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Interviewing Software & IT Leaders
"It's all about having good relationships with your customers and your business partners"
Nico Westerdale is the president of Iconico, Inc., a company providing software tools and services for designers and developers including the award winning Screen Calipers. Owning an Oxford bachelor degree in fine arts, he has managed to successfully combine his artistic tastes with the practice of software company management.
Iconico, Inc.also runs http://www.bitsdujour.com/, the leading 24 hour discount deal website for independent software vendors. Enjoy reading some advice emerged from his own experience on how to run a website and how to sell more.
Adriana Iordan: You are a graduate of Fine Arts - how did you end up in the software industry? Please tell us a bit about yourself and about the software company you are leading.
Nico Westerdale: I've always done art and I've always been around computers, so for me the two go hand in hand. My father bought me my first computer in 1982, a ZX Spectrum, and you could write BASIC applications on it, so I grew up just knowing how to code. I've always been interested in creating things so Fine Arts was a natural step. In my degree show I showed a lightswitch that controlled a lightbulb in Holland, it was a simple use of some very complex technology.
I started Iconico, Inc. almost accidentally. I had made a few web design tools that I had on my website and decided to start selling them. People got interested and the products grew, so much so that I could focus on the applications rather than on consulting work. We still do consulting, but now our focus is on marketing applications and providing great customer service.
Adriana Iordan: What methods did you use to market your products? Which one would you recommend to other software vendors?
Nico Westerdale: One thing that we do very successfully is email marketing. There's a lot of free software on Iconico.com and we ask, but don't insist on getting an email address when people download. This has built a huge list, and we send out weekly mailers to people advertizing our latest developments and daily software deals. We concentrate more on retaining customers who are happy with what we've got by providing a great service, which I think is much more effective than trying to bring in new people. Our business model is based on people purchasing many products over their lifetime, so we have quite a range.
Adriana Iordan: You've recently set up the blog of Iconico, what were the reasons behind it? Would you recommend having a blog to software entrepreneurs and their businesses?
Nico Westerdale: We set up IcoBlog for several reasons. Firstly our old newsfeed had no comments and was rather dry. We're well known in the software vendor community, so being able to post articles about software marketing I think raises our credibility in the industry. Increasingly the products featured on Iconico.com come from other developers, and we exclusively market their products for them, so having a proffessional blog seems key. We've seen some good responses, and it's generated a few interesting partnership leads already.
Adriana Iordan: How did you decide the regular prices for your products?
Nico Westerdale: A while back we did a test, and I think that's the only way. A lot of our products are at the $29.50 mark, and we did used to have them lower. Increasing the price dropped some customers, but you have to look at the bottom line. One thing we did experiment is trial periods verses feature limitation. For a lot of our products we found that we could increase sales by showing a limited product instead of having a full version work for a limited time. Figuring out how to limit it is more an art than a science though, and it's a careful balance.
Adriana Iordan: You have been working for a while on user centered design for software - what is your advice regarding usability issues for software selling websites?
Nico Westerdale: A lot of websites, and I know I do this too, fall into the trap of tunnel vision. If you work for years at your own site it's very hard to see the glaring errors in usability. What you have to do is get willing testers to look at it and get feedback. If you can the easiest way is to give someone a goal, like download an application, and then just sit back and keep quiet as they do this. I always learn a lot doing this approach.
Adriana Iordan: You bought Bitsdujour last year - it was an already running business, still, not connected to your company that develops software products. How did you end up buying it? Was it worthy?
Nico Westerdale: BitsDuJour was a natural step for us, and I think it's been a great success. It's a natural extension of the way we were marketing the Iconico applications and has given us a much bigger audience for our software. We've done a lot of work on the backend system that runs BitsDuJour, it's a fully functioning web application. We've increased the number of deals and havesyndicated out our deals to affiliates, which all helps give developers a bigger audience. We still have a lot of plans for the site, it's really a huge list, so there's still a long way to go.
Adriana Iordan: What new developments are to be expected on the Bitsdujour site this year?
NicoWesterdale: Well a lot of the work to be done has been all behind the scenes, but we'll shortly be increasing the number of deals that we run yet again, we actually have a huge waiting list right now. We're bringing on extra staff to write reviews so setting the system up to manage that has been a big challenge. As far as site features we've got a 'Suggest' tool specced out, and a richer commenting system planned with user reviews. We'd like to get the site a lot more community focused.
Adriana Iordan: What was the biggest achievement you had so far with BDJ?
Nico Westerdale: Our affiliate store system has been the biggest challenge, and biggest success so far. Website owners can set up their own daily deals store, showing our deals on their website. It's all seamlessly branded and very easy to set up. Any sale that's made from a store gives the owner credit. I think this is a much better model than traditional web advertizing that takes people away from your website, this is an integrated solution that gives your site a whole new feature, and it's a good earner too.
Adriana Iordan: What would you say were the mistakes you have done, related to your software and business?
Nico Westerdale: I think there are many! Probably not being willing to leave old ideas behind and move along. It took me a long time to get going in the business, and in hindsight I wish I had moved faster at the beginning. I've taken a lot of risks in the last few years and for the most part they've worked out.
Adriana Iordan: Avangate is an ecommerce platform for electronic software distribution. Can you tell us, from your point of view, what are the most important aspects the mISVs need to take into account when looking at a shareware registration service?
Nico Westerdale: We work with a lot of ecommerce platforms, and I have a good knowledge of Avangate's system. For me the most important factor has been the attitude of the company. Some companies take a long time to respond when there are problems, and it's impossible to get someone on the phone. Others, like Avangate, offer a personal service, you get to know the people there, they're quick to respond and are willing to adapt their system when it makes sense. When looking at companies I'd encourage mISVs to give ecommerce providers a call and see how you're treated. For me that's much more important than a few percentage points difference in fees.
Adriana Iordan: What advice would you give to a start up software business?
Nico Westerdale: Dive in, believe in yourself and your ideas, and above all run your business so that you're helping people. Software's a strange beast, selling one copy costs about the same to you as selling ten, or a hundred, so it's all about having good relationships with your customers and your business partners.
Adriana Iordan: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
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