Nov 29

The other day, at #LeanCoffeeTO, we discussed pricing.  This is a subject near and dear to my heart as it is something I spend a lot of time on and have realized, much to my chagrin, there is very little science to this and a lot of art.  We decided after our meeting, with lots of great ideas, best practices, stories, pitfalls, etc that we should all post our approaches and practices to pricing in order to formulate a more extensive list for reference.  I’m doing it here on my blog with the hopes that I might actually generate some more discussion to a larger audience than our weekly meetup.  Here I go…

Working for an Enterprise software company with a mature application and a lot of long standing customers puts some specific constraints on the exercise of pricing (or re-pricing and/or developing new but related product pricing).  As such, many considerations that I have to make are not relevant to those of you developing entirely new products or services and trying to figure out how to price them for the first time.  Still, I think a lot of factors are the same, regardless of where you are in your product lifecycle.

This will be a list in no particular order that I may choose to re-order when I’m finished but I may not depending on how much time I have.

  • Anchoring – always be aware of the power of anchoring a number in people’s minds.  If it’s the first time you’re introducing pricing for your product/service, then the first thing you put out there will become a strong anchor in the minds of your users and customers.  Like it or not, and unless you creatively re-invent your product at a later date, the first price is the baseline for comparison going forward.  Often, the anchor is set by someone else so of course you must also be aware of that in any pricing exercise.
  • Customer value – pricing based on value is extremely hard but important to attempt in your analysis and research.  I believe there are really two types of value approaches: (1) The perceived value of the customer and (2) a more quantifiable value based on a ROI style of analysis.  I recommend considering both of these when developing pricing
  • Cost – of course it’s imperative that you understand your costs to develop and deliver your product or service.  Still, I personally don’t recommend taking a full “cost-based pricing” approach, especially if you’re selling a web/mobile/software application.  Just make sure you understand your costs to build and support but remember your customers don’t care how much it cost you to build it.
  • License/Packaging/Delivery models – these are all important factors in your pricing development.  I suppose they are less about coming up with the price and more about providing some options to create different price points.  For example – pricing the base offering and layering on features/options for an additional cost; bundling options; tiered pricing based on volume or length of commitment, etc…
  • Competition and market forces – obviously
  • Branding – you must know ahead of pricing (and this goes back to the value concept above) what type of brand you or your product is.  Pricing is a major component of branding so be careful here.
  • Product market – you must understand the type of market you are in for your specific product or service and the existing price points and pricing models being used in that space (remember anchoring)
  • Pricing market – similar to “product market” you must also understand the price points and models already established in the larger, more general market.  For instance, app stores have indirectly set ranges for mobile apps, regardless of the specific product type and/or value.  This is certainly not always the case but it must be considered.  In my experience in the Enterprise Software space, when looking at subscription-based pricing for a SaaS products, Salesforce.com has really established a precedent and must be factored into pricing decisions for other SaaS products whether they compete with Salesforce.com or not.  Again, this is very much due to anchoring and the creation of a perceived price point that users are willing to pay based on a different product/service they already pay for (or have seen and decided not to pay for).

This is not an exhaustive list but hopefully provides some useful ideas for consideration, especially if you’re doing pricing for the first time.  Please forgive the fact that many points are strongly related, verging on being repetitive.  I’m also hoping to learn from those of you who wish to start some discussion around this expansive topic.

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Nov 12

A few weeks ago, I realized I had reached a point of diminishing returns in terms of my usage of productivity tools.  Finally my quest to find the perfect mix of tools to simplify my life and increase overall productivity had failed.  Or at least taken a significant step backwards. I’m a gadget geek and feel compelled to use gadgets such as my iPhone and iPad to run my life. So of course I’m continually searching for all the right apps to organize, remind, list, communicate, etc. Here’s a list some (there are more!) of the various tools I use…

The basics

  • gmail for personal email (I have 3 different accounts – 2 domain specific and 1 gmail)
  • Outlook at work – I have no choice so am constantly trying new ways to sync my work with the rest of my life. I use all the features, including email, calendar (prescribed by work), tasks, contacts and notes
  • xobni – to organize things in Outlook and make it all searchable
  • google desktop – same as above – sometimes just works better

Note: I used to put all my emails into folders but now everything goes into one and I use search to find things.  I never delete anything except stuff I know there is no way I’ll reference again – a digital pack rat of sorts.

