Monday, 30 May 2011

7 Steps to Make that killer App

Not a month goes by without someone spruiking an idea, concept, product that they believe I have to make, that will make me a fortune.  And when people get into this mode then there is no way to talk them out of it.  They have passion, have a vision.  So, I sit there and listen.  Then I apply my own test to this product as we are talking and decide fairly quickly whether or not it could make money or will be a waste of my time.  

So, in today’s blog I am going to write about a simple test I apply to all these ideas.   It is a way to just evaluate a product or idea and is just common sense.    

And as part of this evaluation, instead of talking theory, I will use an idea we ha, then went and created, only to find out it was a bad idea.  This idea was a rental web site, like a version of Ebay, except for rental, instead of sale. It sounded good at the time, but was never going to make it, without a lot of hard work.

Step 1     Listen

Listen to what people want.  Even though people will come to me with ideas, I am always listening to what peoples issues are and trying to determine if there is something that could be made from this.  And the best comments are when someone is complaining about something.  Because, this is when those little light bulbs can go off.

This also means keeping up to date in what happens in IT,  as any knowledge you have will help you decide on a product.  So, a lot of reading is required.

This is actually market research and the first thing in product development is knowing what people would love to have in their lives and willing to use your product and pay for it.

Step 2     How hard is it to make it? 

Or more to the point how much money will it cost to make this product.  At the end of the day, it comes down to how much return for the investment.  So, you need to ascertain how much money it will cost to make.  If you are a sole operator you still need to work out how many hours it will take and what that hourly rate is.

Ultimately, what I am trying to achieve is bang for my buck.  Least amount of effort for greatest return.  So, the least amount of money that needs to be spent on this the better.

The rental site.  We had decided to do it in MS Silverlight, as a training exercise, and was going to require 1.5 programmers for 3 months to create.

Step 3        Has anyone else done this?

If this product has already been made by someone else, what mkes you think that you can do it better?

If it is new, then great.  Maybe even look at a patent to protect it. 
If it is not new, then if there is nothing new and funky about it, then forget it.

For the example of the rental web site!  Yes, there are a few rental websites that are already out there doing this.  They do not appear to be going that flash either.  So, this is a concern.

It appears that they all rely on heavy advertising budgets to get users to their sites and use their services.

So, why would anyone use this new product, if one already exists?
There is no good reason, as this site would be very similar to the others out there.

Step 4        Who would buy this? 

How many people would be interested in this product?
What will this product do for them?

For the rental system!  Unsure of the market.  It would be a big market, but there are many issues about this market that are completely unknown.

The factors to look at include laziness to get up and use this, the fear of not getting your stuff back, the inconvenience of having to pick it up.   Handling freight, pickups, returns, damage done.   

It would be for anyone who wants to penny pinch and save some money.

Another risk is will people trust each other with this.  I doubt it. 

Step 5     How much money could we make? 

How are you going to sell it?
What is the unit volume?
Has anyone else sold it this way?  If so, how well have they done?

For the rental site.  This would be a commission based sale.  For each rental made then we receive a 10% fee.   The money could be enormous. 

Step 6     What are the key factors to make this sell?

What is the advertising that would be used to promote this product?  Is it viral, web, door to door, etc
An advertising program must be worked out before coding starts.  As it is no use making something if we cannot sell it. 
For the rental site!  Advertising!  This is the key factor with this product.  A market analysis would be required to see who would be the potential users, longevity of users, risks associated etc. 

But for the rental site, I know of one other company that ran a TV campaign for a rental site.  They spent a large amount of money and in looking at their site, it does not appear to be doing  that well.  On their site there is a lack of items up for rent.  Which in turn will discourage customers.   But they should have more than this because of the money they have spent on advertising. 

Step 7     Does it excite you?

For the rental site! Not really. Seems like a faded version of Ebay. 

And I always have to believe in what I am doing.  If it do not then I will not make it work. 


There would be a good market.  But this could be hard work for the users and I referred to this being a penny pinching market.  So, they are not going to want to part with their cash unless they have a really good reason.  They may even by pass this and just go to the neighbour and ask them and see if they can get it for nothing.

I am not going to jump at this idea, I will leave it in the background and then one day will use it to write about it in a blog. 


