As some people asked me, I have decided to write current history of my startup and the lessons I have learned.
Labsii started 3 and a half years ago when I started the project Desk & Archive and found that I would like to take more time to finish and publish it. It felt like “playing by the book” – build the software tool that you like and use, and probably there will be some more people with the same needs. As its primary focus was to improve productivity of business people that do a lot of work with different documents, it was built for Windows desktop. Applying for BizSpark was no brainer – getting top-notch tools to develop for Windows for free was great, and it was obvious that it will offer at least some chances for networking and promotion.
I decided to start working half time on this, which from my point of view still seams reasonable – clearly it is good to have some sort of the backup, and it is wasn’t easy to find an investor at the country that I live, though occasions have changed somewhat to the better in the meantime. Finally whether this is a good strategy for you may depend on the product – if you are building for a highly competitive market segment, you need every second to release the product sooner than the competition.
Current results of this project are that there are some very happy and enthusiastic customers that even donated their work to project like translating, but still the number is not enough to support further development. I guess there are two main lessons – first, try to keep your development cycle short (below one year, the less the better), and second, be careful when choosing the platform. Developing for Windows desktop made this project doomed. Even if it was developed quicker, it could probably just got more sales, there wouldn’t be many chances to turn it into long term franchise. The funny thing about this is that there are still huge number of Windows desktop users, so there are still many potential customers. The problem is that there is no way to reach them. You can’t expect anyone to write about Windows desktop application today, unless it is Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop. And without that there is no real way to reach potential customers. Even Microsoft and BizSpark are not doing anything in promoting a new Windows desktop application, which if you think a little bit more is logical as they must focus on big areas of future growth.
At the end of the last year, I found that it is the time to change my focus onto something new. I had two projects for Android – one is Country Code Fixer and the other is DiGTy Clock. The first was more like a warm-up for the second which features a new design for digital clock with improved readability. It is hard to comment on success of this project right now, as this is just a showcase with no direct commercial effects – the point is to get some OEMs or TelCos to use this design. The potential is great, as almost all promotional images for phones feature a clock, so it could be a great marketing instrument to get attention of more customers.
Android was the only platform for this as it features customizable widgets which can be even placed on the lock screen. Some lessons I have learned from this – as there are many potential customers you will get some of them eventually, but to reach masses you need strong marketing effort, and some marketing budget is almost a necessity. Also you may try to find an area that has less competition (e.g. Country Code Fixer has just one real competitor and it offers higher convenience than him which resulted in the better long term growth than DiGTy although it got no marketing effort; it is also interesting to note that it got slow start with constant accelerating pace, contrary to ‘big bang’ and deceleration theory).
After all those lessons learned I have launched my latest project Share to Speech for Windows Store. It is a text to speech app with incredible convenience, removing all unnecessary steps and taking into account that you are likely to listen speeches on variety of devices. The choice of platform was guided by several elements. First, as I have decided to sell this app, Windows Store is the only one that sends money to my country – this problem could be resolved with small investment, but it is still more convenient. Second, text to speech quality in Windows 8 is top notch, while on the opposite end iOS doesn’t even support this natively. Third, the only way to cover all needs was to use MP3 files as they work everywhere (even in your car stereo), and to transfer them on other devices you’ll likely need USB and thus PC. Fourth, text to speech is quite taxing on CPU, and it might be a better idea to render files on PC device than on mobile device and reduce its battery life significantly. Finally, the fact that there is also Microsoft app competition for this region may also help in app promotion.
As this is just the beginning, it is hard to judge. Clearly I’ve got some low sales even without any marketing efforts and I guess it would be very hard to get something like that on Google Play or App Store. Also, when I compare my app and its abilities to top performing apps in Windows Store, I feel competitive in every way, including the ability to execute marketing in the future, which seems promising. Finally, I’ve also got some visibility through BizSpark, and I might get more of it in coming period and through competition – at least if I succeed in ranking high.