Bingo Card Creator is the first program produced by my mISV (“micro-independent software vendor”). It makes custom printable bingo cards for teachers. Back in the day, the overwhelming majority of my customers used it to play Dolch sight word bingo, which is an activity aimed at early education readers and ESL students. These days holiday activities like Halloween bingo are pretty popular, too.
What? Why did you pick that?: Once upon a time I taught English, primarily to ESL students, and learned the joy of playing bingo. I no longer teach but I try to support the local ESL community. Once a teacher asked me if I knew of any program to make bingo cards, since bingo was listed as a fun activity to try in the Big Book of ESL Activities (its actually called Planet Eigo these days and if you teach in Japan you should really buy yourself a copy). She had tried making them for herself with MS Word but quit after spending 30 minutes and only getting through about 10 cards. Then she tried searching the Internet and nothing really worked. So I searched through the Internet, and found the same: the free programs in this space are missing critical features for teachers, and the paid programs are overpriced and underpromoted. So I cobbled together a solution (on company time — helping teachers is part of the job, and I was free that day) and released after about four hours.
Wow, you can sell a program you made in four hours?: No. That program, aside from being by rights the property of my employer if anything, lacked bunches of critical features, was incredibly painful to use (you had to go outside the program to print, for example), and didn’t actually run on half the computers it was installed on because of JRE issues. And yet it still got me 25 thank you notes within a week, after being distributed to a mailing list of 60 teachers.
So, where is Bingo Card Creator from then?: During the last week of June, 2006, I was inspired to take on an independent project. I decided to do a mISV after goofing off at work reading about them and Google AdWords, payment processing, and the other things it would take to make them happen (yes, my employers are extremely generous in allowing me to goof off so long as I make my deadlines). I told my parents about my plan that evening during my weekly telephone call home, which (as a public commitment) made sure this wouldn’t end up like most of my projects — sketched out on paper and quickly forgotten. And I remembered “Hey, teachers still need a good bingo card program”. So I set out working.
So where does that “The Schedule: 8 days. The Budget: $60.” thing come from?: Thats from my discussion with my father. He asked how much money it would cost to found a company, and opined it would cost “thousands” and that I’d be better off finding a better job. I told him that with the Internet you could fund a company for the cost of “a video game”, which is in the $60 region. 8 days was purely arbitrary — I thought I could get it done in a week, looked at the calendar, and gave myself one day of padding so I could release on July 1st, 2006.
Why are you writing this blog?: Partially vanity, partially writing practice (amazing how your written English deteriorates without practice, and I get close to none at work), partially as a signpost for other people wondering about starting a mISV. When I decided to start the blog I committed to being more or less open.
What does “open” mean?: A lot of people who run mISVs don’t like to talk about their products, sales figures, marketing strategies, or even mention their real name in connection with their products. I completely understand and respect that decision. Some are worried about competition, some are worried about modesty (I wouldn’t tell you my day-job-salary if you asked me it, because I was raised to understand that that is Just Not Done), some are afraid their customers would look askance at it. Bingo Card Creator will not determine whether non-extant wife and children live the high life or go hungry — its a side project funded for pocket change and which takes up less time than other, far less valuable hobbies I have. So while I understand and respect folks who want to keep their information private, I have no problem letting it all hang out. What’s the worst that can happen? Somebody works hard for a week and steals my entire business. Oh, shucks.
Did you launch on-time and on-budget?: Yes and yes. I launched on 7/1/2006, after having spent in the vicinity of through the end of July (check the blog for the exact breakdown).
So you are really selling this?: Yep. Real customers really pay me money (my first two weeks after I launched).
Are you profitable? I was profitable as of one month, to the day, from launch. You can browse this blog’s archives or the pretty, automatically generated charts to see the story after that.
Are you profitable enough to quit your day job? As of April 2010, my software business is my day job.
Do you do other things, too? Yep! In December 2010 I launched my second product, Appointment Reminder. I also do occasional consulting. In my spare time, I wrote once for the New York Times, got published in an academic journal, and pretended to be the Old Spice Man.
I am thinking of starting my own mISV. Any advice? Scads. Either send me an email with specific questions or just start reading the archives. I rather recommend starting at the back and continuing forward. The easiest way to do this is to go to my very first post and use the Next/Previous buttons at the bottom of every post.