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Interviewing Software & IT Leaders
We continue our series of Web VIP interviews with Paris Karahalios, one of the co-founders of the Shareware Industry Awards Foundation .
Given the fact, that the term "shareware" has become rather controversial during the last years (I remember reading an article on OISV, Is it time to kill "shareware"?), I thought what better way to get to the bottom of this issue than to interview the people who were among the first users of this marketing method and one of the founders of the Shareware Industry Awards Foundation - and so I'm grateful that Paris Karahalios agreed to talk to me.
Paris Karahalios is one of the first software vendors to sell its products using shareware as a marketing method. He has an active implication in software organizations and he is the author of the As-Easy-As, a spreadsheet software product succesfully sold all around the world. He also acted as an advisor and resource person for the creation of the European Software Conference. In recognition of his efforts, he was given in 2004 the Shareware Industry Lifetime Achievement award.
Paris Karahalios: The first conference was the brain child of Bob Ostrander, it was funded by his company, Public Brand Software , and was really an opportunity of some people in the shareware industry to get together and meet each other - more like a schmooze. It was not even called a conference, it was the Summer Shareware Seminar (SSS).
Although there were impromptu panels where 4-5 people shared their knowledge and experience with everyone, it was very casual, and very exciting - at the same time, because we all got to meet people that we had only read about, up to that point.
I don't think too many of us got much sleep for the 3 days of the first SSS. We all had so much to learn from each other, that we stayed up till 3:00 - 4:00 in the morning, in the foyer, or someone's room, just talking, listening, learning... You could feel the energy.
Although dozens of people have helped make the event successful, I have to mention the two people that " I " believe were instrumental in steering the conference from the informal get-together of 17 years ago, to the big classy event it is today. One of them was Randy MacLean, one of the co-founders of SIAF, and the other was Donna Rintamaki (Trujillo), a SIAF Board member emeritus.
The ESWC, is closer in structure to the SIC, and appears to be steadily growing and attracting more attendees each year, with "very" positive feedback! However, as I said earlier, it's hard to compare the different conferences, as each has its own character and flavor.
The new "internet culture" has changed all that. Most users, nowadays, expect to be able to download "your" program from the internet and use it for free. Why not, they can do that with so many other programs! What this means, is that the developer/vendor has to become more creative in convincing trial users to pay for the product. It's a challenge, but not impossible. I don't want to give away other people's secrets, but there were a couple of sessions in this year's conference, in Denver, dealing exactly with that subject. Innovative ways of getting paid for software you distribute as shareware/trialware.
So, not really, I haven't seriously thought of shutting down the company... When we didn't have any clients, and were not busy, I used the extra time I had, since by definition we were not busy, to think of what else TRIUS could do, to break out of the tough spot we might have been in.
A year or so later, while using a spreadsheet prototype program, that Dave was working on, to analyze some of the Chernobyl accident data, that I was working with, we decided to form TRIUS Inc (we even asked for a formal written release form the company's lawyers to do so - doing everything by the book). The intent was to market a Dot Matrix Printer utility program we had developed, and also turn the spreadsheet program (As-Easy-As) into a full product for users that could not afford Lotus 1-2-3.
Soon after TRIUS, Inc. was formed, there was a lot of interest in As-Easy-As, so we abandoned our printer utility program and concentrated on the spreadsheet. I was familiar with the shareware concept, having been a user of PC-Write for years, by then, and since our marketing budget was about $0, I realized that the only way for us to distribute the program was as shareware.
It soon became too much for us to handle, so we rented office space, and started hiring people to take care of the orders, provide support, etc. We also hired another friend - from the same company we all worked for, Dave Leonard, to manage the office. A couple of years later, I had to quit my job and focus all my attention to TRIUS, and not much later, David Schulz had to also quit his job and come work for TRIUS full time.
Paris Karahalios: That's a tough one. However, what I can tell you is that our most successful ventures have been when we admitted that we did not understand the markets outside the USA and started partnering with local companies in each country, giving them exclusive rights and maximum latitude in marketing our products in their respective markets. We let them decide how they would market the products, set their own pricing, etc. and we did all we could to support their decisions.
My motto always was that it's hard enough to understand the "shareware market" here, how could we aver expect to understand how it worked in different countries, different cultures, etc.
Paris Karahalios: The common issues I believe software authors marketing their own products face, today, are:
The market was not as crowded, and it was much easier to identify segments of the market that were begging for new applications. So, in a way, we might have been at the right place at the right time, whereas new authors entering the market have to work at it a bit harder.
Paris Karahalios: I guess... Don't give up, and approach everything with the professionalism that would be characteristic of a bigger company. I still remember what Marshall Magee , one of the first shareware developers to make a million dollars from shareware (back in the 90's) told a group of us at one of the first SSS meetings.
"I used to answer the phone using different voices and different names, when people called for sales or support, so that they would think that they were dealing with a stable company with many employees, rather than with a "one-man-show".
Perceptions are very important. Have procedures in place for doing things, releasing upgrades, tracking support problems, tracking sales, etc., rather than doing it on the back of the envelope. Make sure you present yourself and your product in the best light possible. Don't be afraid to spend time and (some) money to make whatever you do appear professional.
Even in today's "casual culture", many of the people that will be willing to pay for your product, will form an opinion based on what they see and the opinion they form - they don't know you personally. That still holds true, in particular with corporate buyers. So, show them the best you can afford, you will not regret it.
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