Oliver Breidenbach, Steve Dekorte, Steve Gehrman, Will Shipley, Brent Simmons, and Dan Wood participated in a panel discussion about how to run your own software business. Below is my summary. I also have audio of the entire session (44.1 MB MP3, 1:36:48) except for mentions of Omnigroup lawsuits that were removed at the request of Will Shipley.
Time to market varied for different software vendors. It took Dan 6 months to develop Watson. It took Brent 10 months to develop NetNewsWire including learning Cocoa. It took Oliver 3 weeks to develop his first product and receive his first payment.
The panel agreed that software with a demo period worked well as a way to introduce their product to new users. Brent likes having a free version of his software with stripped down features; he views it as a good marketing tool for the paid version and people might not have the money to pay for the full featured application. Shrinkwrapped software for a retail environment is currently a backwards industry in the United States that does not favor independent publishers. There are some companies called aggregators that represent many smaller developers to large distributors, but you pay a heavy price.
Pricing will always be wrong if you listen to the feedback. Although you think it is stupid to charge $19.95 for something, it does have a psychological advantage over a price of $20. $19.95 was seen as a minimum “serious” cost.
Know the core values of your application and stick to them when faced with feature requests. You do not have to be everything to everyone, nor should you be.
Lots of talk about legal issues from users or other companies as well as licensing issues and the crackers that crack them. Some funny stories but overall they did not seem essential to creating a software business. Dan mentioned that a lost registration key is his biggest support problem for Watson.
The preferred method of payment is PayPal. Quick and easy for buyers already setup in the system and the software business receives an e-mail for each sale. Japan was mentioned as a key market and you should at least develop an English and Japanese version of your software.
The session ended with each panelist answering what they wish someone had told them before they got into their software business. Dan wishes he had pushed his lawyers to include a clause that would allow him to take back Watson if Sun does not do anything with the software over a certain period of time. Other panelists had no idea the amount of long hours spent on their new endeavors. Don’t always listen to your customers. “Just because you bought my software does not make you an expert.” -Will Shipley