Software that works for everyone, even non-admins

4 09 2009

So forgive me if I wax technical here for just a sec…

I’ve seen my good friend Brandon suffer headaches from running software as a limited user in Windows (e.g. not as a machine administrator).  Sometimes the software just wouldn’t install or run, but often it was crippled in some strange way.

My thought was that any developer worth their salt would have tested for this and supported non-admin users, and would allow installing the program somewhere other than the C drive (I am looking at you Google Chrome).

Sadly, I am part of the problem…but no more!  The latest release of ClimbPoint fixes the LUA bug, which incidentally is the only complaint that I’ve had from people using the program.  With that problem solved, I decided to make ClimbPoint available for download to anyone.  The latest version, despite it’s codename (Dicey at Best) is pretty solid if I do say so myself.

This post on StackOverflow motivated me to create a fix, and this guide to fixing LUA bugs was helpful in carrying it out.





Wisdom applied to starting up

3 08 2009

As I write this, I am right in the middle — man am I ever in the middle — of a huge push to release the next version of ClimbPoint, which will blow people away and remove all sorts of reasons people have had not to shell out the cash for the product (pie in the sky rah rah pitch courtesy of the FogBugz 7 vision statement).

Last month I decided that I would apply a little wisdom in releasing the new version (Dicey at Best) by August 15.  I’ve been reading Proverbs lately, and that’s one source of my idea for a development sprint (also inspired by fellow entrepreneur Tim Haughton).

Proverbs 14:23 – All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.

I’ve also been inspired by the ideas of Earl Nightengale in Lead the Field, where he talks about reward being in proportion to a person’s service to others.  So in laying out the features I’d include in the next version I’ve picked the ones that I think will serve the greatest number of potential customers (kind of a no-brainer, huh?).

Anyway, in completing my development sprint I’m focusing on just two keys for success:

Work every day

Every day I’m aiming for only 30 minutes of focused work.  On most days I’ll end up working for a few hours, but none of that can happen without those first 30 minutes.  I find 30 minutes manageable, especially on those days when I feel swamped with other responsibilities.  I picked up this idea from Neil Fiore’s excellent book The Now  Habit.

Focus on starting

So my one goal each day is to start at least once.  I find that if I can keep my momentum moving forward, I’ll tend to use my mental free time to think about problems that are holding me up.  I also try to “leave a little in the tank” each day by stopping before I feel I’m stuck and by making a note of the very next thing I need to do when I come back to the project.  This tactic has really helped draw me toward work rather than repel me from it, so thanks to Twyla Tharp and The Creative Habit for that one.

Those are the two main keys, but there are many other ideas that I’ve gleaned from the books mentioned above.  I highly recommend all of them, especially Lead the Field.





Thoughts from my third summit

5 05 2009

This past weekend I attended the third annual Climbing Wall Association summit in Boulder, Colorado.  My third summit was substantially different from the first two — this time I arrived in Boulder with a company, a product, and a purpose.

I officially formed ClimbPoint, LLC back in January, and there are now about eight universities using ClimbPoint at their climbing wall check-in desks.  My purpose for coming to Boulder this year was to pursue connections with others in the industry who could help me get the word out about easy gym management software for universities and rec centers.

In the past I’ve come to the summit hoping to please everyone, including all sorts of commercial climbing gyms.  This year though, I resolved to disappoint commercial gym owners by letting them know I wanted to totally nail the university market first before adding features useful for their facilities.  I was pleasantly surprised by the reception I received.

It’s too early to tell whether many of the connections that I made this past weekend will result in loads of sales, but I’m psyched that I got in touch with everyone on my list, including various climbing wall manufacturers, hold manufacturers, and key CWA staff members.

To top it off, I met 5 or 6 people from Indiana (?!), two of whom are opening climbing gyms at their universities within the next year.  Should make for a very interesting summer!

 

As always, I’m reluctant to share all the details of my interactions and my strategy going forward — I hope the lack of detail doesn’t sap my updates of any intrigue they might have had, and I will say that I’m considering a more open approach to blogging.  More soon…





An LLC is born…

4 03 2009

Early on the morning of January 16 I became the proud parent of a brand new LLC.  Spurred on by a couple more sales early in the month, I decided to take the plunge and register ClimbPoint, LLC with the State of Indiana.

