MicroConf 2011 and me

I’m in DIA on my way home from Microconf, the conference  for small software startups that I just attended in Las Vegas.  This was a “first annual” conference, put on by organizers Rob Walling and Mike Taber.  I highly encourage them to do it again next year and beyond.

Close to a hundred attendees heard just under a dozen speakers tell their own startup stories (successes and failures), give advice on where to spend their time (a commodity both more precious and more available to a self-funded startup than money), and how to keep on going through the dark and the busy times.

Most of the speakers were great.  A handful (Sean Ellis, Ramit Sethi, Patrick McKenzie, and Hiten Shah) stood out for me personally, both for the quality of their presentation and because they spoke to where I happen to be with my own startup right now.

I’m not going to waste my own time or anyone else’s trying to summarize the individual sessions.  Almost all the speakers are bloggers and big chunks of their ideas are available in their own words online or in books they have published. (*)  I’m just going to share what I’m personally taking away: four themes and one slightly more specific bit of actionable advice.

TAKE ACTION — Do something; don’t waste time being afraid you’ll embarrass yourself. (You will embarrass yourself somehow; get over it.)  Launch a minimum viable product in some form.  Take your lumps, iterate fast, get better.  But be aware that, in the end, if your all actions don’t result in a body of enthusiastic users, your most productive action may be to kill the current product and move on.

LEARN — Define metrics, gather data, test, test, test.  Talk to users and listen to what they say!  Then think deeply — what they say may not be what they are really telling you. (And never, never, never outsource support — those calls and emails are users talking, not annoyances.)

BE PERSISTENT — Not just in terms of giving your business the clock and calendar time it needs to succeed.  But also you have to be willing to suck up and do the parts of your business that need you to do them no matter how much you don’t like them (likely to be marketing and support for a lot of techie founders).  Does this bit of advice contradict the bit above about being ready to kill a product rather than drag it on?  Sure.  Get over that, too.  The world is full of paradox, full of ANDs and not just ORs.

AUTOMATE — Anything you find yourself doing for the third time, find a way to make it take less time (preferably as close to zero time as you can get) the next time you need to do it.

Finally, my most important personal take-away: Don’t be afraid to do things that don’t scale. (At least not early in the life of your startup or once, anytime, just to see what would happen or to delight a customer.). This is important for me because, with phone apps (at least ‘normal’ B2C apps) NOTHING scales.  At least no marketing or promotional activity I’ve been able to think of.  I’ve been worried about spending too much time trying to seek out nurses and talk to them individually because, with a $1.99 price point, I can’t justify the time.   But, by not doing so, I’ve pretty much condemned all the time/money I have spent to the trash heap.  Can I afford to talk to lots of nurses?  No.  Can I afford to talk to no nurses?  An even bigger no.

(*) So why go to a conference if a lot of the speaker content is available online?  a) There’s huge benefit in the speaker’s interaction with attendees — hearing the questions that get asked and the answers given. b) There’s equally huge benefit in interacting with the other attendees — sharing our own stories, successes, and frustrations — particularly when done so in the lens of what the speakers have just talked about.  A huge thanks to Rob and Mike for an event that gave plenty of time for both the formal agenda and the informal time to interact.

7 Replies to “MicroConf 2011 and me”

  1. Patrick White

    It’s neat that you went to MicroConf. I’d heard about it and thought it looked pretty good.

    A friend of mine is trying to market a handful of iOS apps (3D games, mainly for kids) and is running into the same challenges as you. When your customer lifetime value is only a dollar or two, there really isn’t any advertising that makes sense (at least on a CPA basis).

    I guess the one thing that does scale is app store SEO. Although from what my friend has said, Apple doesn’t give you any insight as to what keywords are being used to find your apps or what keywords people are searching for. Occasionally one hits on something that works (my friend has a certain cat-themed game for kids always does well, and you seem to have hit on one with your DOT Placards for Android), but figuring picking those out ahead of time isn’t easy.

    My model for the kind of apps that work well with app store SEO are those by feathermoor. Their apps can be charitably described as “dumb”, but they’re very lucrative.

    PS: It looks like you’ve got a typo in your post. “Patrick Murphy”?

  2. ag Post author

    Thanks for the letting me know about the typo. Getting Patrick’s name wrong is embarrassing; I’m a huge fan but was typing tired. Fixed.

    And thanks for the pointer to the Feathermoor site. The apps may not be hugely technical but I can see why they are popular. I think one of the things that is confusing about the app marketplaces right now is that the offerings are at least trimodal: the ‘entertainment’ apps (like Feathermoor’s), the technically remarkable apps (such as the one you point into the sky and it tells you what constellations you are staring at), and the down-to-earth useful apps (such as my own) that probably won’t ever go viral and could well die before there’s a critical mass of users who have the right problem and also think to look in the app store for help. (I keep talking to people who have a smart phone but never download apps. Why pay $30 extra a month for a phone that does a worse job at phone calls than your old feature phone if you aren’t going to take advantage of its extra capabilities by finding a few apps that really put it to work for you?)

  3. Patrick Foley

    Are you charging enough for PasswordRN? If it’s that valuable for nurses and so finely tuned to their job, could you charge $4.99 or 9.99 or even 19.99?

    Maybe you could ask one of the A/B testing experts from the conference how to test your pricing for a mobile app. I’m no expert, but it seems a bit underpriced to me.

    Good meeting you last week.

  4. Sue Pichotta

    Nice post, Anne. I especially liked the summaries, I think you really captured the heart of it, and it was good for me to have the mini-review! It was great meeting you there. 🙂

  5. ag Post author

    Patrick,

    Funny you should ask that. I was originally charging $3.99 and just lowered the price to $1.99 when we added the free limited version to the marketplace.

    What I thought, to start with, was basically what you are implying: charge for it as the professional tool it is, not the ‘free toy’ so many apps are. I was trying for what Youngme Moon, in her book Different describes as ‘reverse differentiation’: fewer features, higher price for a tool exactly tuned for its purpose (a scalpel rather than a swiss army knife).

    That’s not just not been working for me, though, and I’m struggling to understand why. I don’t get enough traffic to my own site, by a long shot, to make A/B testing worth trying. And the app marketplaces are great for somethings but not a) for testing and b) for getting up close and personal with the users you do have.

    I’m essentially going to let PasswordRN idle for a bit, while I try some other things, then hope to come back to it with some new ideas later in the year.

  6. ag Post author

    Sue, Thanks for reading. Great to meet you, too. Hope we can stay in touch.

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