My analysis was quick and easy.  The outcome is that this requires a lot more analysis before it will be given the go ahead.  So, I will just forget about it and move onto the next idea.

However, the reality is that we made this, as a training exercise.  And I knew it would never fly and be a killer, but it is just one of those things that we do, and we learnt a lot from it.  


You may think you are having just discovered something absolutely amazing that if you turn it into a product it will make money.  But the chances are it will not.  An idea is the start of the process. 

To make a killer app, all of the above points must be covered.  And it is worth being critical at the start, rather than being broke and disheartened at the end. 

Thursday, 26 May 2011

6 Rules to making money from software

I live in the world of software, and to me it is simple.  I follow some basic rules and in the majority it has always allowed me to make good money from them.

So, here are 6 basic rules to follow to make money from software.  

Be new

If you have a product which is new and exciting and no one has done before then go for it.  

Be better

Do not make something which has been done before and expect to get great results.  The first company that made it, released it, it did well and now that company probably owns a small pacific island. 

So, when you come along and make something exactly the same,  well it is not going to go as well as what it did for that pacific island reclining company.

So, if you are going to make something make sure it is better than what they made. 

Be different

Make it different. Have a twist to it that the other system doesn’t have and from this it will make it better.  (PS I will talk about determining how to select a product to create in a later blog).  For example, a game that already exists but make it so it can connect to all my facebook friends and play with them.  Maybe this has already been done,  and I am only using this as an example.

Make sure it is usable

When a person opens your software application for the first time, make sure it is easy to use.  You have seconds to make them feel at home and realise that they can use this with very little effort. 

I will talk more about this at a later date as this is one of my favourite subjects and often talk about it to staff.


Do not rely on the internet to do wondrous things if you just put a web page up and expect sales to come through.  Work out your marketing and advertise to get sales. 

If you do not then you will not get sales.  I have seen many a great product over the year die a slow and painful death because a company does not know how to market it.

Don’t give it away

If you have made something new, better or different then do not give it away.

I have been reading through the stats of sales from apps sold through I-Tunes.  And there are very few examples of people who have made it rich by giving away a free version.

My theory is,
  • If it is good enough then people will buy it. 
  • People’s expectations when something is free are not very high.  
  • People do not upgrade from the free version to the paid version if the free version is good enough.

An example of my own

I own a Maintenance Management System called MEX.  I released it in 1995, and at the time I was better, different and also more cost effective than the others on the market.   I like to say cost effective, it is just a nice way to say cheaper.

At the time,  companies were getting sick of paying ridiculous prices for software that really did not do that much,  I came along with software which did the same job for a fraction of the price.  And literally over the next 5 years consumed the market. 

And it is funny I have had 2 staff who have worked for me.  In both cases they left and believed they could do a better job than me.  So, they basically rewrote my software and put it into the market. 

And, if I look at the steps I have just written about, neither of these had a chance.  Neither of these systems was better or different.  Potential customers asked why would they buy this software over MEX, and could not find one.  So, they stuck with what they knew was tried, reliable and respected in industry.

And on the money, these competitors also dropped their price significantly lower than MEX, and still could not get sales.   Hmmm, customers are not dumb.  They ask themselves why they are discounting;  If it is so cheap it cannot be any good.

Early days and price

When I first released MEX we sold a single user licence at about $1,000.  Sales were good, but not strong.  So, after 6 months, I doubled the price, and sales quadrupled. 

At $1,000 the price was too low.  At $2,000 it was acceptable as being a credible and worthwhile product. 


These rules have been based upon my experiences.  I have made some absolute clanger decisions over the years and regretted them,  but always learnt.  So, I hope this will be of use to you.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Support Departments and Happy customers.

I Have a view on a support department in companies and thought it was worth sharing this with you.  

If the Customer is not happy then it is an issue. 

Recently, I had a new internet line put into my house.  Won’t say which company.  And the performance is terrible.  In fact, My Iphone on 3g has better performance than the internet connection in the house.   

This company calls me 2 weeks after installation, as part of the usual customer service routine, and asks me the standard questions.  One of these is about performance, and I say it is terrible, and that really if it does not improve then why would I bother having it.

