Moving toward an open beta

19 02 2008

Thus far in my development of ClimbPoint I have basically hand-picked my beta testers. Early on this served a few purposes. First, I wanted to give each tester some personal attention and work closely with them to gather their feedback. Second, I knew the software wasn’t quite polished yet, so I wanted to generate a little buzz…but not hype. Finally, I knew my initial market would be university climbing walls, so I wanted to be strategic in who I sent the software to.

Now that my first beta period is coming to a close, I’ve begun to open it up to a few more schools — most recently Clemson University — and I’m considering opening it up to commercial climbing gyms. This is somewhat of a diversion from my initial plan, as I hadn’t anticipated that the initial version of the software would actually be useful for a commercial gym.

However, after a few conversations with the owner of RedPoint Indoor Climbing, I think that ClimbPoint might be useful for climbing wall management provided that it’s used in conjunction with something like QuickBooks POS.

To prepare for this expansion of the beta program, I whipped up a 60-day trial of ClimbPoint which I’m making available on a limited basis. I don’t plan to post the program for download until May, but for the time being any interested parties can request a trial copy by sending a friendly email to contact me

ClimbPoint 0.6 released

29 01 2008

Yesterday I sent out the latest release of ClimbPoint to my beta testers, complete with a few brand new reporting features. The new version now allows climbing wall managers to view and print reports that 1. detail the most active climbers and 2. summarize monthly wall activity, including the number of total visits, unique climbers, and registered users. While this latest release only shows monthly statistics, future releases will be able to compile hourly, daily, or weekly statistics in addition to the monthly summaries (which my friends tell me will be a huge help in managing their staff and hours of operation).

I also squashed a few bugs with this release, which are detailed along with the new features on the changelog (courtesy of FogBugz). Let me also take a minute and say thanks to the folks at FogBugz for creating an awesome tool for software project management and making it free to one and two person startup shops. This is the tool that has enabled me to keep track of all the great feedback that I’ve gotten from my beta testers.

Speaking of which, there are a whole boatload of great features that I can’t wait to get started on. In the meantime though, if you’d like more info on the software or want to get in on the next round of beta testing you can reach me at contact me

ClimbPoint first impressions

21 11 2007

It’s been approximately three weeks since I sent out the first beta version of ClimbPoint to my five testing partners, and feedback so far has been positive. Aside from one small problem in sending out the setup program ClimbPoint BETA Logo(I ended up using yousendit because someone couldn’t get to the original file that I posted), everyone was able to easily install and run the software.

Two of the five testing sites are currently using the software for day-to-day operations, and sound fairly pleased so far. In addition to being dubbed “idiot-proof” by the University of Kentucky, ClimbPoint was identified as being responsible for a “huge increase in customer service” at Indiana-Wesleyan. It seems the “climber comments” feature, which allows staff to record special notes about each visitor, is a big hit.

As I continue to gather this first round of feedback from my testing partners, I’m taking careful notes and considering which features to include in ClimbPoint 0.6. Right now it’s looking like 0.6 will sport some shiny new reporting features along with optimizations for faster climber searching. The challenging (and fun) part of this is making any additions general enough that they could benefit any climbing wall.

In other news, the sweet logo above was created with the Web2.0 Logo Creator by Alex P. Eventually ClimbPoint will have a “real” logo, but the one above will do for now…

ClimbPoint 0.5 released

6 11 2007

Late last week I sent out the beta release of ClimbPoint 0.5 to my previously mentioned testing partners. This version provides some basic membership management capabilities, and also keeps track of climber training and liability waivers. Incidentally, there is absolutely no rhyme or reasoning to my version number at present. 0.5 just sounded about right to me 😉

Soon I’ll begin contacting my beta testers to hear about their first impressions and what they’d like to see in climbing wall management software. To that end, I hope that FogBugz will be helpful in gathering and keeping track of user feedback. I’m in on a 40-day evaluation of FogBugz, and I think it will be fairly useful in mapping out the next few releases of the software.

