The First Shot

Shipping software is an art form. Trying to balance the right feature set within a reasonable time frame is a challenging exercise. Being able to see through the haze of feature requests — an important thing to have, by the way — to see the bigger picture issues. Sometimes, Infinity Softworks has been good at this and sometimes it has not. The wrong mix is poison.

If there are too many features and not enough vision then the product is satisfying to those who wanted those features but not endearing to anyone. It does the job, they will say, which frankly is the kiss of death. After all when something cooler comes along, your product will be dropped like a lead balloon. As unit volumes come in, it’s increasingly clear that Nokia has fallen into this trap. It does the job. But BlackBerry and iPhone are cooler and are now stealing sales. (See data here.)

If there is too much vision and not enough features then there’s no product. People can’t relate to it and thus they don’t buy it. An example doesn’t come to mind off the top of my head (these products usually die quickly) but one company who has figured out a strategy for dealing with this problem is Microsoft. They like to use an “Embrace and Extend” strategy. For instance, they embraced email and extended it to integrate personal information management in Outlook, at the time a visionary perspective.

The trick is that this combination has to be managed with EVERY PRODUCT RELEASE. So we recently shipped FastFigures Mobile for iPhone and iPod Touch. (Direct link to AppStore here.) The features are 30 (mostly) finance- and business-oriented calculator templates, an algebraic and RPN calculator that doubles as a number entry keypad, and the template format — a cross between a calculator and spreadsheet — for doing fast analysis. What’s the vision for release 1? Easily do quick calculations on the go.

Is it feature and vision complete? No, not by a long shot. But it’s a solid start with what I think is the right mix of features and vision for the first release.

Waiting on a Winning Streak: Infinity Softworks Closes a New Funding Round

I don’t like to gamble so don’t usually play cards. Since I don’t play, I haven’t developed some amazing strategy for winning nor do I have the kind of memory that allows me to count cards/play odds and offset my inexperience. But I found myself in a card game anyway. There were six of us playing and I kept drawing lousy hands. I kept folding early and often, before I could lose much money. We played round after round, with me folding with small or zero bets and my chip pile dwindling slowly.

Finally, the cards changed in my favor. With only a handful of chips left, I bluffed my way to a solid pot then started drawing good cards. Before I knew it I reeled off seven or eight winning hands in a row, riding them to a nice pile of chips, and putting everyone else at the table on the defensive.

It dawned on me recently that I have been running Infinity Softworks the same way the last few years. As with cards I didn’t play this strategy on purpose. Instead, my cautious nature led me to it, going after small pots, biding my time for the right opening, staying in the game. Waiting. Other companies were betting all in — on mobile, on the web — and I was starting to wonder if I’d lost my nerve, if I’d be able to see the big opportunity when it hit. And frankly, I almost missed it.

This past summer and fall turned into what I thought was going to happen in 2001: the mobile software market is finally becoming a reality. Amazing hardware powered by Apple, RIM and Google is coming to fruition. The innovation curve is accelerating. Reasonable software distribution is coming back. And all of these devices are web-enabled, connecting our customers to the world.

I have found kindred spirits, people who also see great opportunities and have stuck with me for years. Years of caution finally paid off. Infinity Softworks closed a round of funding that will kick start our FastFigures and FastFigures Mobile efforts, giving us a solid foundation to build from and the ability to power through these tough economic times. (Read the release here.) This, the first winning pot in the latest of Infinity’s card games. I smell a streak coming on.