  • google calendar sync – to keep things in sync between my google apps calendar and Outlook at work (xobni and google sync don’t play nicely together so I’m trying to decide which one I need more)

Other stuff

  • reQall – I love the voice conversion technology, allowing me to speak into my phone and (almost) perfectly convert what I say to text, including creating appointments, tasks and shopping lists using keywords. I hate almost everything else about this app but feel I need the core functionality… This also generates a lot of my other problems with syncing items so that everything exists in one place (Outlook)
  • Evernote (I’m actually typing this out right now on the iPad Evernote app). No complaints about the service but always have an issue where I take notes and never refer to them again. I’d like the same concept as reQall where keywords could be used to generate tasks/appointments that are sync’d through the cloud to my Outlook exchange server (or at least Google calendar). I also find myself saving certain things to read in Evernote which conflicts with my use of instapaper and google reader (that’s a whole other problem and maybe worthy of separate post).
  • Note Taker HD – I’ve tried about 10 different note taking apps for the iPad since I got it a few months ago. It was my goal to remove the one remaining thing that I felt was inefficient – a notebook and pen which meant I would have to transcribe any necessary actions or info coming out of meetings onto the computer (somewhere). I’ve been successful in getting rid of the notepad and pen and now do it all on one of three devices: laptop, iPad, or iPhone.  Still, the new problem, much like Evernote, is getting everything into one place for review.  Once I take notes in this app, I can only email them to myself as a PDF and will ultimately have to type out certain things.
  • tungle.me – this is what causes me to use google calendar sync as the sync between tungle and google is much better than the outlook plugin they provide.  I hate almost all Outlook plugins – they invariably create problems with Outlook or conflict with other plugins.

Note: as I type this out I realize that the majority of my problems are caused by Microsoft Outlook which always requires these clunky plugins to play with other services.  Microsoft, can you please start using some web services and APIs! Still, this is the one tool I really have no choice but to use.

  • Dropbox – I love this service and it tends to integrate quite well with everything else although you can’t really call it a productivity app. It’s on the list because of how I use it on the iPad/iPhone along with the other apps mentioned so far.

Aside from determining that I’m crazy and really just using technology for the sake of playing with all the latest toys and apps, can anyone help me please! I’m determined that there is a good mix of stuff to use to be fully organized and productive. Not the perfect mix but a pretty good one. Clearly I’ve reached a point of diminishing returns.

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Aug 31

It started off with a simple tweet and suddenly I’m organizing a huge startup event in Toronto…

Back in April, I was planning my next trip out to Actuate’s HQ in San Mateo and my attendance at the web 2.0 conference when I came across Startup Weekend Silicon Valley.  I started reading and, while I couldn’t stretch my trip and leave the family for an extra few days to attend, I thought to myself, why hasn’t this event come to Toronto yet?  So I tweeted that same question.

Next thing I knew, the folks at Startup Weekend were in touch to let me know they wanted to do a bunch of Startup Weekends across Canada – covering all the major cities.  Now I’m not going to bore you with all the details that followed.  Let’s just say that I met the Startup Weekend crew in San Francisco at web 2.0 and here I am, organizing Toronto’s first (well, not quite but that’s another story) Startup Weekend.

Frankly, I’m surprised it’s taken so long to get here.  Toronto has a vibrant tech and startup community and given that these weekends are going on all over the world and gaining tons of momentum, why didn’t someone jump on this before me?  Perhaps it’s because there’s a perception that we already have these type of events in this city.  If that’s the case, I’d have to disagree.  While we have many great events in Toronto covering this space, there is nothing following quite the Startup Weekend model.

Here’s my plug for the event… I hope to see you all there so please check out the site, register and come out with all your great ideas and skills.

Startup Weekend recruits a highly motivated group of developers, business managers, startup enthusiasts, marketing gurus, graphic artists and more to a 54 hour event that builds communities, companies and projects.

Founded in 2007 by Andrew Hyde, the weekend is a concept of a conference focusing on learning by creating. It is known for its quick decisions, ‘out of the box’ thinking (oh no, the buzzwords are attacking!), unique facilitation technique and letting the founders show what they can do. The program has already met with success in over 100 cities all around the world.

The participants that attend a Startup Weekend decide what they want to tackle over the weekend and come out at the end with several developed companies or projects. Attendees are responsible for bringing desire and passion to the project and walk out of the room with the task at hand, in a short 54 hours. Sound intense? It is.

