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Be your own customer

A comment by Chris Smolinski of Black Cat Systems on the Mac Small/Software Business mailing list (there doesn't seem to be any consensus if it's "Small" or "Software") inspired me to share my views on this: "Be your own customer."

This was in response to a question on how to get good ideas for software, with the popular opinion being that scratching your own itch can lead to great product opportunities. Find something that irritates you about existing products, or something you want to do that isn't covered by an app already, and create a solution.

I can vouch for this approach. Although my products started out in various ways, most of them started because there weren't any satisfactory solutions at the time. For example, Simon began as a way for me to watch for website updates, and became more sophisticated as it became popular. There weren't any easy-to-use Mac products for site monitoring at the time - and the ones that did exist don't anymore. Similarly, I created Time Out to improve my health, since I can suffer from eyestrain when staring at a computer for hours on end. BlogAssist was written specifically for my wife, who was really into LiveJournal blogging at the time... but I find I use it a lot, too. All of the products have grown and evolved over the years based on customer feedback, but also my own ideas, since I use them myself on a daily basis (e.g. I used BlogAssist's Services window four times to create the links in this post).

When you are your own customer, or "eat your own dog food", to use that colorful and somewhat unpleasant phrase, you notice little irritations in your initial implementation, and can do something about it. Chances are, your paying and potential customers are also noticing such issues. They can can also be a great source of ideas for better ways to do things that you may not have thought of, perhaps because you're so used to a certain way of doing things.

So if you're a developer looking for the next big hit, or just something to get you started, look inside yourself for your inspiration. Sure, an idea has to have some market appeal to be a success, but even seemingly niche products can be successful if you do a good job. Put your heart into it, and people will respect that. Keep working on it, and using it yourself, and word will spread.

Guide and tutorial info ideas

First - thanks for the latest update, David. Second, reading the "be your own customer" and "users" posts as well as just having gone through a bunch of tutorials in the last few days got me to thinking -

- the best training - or one of the best - on the planet is on the TechSmith site for Camtasia - the top 25 things you will actually use the software for are covered in a step by step written, and video. 1 cuts down on support calls 2 best use of the developers time, do it once, write it down once 3 quick solution for customer -

- I was looking at the user guide for Caboodle - not a knock, it's like most guides, a list of what's in the menus. But I was thinking about the things I do with my FileMaker database, and wondering what were the things you could do with it - and was, by reading the menu items trying to imagine what things people would do with it. But, I remember the Word Perfect 2.5 manual (dates me a bit) - yes, there was a list of commands, subcommands, and arguments in the back, but the bulk was just step by steps of exactly how to do the 100 most common things you'd actually use it for. That's the approach I'd really like to see in guides. And if that was online, then everytime a "user" wrote about a new use, just step by step it, past in the guide, video the process, add it to the list of trainings. And easier for a potential new customer to decide to invest their non-existent spare time into seeing if it did what they needed.

Anyway - that's the thought - my .02 for the day -