The quest for beta testers

29 10 2007

Earlier this month I began my quest for beta testers, quite uncertain about what might lie ahead. I had a vague idea of the number of potential partners (if only from conversations with others who owned climbing gyms), but had never sought out others who might like my software.

Before contacting anyone though, I laid down a few ground rules:

  1. Only University climbing gyms would be contacted, mainly because I was already familiar with the market but also because universities often don’t have a need for Point-of-Sale capabilities (which my software doesn’t offer). Universities are also known for being innovative, and I also figured that those in the university environment might be sympathetic to a graduate student working on a project.
  2. Participating sites would sign an agreement because as they say, “verbal contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.” As I’ve mentioned before, NOLO has a legal guide that’s perfect for this sort of thing.
  3. Each site would preferably be within driving distance so that I could see my software in action if I so desired. I’m always able to better understand how my software is being used–and what features might be most helpful–when I can observe the user experience first-hand.

With the previous guidelines in mind, I went in search for universities with climbing gyms. I started out searching through the major conferences (Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, MAC, Sun Belt) and came up with quite a few possibilities. The Big Ten is incredibly weak in the area of climbing gyms, but the MAC is surprisingly stout (8 of 12 schools have gyms there). I also checked out colleges in Indiana and rounded out my search by checking the portfolios of three climbing wall manufacturers: Nicros, Entre Prises, and ElDorado.

When all was said and done I had a list of over 50 climbing gyms across the midwest and southeast. Then, because I am a geek, I calculated the driving distance from Purdue for 20 of the closest universities — and about half of them were within a four hour drive. I figured I’d be lucky to get half of those sites to participate in beta testing, but I began by calling the closest sites first and worked my way down the list.

Much to my surprise four of the first five climbing gym managers that I talked to were interested in testing out ClimbPoint. Two of these four mentioned to me during our conversation that they would like to have software to help manage their wall, even before I told them what I was up to. To top it off, each of the four universities is under 200 miles from Purdue (and two of them are right next to each other), so traveling to visit them is a definite possibility.

And so without further ado, here are my beta testers:

Entrepreneurship and Failure

10 10 2007

The prospect of starting a company or developing a product, for me, has led to a bit of soul searching. Why am I really doing this? Do I have what it takes to create something that people will actually want to pay money for? Is there a real need for my product?

I don’t have answers to either of the first two questions, but an article in a recent issue of Inc. has me thinking. The article, Mapping the Entrepreneurial Psyche, states simply that the reason people start companies is to prove themselves superior to others. Now, I don’t necessarily feel the need to prove myself — but I do enjoy a challenge. And I have experienced, as quoted from the article, “the joy of creating, of getting things done, or simply of exercising one’s energy and ingenuity.”

For me the article was an interesting introduction to Joseph Schumpeter, and I was particularly struck by his ideas on failure:

“Schumpeter held the view that failure was a phase through which nearly all people must pass on the way to success. The ability to take a punch, and then get up off the canvas to win the fight was, he thought, one of the defining characteristics of entrepreneurs”

I experienced a sort of failure a few months ago in regards to ClimbPoint wall management software. As I alluded to in the recap of my trip to Boulder for the CWA Summit, I had the opportunity to send a demo version of my software to a climbing wall manufacturer after the conference. They were interested in reviewing the software so that they could, at some point, begin offering the software to new climbing wall customers.

I was excited to have someone else review my software, so we signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement (thanks Nolo) and I sent them a copy. The feedback that I received was mixed. The software seemed too simple, and it was lacking in the area of reporting features. The idea was good, they said, but it needed some refinement.

At first this news was devastating for me. Someone (gasp) didn’t like what I was doing! But that’s not entirely true — they said it was a great idea (why else would they have wanted to try it out), and I got some really good feedback out of the deal.

I’m keeping this experience in mind as I begin to ask others to be a part of the ClimbPoint Beta testing program…I’m keeping things hush hush right now (partially because I don’t have time to post it all) but hope to let you in on my master plan very soon. Stay tuned…