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Getting Set to Start Out Right as a Start-up

Volume Number: 25
Issue Number: 05
Column Tag: Professional Development

Getting Set to Start Out Right as a Start-up

All we know about starting an Apple business, from the idea, to product launch and beyond.0

by Michael Göbel and Oliver Pospisil, Inspired By Life

Inside Inspired By Life

A few weeks ago, Michael and I talked about the status of finding a seed financier to help us turn our idea into actual software. We asked ourselves whether we should take a wait-and-see approach or make it happen now?

Michael: I want to get the ball rolling because our idea really works. The white knight will show up one of these days. That's for sure. But the question is when: next month, in six months, or even next year? In light of the current economic turmoil, it will more likely be later than sooner. But waiting a whole year is just a sheer waste of time. (pause)

Oliver: The times are tough. Yet a friend of mine used to say "There is a market for a good product - anytime."

Michael: And we get rid of, literally speaking, a really annoying pain in the neck. Consumers are willing to pay the going rate, even during turbulent times. In order to move ahead without any seed financing, we have to boil our idea down to its very core.

Oliver: That's true. When I was in New York last October, I used our software prototype to get ready for an important meeting. My hotel room was incredibly small and I had to make preparations on either one or two pieces of paper or on my MacBook. I quickly realized: Paper is not right for brainstorming. I could not arrange and rearrange my ideas to try out different scenarios - all on just one piece of paper without having to start all over again, and again, and again. So I took the MacBook and used our software, et voila: I could arrange and rearrange my ideas exactly like I needed to. Ultimately, I had the perfect roadmap for a win-win meeting.

Michael: Cool! Who says that brainstorming with a computer always has to be a tree-like structure? This is how I wanted to work. Let's go and reframe the original idea.

Oliver: Yes, let's make it happen!

Introduction

You don't want to sit back and wait either? You want to start your Mac business now. You want insights and useful examples for great software, application icons, codes, websites and much more. Start reading now and find out for yourself how to do it!

In this series of articles, you will find out what we know about starting a business up on the Apple platform and about staying in business over the long haul.

Michael already started his Apple-only company MOApp up in 2004 and he has now developed more than ten applications - six of them are Apple staff picks. He knows how to craft easy-to-use and highly sophisticated software and how to stay in business successfully. Michael does everything from software development, icon design, website development to sales management and public relations. He is a real micro Independent Software Vendor (ISV).

I have been in the software business for over ten years, specializing in areas ranging from Palm programming to large-scale, in-house Java projects. I bought my first Macintosh Classic in 1991. In 2006, an idea grabbed my attention that we are now both working on. I'm still working full-time for a German retail company and will be until our new business starts paying off our bills.

As partners, we have started a new business up, turning our idea into a genuine product: Inspired by life.

Next, you will find out why the Apple platform is the right one, and what we classify as excellent software as well as the topics we delve into throughout this series of articles.

Apple's eco-system

Isn't it kind of ironic that the deep global economic crisis is breaking all-time highs when it comes to burning billions and billions of dollars, while Apple is earning billions at the same time?

And you really want to start your business up right now? In times when practically everybody is worried about losing their job or going out of business!

Amidst today's credit crunch, consumers think twice about how to spend their money and they are much more price sensitive. That is great because the haze of vaporware ("software that fails to fulfill users' expectations") tapers off and it is easier to focus on applications that solve real world problems, that are crafted with passion for detail and that are really worth their money. Your idea delivers value to the user's life, doesn't it?

Bull or Bear, people will always buy computers and they will continue to switch over from their former Windows systems to Apple. People need computers and useful tools to help them get their job done - in a sustainable way. After all, quality is what counts, time and time again.

You think the times are too tough? Well, yes they are. But, just look at Joel Spolsky and Michael Pryor. They started FogCreek up in 2000 and are raking in revenue today. That's why you must focus on the future: Once the economy gets back on track, your business will be well established, and you will know how to fulfill your customers' real needs when times get rough and you will have learned how to come out a winner amidst this sharp economic downturn.

If you can make your business a success now, then you can make it happen anytime, anywhere.

Apple is setting new records by harnessing billions of dollars in revenue

Apple pulled in 1.6 billion dollars in Q1/2009 and seized a 10% market share in just a few years. To accomplish this, Apple's growth rate has been much higher than that of the overall PC market (21% Apple to 13% PC market). Nearly every quarter, Apple sets new sales records and even the economic downturn cannot stop them. It sure looks like they are doing things right.

Get the latest news from the following links:

http://developer.apple.com/business/

http://www.apple.com/investor/

No matter where you look, Apple is leading the market: in the business management, consulting and educational sectors, just to name a few. Apple is also gradually becoming the preferred solution for small- and mid-sized enterprises from all industry sectors. And, of course, people really love their Macs when it comes to the add-on features of design, music and photography. Macs are positioned at the high-end - and not at the dead-end. Today, using an Apple computer is the sign of a professional with style. It therefore comes as no surprise that Apple is leading in surveys concerning user satisfaction with the hardware as well as with its operating system.

