Sunday, December 23, 2007
That may be a tough one for the elves to hammer out, so I will have to take this wish over Santa's head. And it's really not a greedy wish, right? I am asking for "thousands of people" to be happy with MoneyWell and/or Debt Quencher. Shoot, this is almost like asking for world peace... just on a much smaller scale. It's a win-win situation if I can grow my company while helping customers to dig out from the spending they did over the holidays, right?
But seriously, I am feeling very blessed that No Thirst Software had such a great first official year. 2007 gave me the opportunity to build a company the way I wanted to and I've been blessed with so much positive feedback from our customers. There has been tons of support for the software and support we have provided, and this is only the beginning. 2008 is going to build on this solid start and grow even greater software.
I want to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and the Happiest of Holidays! May you be blessed with awareness and appreciation of the many blessings that surround you and pour through your life.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
After the release of MoneyWell 1.2, I did a ton of breathing yesterday and not much else. I tried, but it felt like I needed to just catch my breath.
When the testing is coming to a close and the help file is almost updated, the urgency increases. A press release needs to be drafted (and then reviewed by my wife because my first draft of almost everything sucks) and then rewritten. The website needs to be updated, all the download services notified, and their listings updated. Lastly, the XML file for the Sparkle appcast (the thing that tells all our existing customers that an update is available) is updated and everything goes live.
It's that anxious feeling you get when you know you're close to the surface and you just can't wait
But today it's back to work. The website needs lots more content because MoneyWell has lots more functionality and there's more video tutorials to record. Check out the press release and tell everyone you know to try MoneyWell—because the second most satisfying activity in business is watching the sales roll in.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
I've been blessed with an amazing wife who allows me to follow my passions despite the years of living with the insecurity of being self-employed. It would have been so much easier on her if I would have taken a more conventional path and had a steady paycheck and pension to rely on, but she married me and has been stuck with my ways.
There have been times in my life when I had the money and time to start my own company, but I just couldn't. Even after I had done it four times, I struggled at one point to do it again and I couldn't figure out why. The reason was simple: I wasn't passionate about anything at the time. For me, owning my own business is not about the money. I like earning money and I really, really, really like to spend it, but that's not the driving force for me. There needs to be a higher purpose.
With No Thirst Software, I feel a purpose. Debt Quencher is a simple solution to a very common problem of dealing with credit card debt. MoneyWell is a companion product that empowers people to control their spending. I have no medical degree, but in some small way, I am helping cure people of problems they are experiencing. Being in debt or having financial troubles can cause serious health issues and enormous pain, and helping to relieve that suffering in any way fills a need in me.
There's also a geekier side to my passion: I love when technology works well. I'm not a gadget freak, in fact, I'm very selective about my technology. That's probably why I'm such a fan of Apple products—Apple has a history of producing products that have elegant designs, are well-crafted, and are comfortable to use without training—even though they are high-tech products.
I recently added several features to version 1.2 of MoneyWell that I feel have elegant designs and are comfortable to use immediately. That version is now in beta testing so I'll find out soon if my beta testers feel the same way. It's hard for many people to control their spending. For some of us—like me—we just don't want to even know how much we spend because we'd have to change our behavior and that sounds like a drag. But with the latest version of MoneyWell, I'm excited about recording even my cash expenses. With MoneyWell, it's finally simple enough to do that I can get my lazy butt to do it.
It's been years since I've been this passionate about software development. It's a combination of being able to solve a pain in my life, being able to positively affect others' lives, and having the right tools and operating system. I lost my passion for writing Windows software when I had to spend most of my time coding to work around bugs and quirks in that operating system. Now with Mac OS X, I'm coding for a system that was developed by people with a passion for excellence.
It's a lot of work to design and write software, create websites, documentation, marketing materials, and the rest that goes with being a micro-ISV, but it doesn't feel like work to me. I wish that everyone could find a passion in their lives and experience this type of joy. Passion is an amazing blessing.
Monday, November 12, 2007
There is no way I could have created No Thirst Software ten years ago and have it run this lean. We were still shipping software on floppy disks and mailing everything. Updates were time-consuming, expensive, and a major hassle. There were several times that late testing caused us to trash a set of disks that came back from the duplicator and start over. There was no such thing as posting a patch for downloading and we certainly couldn't afford to do a second mailing.
Now I know some of you are thinking that we tested software better back then. You'd think so, but no. We just spent more money fixing our mistakes. My software today is tested much more thoroughly than it was in the past. I can run a beta test, where a select group of users get early versions of a software product, and give my testers daily updates as they report problems. Testers can give me problem reports several times a day by sending an email to a list that notifies all the testers of a found bug. It's a beautiful thing!
After shipping MoneyWell 1.1, a couple of problems were found. One had to do with Leopard and another with a specific type of OFX import file. Within 24 hours of hearing about these bugs, a patch was posted. Then another issue was found on Tiger and quickly resolved with another patch. Please understand that I'm not bragging about having to ship two patches within a week of shipping a product, but the fact that I had the infrastructure to do this is wonderful. This means that when customers have problems, I can fix them and alert everyone using the software immediately by updating a single file on my website (still lovin' your Sparkle, Andy!). I sleep better at night knowing that this is possible.
The ability to deliver software via a website posting gives me freedom to throw away the old model for maturing a 1.0 product. When shipping a product was expensive, we had to plan for 6- to 8-month delivery cycles (which always turned into 12- to 18-month cycles). This meant packing in enough features to warrant spending that much time in development and testing. Now? Fahgetaboutit! Let's talk 6-week delivery cycles for minor updates and shipping on time because we can cut features without feeling guilty. The missing ability will show up in a couple of months so it's no big deal.
Case in point: MoneyWell 1.0 was shipped the evening of August 31, 2007. The first minor release followed on November 7, even though there were delays for Leopard compatibility testing. MoneyWell 1.2 will be out before the end of the year and it will be a much more mature product than the original release. That's a 4-month cycle to mature a software product! This really blows my mind (yeah, okay so it's not hard to shake up my remaining half-dozen active brain cells—I'm easily excited lately).
