Slow Sales

In my first post in this series, I wrote about the flaming sales disaster of the initial release of Home Inventory, née Stockpile. Nine months after that first release I had a whopping 44 customers. Oh yeah, Microsoft, go ahead and get your envy on.

The handful of customers I did have liked the product and were impressed by the support they received. Turning around feature requests and bug fixes quickly led to them recommending Home Inventory to others. Unfortunately, a few people recommending something to a few more people still adds up to just a few people (warning: this post is full of sketchy math).

After credit card processing fees, I had earned a total of $741.60 from Home Inventory sales in those first nine months, an average of $82.40 a month. If those numbers seem bad, it’s because they are, but let’s throw a little more math at it and see if we can make it even worse. Back then I was spending about fifteen hours a week of my spare time on this project, which meant I was making $1.37 an hour answering support emails, adding new features, and fixing bugs. The phrase “don’t quit your day job” was ringing loud and clear in my church-bell head.

Even a chucklehead like me could realize this was not sustainable. I was receiving great feedback from seemingly happy users, so what was going wrong? Well, marketing for one, but that wasn’t something I had a clue about at the time and is better left for another post. Being a developer, I looked at the problem through code colored glasses and came away with the conclusion that the product simply did not have enough features. I was trying to sell celery to people who wanted a burger.

A Bigger Release

I put a stop to the habit of releasing frequent updates with only a handful of minor feature additions and focused on a more substantial release. Still, there was some pressure to finish the new update as quickly as possible: I had become engaged and wanted to be get this bigger, beefier version out the door before the wedding that December. Thankfully, that happened.

Home Inventory version 1.5 was release in November 2006, exactly one year and one month after the original release of Stockpile. Along with the new version, the product had a new name. Stockpile was no more and the software went by the more descriptive Home Inventory moniker. The new version packed in some pretty substantial new features: support for scanning, a built-in image editor, support for taking photos using an iSight camera, a backup feature, the ability to edit multiple items at once, and a lot more.

With the release of a major update, I can imagine the questions you might ask:

YOU: So did sales drastically improve after a more substantial feature release?
ME: Yes, they did. I am a product genius!

YOU: So they increased many times over what they were?
ME: Er, yes, if you choose the right value for “many”.

YOU: Did you make enough money to buy a mansion and an exotic European sports car?
ME: *sheepishly* No.

YOU: Okay, Mister “Product Genius”, surely you made enough money so you could quit your day job and work on Home Inventory full time, right?
ME: *hiding under my desk* No. Now go away!

Sales did indeed go up. Where Home Inventory did not crack the hundred unit mark in its first thirteen months, it passed the four hundred mark the following thirteen. A four times multiple is great, but four times something small is still small (sketchy math again). Still, the results were encouraging enough to continue putting out updates to the software and by 2009 Home Inventory had a few thousand paid customers.

What Did We Learn Today?

The feature set of the initial release of Home Inventory was simply not compelling. It didn’t offer anything you could not do with an off-the-shelf database or modern spreadsheet. There was no reason for it to exist as a standalone product.

Periodically, someone will ask me why they should buy Home Inventory instead of just entering everything into a spreadsheet. Now, I can give them a long list of good reasons. I could not do that with that first release. It was only after I added some capabilities that took it beyond a mere database of items and made creating and keeping a home inventory substantially easier that the product had a reason to exist at all.