“Take a moment and think about the tools, products, and services that really make a difference in your life, and then show them your appreciation through proactive support”
This quote comes from an article I tweeted about earlier today, What goes around comes around, on the Offscreen Magazine blog. The piece struck a chord and crystallized some thoughts I’ve been having recently about the nature of bootstrapped, independent businesses and our relationship with our customers.
I sometimes wonder if all of these “free” products and services we get to use has skewed our understanding of how the product/customer relationship works when applied to businesses that do not have funding.
I’m not sure how many of our Perch customers realize that every time they buy a license they fund the future existence and development of the product. There is no big pot of money shoring up Perch. It exists because people pay for it. We continue to develop it because people pay for it. If people don’t pay for it then – as a business, and as people who need to eat and pay rent – we have to divert our efforts to other things.
I’m not sure how many customers realize, when they complain because a feature they want and we have agreed would be a great addition hasn’t been added yet, that the only reason it hasn’t been added is up front cash. We have enough outstanding things we would love to do for Perch to need several developers, an ops person and a full time copywriter. The plans are there, the finances are not.
To put it into context, if we sold on average 4 more Perch licenses per day we could afford another developer working full-time on Perch add-ons. That’s a hire we would love to be able to make. Until we get to that point we’ll continue as we have for the last five years, adding the features that will most benefit the most customers. That’s what bootstrapping is, inching forward as the money allows.
I’m not posting this to tell you how hard my life is, not at all. We love building Perch and seeing the things our Perchers make with it. However when I write another article or walk on stage to tell people that bootstrapping is a realistic option for digital products, I also have a responsibility to share that it can be a tough road. Even with a successful product it is a tough road.
I also want to add my voice to the article that prompted this post. If there are products from indie developers that you love do what you can to help them continue to do what they are doing.
For Perch and products with a similar business model the thing that is most helpful is if our Perchers help us to spread the word. Advertising is in most cases prohibitively expensive for non-funded businesses, certainly on any scale. However tweets and blog posts from happy customers, writing a how to article or talking about Perch at a meet up is hugely helpful. Small commercial products need a street team to get word out in crowded marketplaces.
If you use a product that has a free version and a paid version, paying out for that “pro” or commercial license even if perhaps you could get away with not doing so, puts cash into the company, helps to ensure the survival and development of the product.
For magazines, e-books, music and courses make sure that you go out and buy your own copy rather than borrowing one from a friend.
I believe that the independent model can create great products. I believe it can create better products if we are open with our customers about the realities of being independent, and ask them to stand with us. Support the independents, support the makers of the things you love. Remember that you as a customer are as big a part of that sustainable ecosystem as they are.