Once I decided to move on it, the entire process was seamless and done in less than a day — who knew you could register a business in Indiana online?  My next steps are to register for an employer identification number and complete a BT-1 form so I can charge tax on in-state sales.

Throughout the entire process, NOLO’s Quick LLC has been a great resource.  And for those who aren’t as interested in learning the ins and outs of an LLC, NOLO offers an LLC Maker that promises to get the job done faster.

So for those who have wondered what I’ve been up to this winter (and it’s been a long winter), forming an LLC was at the top of the list, right below traveling to India for a friend’s wedding.

For now it’s back to working on the next couple versions of ClimbPoint, which will definitely be out in time for the CWA Summit in Boulder.





One year of starting up

16 10 2008

Back on October 16, 2007 I set up shop here at AnotherStartup and began my journey toward a product launch.  Truthfully, I had been considering commercialization (and blogging about it) for over a year, but the creation of this blog was a milestone in that it marked the official beginning of my Masters project at Purdue.

So it’s been a year since I began to commercialize ClimbPoint in earnest, and it’s been fun watching my ideas grow into realities.  Here’s a look at what’s happened over the past year…

A few stats

My three most popular posts have been on crafting an effective elevator pitch, designing a decent logo, and finding icons for Windows applications.

I’ve also watched traffic to the blog increase steadily over the past year, and at this point I’m very close to breaking 300 page views per month.  The last time I checked I also had 10-12 people who subscribe to the site feed or receive email updates.  So the blog is still relatively small, but I expect that it will continue to grow steadily.

AnotherStartupStats

Above: page views per month since October 2007.

Major milestones

There have been a number of major milestones over the past year, which are summarized below.  To this point the full release of ClimbPoint this past August was the biggest one, but I think the October announcement will eclipse that.

It’s hard for me to keep the big announcement for October under wraps, but I think it’s substantial enough to warrant a separate post.  Stay tuned 🙂

To summarize, it’s been a great ride so far.  There have been many ups and downs, but I’ve been able to move forward at a fairly steady pace.  I continue to question my motives for starting up, and I don’t expect that to change any time soon.  I do know that I enjoy creating useful, mistake-proof software, and it’s always rewarding to hear positive feedback.





The state of software for climbing gyms

15 08 2008

When I started blogging about software for indoor rock climbing gyms back in 2006, there wasn’t much available in the arena of rock gym software. Just two short years later I’m amazed at how much has changed — a number of existing companies have spun off their health club management software into more specialized climbing gym applications, and I’m sure more are on the way.

As someone who has been developing and selling software for climbing gyms for over a year, this is very encouraging for me — contrary to what one might think, competition is good…it means that there’s actually a market for the product or service.

Signs of Growth

My first clue that this was a market searching for a viable product came at the first annual Climbing Wall Association Summit in 2007. During the summit, Vertical Relief Enterprises led a workshop on using their software to manage a rock climbing gym. The eye opening part for me occurred during the Q&A session — I couldn’t believe how many climbing gym managers were dissatisfied, even disgusted, with the software they were using.

Just one year later, at the 2008 Climbing Wall Summit, there was some great constructive discussion among climbing wall managers and representatives from three software companies about the real needs in climbing gym software.

So where do we stand now?

Well, it appears that climbing gym managers now have a few viable options when choosing software to help them manage billing, memberships, check-ins, and wall activity.

The newest entry for commercial climbing gyms is Rock Gym Pro, created by Andy Laakmann from Wyoming. I met Andy at the CWA Summit, and he seems like he has a great no-nonsense mindset about how software should work. I haven’t tried RGP, but I would bet it’s worth a look if you run a decently-sized commercial gym.

The best option for recreation centers and university climbing gyms is ClimbPoint. As the creator, I may be a little biased when gushing about how simple and intuitive it is to use, but others seem to agree.

There are also a number of health club management solutions that some climbing gyms seem to be working with. Among them are Club Sentry, Gym Assistant and Check Free / Aphelion. FirmPOS was also in this boat just a couple years ago, but now seems to have a special version tailored to climbing gyms.

The future

While there are a number of offerings available now, I believe we’ve only scratched the surface in truly streamlining climbing wall management. I expect that ClimbPoint will be on the cutting edge in developing creative solutions for climbing walls, and with the increase in players in this market, I’m hopeful that the real winner will be climbers and climbing wall managers.





