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Got a solid product - now what?

Just read your VC post and I agree 100% ...you've stopped me from trying that route.

I am a software engineer and learned about you from talk here and there.  Great site.

I am trying to start up my own site called Imageberry (www.imageberry.com) and am at a loss now.  I've spent lots of hours designing and coding and have a solid product, but that's where my expertise ends.  I'm competing in a very hot market (mobile apps) and have giants like Yahoo! and Kodak as competetors ...so it's not gonna be easy.

I think what I want to do now is partner with someone who has the resources to raise capital and expertise to make some business decisions.

How would I go about finding that partner?

billy
Thursday, May 06, 2004

It looks like you've done more than just "a solid job" on your product... you've got demos, a sign up system, professional quality design... this is head and shoulders above what most programmers come up with as their first effort. So, nice work.

In the mobile phone market, most people are going to just use whatever software they get from their provider. For example, my camera phone from SprintPCS has a built-in application that does all the same things as yours, and it's free, and it's from Sprint. So I'd never consider Imageberry. Another problem that has pretty much been the death of any business that tries to make software for cell phones is that the platforms are so fragmented that there's no way to make one application that has enough of an audience to be profitable.

Meaning... the potential universe of people that will buy your product from you is not actually the individuals with camera phones: it's the cell phone providers themselves. You've been thinking of your business as a small number ($4.95) times a large number (5 billion consumers) when it's much more likely to be a large number ($150,000 license per year) times a small number (4 cell phone operators). Anyway, marketing to 4 cell phone operators is a hell of a lot easier for a small company than marketing to 5 billion consumers.

So... one path you can follow is to find a business partner who would take on the marketing to cell phone operators in exchange for some equity or even a sales commission.

But since you're thinking of growing organically, there's another approach you can take ... the "bootstrap with consulting" approach. The way that works is that you show your app around to telcos merely as a calling card. "You guys might need this, if so, let me know and we'll talk. If not, tell me what you DO need and we'll talk about that." You've established credibility as someone who can develop applications for the platform and you can use it to get contracts to develop the next generation of applications. This is a much safer bet than selling consumers a $4.95 subscription. If you followed this path, your goal for the next 3-5 years would be to build a premier mobile development contracting shop with your own proprietary expertese and your own toolset that gives you sustainable competitive advantage.

Joel Spolsky
Fog Creek Software
Thursday, May 06, 2004


Have you done any market research billy? I am curious if you had any feedback from potential customers (excluding all the people who couldn't tell you your idea sucks even if they wanted to including your immediate family and friends) before you started?

Do you happen to know how many cellphone owners have cameras installed on their phones? I am not talking about how many such units Nokia/Ericcson/etc is expecting to sell in the X many years. I am talking about your potential "current" market.

If I were to write a mobile app, I'd go with games or an social networking related thing.

Anyway... I personally see no use for your service, but that's just me I guess. I can see no use in carrying my digital photos with me all the time on my cell. Hopefully you did find a group who cares to carry them.

Please don't take any of this personally.. Just some constructive criticism. Best of luck to you and your company!

no good
Thursday, May 06, 2004

Very professional site, impressive!  However, the flash demo doesn't work for me. 

Unfortunately I don't see what the value of the app is.  I have an LG VX6000 camera phone with Verizon and between whats built-in to the camera and the online portion that Verizon provides I get most of the similar functionality (except Verizon limits number of photos and doesn't have the comments feature). 

I wouldn't buy your app (as most apps for sale on my phone are in the form of subscriptions, 2.99/month is the cheapest I've seen, and that's to much for the marginal improvement in bells and whistles) but if you could get Verizon to buy your app from you and roll it out to its customer base as their default photo album, that would make sense since the one they have now is quite lacking. 

Ken Klose
Thursday, May 06, 2004

Perhaps you want to add the appropiate spaces to the following sentense under ImageBerry's features:

"No Advertising - No annoying pop-ups,banners,text-ads are found anywhere."

I also take issue with this quote from Imageberry's privacy policy:

"This policy is periodically reviewed by Imageberry and may be subject to change. Therefore, please check this Privacy Policy periodically and you may refer to the date posted at the top of this page to determine when this policy was last updated."

Privacy policies like this really rub me.  What's the point of having one if you're going to change it whenever you want?  I know this is standard procedure, but it makes me hesistant to think you're just waiting for a large user base to sell all their privacy rights down the river.

And who's kidding who here?  No one is going to periodically review that document.  The thing is 5 pages long! 

