Start Here If You’re New

Bingo Card Creator is the program produced by my mISV (“micro-independent software vendor”). It makes custom printable bingo cards for teachers. The overwhelming majority of my customers are currently interested in it because it lets you play Dolch sight word bingo, which is an activity aimed at early education readers and ESL students.

What? Why did you pick that?: Once upon a time I taught English, primarily to ESL students, and learned the joy of playing bingo. I no longer teach but I try to support the local ESL community. Once a teacher asked me if I knew of any program to make bingo cards, since bingo was listed as a fun activity to try in the Big Book of ESL Activities (its actually called Team Taught Pizza and if you teach in Japan you should really buy yourself a copy). She had tried making them for herself with MS Word but quit after spending 30 minutes and only getting through about 10 cards. Then she tried searching the Internet and nothing really worked. So I searched through the Internet, and found the same: the free programs in this space are missing critical features for teachers, and the paid programs are overpriced and underpromoted. So I cobbled together a solution (on company time — helping teachers is part of the job, and I was free that day) and released after about four hours.

Wow, you can sell a program you made in four hours?: No. That program, aside from being by rights the property of my employer if anything, lacked bunches of critical features, was incredibly painful to use (you had to go outside the program to print, for example), and didn’t actually run on half the computers it was installed on because of JRE issues. And yet it still got me 25 thank you notes within a week, after being distributed to a mailing list of 60 teachers.

So, where is Bingo Card Creator from then?: During the last week of June, 2006, I was inspired to take on an independent project. I decided to do a mISV after goofing off at work reading about them and Google AdWords, payment processing, and the other things it would take to make them happen (yes, my employers are extremely generous in allowing me to goof off so long as I make my deadlines). I told my parents about my plan that evening during my weekly telephone call home, which (as a public commitment) made sure this wouldn’t end up like most of my projects — sketched out on paper and quickly forgotten. And I remembered “Hey, teachers still need a good bingo card program”. So I set out working.

So where does that “The Schedule: 8 days. The Budget: $60.” thing come from?: Thats from my discussion with my father. He asked how much money it would cost to found a company, and opined it would cost “thousands” and that I’d be better off finding a better job. I told him that with the Internet you could fund a company for the cost of “a video game”, which is in the $60 region. 8 days was purely arbitrary — I thought I could get it done in a week, looked at the calendar, and gave myself one day of padding so I could release on July 1st, 2006.

Why are you writing this blog?: Partially vanity, partially writing practice (amazing how your written English deteriorates without practice, and I get close to none at work), partially as a signpost for other people wondering about starting a mISV. When I decided to start the blog I committed to being more or less open.

Whats “open” mean?: A lot of people who run mISVs don’t like to talk about their products, sales figures, marketing strategies, or even mention their real name in connection with their products. I completely understand and respect that decision. Some are worried about competition, some are worried about modesty (I wouldn’t tell you my day-job-salary if you asked me it, because I was raised to understand that that is Just Not Done), some are afraid their customers would look askance at it. Bingo Card Creator will not determine whether non-extant wife and children live the high life or go hungry — its a side project funded for pocket change and which takes up less time than other, far less valuable hobbies I have. So while I understand and respect folks who want to keep their information private, I have no problem letting it all hang out. What’s the worst that can happen? Somebody works hard for a week and steals my entire business. Oh, shucks.

Did you launch on-time and on-budget?: Yes and yes. I launched on 7/1/2006, after having spent in the vicinity of through the end of July (check the blog for the exact breakdown).

So you are really selling this?: Yep. Real customers really pay me money (my first two weeks after I launched). Not too many of them at the moment, but it is still summer and teachers are mostly out on holiday. To my knowledge, none are related to me. 🙂

Are you profitable? I was profitable as of one month, to the day, from launch.  I generally post sales and expenses every two weeks, typically around the 15th and last day of every month.  As of February 2007, I would categorize my income as quite respectable for a side project but with room for some growth.  Its not nearly enough money to quit the day job but it is enough to greatly impact my financial picture.  (I paid off my student loans months ahead of my already accelerated timetable and have since become an investor largely on the strength of the extra money lying around due to this project.)

I am thinking of starting my own mISV. Any advice? Scads. Either send me an email with specific questions or just start reading the archives. I rather recommend starting at the back and continuing forward. The easiest way to do this is to use Rizal Al-Mashoor’s MicroISV On A Shoestring Reader, which is a mashup which displays this blog in chronological order.

6 Comments on “Start Here If You’re New”


  1. […] MicroISV on a Shoestring – This is a new blog by Patrick McKenzie on lessons learned as he starts his micro-ISV. Pat has a great writing style and as he deals with all the moving parts of this business (today was refunds), he’s providing a great perspective on what works and what doesn’t. Good reading if you’re already running; better reading if you are just realizing what you’ve got yourself into! […]

  2. iansorbello Says:

    Hi,

    I’m looking forward to reading your blog from front to back.
    I’ve just started my first ever blog @ iansorbello.wordpress.com – relating to my MicroISV wannabe endeavours.

    My intention is to write about how I fare over the next few months and whether or not I hit my deadline just like you…

    Looks like there are a lot of great pointers and lessons in your adventures. Well done.

    ian.

  3. Selvam Says:

    Great tool…..Keep it up your good work

  4. Simon Says:

    Hi,

    I will keep on reading your blog. It is packed with interesting stuff. I started a similar blog for my project. The blog is at http://blog.itrackmytime.com/


  5. […] am following in the footsteps of several developers. The one that comes to mind first of course is Patrick and his Bingo Card Creator software. His project was 8 days. Mine is 29. I also need to focus on […]

  6. Vasudev Ram Says:

    Rather interesting idea … going to read the rest of your posts over time – thanks for blogging about your experiences with this …

    – Vasudev Ram


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