Finding decent icons for Windows apps

12 07 2008

For the last few weeks I’ve been hard at work on a new version of ClimbPoint, and one of the features I was excited about adding was a nice toolbar to replace those tiny menus. Since I’m bootstrapping (and still looking forward to that first sale) I didn’t want to spend a whole lot of money on nice icons — in fact I was keen on finding something free.

There are a quite a few nice icon sets out there which are freely available, but the catch is finding ones that are free for commercial use. Most of the sets I found first, including this set for vista, were desktop icons for personal use. After a bit of searching I stumbled across the Sigma and Sophis sets at iconshock, which were reasonably priced at $130 for the general set.

While I was attempting to decide between the two sets (and justify the purchase) I happened upon a set from glyFX that was free for commercial use. Most of the other free icon sets that I found in my search were lacking at least a few basic buttons, but the Vista Complete Edition seemed to have everything I needed.

A few of the 30 icons in the glyFX free set

A few of the 30 icons in the glyFX free set

I do intend to purchase some icons down the road, but this find helps get me off the ground. Feel free to leave links to other icon sets in the comments, or check them out in action over on the ClimbPoint blog.





Market-driven product development

15 06 2008

Over the past six weeks I’ve done more to connect with potential customers and understand the market needs than ever, and it’s beginning to pay dividends in my motivation for product development.

My re-entry into the world of climbing wall management began last month with a trip to Boulder, Colorado for the second annual Climbing Wall Summit. It was there that I began to recognize the growing desire for climbing gym management software. As one conference participant put it, “there is a national unspoken need in our industry for someone to do this [software] right.”

As part of my effort to understand that need I’ve begun following a few climbing blogs, news sites, and forums (see the climbing news in the sidebar). Even the Climbing Wall Association recently opened up an online forum, which I’m hoping will be a valuable resource in connecting with others in the climbing community. The CWA is also planning to form a committee on the development of climbing wall management software, and I’ve thrown my name in the hat as a potential member of that committee.

In addition to establishing connections with potential customers and gaining exposure to real market needs, these sorts of interactions have helped make what I’m doing relevant. As a software developer it can be easy to become isolated from the users of the software and the market it serves. When that happens for me I tend to lose a little motivation, so I’m beginning to see the need for balance between product development and connecting with the market.

As a result of this renewed connection with the industry I’ve begun working on the next version of ClimbPoint, which I’ll document over on the ClimbPoint blog. Included in version 0.7 are a few features requested by my beta testers, and down the road I plan to take action on some suggestions I received while at the Summit.

Even with the launch of ClimbPoint I’m still learning a lot about starting up. I’ll continue to blog here about entrepreneurship and starting an ISV, but product-related news and information will be posted on the ClimbPoint blog.





Recap of the CWA Summit

29 05 2008

At the beginning of this month I was in Boulder, Colorado for the second annual Climbing Wall Association Summit. Last year most of my goals for the summit were chosen to help me understand the climbing industry and the potential market for climbing wall management software. I didn’t yet have a commercial product ready to sell, but I was interested in finding out if anyone else might buy it.

This year I went all set to do some selling, with business cards in hand featuring a sweet logo and a link to ClimbPoint.com. While I didn’t settle on a price point until my first night in Boulder (more on that in a future post), I still felt prepared to offer an ‘official’ copy of my software to those who were interested — and I was even recognized as a vendor at one of the workshop sessions.

My primary goal for the conference this year was to decide how I wanted ClimbPoint to grow over the next year. Should it begin incorporating features that commercial gyms need, or should it grow into a ‘perfect fit’ for climbing wall management at universities and community centers? My perception prior to the conference was that the commercial climbing gym market was substantially larger than the university/community center market, so I was prepared to begin wooing commercial gym owners.

However, I ended up meeting quite a few climbing wall managers from universities, and all of them sounded like perfect candidates for ClimbPoint. They were also interested in trying out the program right away, and thought it could be immediately useful at their climbing wall. This was in sharp contrast to many commercial gym owners, who were only willing to test the program once it could track and complete sales.

I learned a lot about the state of climbing wall management software, which I hope to post about soon. I also met some great people, got to do some climbing in Boulder, and to top it off won a pair of FiveTen climbing shoes at the closing raffle!

Even though I deliberated for a while about going, I’m glad I made the trip this year. I feel like I have a clear picture of where I want to take ClimbPoint in the near term and am confident that the niche market I’ve chosen will at least allow me to break even for the first year.