And I’m glad.
Things is launching at next week at MacWorld, and my predection is that they are going to make a killing. I wanted to note a few reasons why, outside of the fact that it’s a really great app.
- The Cult: GTD, David Allen, and the rabid cult behind them are now well past phenominon and fast creeping into the task workflow of people outside of geeky industries. Building a good GTD app and launching it now is good, opportunistic timing. You can’t ride a wave too early or too late. You need to hit the crest just right. I think these guys did it.
- The long-ass public beta: I’ve been hearing about “Things” for what feels like forever. In fact, the public alpha was released just a touch over a year ago. For a relatively small, very well focused app with a talented design and development team, a year is a really long development cycle. But while the journey from alpha to RC1 was long, it read like an epic, as the application gained critical acclaim and positive reviews from many seeking a GTD app. All the while, providing feedback to make the final, saleable product totally rock. I’m pretty curious how exactly CulturedCode managed their feedback loop, what they did to prioritize feedback against their own roadmap.
- Dealing crack: ok, you’re going to need to stay with me here. You build an app that caters to a reasonably large (and growing) audience’s need. You involve them in the development cycle, giving them the software for free as thanks for being an active part of the feedback loop. The users become dependent on the software not just because it’s software they need, but because it feels like their own. When you take the product out of beta and put it for sale, your conversion rate is going to be excruciatingly high because they’re dependent, they are addicted. You’ve sold them crack, and while they could go to another dealer, many won’t. Some due to loyalty, but mostly, they’re hooked on your stuff and don’t remember how to function without it. It’s how I feel about things like the Web Developer toolbar and Firebug. Sure, I lived before they existed, but I’ve blocked out all of those awful memories. They could charge for those tools tomorrow and I’d pay without thinking, and I barely ever write code anymore.
- Charging for Paraphanalia: Again with the drug metaphors. Glad you’re still with me.Not having a good iPhone app for your productivity software would be a travesty, especially since the iPhone somehow lacks a to-do list natively (wtf?). CulturedCode COULD have given this software away for free. That would have hooked even more people, right? Maybe. But wait, they’re giving away their primary product for free too, right? Not really, in this case, “free” is temporary. So you’re addicted to a really great “free” app, and a really good companion app is only $10? Well sure, I’m in for that. Do you see what happened there?A “free” app turned into a $60 total sale. That’s smart. Charging for the iPhone app showed that they were serious, something that a lot of developers forget to do now and again. It’s important, because it’s really difficult to take a product seriously when it’s not well supported, and you’re crazy to think you’re going to support a product alone for its entire lifecycle without making any loot from it.I add the caveat alone because someone’s going to bash me in the comments saying that “open source software often has better support…” blah blah blah. I know it does. But rarely from the project’s originator. So I’m sticking to my guns here.Back to my point, adding money to the equation is a measure of commitment and seriousness from both sides of the equation: it says that the developer values their own time and work and plan to continue working on the application and it says that the customer isn’t just casually interested, but is invested the value this application provides them.
- Let’s not forget, it’s a great product: All of the marketing in the world can’t make a shitty product awesome. If your product is good, it sells itself. CulturedCode did a great job of everything from blogging about the product revisions, behaving like a human being (actually, a team of human beings) rather than a company on twitter (I bet they wish that co-tweet had been around, it’s perfect for their use). But most of all, they built a product that their users wanted to talk about, and gave them points of reference (blog, forum, twitter, full featured beta software) to do their buzz-bulding for them. They threw a really great cocktail party.
At the Eye of the Storm
Jason, Dave, and I had a conversation at the end of the day today at IndyHall (where I’d estimate nearly 1/3rd to 1/2 of our regulars utilize Things) about the price point. I’m a firm believer in setting a price and sticking to it, but I have to think that without all of the smart moves I listed above, that $50 price tag would scare quite a few people away.
CulturedCode COULD have run a more traditional development cycle, still come out with a decent app, and charged $25 for the desktop and $10 for the iPhone companion (maybe a $30 combo deal?), put some cash into traditional marketing, and it would have flown off the shelf and into the hands of every man, woman, and child who needed to get their shit together.
But they didn’t.
They built a great app, spent a year actively working with their customers-to-be, and are going to sell the daylights out of it at $50 a click.
Well done, CulturedCode. If you have any interest, I’d love to speak with you and write up a more formal case study about slow-marketing your application. I’m very impressed.