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Interviewing Software & IT Leaders

Bob Walsh
Bob Walsh
Managing Partner
Safari Software Inc.

We are starting our series of Web VIP interviews, and it was my pleasure to have Bob Walsh as our first guest. Bob is a very active figure in the microISV world. MicroISV stands for Micro-Independent Software Vendor.

He is the managing partner of Safari Software Incorporated and has just published a new book called "Clear Blogging: How People Blogging are Changing the World and How Can You Join Them ", after the successful book "MicroISV: From Vision to Reality ".

I wanted to learn more about his microISV business, his experiences writing the second book, how blogging changed his life, and his thoughts on what it takes to succeed as an independent software vendor.


Adriana Iordan: Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background and how you came to write your books?

Bob Walsh: I've started in this business - first as a consultant, then contract programmer, now microISV - back in 1983 when I decided that the life of a news reporter was not as what I thought it would be and switched professions. While the ride up of the dot com boom here in the San Francisco Bay Area was great, the dot com bust was not and I started thinking seriously about daring to write commercial software seriously in 2003.

I finished MasterList Professional in early 2005, only to realize I knew zip about how to be a "software startup" or "shareware author" as far as marketing, ecommerce, web site design, product positioning, tech support and about a dozen other things. The only books I could find on the subject were pre-Internet!

I wrote Clear Blogging in 2006 as a guide to blogging for people who don't blog, yet, and for people who had just started blogging

Fortunately, I came across the Business of Software forum at Joel on Software. I realized I wasn't alone trying to make a go of what the forum's moderator Eric Sink called a micro-ISV. I further realized if I were going to have do all of this research on marketing and business etc, I might as well do it right and write a book about it.

That's how Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality came into being. While I was writing MIVR, I realized there was a whole 'nother big story out there: blogging. While I had started a blog back in Oct. 2004 during the long beta of MasterList Professional, and I'd seen what a blog could do for other micro-ISVs like Ian Landsman's UserScape , my long-dormant "newspaperman's nose" was smelling that blogging was becoming , big, big news. Blogging has the potential to disrupt, remake and change economic, political, social established orders and give individuals the chance to win again.

I wrote Clear Blogging in 2006 as a guide to blogging for people who don't blog, yet, and for people who had just started blogging. It's about the what's and how's and most importantly, the why's of blogging. It's not programming book at all, but the good people at Apress were willing to go for it.

For me, blogging is my marketing and the more I blog, the more I sell. It's just that simple.


Adriana Iordan: Your new book outlines the benefits of blogging. Can the micro-ISVs afford to invest time and effort in blogging? Should the software companies consider blogging as part of their marketing strategy? For example, how did blogging change your business?

Bob Walsh: Absolutely! For a small software company, a good blog is easily the single best marketing activity they can invest their time in because by conversing on the net about the problems people have that their software addresses they demonstrate their expertise, build their online reputation, connect with other people interested in solving that problem (aka, customers) and play to their strengths. Blogs are the opposite of tiny companies dressing up corporate enterprise clothes. In a world where a couple of developers can build something that hundreds of millions of people care about in just a few months (Skype , YouTube), Small is Beautiful.

For me, blogging is my marketing and the more I blog, the more I sell. It's just that simple. And whether you're selling to individuals or large enterprises, good blogging connects you to the actual people who are going to decide whether to buy your product or service.


Adriana Iordan: Also, please talk about the differences between corporate and personal blogs. Briefly, what are the most common mistakes the ISV bloggers do?

Bob Walsh: The biggest mistake a company can make blogging is to wring the individuality, passion and humanity out of their "official" blog and embalm the remains in marketing speak. Instead -whether it's a company of one or 50 - let employees talk about what get's them excited about what they do, about the way they see the world, about the things that excite them about where they work. Trust them to know what not to talk about. Trust yourself that your passion for you company is something others will find attractive.

We are perforce becoming very good at filtering out non-trusted marketing messages. They won't disappear - they're just background white noise.

The difference between personal and corporate blogs is the difference between what you say as you and what you say as the owner, executive, employee of a business. Joe can talk about football, the movie they saw last night and what music they listen to on their personal blog and connect with other people with the same interests. But when Joe is at work as the CEO of Acme Software he should be talking about the things he see's from that role, that point of view. Don't mix beer and wine!


Adriana Iordan: Are blogging and podcasting taking over web marketing or do they work in tandem with other marketing tools? Was there anything that surprised you while doing the interviews with successful bloggers?

Bob Walsh: If you mean push in your face web banners, flashing ads and the like - often found on newspaper web sites in the US, by the way - I think that's doomed. We are perforce becoming very good at filtering out non-trusted marketing messages. They won't disappear - they're just background white noise.

I want to know the vendor really cares about microISVs, not just pays lip service to what microISVs are about.

One interview that surprised me very much was with Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman - the largest PR agency here in the states. He is totally into blogging and is working with some of the largest enterprises on the planet to get real blogs going. He gets it. Edelman got into some blogging trouble last year when a couple of employees started fake blogs - he owned up to it and sent the message loud and clear: do that in this company and you are history. Now, in a world were companies have endless meetings on "managing their message", how Richard handled this at his blog gave Edelman a boost in credibility in the blogosphere and elsewhere.


Adriana Iordan: Which are the best performing online advertising tactics (with regard to the ROI) for a microISV company that does not have a big marketing budget? What methods do you find to be the most effective for the software vendors and why?

Bob Walsh: First, Blog. Second, Google AdWords . There really is not a third for microISVs.


Adriana Iordan: Avangate is an ecommerce plaftorm for electronic software distribution. Considering the fact that you know so much about micro-ISV, can you tell us, from your point of view, what are the most important aspects they need to take into account when looking at a shareware registration service?

Bob Walsh: First, responsiveness - some companies in this area don't bother to respond to customers. Next, transparency - I want to know who you are, what your goals are and how they match up with mine. I don't want mysteries from the people who might be handling my money! Lastly, passion. I want to know the vendor really cares about microISVs, not just pays lip service to what microISVs are about. Lastly, I'd want to see the vendor is reinvesting in what work now, not just coasting on past success.


Adriana Iordan: What are the most important web metrics a software vendor should watch in order to evaluate their online marketing efforts?

Bob Walsh: Well, sales comes first! Logs are always good. They need, and I stress the word, need, to be monitoring their online reputation on a daily basis, and responding by joining the conversation if and when they need to.

If they are blogging, two metrics are worth watching: their stats at technorati.com and their Conversational Index (number of comments + trackbacks / posts).

Adriana Iordan: What are the common problems the software vendors face today and what are the 5 most important things, from your point of view, ISVs should do to improve their software sales online?

Bob Walsh: Very large question, but here goes. Common Problems:

  1. Not having a clear, compelling Unique Selling Proposition front and center on their micro-ISV web site.
  2. Not having - and updating - customer testimonials.
  3. Not blogging from the heart, often and with passion about what they do.
  4. Being coy about price.
  5. Not having an about page and real contact information on their site. I want people's names, not sales@acme.com.

Adriana Iordan: Thank you for your time Bob!

Published date: April 02, 2007

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