This guest article was authored by Prosper Chikomo, an internet entrepreneur and author of Turning Iron into Gold: Golden Opportunities: How to Spot Them, Create Them, Make Money from Them, and How Not to Miss Them (Available on Amazon.com)
I was inspired to write this article by a comment from kthacker on a recent article I read on Techzim titled Why not use Free and Open Source Software.
Many years ago, I found something called Joomla. I downloaded its manual and taught myself how to install extensions, templates, etc. I was doing fine, until I got to the damn Joomla footer. I wanted to remove the text in the footer section that says “Joomla is open source software bla bla bla”, and in one attempt a whole bottom section disappeared.
I searched the internet for answers and all I found did not work. What made it worse were the different Joomla versions available. I really tried to remove it, even following instructions step by step and the damn footer just wouldn’t go away. I even read posts talking about clearing the cache etc. and I did so to no avail.
Then one day I learned that WordPress is open source. I went on to download the software and I was good to go.
How I learned PHP
Probably the first thing I did was to try to delete the footer text in WordPress.
It was so easy that I immediately dumped Joomla for WordPress, and I never looked back.
The point of my article is not to debate which CMS is better, rather, it is to share with software developers the idea that, just that one small “non-core” thing can make or break the success of your product on the market. The Joomla footer text does not change the functioning of Joomla in anyway, but the sophistication and laboriousness of editing it was sure enough to send me into the WordPress camp, which welcomed me with open arms, bells and whistles, and a bottle of rum.
Remember watery AIM toothpaste
Your software may be a true work of art fused with genius, but these are some of the little things that can cause your excellent product to fail on the market if you are not careful and you do not address them. Getting feedback from users can go a long way to help you address these small but influential things.
For me, it was the damn Joomla footer that converted me to WordPress.
If removing the Joomla footer had been easy, I would probably have advanced my Joomla knowledge.
How to create customers for competitors
I am sure I am not the only one in the whole wide world who dumped Joomla for the same reason. Someone may say it’s easy to remove the Joomla footer, but for who? There are many kinds of software users out there with different levels of sophistication. I was a novice, a new customer, a member of the general public, which I still proudly am, but had it been easy for me to edit the Joomla footer text, I would have adopted Joomla, and probably never known WordPress.
If you want your software to be adopted fast by the market, and to continue to be used by the market, including novices who are willing and eager to learn, then make learning how to use the software a breeze.
All right sparky, let’s go!
Even installing the software must not require doing anything unusual or extra-ordinary. One open source software I wanted to try out just would not install in a LAMP environment that I had used for Joomla and WordPress and virtually everything else. The software needed a different kind of LAMP set-up. Scrounging the internet for a solution, I found many people complaining about how hard it is to install the software. Naturally to this day I don’t touch it. I never care to download it to check if it is now easy to install like Joomla and WordPress.
You must also not expect everyone else to be an expert in your software you created yourself, and therefore only you know inside and out, and even with your level of sophistication.
Getting rich like Bill
If Joomla were a commercial product, the only money its developers/maintainers would have got from me would be just the initial purchase fees and that’s it, whereas WordPress would have got hundreds of millions of US dollars from me by now. Ok a few dollars. Or maybe I wouldn’t have bought it altogether.
But then again, maybe I wasn’t in Joomla’s target market.
The lesson is not just for software engineers and web developers. It also applies to all fields of endeavour, all kinds of products, and all markets.
Not just hardware or software, but service
Right now I am thinking of buying a new computer. The most important things I am considering are not just the hardware specifications like RAM, disk space, and processor speed. No, the most important thing for me is how fast the computer switches on to the operating system, and how fast application software like the word processor loads. I don’t want a computer that will exhaust resources of the national power grid still starting the operating system, taking 5 minutes before I can enter my password, and when you have to demonstrate something to a prospective client, you observe 5 minutes of silence as the computer would still be loading the appropriate software.
It’s about saving me time and money, and a lot of time, days even, spread over my ownership of that computer. So, if a computer takes ages to start, even though it may have 4GB RAM and a 500GB HDD, it still wouldn’t work for me if it is slow. And I am sure many people prefer a faster computer to a slower one, even though it may be slightly faster.
From acorns …
If a computer can save me 5 minutes of waiting per day the first time I switch it on, that translates into more than 30 hours – more than a day – of time saved in a year.
From a software engineering front, if your software takes ages to load, either do something to cut the time it takes to load or you may find people migrating to faster software. It can be a magnificent piece of software, but just the loading time may put many people off. That extra 5 seconds can make or break your product.
In some cases, you also have to research (not guess) what the specifics of a typical user’s computer in your target market are. I remember Western websites having flash all over when flash player was not ubiquitous. Now some Western software companies are taking their software online because broadband is like water in the West. Well, in Africa we still want the product on CD and the key. It is no wonder that some Western companies think Africa has no market, and find their software being pirated en masse.
How mobile networks “steal” customers from banks
I remember signing up for a mobile money transfer product of one bank and just trying to use it the first time on my mobile phone. The steps I had to go through where I was asked for pin numbers every step of the way just put me off and I never used it again. I was curious to see how it works, but when it “ didn’t work” I just dropped it and said nothing to the bank. I am sure I am not the only one who had that experience. But had it worked like a charm, I would most likely have proceeded to do a transaction, and then more transactions, growing my customer lifetime value to the bank.
These may be small things, but they can make or break a very promising start-up or successful business, or even revive a failing business or product.