It also seems rather vague (forms of "generally" are used 5 times, forms of "we may" or "you may" are used around 30 times).

acm
Thursday, May 06, 2004

"I also take issue with this quote from Imageberry's privacy policy:
"

ACM has a point. However, don't get sidetracked by a detail that has very little bearing on the primary issue at hand: namely: how do you make MONEY.  That becomes a question of "who/why would someone want this service".

I have to agree with the other folks: *personally* I wouldn't be interested, even if I had a picture cell phone. But that's me.

Joel's advice sounds pretty good.

Also, remember that building a software company is 25% programming, (in my experience building only one company :-)

However, most developer can't create a complete, professional program that solves a real problem in a usesable way.

So, bravo, you're in the top 1% of developers.

Mr. Analogy
Thursday, May 06, 2004

Based on the posts on here and what I saw on your website, it is easy to conclude that you do indeed have a product, but it is definitely not as solid as you think it is although I do have to confess that everyone's own idea always sounds to themselves like they are the greatest things on the planet.

Sorry bud... :(

grunt
Thursday, May 06, 2004

You might also want to make sure that Research in Motion isn't going to sue you for using a similar name.  Their product line is Blackberry and Blueberry.
http://www.rim.net/

uh-oh
Friday, May 07, 2004

As a Palm OS developer, I think you would have an easier sell trying to go after the higher-end smartphone space, such as Treo 600 or MS Smartphone users.

Two reasons: first, they are already used to buying programs to expand their phones, and second, the APIs for those devices allow much better user experience that Java.  You also can get a fairly good sized number of advanced beta testers for your service by trawling the user forums like www.treocentral.com.

Outside of platform-based wireless devices, I agree that this is going to be a hard sell to carriers.  You might do better trying to sell this system to an exising wireless service provider that already has operator relationships, since the larger the company, the less likely they are to deal with a small software provider.

Ben Combee
Friday, May 07, 2004

Billy,

I don't have any comments about your product or original question but I do have some feedback about your website. I'm afraid that it's negative feedback but if your include your URL then I think it's fair game.

I don't think it's a very professional web site at all. You're making most of the fundamental mistakes: table-based layout, hard-coded font sizes, no alt text for images, no DOCTYPE, the use of font tags...

It looks good superficially but to see how bad it really is, turn off images in your browser and then visit the home page - it's not very useable. To see how good it could be, visit http://www.csszengarden.com/ for starters.

John Topley (www.johntopley.com)
Friday, May 07, 2004

We're all missing the obvious here - pr0n!! Have you tried contacting Vivid? :-)

Mark
Friday, May 07, 2004

Yes, please redesign your entire site to appeal to the 3% of internet users who are standards zealots.  What you most definitely don't want to concern yourself with are the 90% (or more) of internet users who use Internet Explorer, making it the de facto standard.

Turn off images?  He's selling an imaging product.  I'd say that the sort of folks that turn off images in their browsers (or use lynx, whatever) aren't the aesthetic sort that would be his customers anyway.

muppet from electric-chipmunk
Friday, May 07, 2004

Muppet,

I'm suggesting that he redesign his site to reach the widest audience possible, including those who may be viewing it using mobile phones, PDAs etc. They tend to use Gecko-based browsers, which work real well with W3C standards-compliant sites but are not so hot with IE sites.

<sarcasm>
You're right, the sort of folk who use Lynx or whatever definitely aren't the aesthetic sort. Those disabled people people are so ugly and should be locked up out of sight of normal people.
</sarcasm>

John Topley (www.johntopley.com)
Friday, May 07, 2004

My first thought when reading the website critique was "Please sir, have yourself checked into a mental institution."  Note, it was just a thought, and the thought had a smiley attached.

I use Gecko and it looks great.  My first thought was it looks like a pretty good website.  Of course, I'm not a web site designer.

Maybe it's a good thing that more source code isn't published.  I can hear it now.

"Yea, Microsoft Excel is a fine product, but I don't use it because many modules use gotos and magic numbers."

Kyle
Friday, May 07, 2004

+++<sarcasm>
You're right, the sort of folk who use Lynx or whatever definitely aren't the aesthetic sort. Those disabled people people are so ugly and should be locked up out of sight of normal people.
</sarcasm> +++

I can only assume that you're refering to the blind or legally blind who need lynx through a vox program so that they can get online.  Should a company that markets a PHOTOGRAPHIC IMAGING PRODUCT be very concerned with marketting to the blind?