For you, it is great to know that Apple provides you with quality support and that you have a helpful developer community at hand. Apple delivers state-of-the-art APIs and developer tools that they use themselves. Apple keeps its promise of making their APIs publicly available - albeit after a short delay.

Apple processes OS X by streamlining Snow Leopard, which translates into more speed, and more reliability. You can choose whether to develop for the Mac, the hip iPhone or for both.

The Apple eco-system is more like a real community: Users do not have to search for ages, instead they just need to click on a few downloading sites with the highest hit rates:

http://www.apple.com/downloads

http://www.versiontracker.com/macosx

http://macupdate.com

The press is always open to new, highly innovative products, which makes it easier to gain visibility than is the case on the Windows platform.

And last but not least, Apple users are happy to pay for tools that are easy-to-use and that have a sophisticated design and feel.

Case examples of innovative software

The following examples will show you what great software is made of. We will highlight the coolest features in each example.

Example 1: Pixelmator (pixelmator.com)

Pixelmator is image editing the Apple way. Before Pixelmator came onto the scene, the gap was huge with regard to the functionality between pro tools like Photoshop and simple image editors. Pixelmator has definitely changed the rules of the game. You can now get all of the functionalities you typically need in a sleekly designed application for just $59.

Example 2: Checkout (checkoutapp.com)

In the past, the GUI of point of sales applications resembled SAP more than that of a typical Mac application. Werck crafted a POS application with a terrific GUI. In addition, they solved the (POS) problem in a holistic way. They looked at the whole business process - and not just at the cash machine. Checkout is a real one-stop-shop when it comes to opening up a shop. Don't forget to check out their website!

Example 3: On the Job (stuntsoftware.com)

The easy-to-use time tracking and invoicing application (to be quite honest: Michael sure is envious about the perfect way that this has been achieved). After talking to users extensively, the end result is an application that is crafted with love, with passion for detail and that has deep insights into exactly what the customers want.

Example 4: Eventbox (thecosmicmachine.com)

One to rule them all: All major social networks. They give you one cockpit - before Eventbox came into being, you had to use five different applications. Simplify your life at a fair price!

Example 5: 1Password (agilewebsolutions.com)

Just look at the awards! If I hadn't seen it myself, I would never have believed that a password handling application could stimulate such enthusiasm.

Example 6: Coda (panic.com)

When it comes to creating websites, not only does Coda give you a tool that replaces five applications. It also integrates the right manuals to build great websites, too. They obviously sat back and thought about the website development process as a whole and from a fresh perspective.

Example 7: Things (culturedcode.com)

Primus inter pares ("first among equals") of all task management applications. Look at the icon! What you see is what you get.

This is what all of these tools have in common:

  • They closed a gap that others overlooked.
  • They crafted an easy-to-use cure for users' annoying and highly frustrating pain in the neck
  • They listen to their users carefully and take appropriate action
  • They are passionate about the GUI and pay attention to each single detail
  • Their website lets you grasp at one glance what it's all about and they make it easy to try it out and then buy it in a solidly convinced way

To be as good as they are, you must lean back and look at your software as a whole product. This includes the software itself, the application icon, user manual (and like Coda, additional books), websites, pricing, sales process, support and serving your customers with quality at all times.

The bottom line

If you want to play in that league of great software, move ahead.

If you want to take pride in your craftsmanship, move ahead.

If your product solves a user's annoying pain in the neck, then move ahead.

What does this series of articles entail?

Here are the kinds of topics we'll be covering:

  • Your idea: Solve a real problem and make this world a better place
  • The Business: What you gain from writing a business plan
  • Humane project planning: Joel's Excel sheet, FogBugz or Merlin
  • You never walk alone: Get a team that complements you
  • Develop with quality in mind: It is your reputation that is at stake
  • The website: Attributes of a good product website
  • Beta or not to Beta: Beta testing done right
  • Pre D-day: What to do and not to do on the days before product launch
  • D-day: What to do on one of the most exciting days of your life
  • Getting more customers: Spread the word
  • Payback and where to go from here: How to sustain your business and be a Mensch (Kawasaki 2004)

    We'll include useful examples, too.

    What's next?

    "Everything that can be invented has been invented."...

    Connect with us!

    We want to share stimulating, innovative ideas with you and we really look forward to your feedback! Is anything missing or do you think something could be fleshed out in further detail? Just let us know and write to oliver.pospisil@inspiredbylife.com.

    Bibliography and References

    Books:

    Walsh, Bob. Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality. New York, 2006.

    Sink, Eric. Eric Sink on the Business of Software. New York, 2006.

    Kawasaki, Guy. The Art of the Start. London, 2004.

    Websites:

    http://www.microisv.com/

    http://www.joelonsoftware.com

    http://www.mac-developer-network.com

    http://www.47hats.com

    http://www.ericsink.com


    Michael started MOApp up in 2004 and he has now developed more than ten applications - six of them are Apple staff picks. He does everything from software development, icon design, website development to sales management and public relations.

    Oliver has been in the software business for over ten years, specializing in areas ranging from Palm programming to large-scale, in-house Java projects. In 2006, an idea grabbed his attention that both are now working on. He is still working full-time for a German retail company and will be until the new business starts paying off their bills.

 
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