To paraphrase President Kennedy: Ich bin ein Marketer. It’s not that I don’t care greatly about the product and features and it’s not that I’m not heavily investing my time in developing product. It’s that, in the past few months, I have come to understand my customers better than I ever have before. For the first time I understand WHY they use our powerOne and FastFigures products, not just WHAT they use them for. And this, my friends, makes me a marketer.
Figuring this out is really hard. I know. I spent years struggling with it.
If you follow Infinity Softworks then you know we have distributed some 15 million units, through bundling and sales, in our 12 year history. We gave away a low functioning product to sell a high functioning product. powerOne Finance, RRE and CRE, our three for-sale products focused on financial and real estate markets, were used to run calculation in the field. This is WHAT it did. But it took me a decade to figure out WHY these finance, real estate, investing and business customers used the products. The WHY is because it gave them credibility with their clients and co-workers. They are paid to have answers, to lend their expertise to a situation, and powerOne gave that to them, very quickly, everywhere and at their fingertips.
If I would have understood this, I could have developed the capabilities around the product to do even a better job of solving this product. Understanding WHY would drive every decision we would have made. And seeing opportunities in that light would have been a litmus test to decide whether we should pursue them or not. We could have also utilized this to develop other products that solved the same core problem.
I obviously didn’t understand this as our next move was to develop powerOne Graph. powerOne Graph was primarily focused on the scientific community, whose main constituents are in education. powerOne Graph answers the WHAT question perfectly: run calculations in the field. But the WHY for education is completely different then the WHY for business and finance. Education WHY was to develop a deeper knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. Completely different then the WHY for our financial products.
It’s that un-ending focus on solving the customers WHY that builds world-class products and companies. I hope to stay true to the WHY this time around.
I was thinking recently at how the cost of business has changed in the 12 years I have run Infinity Softworks. A brief list of the changes we’ve seen:
- In 1997, we had to offer telephone ordering and be able to ship products to customers. Many of our customers didn’t even have an email address. Originally, we’d email ordered product to our customers that ordered electronic software. Now none of that is needed. We don’t even offer physical product any more. Just downloads off the web.
- In 1997, we had to staff both sales and support lines and support an 800 number. Now we really don’t have any of them. We handle all sales and support via email. We try to keep our response time down to a few hours and can do this partly due to the use of a BlackBerry when we are not in the office.
- In 1997, we had to get a credit card machine to process charges. We kept it in a closet hooked up to a phone line. We would get the card over the phone and put the customer on hold while we processed the card. No one would give us the ability to process cards on the web (and none of our customers trusted it). Now, everything is over the web and there is no human involvement in the process.
- In 1997, the costs to run a single server was a thousand dollars a month. Now, we pay about $40 per month with better quality and capabilities.
- In 1997, 70-80% of our support issues were install and reinstall issues. Now, well… it’s the same. But improved software stores means these issues should be eliminated.
The bottom line? In the 12 years I’ve run Infinity Softworks, our costs have been reduced by 90%. I believe, for the first time, that it’s possible to run a highly successful and profitable software business without the number of people and dollars that it used to.
In fact, I’m betting on it. In 2001-2, we raised $550,000 to build Infinity Softworks. We added a number of people, expanded server capacity, and generally used the money to build infrastructure for the future. Now, I think we can build a far more successful business with far less dollars up front and far fewer employees to make it happen.
12 years ago this month, Dane Avilla and I, in essence, founded Infinity Softworks. It wasn’t called Infinity Softworks at the time, but that’s what it became.
Dane and I were both majoring in something different than what we should have. (Dane was in Chemistry; I was in Accounting.) Both of us were getting a minor in Computer Science and I approached him because he was doing tech support for a software publisher and I wanted programming experience to see if that’s what I’d prefer to do when I graduated. The publisher was looking for someone to write for this new device called a PalmPilot. I said what the heck and started working on a project for him, with visions of experience and cash in my 24-year old head.
Working for the publisher didn’t work out for either of us and by the Spring we had left the publisher and was working for ourselves. Dane’s father worked in the tech industry and helped us get our first deal with Macmillan Digital Publishing. Our first product, FCPlus, was published with them in a retail bundle in March, 2008. In the same month, we released the advanced version of our financial calculator software, FCPlus Professional.
Dane stayed on for another half year until he was almost done with his Master’s in Computer Science and then moved to the East Coast. Obviously, I decided to continue moving Infinity Softworks forward. I never really expected to still be at it 12 years after starting our first product.