In related news, I've got some killer new running shows for quadruple amputees.  How do you sugget I design THAT site?

muppet from electric-chipmunk
Friday, May 07, 2004

"I don't think it's a very professional web site at all. You're making most of the fundamental mistakes: table-based layout, hard-coded font sizes, no alt text for images, no DOCTYPE, the use of font tags..."

In other words, all the hallmarks of a typical corporate web site. Well done! Your web site gives the impression that your company is playing with the big boys. :-)

Karl
Friday, May 07, 2004

The site could be improved, but the target for those improvements would be mobile users with small-screen devices and limited browsers -- this is the kind of service that you would want someone to be able to sign up for from the device without having to use a desktop browser.

Ben Combee
Friday, May 07, 2004

Here is a plan for you.
1. Make your application FREE. (I am not kidding)
2. Post it to as many software listing sites as possible.
3. Go to other forum sites like smartphonetoday and get as much people to use it as possible
4. Build open support forums into your site and make sure there are A LOT of posts.
5. Profit!!! :) No really, now you have a mindshare/marketshare, your product is proven. Sell it to cell phone companies.

hitech
Friday, May 07, 2004

Well, I for one *would* actually consider using the product, but (oh no, here it comes):

- It doesn't work with my BREW based phone (AVox 9500)
- The montly pricing model.  I *hate* that.

The phone issue may be a deal killer, but the pricing model is also a big deal.  Why don't you (any many services like you) switch to a YEARLY pricing model.  "$50/yr" is MUCH easier to part with than "$4/mo", because I have to make the painful decision much less often.

My phone company offers a similar service to yours, and even though I'm a confirmed photo geek, I won't go near it because of the monthly fee.  I hate that.  A yearly fee, maybe.  A one time purchase would be a no brainer (but only works if you're the phone co. or some other institution likely to stay in business for a while).

J. Peterson
Friday, May 07, 2004

Back to the main topic - Joel's right.  Even if you're service is a flop, you've built a great calling card.  Get some brochures printed, and practice a quick (30-60 second) pitch for you and your service. Work your network, and make sure anybody who may have any connection to the mobile phone, mobile computing or digital photo biz gets the pitch and a brochure.

Google up the dates and locations of the next trade shows in the business.  Work the floor and do your pitch for as many people as you can.  [Visit booth.  Listen to their pitch.  Do your pitch.  Listen to feedback.  Exchange contact info for follow up if feedback is promising.  Repeat.]

If you're flexible about it, something will pop; a willing business partner, an acquisition, consulting gig, good job, or some combination of the above.  If you do 100-300 pitches, you may get 5-15 follow up meetings, and that'll get you the phone call that leads to the next big thing.  If things aren't going well, re-tune your pitch (e.g., focus on web building skills vs. the specific web site).

Don't let the "but I'm not a salesman" thoughts stop you.  Practice.  Do your first pitches on your least likely audience, just to warm up.  Believe me, after the first dozen or so you get *real* good at it.  Practice makes up for lack of natural sales talent.  *Listen* to the feedback you get from those first pitches.  Use that to adjust the spin the next pitch.  It actually gets kinda fun after a while.

It worked for me ( http://www.photomerge.com )

J. Peterson
Friday, May 07, 2004

I second the congratulations for having a polished product before asking what's next.

A problem you face, which Joel alludes to, is that your distribution channel is controlled by the phone carriers. They are thus your customers. They are aggressive and demanding.

There are very low margins in phone type apps, while the carriers charge you to test and certify on their networks. This is a pricing system that's toxic for small players and only benefits big publisher aggregators. The big publisher aggregators in turn screw their suppliers (developers.)

It's not really a very good market for a software developer.

JM
Friday, May 07, 2004

"Why don't you (any many services like you) switch to a YEARLY pricing model.  "$50/yr" is MUCH easier to part with than "$4/mo", because I have to make the painful decision much less often."

This is a great idea.  I hate monthly services but I do subscribe to a few yearly services (hell, I have an *unused* domain name I pay for every year or so).

Almost Anonymous
Friday, May 07, 2004

$5/month for unlimited images & unlimited bandwidth?

How long before the porn-kings come?

Steve Monk
Friday, May 07, 2004

I guess I see a different choice here. Rather than going after consumers or carriers, take a look at building a better mousetrap for the thousands of small businesses that want to add catalogs to their own web sites. What you have appears to be a long way there. If you know of any trade associations, see what their members are using and see if you can add some value there.

Omar
Friday, May 07, 2004

I do not join the chore of congratulations "for having a polished product before asking what's next". Having the product ready and polished you have an asset and liability at a same time.

