Monday, March 19, 2007

Death of a mISV

So often we see the launch of MicroISV's in our little community, only to never hear from them again. Sometimes they will post some numbers about slow sales, or they just disappear. Well, this post is to announce the end of development (for me at least) on what was originally the primary focus of this blog, ChimSoft - software for Chimney Sweeps, my first "official" venture into the world of mISV.

There are many reasons why I am ending development on ChimSoft after two and a half years, and I hope to make an informative series of blogs on some of the lessons learned during the process.

Because the above is just a super tease by itself, I'll summarize the reason for ending development at this time, with a little backstory. If you've been reading this blog, you know I have other ventures outside of SearTech/ChimSoft. The longest and most successful being my used car classified site, Used Cars On-Line.

I created Used Cars On-Line, it was in 1995, when web apps were definitely NOT the thing (to most non-geeks). Since I live in opposite land, ten years later as 2005 started, and right when Web 2.0 was it's hottest, I decided to take on my first desktop application: ChimSoft. It originally started out as management software for Automotive Repair shops, because I couldn't believe in the 21st century I still received hand written (or dot matrix printed) invoices from 90% of the shops I went to. My friend saw this app, and realized it was just what he needed for his Chimney Sweep business, and I believed that with little effort, it could serve both markets (and the entire service industry).

I really enjoyed working on ChimSoft, partly because of the reactions I received when I told people I was making software for chimney sweeps. You would think by their reaction I said I was making software for cats to do word processing, and that I was crazy because chimney sweeps don't need software, after all, they have Mary Poppins.

Ironically, that has little to do with why I am ending development. There is a demand for good chimney sweep software. Sure, I don't receive the number of downloads that Andy does, but being the only chimney sweep software out there is filling a much needed hole. Conversion rates were close to 80% when I went to a cheaper price model in January. The only problem is I feel guilty selling software that I can't dedicate 100% to. I don't use ChimSoft, and can't really, in the same way my customers do. Potential customers, and real customers continually ask for new features that somehow have been completely missed after two years of talking to hundreds of sweeps. There is definitely money to be made selling ChimSoft. The problem is that the amount of time it takes to support and develop ChimSoft in comparison to the money/time for my other ventures is far out of proportion. And I don't believe there is enough money in ChimSoft for me to dedicate fulltime to it.

As I mentioned, I hope to do a lot more posts on this topic in the coming week exploring lessons learned, but in the meantime I need some advice. Do I continue selling the software, but just "CityDesk" it (stop active development). Or, do I simply close down shop and attempt to sell it? I would prefer the latter in the hopes that someone else would pick up the torch for chimney sweeps.


At 1:15 AM, Anonymous Andrey Butov said...


This is sad news indeed. Especially since it came without any kind of a warning (unless I missed one).

I do hope that you would continue with updates on at least the car website part of the business. And I most certainly hope that you would pick up another desktop project that would be of more interest you.

I've actually considered making you an offer for ChimSoft, but I believe that one of the strongest pieces of leverage that you have is your advisor in the chimney sweep world, and the hundreds of hours of conversation you've logged with people in the field.

Please stay in contact at least.

At 9:14 AM, Anonymous Peter Muys said...

Sorry to hear that.

I am a bit in the same situation, I have currently a product for mobile phones, but I don’t develop any futher because it’s hard keeping track of all different phone’s and there problems.
I just “CityDesk” it for now, so I can focus on my new product. I wouldn’t know how to sell this.
Hope it works out for you.

Peter Muys

At 9:25 AM, Blogger ABrice said...

It is a shame that you are suspending work on chimsoft. But if the work:profit ratio isn't good enough I completely understand. I would "citydesk" it as long as you can still provide a reasonable level of support.

Alternatively, what about selling it to a chimney sweep association to give to their members?

Do I have the most niche app under active development now? ;0)

At 10:44 AM, Blogger Phil said...

Thanks all for the kind words, it is sad for me because of all the time put into this project, but exciting on the other hand to be able to move on.

Andrey, it took a lot of debate to officially pull the plug, but I would say the warning was my large price drop in December. While it increased sales greatly, unfortunately it blew my whole sales/profit plan. You will definitely still be hearing from me, at the end of my "lessons learned" I will give some clue about what I'm working on now.

Andy, I would say you would be the new niche leader, until that one guy came out with that Cricket calculator software. His area seems about as nichy as ChimSoft (hey they are both on roofs ;)).

At 9:41 AM, Anonymous Pawel Brodzinski said...

I'd consider selling the app to someone who is willing to pick up the torch. As far as I remember Eric Sink sold his Winnable Solitaire and it was a kinda similar situation - he didn't want to continue development but he didn't want to kill the app either.

At 1:48 PM, Anonymous Ade said...


I'm sorry to hear about this, but the fact that you're willing to change course and not succumb to the sunk cost fallacy shows a lot of smarts.

And thanks for your willingness to talk about it openly and honestly -- I'm sure it takes a lot of courage. I look forward to reading more of the lessons you've learned, and about what's coming next.


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