My name is Patrick McKenzie and for the last three years and change I’ve run a small software business selling Bingo Card Creator, which creates… OK, so I’m not the world’s most creative namer.  I traditionally publish stats and other observations from the business that I think are interesting. You can see my automatically compiled statistics and reports for 2006, 2007, and 2008 elsewhere on my blog.  2009 technically isn’t over yet but business typically comes to a standstill after this point in the year, so the overall financial picture is likely accurate in broad strokes, with perhaps a few hundred in sales yet to happen and some expenses which may or may not happen in this calendar year depending on the vagaries of when vendors charge my credit card.

Business Stats for This Year:

Sales: 1049 (up from 815 — 29% increase)

Refunds: 24 (unchanged from last year, down from 2.9% to 2.3% of sales)

Sales Net of Refunds: $31,156.18 (up from $21,141.60 — 47% increase)

Expenses: $12,630.47 (up from $12,318.54 )

Profits: $18,525.71 (up from $8,823.06 — 110% increase)

Approximate wage per hour worked: $125 ~ $150 (I have never been good with timesheets.  Sorry.)

Web Stats For This Year

(All stats are for unless otherwise noted)

Visits: 546,000

Unique Visitors: 470,000

Page Views: 1.6 million

Traffic sources of note: Google (48%), AdWords (20%), “My Sprawling Bingo Empire” (see below) 4%.

Trial downloads: 56,000 (flat from last year)

Trial signups to online version: 17,000 (new this year)

Guest signups to online version:  8,500 (new this year)

Approximate download-to-purchase conversion rate: 1.17%

Approximate online trial-to-purchase conversion rate: 2.33%

Narrative Version:

The defining event for my business this year was releasing the web version of my application this summer, which was extraordinarily successful for me.  In addition to the (clearly visible above) massive increase in conversion rates it afforded me, it has substantially decreased my support burdens, development costs per feature added, and headaches due to version incompatibilities.  (Well, with the noted exception of that time I cost myself $3,500 due to a CSS bug.)

I’m currently making more than enough money to live off of on Bingo Card Creator (I live rather simply in a rural prefecture in Japan — think Kansas with rather less white people) and, depending on the month, have made more than my day job a few times.  (My highest month in sales was October at $4.5k… and that is even with the $3.5k lost to that bug.)

Things That Went Right

  • The launch of the web application.
  • Raising prices, from $24.95 to $29.95.
  • My development of A/Bingo, a Rails A/B testing framework.  In addition to collecting numerous mentions from luminaries in the community, actually using A/Bingo has been key to my ongoing conversion optimization efforts.  (Last year, for example, I had approximately 1.4% conversion rates for the downloadable version of the software.)  A/Bingo is also deployed in production at over a dozen other businesses, helping to make other people lots of money, which makes me very happy.
  • Iterating on the Christmas Bingo Cards experiment from last year to develop a stable of mini-sites, currently mostly centered on holiday bingo from Valentines through Halloween.  While a full ROI breakdown is outside the scope of this article, systematizing the process, automating the deployments, and using freelancers to do a lot of the repetitive work has resulted in greater than a 10x ROI.  This isn’t quite as impressive as the returns on the freelancer-produced content -> SEO engine that made my year in 2008 and continues to produce dividends, but it has been both fun and profitable.  I hope to improve more on it next year.
  • Mailing list marketing through Mailchimp.  In the course of signing up for the online trial of my site, many teachers choose to accept a semi-monthly newsletter from me.  Since the typical user behavior on my site is to use it for an immediate need and forget about it, this gives me further bites at the conversion apple.  (It costs me about 24 cents to get a trial download or trial signup through AdWords at the margin, but only 2 cents to remind someone that their account still exists and that it would be perfect for the Halloween Thanksgiving Christmas festivities around the corner.)  I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of email marketing, and it will pay for all my Christmas presents this year and then some.
  • Meat and potatoes SEO, marketing, customer support, and all that jazz.

What Didn’t Go Quite Right

  • Did I mention I lost $3.5k to a CSS bug?
  • AdWords has made me very unhappy at several points this year, from when they turned off my account to their inability to approve my new ad copy within a month of submission to the strange partial limitation for “gambling content” that my account is sporadically flagged for.  (Attempts to resolve this through AdWords customer support have been…  you know what, in the Spirit of Christmas (TM), I think I’m just not going to go there.)
  • I again failed at my goal to launch a 2nd product, largely due to lack of time and mental bandwidth.  (Although I suppose the online version practically counts as a second product.)
  • I spent a whole lot of time implementing online features in the desktop version of my app — probably something on the order of half the time I spent making the online version.  This was largely done on the theory “Hey, it adds value to the desktop offering for current customers, who wouldn’t want to switch to the web app.”  I’m too cool to actually ask users about their feelings beforehand, of course.  Fans of the Lean Startup can already predict how this story ends up, right?  To date, twenty users have touched those three features.  Let’s see: add marginal feature to application, make twenty users happy, or for just a few hours more develop and market a new application which doubles my revenue streams.  Decisions decisions!
  • I am not satisfied with the level of attention I gave the business at some points during the year.  In particular, communication with my freelancers was subpar, and on three occasions I took more than 24 hours to respond to a customer.
  • I was sort of hoping to hit the nice round $20k number for profit.  Didn’t quite get there.

Plans For 2010

  1. In 2007, I had vague dreams of someday going full time on this.  In 2008, I had a half-formed wish that maybe I would go full-time on this in 2008.  In 2009… I have a date circled in red on my calendar, forms from the tax office and immigration authority ready for submission as soon as the new year starts, and I’ve had the first conversation with my boss to inform him that I am considering my options.
  2. I’d like to make $45,000 in sales from BCC.  This is probably a little on the low side, considering that if I don’t have a repeat of the CSS bug it would only require sustaining my current performance rather than markedly improving.  But, hey, I don’t want to get too caught up in hitting this to the exclusion of my other business and personal goals for the year.
  3. I’d like to have about $30,000 in profit from BCC.  This is a bit on the aggressive side if you assume $45,000 in sales — it means I’ll have to get most of the growth out of doing the old things better rather than just spending up through AdWords.  (Which would be wonderful if it were possible, don’t get me wrong.)
  4. Personal goals: I’d like to attend (and, ideally, present something fun) at an industry event overseas and at one in Japan.  (I got a bit of an invitation to talk software design in Osaka this January.  Jeepers.)  I’d also like to spend a lot more time with my family, which will be easier after I no longer have to ask for permission four months in advance to fly out to see them.  (I’m still not entirely decided on where I’ll end up with my business, but the great thing about it is the whole thing fits in a laptop bag, so aside from some irksome tax and visa issues I have a lot of flexibility in where I live.)