Asset - you have something to sell, some experience creating it and setting up the web site.

Liability - as you've mentioned before - you have a loss, it's sucking money out of you, it's sucking your time as you have to keep it up to date to be ahead of competitors. In addition, I know nothing about how you've designed the thing, but chances are its not exactly what any of telecoms want.

Now you're time constrained. If any telecom sees that you're desperate they will jump on you and bite you and make you sell entire business for nothing. So they could harvest the fruits of your hard labour.

Joel's advice is very sound - little of end-users will be actually bothered installing your software, it goes better as a package deal with cell phone hardware.

Its much easier to make 4-5 sales to telecoms and let them redistribute the program. Would be great if you could negotiate non-exclusive license and keep your own brand on it. That way if mobile market ever grew huge you'd be able to be the next Microsoft.

A safer strategy would be finding a telecom interested in similar software before making it, signing a contract for non-exclusive license. Then creating the software exactly up to their needs. That way you'd ended up having at least one customer who would have paid for entire development and support, a piece of software which solves a real problem and has a good reference and your hands completely free to go and find next customer...

Btw, if I'm correct that's exactly how MS did that.

Vlad Gudim
Monday, May 10, 2004

It seems like a lot of people posting here don't even understand what this product is.  It's essentially just hard drive space for pictures.  On top of that is an interface for accessing those pictures through web clients.  I don't see this as something any telco would be interested in buying. 

I think it's an interesting product.  How do you market it?  I don't really know....

chris
Monday, May 10, 2004

Another place to look for business is companies with field staff. There are a lot of places out there where companies have field staff that need to take photos on site or communicate visualy to the office. I used to work for a company that was involved in the construction industry, and the ability to take and effectively share photos would of been an absolute boon.

These are the type of people that could really go for this, as those little extra features such as comments would be valuable to them (not to mention the opportunity to charge for customisation).

Ken H.
Monday, May 10, 2004

Nice product I guess, but if you don't know what's next, how do you know it fills a market demand?  In other words, how do you know "it's done" until the targetted prospect tells you what they'll buy... or more precisely, that they will buy?  Should not this market research have been done before "finishing" the product?

Brad
Tuesday, May 11, 2004

To share some experience.  Our web product requires subscription.  At first it was only monthly, but we need cash short term so we added annual.  The annual price is the cost of 10 months to make it appealing.  Our users surprised us by picking annual about 45% - far higher than we had hoped.  That made our refund policy a bit complicated - it's a scale with getting all your money back within 30 days and nothing after 6 months.

tekumse
Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Thank you all for the invaluable feedback about my website!  I could not have gotten a better response if I paid for it.  Joel, thank you for allowing me this opportunity and also for your insightful feedback as well.

I have come up with the following conclusions:

1.  Site has to be free with some premium pay option plus ads

2.  The site has to change in design/marketing because most of you did not grasp the complete breadth of the software (including you Joel) and this is 100% my fault.

3.  I, being a software engineer, got so hung up on the technical aspects of the site that I forgot to really look into some of the questions you have all posed.

In conclusion, I tried to jump to the next step too quickly.  I have to reiterate through my goals, target audience, marketing, and lots of other fun stuff.  Hopefully, when I am done, it will be a product that you'll all enjoy :)

Thanks again,

billy

billy
Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Do not follow the advice of a "standard" zealot guy. You don't have to design your site in css. CSS is quite hard to understand, W3C screwed on that one. Believe me I am an expert on CSS, HTML, DHTML and I can design beautiful sites using the latest techniques which some zealots describe it as standards. If you go ahead with CSS you would end up wasting hours without any real benefit, except satisfying the zealots. Some of them actually want you to pay them so that you rsite can be approved by them as standard-complaint. Your site is great, from the design point of view. Be aware of zealots.

By the way, this is no way to start a flame war, since there is no need to, so I am not going to answer sarcastic notes from the zealots. The main purpose of this site is to give good advice to you, and I realized that some zealots give you the wrong advice and I wanted to correct that, and believe me most probably I know CSS, HTML and more better than the guy telling you to design your site completely with CSS. That's a very bad advice, unless you happen to know CSS or have time or money to design your site purely with CSS. There is nothing wrong with tables. It is just like zealots who claim that if you don't open source your app and give it away for free than you will be cursed and will die soon and you are evil. By the way CSS is not good enough to let people easily replace tables. W3C screwed up very badly.

When you ask for an advice you are in a vulnerable position, so I wanted to point out that a zealot is giving you that advice and just disregard that.

Chris O'connor
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

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