Much of this has to do with the internet providing a rapid two-way street for information. Customers email me with ideas and requests or post questions on our user forum and I can start a dialog quickly to discover if design changes are necessary or if I simply need to re-prioritize features. There's a good amount of discipline required to stay on task with all this electronic and mental traffic flying by, but I wouldn't trade it for the dead silence of the old days—wondering if anyone has installed the latest update and whether or not they liked it.
The internet also helps me adapt quickly to the rapidly changing landscape of the computer software industry. As a Micro-ISV without a large staff, I need to constantly learn better ways to code my software, structure my company, and market my products. Most recently, I've stumbled upon Late Night Cocoa to improve my Mac OS X programming skills (excellent work, Scotty!) and I'm still hanging with the MacSB group and monitoring several blogs for the latter two.
What does all this mean for our customers? It means MoneyWell is quickly becoming an excellent product because my 25 years of software development is greatly amplified by the wealth of knowledge being shared on the net and the immediate feedback from each customer or prospect who uses it.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
So, I'll write more about this release later, but I just wanted to say that I had an excellent group of beta testers on this release of MoneyWell. Normally, I don't expect much from a beta test, but there were some very passionate users that caught several critical bugs I may have missed. Every developer should be blessed in this way!
Tomorrow is a full day of press releases, web site updates, and marketing. If I wasn't so exhausted, I'd start right now because it sounds like fun (seriously, it does!). That's what I like about being a Micro-ISV: I get to switch hats and keep from getting bored doing one task over and over.
Spread the word about MoneyWell!
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
MoneyWell 1.1 has just entered its beta test phase. This is the final step before a software product is released, which means everything is complete enough to have customers test it and give feedback. It's a bit of bad timing on my part, because Apple just shipped OS X 10.5 (a.k.a. Leopard) and customers found a couple of MoneyWell features that don't work right under Leopard. The fixes for these are just time consuming enough that releasing a patch isn't going to be much faster than adding them to the 1.1 release. This has added more pressure for me to resist adding one more feature and get this bad boy out the door.
If you're interested in checking it out, the MoneyWell beta was opened up to members of the No Thirst Software User Forum. Feel free to stop by the forum and join. This beta shows off some very critical new features, including: OFX/QFX import, password-protected documents, per-month spending plan amounts, and a real reconcile mode—a healthy chunk of what I had planned and pre-announced. I think these features will help more people make the choice to buy MoneyWell. It certainly won't capture everyone that looks at it though. I've found that many people expect MoneyWell to be clone of Quicken with a more Mac-like interface—it's not.
MoneyWell is not a cookie-cutter finance package. It doesn't look or act like most others and that fact alone causes some people to express disappointment with it and ask me to change the way it works. It's tempting to cave and toss in poorly designed features, but that's just not my style. I know there's no way to make everyone happy, but what I can do is trust that the design I've started with is good and certain customer suggestions will fit with that design, while others will not. Certain customers will love MoneyWell and keep it, while others will decide to use something else. It's so hard for me to say "no" and watch people walk away, but I truly believe the software I create is better because of it.
The upside to sticking to my guns and focusing on my design philosophies is that I can create user interfaces that work perfectly for my needs and, hopefully, many others will agree that it's worth learning some new workflows to improve their lives as well. A good example is the new reconcile feature. It's not all that radical, but—for me—it fixes all the complaints I had with Quicken's reconcile.
I didn't want to have to look at a subset of my transactions list in a separate window, but I wanted to easily see what transactions fit into the reconcile date range. I also wanted MoneyWell to tell me if those same transactions added up to the statement difference so I could just check them all—with one click please. Lastly, I wanted to be able to easily review previous reconciled statements.
Oddly enough, I got what I wanted. Clicking a single button switches the main transaction list into a reconcile mode that, instead of hiding transactions not in the statement date range, fades them to gray. It also uses red and blue rounded rectangles to show which transactions are reconciled and which open, respectively. Helpful graphics appear to indicate when I can reconcile the statement using one click and when I am done reconciling. It's also easy to quickly pick a previous statement from the pop-up list and review it. It's amazing: Almost like this developer could read my mind!
I've got to get back to coding, but know that MoneyWell's release schedule will continue like this: rapid releases with significant, well-designed features. Keep sending me your requests and I'll keep working to find a cool way to implement them.
P.S.: One of the great rewards of being a Mac developer is being accepted as a member of the generous developer community. Code sharing is very common and I've learned so much from other developers. One such developer is Joe Goh. He liked my graph in MoneyWell and asked if I would share my code with him. I did, he made some massive improvements, and shared right back. Check out the video of his new release of Phone Journal. You'll see a really slick rewrite of the MoneyWell graph that will surely affect future visuals in MoneyWell. Thanks Joe!
Sunday, October 21, 2007
I agree and I support Lee's position 100 percent. For me, this is a no-brainer. I am forced to dig deeper and stretch my vocabulary if I avoid the easy road of cursing to get a reaction. The analogy I like to use is that eating fast food is very similar to cursing. The more often we consume fast foods, the faster our health will degrade. Our palate becomes numb to fresh, healthy foods and we desire the fatty, salty menus instead. We even find ways to defend eating fast foods: "I don't have time for healthy meals."
I make no excuses: I eat at fast food places often because I'm lazy about making lunches and I don't schedule time to take better care of my body. It's a constant battle for me to eat healthier because I've damaged my own palate from constant abuse of tacos, burgers, and fries. Now I'm paying for it with tight jeans and more frequent health issues.
Language is the same. We can choose to take shortcuts with offensive language or we can work a little harder and find a richer vocabulary to express our emotions. The more we swear as a writing technique, the less we'll work to find alternatives. Cursing numbs our brains and encourages greater sloth.
This is not why I'm writing this entry though. I'm more concerned about the first comment to Lee's post. Jonathan Wight says:
While I can kind of appreciate your motive, you really lost what little sympathy I had as soon as you dismissed the argument by referring to your “higher power”. Personally I find discussion of personal beliefs and opinions in technical blogs annoying and often (as in this case) offensive.
So the "faith" word is offensive in a tech blog? You can talk about your personal motivation for writing software or creating a micro-ISV as long as you don't bring religion into the blog? That's a disturbing stance.