Startup Weekends continue to build momentum, happening in cities across the globe every week. Toronto is holding its first Startup Weekend September 24-26, 2010 at Ryerson University. The event will be limited to approximately 100 participants and expects to be sold out quickly.

If you read it here and want to attend, use this discount code (lowpostSWTO) to register for a great price.  Yes, there is a cost – the event is 54 hrs long and covers meals and drinks along with prizes and other great stuff.  Startup Weekend is a non-profit and we only look to cover costs and make the event great.

It’s also worth noting here that Startup Weekend has no rights to any ideas, products or companies that come out of the weekend.  We’re only interested in getting people together to build cool stuff and see where it goes.

Follow @startupwkndTO and search #swtoronto for news and updates about the event.

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Aug 22

As a new iPad user, I’m wondering if this device is making me dumb. Don’t get me wrong, I love this device and know that this, and all the “me too” devices that will follow are going to change mobile computing forever. Still, in my digitally obsessed manner, I’ve decided that I want to do all my reading on the iPad. Why not – I have the Kindle app (I don’t like iBooks and already have kindle books that I’ve read on my iPhone), there are various great magazine apps, Press Reader is awesome and it’s a great device for keeping up with blogs. The problem is, there’s so much there, it’s accelerating an issue I was already worried about – the difficulty staying focused on one thing for longer than a few minutes.

Rather than reading through books from a single, beautifully designed device, I can barely concentrate long enough to get through a blog post. This is not a physical design flaw but rather an issue caused by the access to information and other great apps that are sitting there, asking you to go get them.  I continually find myself jumping around from app to app, website to website, checking/sending email, etc.  I’m sure most of you struggle with this all the time, especially at work where you are pulled in multiple directions throughout the day.  Now, imagine that small amount of time you’ve traditionally held onto for dear life, where you can curl up with a good book, being ripped away and replaced with another device, disguised as something to read on, ensuring you are a total slave to technology.

It’s not completely fair to blame this issue on a device as more and more, I find myself somewhat full of panic that there is so much information I want that I certainly can’t waste my time relaxing with a good piece of fiction.  If I’m honest with myself, this issue was percolating before I started using an iPad.  The iPad has just exacerbated this behaviour.

The funny thing is, I’m not sure I’m upset by this new dynamic in my life.  Instead, I feel completely committed to using my iPad for all my reading and finding a way to control my constant urges to access other things on the device.  I don’t need to describe all the benefits of the iPad – there are tons of sites to tell you what you need.  I want to take on the challenge of figuring out the “right” way to interact with my devices, just like the industry/market is learning as it goes.  In this regard, we’re living in a pretty amazing time.

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May 06

I’m attending the Web 2.0 Expo this week in San Francisco.  Every year, there are a few themes.  Last year it was definitely Twitter and interestingly, even with the massive growth of Twitter since last year’s conference, it feels less relevant this year (or maybe it’s just yesterday’s news).  The big themes this year are: the lean startup movement, mobile, and platforms (everyone likes to say they are developing a platform).

I attended the lean startup intensive session on Monday curated by the man behind the movement, Eric Ries (check out his blog for all info and material on the movement).  I decided to attend this over other sessions because I’m passionate about startups but also because I truly believe that the lean principles can and should be applied inside larger organziations, like my current employer.  I’d like to think that I can apply some/all of these principles in my job now, developing software products and features for Actuate.  Interestingly, while the philosophies make perfect sense:  Define product/market fit, get close to your customers, constantly validate your product with customers and through data, pivot as much as you can or as much as necessary, etc (you can read them all for yourself – this stuff is all over the web), there is little to no information on how to build these practices inside of larger organizations.  I strongly believe that lean principles make perfect sense for defining and building products, regardless of the size of the organization, but in practice, being “lean” is a difficult challenge when many pre-existing structures, processes and bureaucracy are already well entrenched.  These are challenges at most large organizations, at least any that I have experienced through direct employment and through consulting.  As we all know, changing an organizations culture is next to impossible and needs to come from the ground up and likely from the beginning.  My personal challenge will be to do my best to apply the lessons learned from this movement and effect as much internal change as possible inside my organization to work in this manner.  In a startup, it’s much more straightforward, although the challenges are just different. Continue reading »

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