me. There are many opportunities for new and innovative products in the Mac market, just dont expect to get rich in the tools and languages area.