The only thing that keeps me focused on creating better software is my faith. I would never have been able to leave my well-paid, salaried position and head out on my own without prayer and the support of my friends at my church. This is not truly a "technical" blog like the others Lee points out, but it is a blog about what motivates my development of Mac software and the goals of my venture.
We're in serious trouble if we offended by a quote from the Bible more than a blog peppered with f-bombs. I promise, you don't have to convert to my religion just because I talk about it any more than I would feel the need to switch to your brand of energy drink or style of music that fuels your development efforts.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to force myself to eat some fresh fruit.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
I think that some businesses feel that the customer is trying to screw them by using the software and then wanting their money back. It's a bit like the argument for stronger copy protection on software. I don't think that you can stop real software thieves, which means you're only hurting your honest customers. Unfortunately, so many people feel attacked personally when someone takes advantage of them like this. It's really not personal; some people don't feel guilt stealing software and other people legitimately need to return software because it doesn't work for them.
But what if they are getting a refund and continuing to use the software? So what? Again, some people don't feel guilty about using what they don't own, but I believe that 90 percent are honest and I'm not going to ruin their experience with my company over the 10 percent that are dishonest.
And let's face it, if you burn someone over $40, they are going to complain about how XYZ company screwed them and how your company sucks to dozens of people—or worse thousands because they posted rants on the internet—is it worth the money? Was all that bad press worth whatever you charged them for your product? Not for me.
That's why No Thirst Software offers a 60-day money back guarantee and on day 61, you're still not going to get a fight from me if you want to return one of our products. I'd rather win a customer over with great software and stellar service than quibble about contractual obligations. If you don't like our software for some reason, tell me and I'll try to improve it. If I can't make you happy that way, then simply ask for your money back. I've had some great emails from customers who were amazed and thrilled at how easy it was to get a refund from No Thirst Software and they may just tell a few friends about that. It sure beats the scary comments I read about other software companies that didn't give a refund.
So if you're a Micro-ISV and you're not making it easy for customers to get refunds, think about what you are doing to future sales for a few bucks today. And, if you happen to be one of my competitors... just keep up the good work.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Now, I could have sat down, opened the Scripsit word processor on our cutting edge, TRS-80 Model I computer and just typed the 40 or 50 labels, but the thought made me cringe. It's doing the same thing over and over and over again. So, my solution was to write a program to do this mundane task.
The program took me longer to write than actually typing the labels would have taken, but I enjoyed writing the program and hated the thought of repetitive typing (this was before copy and paste so I really would have had to type each one over and over). For me, this was a more elegant solution.
Fast forward a quarter century and I had a similar problem while working with importing banking transaction into MoneyWell. Most U.S. financial institutions use the QFX/OFX file standard. These formats are better than the ancient QIF format and provide more information to MoneyWell, but both are total different and my QIF parser code is useless with them.
After reading the OFX specification (yes, of course I read all 665 pages—it was gripping prose) I thought I could use nice set of Apple routines to read these files since they looked to be in XML format (this is is arguably the most common format for transporting data between systems on the internet). Unfortunately, the older QFX format predated XML and dashed my hopes of not needing to write my own parser. It sounded mind-numbingly boring to have to do this, so I solved it by procrastinating and looking for someone else's code as a solution. Of course I didn't find any code that I liked or trusted.
I stared at the QFX files and spec until it struck me that the SGML format of these files is very close to XML, it just needed a little reformatting. How hard would it be for me to write code to do this? As it turns out, not very hard. It took about 20 lines of code. How perfect! That wasn't boring at all; instead it was a fun challenge to write a small efficient routine for this conversion and, when I was done, I had XML formatted information to feed to Apple's framework.
The non-technical summary is that I thought I had to deal with many different versions of files to import transactions into MoneyWell, but through a little thought (and a huge aversion to boring work), I was able to consolidate these into one file type. MoneyWell now reads all popular variations of U.S. bank files. It feels good to have found an elegant solution!
I may even release version 1.1 early with a limited set of this new functionality since it is working so well already. We'll see how well the testing goes.
P.S.: Due to popular demand, No Thirst Software now has a user forum. Check out our support page for more information.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Anyway, that's not the topic of this entry. The topic is about using videos to educate customers. I love Apple's video's showing off the iPhone features and I wanted to do videos to show off MoneyWell (Debt Quencher could probably use a couple too, but it is much less complicated to use and needs them less). Then I read "RTFM is so over" by Bob Walsh and I knew I needed to do it now. Bob's article reminded me that SnapzProX makes it easy so I had no excuses.
He even had a follow-up article about posting your videos to YouTube. What a cool idea! Use Google's bandwidth and maybe get some viral marketing out of it. This pushed me to get it done. Actually, this pushed me to talk to Judy about it and she pushed me to get it done.
Recording the video was drop dead simple, but I found that I needed to write a script first (because I kept screwing it up). This also made it easier for my wife to do the voiceover for the video while I ran MoneyWell. It's really nice to have someone in-house who has worked as a voiceover artist.
When I posted our MoneyWell video to YouTube, the results were less than stellar. The problem is that YouTube shrinks the video dimensions down so much that it's hard to see the text. This is fine if you're zoomed into a small area of your program or you don't have to show fine details, but we couldn't do that with MoneyWell. I tried the SnapzProX function that pans the screen with the cursor, but even with the smooth pan on, Judy said that it still made her dizzy and sick to her stomach. This made me want to play it back a few more times just to drive her crazy, but I didn't... I only played it once more.
So, I ended up leaving the video on YouTube, but I'm hosting a better resolution version on my own server. We'll see how heavy this becomes on bandwidth and if I need to change anything in the future. I definitely want to get more of these videos posted. I agree with Bob that people don't like reading manuals and step-by-step web tutorials can be hard to follow. We live in a great time of simple recording tools and high bandwidth. Praise God for broadband!
Saturday, October 06, 2007
Debt Quencher is in some ways a perfect application. No, it doesn't do everything that users have requested, but it does what it does in a very direct and simple manner that makes it friendly to use. I love applications that do what they are supposed to and don't make you climb over a clumsy interface overloaded with half-baked features.
