Saturday, October 13, 2012

So, how big is our market, anyway?

If I were trying to make some money selling software to mushers I think one of the first questions I'd have is the size of the market.  I'm not really sure how to answer that question with any precision, beyond noting that intuitively it seems that trying to make some money from selling something other than dog food or equipment seems destined to be, er, "frustrating" (and some kinds of equipment seem challenging, as well).  But for an imprecise measure I took a look at Jacques Phillipe's nice Web Kennel content management site, acknowledging that he's trying to solve a rather different problem from the one being addressed by Musher's Checkpoint et al.  He's got nearly 500 kennels signed up, and I took a look at the listings to try to get a handle on how many of them are paying customers and how many are using it for free.  A rough estimate is that about 10% of his users are paying subscribers, or about 50.  I would guess (with an emphasis on guess) that that percentage would be likely to go up if he supported tracking training runs, adding veterinary records, etc., but even if it went up to 100% of his users that would still be about 500.  If you were able to sell some chunk of software magic to about 500 people at $100/pop, which strikes me as about what the market would bear, that would still be a gross of only $50,000.  Subtract expenses from that and it strikes me as not really worth anybody's while, acknowledging that I could be underestimating the size of the market by some amount.  Or, for that matter, overestimating it.

I guess where I'm going with this is that it strikes me as extremely difficult to come out much ahead selling software to mushers.  A more productive model may be to start out small and simple and give stuff away for free, and community input/participation will grow the software in ways that people actually find useful for their own purposes.  I believe the young people call this "open source," while those of us d'un certain ├óge recognize it as the way that things used to work more generally.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Why I'm not trying "Musher's Checkpoint"

Musher's Checkpoint is a new hunk of software that provides a very nice interface for maintaining kennel and training data.  Putting together small-scale databases is relatively straightforward (maintaining big hairball ones is a nightmare, but that's not what we're talking about here), but good user interfaces are difficult to design, and not everybody who writes software is good at it.  In fact, few are.  I'm terrible at user interface design and I really respect people who get it right.

Musher's Checkpoint also maintains much of the data I would if I were designing something similar from scratch.  Which, in fact, I am, but pretty much the only time I have to code for myself anymore is the week known as "breakup" in the Alaska interior, when we're done running dogs for the spring, it's too early to fish, and it's too muddy to work outside.  So in the abstract I'm delighted to see that somebody else has done the work.

The specifics are a little more difficult, though.  For one thing, as nearly as I can tell (the website doesn't really say) it only runs on Windows.  There was a time when I'd rather have stuck a fork in my eye than run Windows but now that I'm older and a little wiser I'm forgoing the fork and just not running Windows unless I have to for something I'm working on.  I know other mushers who only run Mac OS, so I'm not the only one.

But the show-stopper is this: annual licensing.  It's not a matter of the money, although of course there's a concern that after a couple of years the license fee could be jacked up.  The core issue is ownership of data, and access to it in perpetuity.  When I enter my dogs' pedigrees, their vet records, my training schedules, awkward photographs of unfortunate mishaps, etc., those are MY data.  I do not want to lose access to them, ever.  I've been orphaned by software companies going out of business and it's bad enough when it's just a regular one-time license fee.  If the company goes under for any reason and they are unable to renew the license because of problems on their end, I lose access to my data (note that this is a similar concern with "cloud computing" - make sure you've got local copies of anything you put in Google Docs Drive, etc.).  I am not going to take that risk - it's too much work to enter and maintain those data in the first place.

So, from my perspective it looks like a nice piece of software with a good user interface but a business model that makes me nervous (plus the platform issue).  I'm giving it a pass for the time being, and maybe next April I'll make some more progress on my own excellent database with the crappy user interface.