Going fulltime...21 Jan 2011
Thursday 18th November 2010, Islington, London, 7am. I drag myself from bed to put in my customary early hours work on bliss. Outside it's dark and it's cold. My eyes are only partly open as I survey the night's emails. Great! Another sale. I open up my sales spreadsheet to record the sale, which also shows me my current sales rate over the past month. As I enter the details, the sales rate updates. I read the new figure... stutter, read it back unsure if it could be true...
As it turned out, that sale on the 18th November (thank you... RM!) put bliss over the magic "one sale per day" threshold. Once bliss achieved a sale a day, it would be ramen profitable. My wife and I had agreed this would be the point at which I should start working fulltime on bliss. That morning in November I was supposed to be working on some of the new missing tags functionality. In the event, after seeing the sales goal achieved, I was too excited about what the next steps would be and what the future might bring. This was a goal I'd been aiming for over many months of weekends', evenings' and early mornings' work with achievements and setbacks along the way.
Back in 2008 I had begun to develop itchy feet at my (now former) employer. I'd been working there for five years and had learnt a lot but I wanted to develop more autonomy and control over my future. I was working long hours, writing other people's software and building other people's business, yet I wanted to develop a level of geographic, temporal and financial independence. I had always had an interest in developing financial independence through sensible and long term investment (reading books like The Intelligent Investor and websites like The Motley Fool) but now I wanted to see if I could develop my own income streams through my skills in (and enjoyment of!) computer programming.
I found a number of websites dedicated to smaller software companies, the so-called Micro-ISV community. I particularly enjoyed absorbing knowledge on the Business Of Software forum and Software By Rob website. This approach to the software business was novel to me. I knew I would want to develop a predominantly product business (selling a product, rather than my time) so I could achieve the aforementioned geographic and temporal independence. My previous employer had aimed to sell software products, but it was funded via venture capital investment, whereas the Micro-ISV route seemed to, generally, advocate organic growth and achieving early profitability. Of course, I am not suggesting that venture capital is the wrong way to build a business, I think it just depends on what the business is. The aim of early profitability seemed sensible given my quest for new income streams.
I spent many months reading the aforementioned websites and dreaming about what could be. "Wouldn't it be fantastic", I thought, "if I could just write something simple that solved problems for people and that those people would pay money for". (The sensible reader will probably observe "isn't that just what any business is?". Well, yes, but sometimes you lose track of the fundamentals!) I began to grow impatient, considering commercialising a Java toolset for reading/writing binary files that I had developed for other reasons. I decided against that, because I felt developing tools for developers and getting paid for it would be hard work, so I started thinking about my hobbies. This is where the idea for bliss came about, because I'd always had trouble organising my music library and I always thought the tools available, while useful, were not powerful enough to organise music in a scalable manner, for large libraries.
I begin some basic market analysis, using Google's keyword tool as a low level way of measuring product demand. A rough and ready guide, but something nonetheless. Results for generic terms like 'music management' were high, but there was a lot of competition. Results for the buzzwords that described how bliss worked ('rule-based', 'batch', 'bulk', 'large collection' etc) were non-existent. I started analysing the features that bliss would offer (essentially the problems it would solve) and from here I settled on concentrating on album art management first. The numbers of searchers per month seemed fine to start with, and competition was not so hot as with the more general keywords.
Once I decided I'd work on the bliss project, I made the decision to go "all-in" and develop it as a commercial product. I formulated the moral 'just do something' which I have applied time and time again in the course of building elsten software. The reason is this: there are always nagging thoughts and fears about doing anything new. The only way to conquer them is to get on with it, put one foot in front of the other and learn from the experience. Do something, measure the outcome, learn from the experience, then do it better next time. I really think this is a sound approach that keeps you moving forward and learning, without suffering from analysis paralysis.
I launched bliss on the 6th November, 2009. My very first sale came on the evening of 23rd November (thanks Mr CG: I'll always remember my first sale)! Sales remained low until April of 2010 when a good referral by a respected member of the Squeezebox forums got me a lot of good quality traffic, downloads and a few more sales. Subsequently, June saw the release of the VortexBox version of bliss and in early October I launched the Mac version. The run-up to Christmas 2010, and the achievement of the 'sale per day' target occurred on the back of previous marketing and also an improvement in search engine rankings.
So now I am full time, and I'm loving it! I feel I am finally having time to do some of the more strategic, long term tasks, while also dedicating effort to building momentum on development and marketing ideas. Plus, I get my weekends back! Overall, I couldn't be more pleased with how things have turned out, and I'm looking forward to more music library management over the coming year.
Thanks to shutterhacks and cuttlefish for the images above.