One such "perfect" application is Coda from Panic. It certainly doesn't have all the web design tools of Dreamweaver, but it made my life so much easier yesterday because it just works so cleanly. The interface is pristine and well thought out. The features are ideal for hand-coding web sites—something that I never thought I'd enjoy as much as I do. After using Coda, I have no desire to subject myself to any other web tool. I don't know if I could have updated both the Debt Quencher help file and the web site in half a day if it weren't for Coda. Its $79 cost is also in my price range (actually I paid $69 because I already owned Transmit 3).
Another "perfect" application is MarsEdit from Red Sweater Software, which I'm using to write this blog entry. It too is priced right at just under $30 and fits a singular task wonderfully. I didn't even know I needed this application. What's wrong with editing blogs with a browser? It works just fine, right? It does, but MarsEdit makes it better. It took reading about several bloggers who depend on MarsEdit in order to get me to try it. Now I can't imagine having to deal with the clunky browser-based editors. Just because you can do something without buying the right tool for the job, doesn't mean you should subject yourself to that torture.
It's like the time that this guy rated Debt Quencher poorly on MacUpdate because he said he could do the same calculations in a spreadsheet. Sure, you could do that, but the results aren't close to being equal. First, you'd have to know how to calculate credit card interest, then create some fancy equations to evaluate the best method, plus format the worksheet nicely so it all is there on one page, and in the end you don't even have the nice reporting. Why bother? Debt Quencher is $15. I just spent more than that feeding Chipotle burritos to my two boys.
MoneyWell's a bit trickier to keep right-sized. There are plenty of features that go along with managing your finances and I can think of a good argument for including 80% of them. So the trick here is to make MoneyWell feel like these other applications, but give it more depth. Conceptually, this isn't a problem for me. In my head, I have most everything worked out; but then again, in my head I'm still a 22-year old developer than can eat a whole pizza without gaining a pound. In reality, the burrito I inhaled last evening probably will keep me from donning my favorite jeans comfortably and if I'm 22, then Ronald Reagan just won his second term as president.
There are plenty of other applications that are perfect for tasks like LicenseKeeper and even larger apps like the iWork suite, but my point is that we need to be picky about our software choices. Demand tighter, more focused applications. Don't put up with feature bloat! Find software that is a perfect fit for your task.
Speaking of bloat and perfect fit, I really need to jog or something. Seriously, the pants are way too tight after spending months sitting in front of this computer writing code. Maybe my next project should be a program to manage my eating and exercise. Hmmm... maybe after a few more releases of MoneyWell.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
For example, I am working very hard to build a reputation as a responsive software company, so tech support emails are high on my list each day. I try to cycle in time to answer questions during my breaks from coding or design work. But I don't want to be stupid and answer the same question over and over again, so I have been building tutorials for MoneyWell. But I can't spend too much time immersed in these because there is code to write.
And, there are two products now for No Thirst Software, so I have to balance out my coding time between MoneyWell and Debt Quencher. The latter is the primary target for code right now because I owe those customers an update. There are some bug fixes, a few small features, and a revised look to match MoneyWell a bit more. On the right is a sneak peek at the new icon I designed for Debt Quencher.
Now I'm no graphic artist (as many of my developer pals remind me... often... sometimes too often) but I'm not organized enough to outsource this process yet (you have to know what to ask for) and the company isn't producing enough cash flow to warrant hiring a person to spend quality time with me to dig ideas out of the scrambled egg, gray-matter that passes for my brain.
Oooo... cash flow! That's a huge balancing act. My company (finally) paid the bills last month, but that's no reason to get cocky and think that this will be the monthly norm from here on out. There was a lot of marketing splash last month with MoneyWell because of its top billing on Apple's downloads website. I don't have that prime real estate anymore so I have to assume that I will need to start building a war chest for the dry months. This company was inspired by the design of Delicious Monster, shortly after I finished listening to Wil Shipley's now famous WWDC speech, and it has very little overhead, but there are still operational costs because this is not a part-time business. No Thirst Software is my only job and I have no desire to update my resume at this point. That's why I have designed it to go the distance and weather any storm the computer market can throw at it; short of Apple going belly up, but let's not even think about that. <shudder>
Where was I? Oh yeah, balancing the multi-tasking. Many micro-ISVs are one or two people in size so many hats are worn every day. We have to manage marketing, track sales, handle returns (which are a huge opportunity to build future relationships), update your website, keep the books current (get a CPA for this or you'll hurt yourself worse than a razor blade taste tester), take care of support issues, and maybe even write some software.
This last item is obviously the trickiest, but not for the reason you may think. It's easy to write software—millions of people do it all the time. It's harder to write great software and harder still to write great software that has a future. For software to be sustainable, it has to solve a problem in a market space with a significant number of consumers and have a good balance between features and interface. Why is the iPhone so revolutionary and successful? Not because of its feature list (just ask Nokia), but because of the interface used to expose its features. When I design software, I think of the task that needs to get done, prototype an interface, and then spend the rest of the time trying to remove as much of that interface as possible. It's almost as hard as getting my teenage boys to clean their computer desks (almost).
In addition to working on new releases, I have to balance the effort spent on feature releases and patches. When a bug crops up in the wild and the tech support emails start piling up, an urgent patch may be necessary. This derails a feature release for a bit, but the only alternative is to write bug-free software and I don't think that's possible given the complexity of operating systems these days. It's just best to plan time in your release schedule for a patch or two after the initial delivery and be fast with coding, testing, and shipping updates.
And, finally, this business balancing act comes third in my life. I was taught by a sales trainer, in one of my first jobs selling table appointments (china, crystal, tableware, and cookware), to always put faith and family before finance. He said, "My sales team can't be miserable in their personal lives and then come to work and be successful. Go home and spend time with your family." Coming from a guy that could sell carpeting to a tap dancer, I thought that was pretty generous advice and so I've held onto it—tightly.
I know I have my balance correct when I feel like I've fit a week's worth of activities between sunrise and sundown and yet I'm not exhausted. Man, I love those kind of days!
Friday, September 28, 2007
One day, Judy was thinking about "wellness" and was led to the scripture story about Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. The key part of this Gospel from John is in chapter 4 verses 13-14:
Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
NoThirst.com started out as a small wellness site with articles about improving spiritual, physical, and emotional health, but never really grew to fulfill our dreams of helping thousands of people. In early 2006, I was sick and tired of being in debt and of performing a job I no longer enjoyed. This was the incentive I needed and I vowed to do whatever it took to turn around our finances and find joy in my work. The first step was to stop our financial bleeding and get some controls in place.