So, he directs me to their speed test web site, which I browse and go to.  I run through their test. And low and behold the result comes back as being really good.  Not just average, but an above average connection.

I disagree with the test, and tell the representative this.  If the test shows how fast my internet connection is then why does it run so slow. 

We then went into a circular argument for the next 5 minutes.
I say it is terrible
He says that it is a good connection.

In the end, I realised the absurdity of the conversation and told him to move on to his next victim of disappointment, like a hyena goes from one dead carcass to another just seeing if there is anything left to gnaw on.

My issue is that the problem still exists.  But the internet supplier says there is no problem from their end. Customer unhappy;  Supplier happy as they have proven that I was wrong. 

This should not occur.  I believe that a customer service issue exists based upon one reason and one reason alone.  The customer is not happy.

For whatever reason, it does not matter whether it is our fault or theirs.  The customer is unhappy, and thinks it is due to us.  So, dive in, work out what is wrong and hopefully provide a solution. 

And the reasons do not have to be exactly product related.  It could be about a bill, the lunch served, they have just broken up with their boyfriend, whatever.  It does not matter.  See if it can be fixed up.  And if it can’t then at least we did our best.

We try our best to make you happy.  Does not always work, but we try our best.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Who will win Apple or Droid?

There are many on both sides of the fence.  Some say that Android is taking over and will win this fight.  The main reason being is that it is open source.

Myself, I think that the Iphone will stay strong and Android will disappear.    

Currently they both have market share and are growing.  Android a lot faster than Iphone.   However, whilst android grows a lot faster Iphone still continues to grow s well.   I cite this as part of the recent research by the Gartner group.

 The big losers in this battle are Symbian and Microsoft.  Symbian as an operating system appears to be all but over and will disappear over the next year or so.  And therefore, a replacement is needed to fill this void.  Nokia has chosen Microsoft to be its next replacement for this.  But I think that it is more likely going to be android.

It will leave us with a market that is Android for the low and middle markets and Iphone for the high end.   

So, I can still see android growing and becoming a stronger presence.  But Apple Iphone will only get stronger as well.  And long term for smart phones I think it will be Iphone, not Android. 

My reasons are fairly simple and very clear and have been learnt many times over the last 4 decades of computers as to why.

Iphone is feature rich, easy to use and aspirational. Android is cheap, will do the job, but a bit harder to manoeuvre around.

Feature rich

Apps, apps, apps. Everywhere.  Iphone has them all.

Ease of use

You buy it, connect to your PC and it works. 
If you lose it, buy another one and all your apps come back to your phone without you even thinkng about it.
A new OS comes out, it is automatically updated when you sync next time.
Easy to buy and update apps.


It is the flagship phone worldwide.  Android is the cheap cousin that you buy when you cannot afford an Iphone. 


Remember the battle that went on between MP3 and Ipod over the last 10 years.  In the end the Ipod was the clear winner in this.  MP3’s are still sold but the market is gone for them.  And why; I feel it was the same reasons as what I have said for the Iphone.  Ease of use and aspirational.

Never over estimate your audience.

People want simple to use.  The android allows you to have too many options and you have to know what you are doing.  And there is a section of the market out there that are happy with this, as they are the geeky elelment that like to play with techno gadgets.  But the majority of people want to get a phone, download their apps and music and be on their way.  And apple allows this to occur with the minimum of fuss.


Iphone and Android will dominate the market and both co-exist.  Android for the lower and  middle market and Iphone for the high end.

Where will it end.  Somehow I feel it will go the same way as the MP3.  in 3 years time Android will be around, but its place may be usurped  by another operating system.  And Apple Iphone will be ruling the high end smart phone market. 


Hi, and welcome to my blog. 

I have been involved in the world of IT for over 20 years.  I like to think I know a bit about it.  Have seen things come and go, and have learnt what is good and what is bad.

I currently run a few companies involved in IT.  And invest in others. Have done well, but not zuckerberg well.  

And what I want to talk about in this blog is everything that is to do with management, ease of use, how people interact with computers, maintenance (as I was once a mechanical engineer), Maintenance software, and all things that I find of interest. 

I intend on reviewing different products and will gladly welcome anyone to comment on my thoughts.

Steve Ninnes