Kevin Hoctor, No Thirst Software

Kevin Hoctor

I thought it would be educational for Indie Mac Developers, myself included, to interview fellow developers, over email, about how they do marketing. I am starting with Kevin Hoctor, whom I met in person at WWDC about two or three years ago. He is the President and Founder of No Thirst Software LLC, a software company started in October 2006 to help individuals improve their personal finances. Mr. Hoctor has a background in Computer Science and has been creating software for over 28 years. He is also a serial entrepreneur having started four other companies (!) prior to No Thirst Software. He writes about marketing and company design on his own blog, Entrepreneurial Seduction.

DW: Can you tell us some of the marketing activities you do?

KH: In previous companies I've owned, marketing meant a big budget, four-color trade magazine ads, bingo cards and cold calling for leads. Now, with the Internet as everyone's primary source of information, my marketing is much different. First and foremost, maintaining a clean website with a clear message is my priority. Almost any other marketing activity is going to lead people back to our site and it better not disappoint.

My secondary marketing job is to make sure that our two products, MoneyWell and Debt Quencher, have visibility on the active Mac download sites, with Apple Downloads being most important. Every time a new patch or update for our products is published, sales increase because they appear on the front page of the download sites. It's critical that the short product summaries on these sites are as clear as our website message.

Along with releasing updates to improve visibility, I make sure a press release goes out through prMac to as many electronic and print publications as possible. I also try to follow up with the major blogs and Mac news services to make sure our press release was seen.

My final marketing angle is to create a buzz for our products through direct interaction with customers. From day one, I wanted to set us apart by excellence in customer service. I work very hard to make sure people are shocked at how quickly we respond to their needs via our Tender support site and with patches to fix found issues. Word of mouth is a very powerful form of marketing and the most honest anyone can create.

DW: What would you say is distinct in how your company approaches marketing?

KH: I think we spend more time focusing on customer satisfaction than many other companies. We have many customers who have chosen our products over more feature-rich alternatives because they trust us to take care of them and provide timely updates. I also love it when our customers end up doing free marketing for us by talking about our products on competitors support sites and bundle promotions.

DW: From your experience, what are some "low hanging fruit" of marketing, that other indies might want to try?

KH: A presence on Apple Downloads. Make sure your product has a clean icon, a solid pitch and a good screenshot and get it posted to that site. I was blessed to have MoneyWell selected by Apple to appear as the featured product on the overall download page as well as the business and finance section, this resulted in 20,000 downloads a day for 6 days straight. I couldn't have paid for better 1.0 release advertising.

I was contacted during the beta of MoneyWell by an Apple manager for the business and finance downloads section, which was a big reason why it got top billing. I found out early that it's vital to establish and nurture a relationship with Apple. Matt Drance, a former Apple Software Evangelist, talked about this recently at C4 and other conferences. I also follow his advice and give free software to any Apple employee through their internal Third Party Software products site. This means that Apple Store employees may recommend my products to people purchasing Macs. 

DW: How do you measure success of your various marketing activities?

KH: I watch traffic trends to our website via Google Analytics, which is drop-dead easy to add to all your web pages and there's no reason not to add it. I also monitor sales activity on a daily basis and look for spikes and dips. When there are spikes to our web access or sales, I dig deeper to see if we have had any new press or mentions on blog comments by searching for our product names on the web. When I find a reference, I try to take a moment to thank the individual that posted it.

DW: What marketing activities have you found were actually not that beneficial?

KH: There are some really bad download sites and spending time to update our listings on those is a waste of effort. Many of them try to get you to market for them by giving your software an "award" so you can post a badge on your website that leads back to them. Don't do it. If you have legitimate reviews from news sites or bloggers, post those links on your site but avoid the fake ones.

DW: Any other marketing techniques that you can think of that you use (or plan to use) that fellow indies might be interested to hear about ?

KH: Give refunds to anyone that asks for one—no matter how long it's been since the purchase. Having an unhappy customer that complains about you isn't worth the money you earned from the sale. It only creates negative marketing. Refunding money promptly could give you a person that brags about you to friends, who may actually need your product and buy it. Being paranoid of getting ripped off is a great way to kill your business.

What I haven't done well is to push for detailed product reviews but that's so important. I've made the mistake of wanting to have my products become more mature first so that the reviews are better but that's a bad idea. Ship your products, ask nicely for reviews and write-ups and then use any feedback to improve your products. You might even get a follow-up review talking about how well you've done responding to customer needs. It's a win all around.

Marketing today is more about effort than expense. Focus on creating products and services that people want to write about and discuss rather than high-priced advertising.

DW: Thanks for fitting in the time and being my first interview!

KH: You're welcome Dan and thank you for taking the time to help Mac indies with your marketing experience through your blog.

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