We read conflicting opinions on the best way to eliminate debt. Some said to pay the lowest balance first, others proposed getting rid of your highest payment first, and some wanted the highest interest cards paid before the rest. Just paying a random amount (or at times the minimum payment) on our credit cards wasn't much of a plan. I couldn't find a program that easily solved this problem, so decided to create one. For years, my career focused on building Windows software, but my heart's desire was to create software for the Mac. It had been almost 20 years since my last Mac shareware program was sold and it was invigorating to be writing cool software again. We re-branded the NoThirst.com site as No Thirst Software and released Debt Quencher in October 2006 under our new company.
Soon afterward, I felt a push to create another personal finance software product and, again, it came out of personal need. Judy and I had been married 23 years, but we had yet to develop and stick to a workable budget. Of course, this contributed to our debt problem, despite using the budgeting tools in Quicken over the years. Both our parents had used the envelopes method for budgeting, but that wasn't going to work with debit cards and checks in our virtually cashless society. Many products on the market claimed to help control spending, but nothing came close to doing the types of things I envision for MoneyWell.
I have to give all the glory to God for both these products, but especially for MoneyWell. I'm not quite sure how the design ended up being clean enough to get people excited about the product because my original screen layout was not at all what we sell today. My prayer is that I can touch thousands of lives with No Thirst Software and ease their financial pains while I continue to provide for my family with this venture.
P.S.: This is also posted on the No Thirst Software site.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Now the experienced software developer in me is screaming, "Shut up! Don't promise anything that's not already in final testing. Do you want a Longhorn/Vista disaster on your hands!?!? Geez, have you learned nothing from Bill and Steve's joyride over the software precipice?" But I'm thinking, I can talk about some of the plans. I mean, what can it hurt to let you peek behind the curtain a bit, right? Wow, that voice in my head is really loud and annoying. Okay, here we go...
- OFX/QFX Support: I wanted this in 1.0 because I have a ton of transactions per day and QIF support is marginally okay for bringing bank transactions into MoneyWell for me. I've also had several requests for comma-delimited file support from Europe and Canada, this type of import may not make the first update but it will not be forgotten.
- Duplicate Transaction Detection: This goes hand-in-hand with the previous pain. I don't want to have to delete duplicate transactions by hand and neither does anyone else. (If I'm wrong about this and you do enjoy boring, repetitive tasks, please contact me about being a beta tester.)
- Account Reconciliation: This is another feature that was cut from 1.0 to get it out the door. How are you supposed to track all your transactions if you can't reconcile your account to make sure none are missing? Of course this is coming.
- Printing: We love paper! Back in 1986 when the Mac was supposed to help us create the paperless office, we started the greatest increase in personal printing in all of history (and it's not slowing down). You won't see a huge array of reports, but you will be able to get a nice-looking printout of your filtered transactions. More diverse reporting will come in the future.
- Per Month Planning: Here's another sliced outta 1.0 feature because I couldn't get the interface working the way I wanted. With this you'll be able to set a unique spending plan amount per month per bucket.
- Repeating/Pending Transactions: There's lots of code in MoneyWell already for this and it hurt to rip it from 1.0 so I'm going to work hard to get it into the next release.
- Money Flow Editing: Having rollovers and money flows automatic is very nice, but there have been enough customer scenarios already to warrant adding the ability to change dates and amounts of these operations.
- Enhanced Transfers: Allow transfers to be created/changed from the transaction detail. This will allow you to use transfers in a more flexible manner.
- Exporting: This is a long shot for the next release, but if it misses, it will be high on the list for the next release.
Okay, that's plenty of rope to hang myself. I think I'll add a disclaimer just for good measure.
Disclaimer: Remember that none of these features are guaranteed to be in the upcoming release (or any release for that matter) and I have the ability to edit this blog entry in the future if anyone tries to use this information in any sort of extortion scheme.
Just know that my primary concern is the smooth operation of MoneyWell: Jamming a bunch of poorly executed features into software doesn't make it better, it makes it Windows Vista. (Did I just say that out loud?) My secondary concern is prompt delivery of an update: I want to have this out by December so I will cut what I have to so this will happen.
Now, feel free to pray that most of these make the release and I don't regret this curtain peek in a couple of months.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Other business decisions aren't so cut and dried. Deciding the best way to market your products or handle the sales or when to bring on new employees is tough stuff. There's no single right answer. Even now I have to make decisions about my time. How much should I spend updating the website? Should I explore new ways to market my products? Is my time better spent writing code for new versions? How shall I punish my daughter for trashing the kitchen last night while I slept?
Okay, that last one has little to do with business except that I run my company out of my house and the war zone that used to be a fairly clean kitchen is a huge distraction. So let's put a pin in that one and get back to it later.
For every other business of mine, I've had a partner or two. This meant that business decisions were either a tad easier (you handle that one) or much, much harder (I really don't think we should go that direction). Now that I get to make the final decision, the business of business is much more fun for me. My focus has always been on making great software and providing fantastic customer service. That may sound simple and obvious to most of you, but over the years I had to fight battles over compromising functionality to appease strategic alliance partners, supporting craptastic versions of Microsoft Windows (we really should support Windows 95 in our new 2005 release), staffing and outsourcing, and my biggest fight: designing better copy protection.
If you've read my earlier blog posts, you know I despise copy protection. It's one of those necessary evils in the software business, but I don't want to spend all my time fighting the bad guys who try to get free software, which in turn, punishes the good guys who are my customers waiting for cool new features. Now I've been able to control that decision and put just enough protection in my products so the honest folk will get a gentle nudge to pay for the product but after that, they just don't have to deal with it. There's no business partner screaming at me to plug more holes to stop the software theft.
To be perfectly frank, I really do have a partner this time; but my wife, Judy, is still working her full-time job so she's more of a silent partner. Hah! (the water I was drinking almost came out my nose) I guess that's a bit of an oxymoron. Judy is anything but silent and I thank God for her strong opinions. She has saved me from making stupid decisions more times than I've had to yell at the kids to do their chores. The difference is that she trusts my years of experience in the software business and believes that I have learned from my mistakes. I know that she has our best interest in mind when she challenges one of my choices or suggests a new direction and I have learned that she is very skilled at presenting an alternative perspective. When there is a high degree of mutual respect between partners, business decisions are easier to make and delegate.
So it's the day after the patch and the dark valley that was last week—when I couldn't figure out how to solve a couple of frustrating bugs—is over and I'm ready to make some decisions and write some new code. Life is good.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
I started working on Debt Quencher in January, 2006, which at the time was called "Zero Debt" but I couldn't get close to that domain name. By October, I had a finished product and I was deciding if I should risk my financial security—or at least what little there was at the time—on another start-up. After much prayer and thought, I went for it.
Now 20 days after releasing MoneyWell, the flagship product for No Thirst Software, I'm actually paying the bills without the aid of a business loan. The reality is just setting in.
There is much to do still. I've had to change some design patterns in MoneyWell (tech speak for redoing whole segments of code) to get around the bugs that popped up and caused me to create a third patch for the initial release and I'm not done with that yet. Then there's the 1.1 release that's crying for my attention. Lastly, I'm dying to create additional tutorials and add enhancements to my web site. I don't see any boredom in my near future.
Due to popular request, I'll talk about what's planned for MoneyWell 1.1 in an upcoming blog entry.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
And then 45 minutes later you're depressed enough to install Vista on your iMac.
Extend that feeling about a week and you have the MoneyWell product launch. Every day was a rush of sugar and caffeine seeing 18 to 21 thousand downloads each day and then, after losing the Apple place of honor, it dropped to around a thousand. I can hear B.B. King growling, "The thrill is gone baby..."
Where is that friggin' Windows CD anyway... (Don't worry, I don't even own a copy of Vista. The last Microsoft OS I bought was Windows 2000.)
So, I'm working on MoneyWell 1.0.3 to cure the problems I let slip by in 1.0.2. This patch is getting double the testing because I hate feeling good about a fix that isn't a fix. After this is done, I have some FAQs and tutorials to post to the website and a patch to put out for Debt Quencher.
Then it's on to MoneyWell 1.1 development. Just thinking about it is like having a mouthful of chocolate!
P.S.: Thanks to Paul Robinson for the interview. I'm honored that he took the time and blog space to record my less than mainstream thoughts and comments.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Version 1.0.2 (39) changes:
- Added user preference "Localize date for QIF import"
- Added ability to revise the initial rollover amount
- Added QIF support for FI using currency symbols in amounts
- Added large splitter handles to bucket and graph bars
- Added show decimals preference on spending plan panel
- Window size and position now remembered per document
- Accounts now sorted by type and name
- Initial rollover timer disabled; activates with allocate income
- Changed initial rollover suggested amount to never be negative
- Transaction filter cleared on new transaction or account
- Fixed removal of bucket assignment from a transaction
- Fixed buckets view on New Money Flow Panel dropdowns
- Fixed buckets sort on New Memorized Transaction Panel dropdown
- Fixed invalidated object error
- Fixed initial rollover not saving amount without tab or enter key
- Fixed name sorts to be case insensitive
- Fixed edit commit failure on account change
- Fixed auto-save failure after undo of memorized transaction update causes
Now that I have that patch put to bed, I'm going to put myself to bed. G'nite all.
Here's how it goes:
- You plan for what needs to be fixed in a patch
- You begin to code the patch and unit test each fix
- You test the program overall to make sure nothing else was broken
- You release the patch
See, in the case of 1.0.2 (39), step 2 was going so well. I made it through all but one of the fixes in a little over a day. How could I not finish that last item, I had all day!
I didn't finish that last item. It's just being stubborn.
So I'll work on getting it out again today, but no promises this time (maybe that'll help keep Murphy off my back). It's a really good patch, so hang on and I'll get it to you ASAP!
The upside is, I have a real download stat still (118,000+ copies). Judy also noticed that I lost my featured product status on Apple's all categories page (Toon Boom Studio snatched it away), but I still have the business and finance page and I'm still near the top of the most downloaded list. That means I have a little more time to work out my marketing plan for after I lose the cherished Apple spot.
Monday, September 10, 2007
This will probably be the last new prospect/customer trend I will be able to record with any accuracy because I'm going to release the 1.0.2 (39) patch today and all the people that have MoneyWell will get an automatic notice to download the new version (Thank you Andy Matuschak! You deserve an award for Sparkle!). These repeat offenders will skew the trend to look better than it really is, but part of my brain will just continue to think these are new views and be giddy all over again.
I'm excited about this MoneyWell patch because it incorporates many of the bug fixes that people have reported and also finishes up some features that I had to cut out of the 1.0 release due to time constraints (saving window size/location, large splitter handles, etc.). MoneyWell has two more additions to QIF importing that should make it able to read just about any QIF file out there.
Now I know that I've just opened the door to be proven wrong by the first new customer that uses it, but I'm getting used to being proven wrong—that's either humility finally sinking in or I've been broken by the tech support emails over the past week.
Actually, I have no reason to complain about the support email traffic. I think God knows that I can only handle so much at one time and He throttled this down for me. Almost everyone has been very polite with their bug reports and the feature requests have all been very consistent. There is a common set of requests that just happen to match what I have planned for the next couple of minor releases. I couldn't ask for a more cooperative customer base!
Now I have to get back to testing the patch so I can release it today and pretend like I'm getting double the downloads from new prospects. In fact, would every one of the 102,000+ downloaders please just run MoneyWell once after the patch is posted and update to 1.0.2 so I can stress test my hosting service? Server Logistics has been so good so far, I want to see what they can handle (don't worry Aaron, they all don't read this blog).
Saturday, September 08, 2007
This morning I looked at Apple's "most popular" section of their downloads page and I see the following:
- iTunes 7.4
- Quicktime 7.2
- Safari 3 Public Beta
- MoneyWell 1.0
- Windows Media Player for Mac OS X 9.0
How cool is that?!?! MoneyWell's not only popular, but the three products more downloaded than it are free stuff from Apple and it beat a Microsoft product (okay, that last one isn't so hard to do on the Mac)!
Does that make me popular?
Probably not. I still have to rub my dog's belly to get her to even hang with me. But I'm just that desperate to take this as being popular by association. W00t!
Friday, September 07, 2007
Starting a micro-ISV is so wonderful because you have full control over your product. There's no corporate committee deciding features or a sales department making outrageous promises—it's just you and your ideas.
And starting a micro-ISV is so incredibly tough because you have to wear every hat. There's no marketing department, no sales force, no operations person—it's just you and maybe some generous friends throwing their talents your way.
If you've read an of my previous blog entries (you brave soul you), you'll know that this is not my first time starting a software company. I've been in this business since CP/M was the hot operating system and I've been blessed with a second chance (four times actually). Some people say I'm persistent, others are closer to the truth when they say I'm an idiot.
Luckily, I'm an idiot that learns from my mistakes. No Thirst Software is very close to the perfect company for me. If it wasn't for Judy, my wife, and lots of great friends that prayed for me and supported me, I wouldn't have lasted the whole year that this has been going on and I certainly wouldn't have had the guts to launch MoneyWell by myself.
After having to learn Cocoa and Objective-C, redoing my website four times with four different tools (I've settled on Coda and hand-coded CSS/HTML, which I now love so much more than using big iron web tools), creating lousy graphics with my poor Photoshop skills, creating better graphics with my poor Photoshop skills, and finally, creating acceptable graphics with my still poor Photoshop skills, I was able to pull together enough to launch a mere seven days ago.
But now I feel I've run a marathon at sprinter speeds and I'm a bit worn out. If tomorrow morning's statistics are even close to as good as they have been over the last two days (over 20,000 MoneyWell downloads each day), I'm sure I'll be riding high, coding like it was day one again and ready for week two.
God bless everyone who has given me feedback (positive and negative) and all those who encouraged me to keep going forward. I am truly blessed.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
(Warning by Green Day ends)
I'd like to welcome you all here today. Today we get to talk about MoneyWell, so let's get started.
It's only day six since MoneyWell 1.0 shipped, but I'd like to give you an update on our progress. When we shipped MoneyWell, we started to get some downloads and we were pretty happy about that. In the first five days we had over:
We think that's great and we are really excited. But we think that our presence as a featured product on the Apple downloads site is really going to give us a big lift. And you know what? We were right. On day five alone... (pause)
We have had (pause) over:
This is amazing. We've increased our downloads by a factor of 5 in one day. We are really very excited about it and we feel this is only the beginning. Stay with us, because we are going to continue to have amazing results like this. Talk to you soon.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Today I woke to see that MoneyWell is not only the featured product in the business and finance section, but the main featured product when you go to Apple's download page. There are so many great software products coming out for Mac OS X right now that one product can't hold this spot too long, so I'm making the best of it.
I've added a "60-day money back guarantee" to my MoneyWell page and I have at least one tutorial up for people to look at. An added bonus is that Apple has some big announcements today, which means their website is going to get more traffic than usual. What perfect timing!
It's hard to describe the difference between churning out code for Windows and creating software for Mac OS X. I was very proud of some of my creations for Windows, but the development process was always frustrating. Now, even when I'm struggling with some Objective-C code in OS X, I know that the final solution will end up being elegant and the resulting product light years ahead of anything I would be building in Windows.
Plus, there is just no good "featured product" section on the Microsoft site. Thank you Apple! You rock!!!
Monday, September 03, 2007
So to satisfy my international clientele, I have released MoneyWell 1.0.1 (38). It has the requested localization and fixes bugs found in QIF imports as well as a few other changes.
There has been negative and positive feedback, but the positive stuff has been so great I'm hardly affected by the negatives (I only briefly pouted, then I got back to coding). Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to tell me about bugs and compliment my efforts.
This cycle seems to be typical for me. I get a release out and have to push out a patch soon after. Now that I'm past that required act, I'm back to the website tutorials. Part of me is exhausted from the long hours, but this is so much fun that I can't wait to do more! I feel like I'm living a Tony Robbins success story!
And this is only the beginning. How freakin' cool is that?!?!
Friday, August 31, 2007
It's been posted to all the usual download sites (Apple, MacUpdate, VersionTracker) and press releases were sent to the top Mac news sites (MacNN, MacWorld, MacLife, MacMinute). The No Thirst Software website has had some updates to reflect the new product (with more site updates pending) and sales are already coming in. Life is good!
But, now everything has changed. MoneyWell is no longer a hidden development project or a limited beta test, it's a living, breathing product with customers that need support and will be asking for updates. That changes the tone. If there's a bug in the beta version, you tell the beta testers, "Sorry, delete your data files and start over with the new build." That option is off the table now.
Is that scary? Not really. I remember my dad, who was a merchant marine sailing the North Atlantic in WWII, telling me, "You can't be afraid of the sea because you'll never be able to do your job, but you can't pretend its not powerful enough to kill you either. You just need to learn to respect it."
I respect my role.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
As always with software development, there's one last bug to fix or a critical missed piece of functionality. The trick is to know what to touch and what to leave alone for now. I think I made it through the important fixes yesterday, but I didn't get to much else on my list, which is now long enough to make me want to run out of my office screaming until I knock myself out by hitting a signpost in the street. This is not a cartoon though and I really don't have time for a hospital run.
Let's see what's in the pile:
- The web site needs the final page designs completed and posted (pretty critical)
- My PayPal payment system needs to be updated (oh crap—must have a way to pay)
- I still don't have my final discount processing system in place for Debt Quencher customers (double crap)
- The online tutorials aren't done yet (that ain't happenin' today)
- The press release still needs final editing (that's gotta happen today)
- I need to retest the licensed and unlicensed modes (mega high priority)
I'm pretty sure I'm missing something, I just hope it's not a biggie.
Release day is a blend of anxiety and excitement that is hard to describe. If I survive it, I'll post more entries about how it went. If not, look for me unconscious in the street.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Doesn't the world around you immediately change? It does for me. I have been putting in some long hours lately trying to launch MoneyWell and it has been exhausting. Some nights I feel a heaviness (on top of the literal heaviness because of too much fast food) and I lose sight of the purpose behind all the effort.
Then a compliment comes my way, "Your program looks great!" and everything changes. Then another drops in from a beta tester saying, "Very polished and quite like an Apple app" and another saying, "I've been looking for something like this on the Mac ever since I bought it." Or a comment on this blog offers more positive feedback (no, I'm not fishing for compliments... really, I'm not that needy... well, maybe I am that needy, but I'm still not fishing) and the weight is gone (still talking metaphorically here, I do have to eat more salads). The world seems brighter and my purpose has been restored.
Now it's very possible that I'm just more fragile than most and I dent and ding too easily, but I think that the majority of people need to hear more positive feedback on a daily basis. Is there anyone you can compliment today? Your spouse, kids, or a coworker? Instead of just criticizing their mistakes, compliment their accomplishments or behavior. I'm quite sure you'll benefit from it too!
As for me, I'm riding pretty high right now on the recent compliments that have been graciously given to me. I know much of the feedback I'll get after releasing MoneyWell will be on the negative side because there are plenty of things to be added and enhanced and I have to keep reminding myself that it's just a 1.0 release. I'm also sure there will be bugs that slip through the testing and I'll have to handle those, but my release deadline is now two days away and I can't worry about what is lacking or the responses from customers. I know now that I'll get enough positives to offset the negatives and those will energize me to push forward with updates to satisfy the masses. Thanks to everyone who has helped me get through this process!
Monday, August 27, 2007
I'm by no means independently wealthy. The reason I wrote both Debt Quencher and MoneyWell in the first place was to give myself better tools to battle poor spending habits. But that's off topic a bit. Maybe I'll embarrass myself more by talking about my bad financial behavior in future entries.
MoneyWell is a product with lots of potential. I have so many ideas and designs for it that I really struggled where to draw the line and call it 1.0. A big help was reading If you aren’t embarrassed by v1.0 you didn’t release it early enough. I didn't even need to go past the title to get it. I've been writing software for a quarter of a century and I know how horrible the disease "feature creep" can be. It's a gnarly, nasty, blood-sucking disease that can bring down the biggest software companies.
So when I read the phrase "If you aren't embarrassed by v1.0" I knew I had my litmus test. The features I had in my in-house testing version of MoneyWell already worked better for me than my copy of Quicken 2007. I certainly didn't have close to all the features of Quicken, but that wasn't what I was shooting for. What I wanted was a more effective way to track my spending and that was already in the code. So I pushed it into beta and moved features from my 1.0 list to my future list. It was like a flashback of when I was a kid trying to make myself eat the sliced canned beets on my plate that had now grow cold and had stained my tasty (but overcooked) pork chops, yet I managed to do it.
Am I embarrassed by version 1.0 of MoneyWell? You betcha! But only because I know what I have planned for future releases.
Does it kick spending plan management butt over every other personal finance package out there? You betcha!
Saturday, August 25, 2007
For me, the trick is to keep encouraging myself to push past these issue. One of my favorite blogs is Pam Slim's Escape from Cubicle Nation because she focuses on the psychological problems related to starting your own business. Pam's talked about Seth Godin's new book, The Dip in this entry and it made so much sense: Every project I've ever done of significant magnitude has experienced a dip. Many times I've thought about quitting because, "This is just too friggin' hard!" But if I push through this dip, things seem to click.
In the past few months, I've had some scary moments. The question, "Will I ever get this into beta?" has popped up many times. Of course when I got MoneyWell into beta (this is the final stage of software testing before release), I wondered if it would ever ship. There was so much to do: finish features, cut features, fix bugs (nasty nuclear-holocaust-surviving-roach type bugs), write a help file, finish the web site, and more. It sent me to dark places at times.
Now I'm about a week away from release and everything is falling into place. I was able to push certain features out to a 1.x release, other functionality started working the way I envisioned, and (with the help of Apple's Developer Technical Support) a couple of glowing roaches got smashed. There's still some documentation and marketing to do, but everything is clicking so that work seems no more ominous than a few dedicated days of effort.
What pushed me through my own dip was my faith, family, and friends. It's critical not to do this stuff alone. This has been as much a spiritual journey as it was a business event and a development project. No matter what happens after I release MoneyWell, I'm confident that taking a chance with No Thirst Software and this latest project has all been worth it. I'm a better person—stronger, more confident, and more aware of my blessings.
Are you avoiding doing something that is on your heart because it may fail and there may be pain involved? Don't let fear ruin your life. All the pain and failure is worth it when you get to the other side and it all clicks.
Friday, August 17, 2007
I've missed it though (even if I was writing for a tiny audience of one or two). So I'm back, not because I have so much time now or because the bills are paid, but because I'm nearing the end of one journey and starting another. Since December 2006, I've been trying to finish MoneyWell. It's personal finance software that competes with the likes of Quicken—yes, I'm just that crazy.
Actually, I always said that I would never write accounting software because everybody and his sister was writing it. Also, the 800 lb. gorillas like Intuit and Microsoft occupied this space. But last year, when I was scrounging for a purpose and direction in my work life, I was drawn to solving a pain in my personal life: debt. I hated being in debt and even though I was working my way out of it, the software I had to use was crap.
The one tool that I used to manage my credit card debt was a poorly designed Java tool and the company had disappeared—no website, no contact information, nothing. In response to this very personal need, I wrote Debt Quencher. I wanted it to be drop-dead easy, attractive to look at, and very Mac-like in operation. Even though it was a relatively tiny program, I wanted it to be great. It was written during the same time period that this blog was started and was finished about the time that this blog helped me get out of my corporate position (yes, the boss read my blog, which was brilliantly plastered with my name and my job complaints).
This mildly successful product lead me to dive deeper into why I was in debt. I have used Quicken for years to manage my finances and balanced my bank statements religiously. I even tried to create budgets with it and stick to them, but it was so painful that I just couldn't do it. This pain inspired me to write MoneyWell. I didn't want it to just track my finances and reconcile with my statements, I wanted it to keep me out of debt and enable me to control my spending. I'll write more about this inspiration in future posts.
So now I'm finishing the beta test for MoneyWell and about to begin the process of marketing and selling this product. I have faith that great things will come of my efforts (and my family suffering through another one of my startups) because I have a higher purpose than only to make money (but I'm all for quick elimination of my debt after its release). Hopefully, tracking what happens during this new beginning will be entertaining and educational for my readers.