This interview with Oliver Breidenbach, CEO of Boinx Software, is the fourth in a series of interviews I've held with indie software developers about marketing Mac software. Previous interviews: Jacob Gorban, Jean MacDonald, and Kevin Hoctor.
Boinx Software was founded in 1996 by brothers Oliver and Achim Breidenbach. With Achim as the master mind developer and Oliver the marketing genius, they set out to change the world with OpenDoc components — an effort thwarted shortly before the first products shipped by the sudden death of OpenDoc. To recover their losses, the brothers decided to venture into web application development until users could use Apple's next generation OS in their daily lives. In 2002, Boinx Software shipped its first Mac OS X application and has won three Apple Design Awards since. With a talented team of currently 18 people, Boinx Software creates and sells software for creative users, including FotoMagic, iStopMotion, and BoinxTV.
Though I had met many of the Boinx folks at Mac-related conferences in California, I got a chance to visit Boinx's headquarters last summer when I was vacationing in nearby Munich, Germany. This interview, however, took place more recently — and over email.
DW: What kinds of marketing activities have you worked on for your products?
OB: In this community, we have managed to become a brand that is recognised for excellent software products. We have tried print ads, banner ads, Google Adwords, newsletters, Twitter, trade shows, user group meetings, Apple Store, webinars and the dreaded discount sales and although none of them stood out with the results, it is probably the mix that brought us to where we are today. We also tried bundles, but, with the notable exception of MacHeist, with rather disappointing results.
DW: How big do you think the market of potential Mac software buyers is, and what can developers do to enlarge that?
OB: Much of the appeal of the Mac market for a small ISV is that there is a strong online community that is relatively easy to reach by online activities such as posting to download sites, press releases that are picked up by the Mac news sites, sponsoring of tech podcasts and so on. But this community is fairly small, I guess probably around 500,000 people. The recent MacHeist nano bundle was obviously designed to capture as many of these addresses as possible, and I think with the price being zero, they probably captured just about anybody. Unfortunately, I missed the final numbers, but I think they came in at about 350,000.
At the current going rate, Apple sells more than 10 million Macs per year. Even if some people buy two or more, there still is a vast number of people that are not, or at least not permanently, members of the online community. The biggest challenge for small ISVs is how to reach these people.
Many small ISVs think that the Apple Store solves that problem. It would, if the Apple Store sales people would actively sell anything. But they don't - if your products are in the store, they just sit on the shelves waiting for customers. Of course, there are some who browse those shelves and might stumble upon your product, but the overwhelming majority of people visiting the stores are just not interested in "finding things". Most of the store customers are challenged enough by mastering the software that comes with their brand new Macs (if they are not there just for an iPod or iPhone in the first place) and they probably don't even realize that there might be software out there other than Office. So, it is expected of us small ISVs to take the little money that we get from sales at the stores and invest that into advertising so that people come to the store asking for our products. Which brings us back to the original problem: Through methods available to a small ISV, you only reach people who are very likely to buy from your website anyways, so it is much more sensible to not send them to the Apple Store.
This problem remains unsolved. One idea that's floating around is to have an App Store like the one on the iPhone for Mac apps, preinstalled on every Mac. Unfortunately, the iPhone App Store is only a good deal for a lucky few developers and it would be no different for an Mac App Store. But if you manage to be among those lucky few, it would certainly increase your business tremendously.
I think it would be fun to try out some other ideas: Ads on Home Shopping TV, ads in movie theatres in close proximity to Apple Stores, mall booths in front of Apple Stores or a printed catalog that is distributed through silent sellers. But this would require a large number of small ISVs pooling their marketing budgets or a fun-oriented investor with deep pockets.
DW: What would you say is different in how your company approaches marketing, compared to other small/indie Mac software companies out there?
OB: I don't think we've hit the holy grail of small ISV marketing yet. We start with great products, tell the community about them, make sure that our customers are treated well and hope that the word spreads. A key ingredient might be that we are genuinely interested in what our customers do and take great pleasure in using our own products. Well, maybe that is the holy grail of small ISV marketing.
DW: What are some marketing activities that you that you think indies might want to try?
OB: I think these have been covered extensively on the MacSB list and your blog already. I think more than what you do, it matters with what attitude you do it. You are there to serve your customers who in turn pay you for your services. The more you give them, the more you can expect to get back. Treat them with respect and as equals. The same goes for potential partners.
DW: How do you measure success of your various marketing activities?
OB: It is darn difficult to do this. Some things are simple, like tracking your web site traffic and correlating it to actions such as sending out a newsletter or a press release. You can also look at the sales figures following those events. Unfortunately, you can not turn that around and think: I will send out a newsletter this week and this will translate into x sales. So those are pretty charts to look at but don't help you with your future business. I think the key is to pay attention to these things, but not overly so. If you need to prioritize, always ask yourself what would benefit your customers most.
DW: How would you say that Boinx's awards (Apple Design Awards, also O'Reilly Innovators) have helped with your marketing? Do you seem to get a big boost after getting an ADA?
OB: It certainly feels good to get an Apple Design Award and it is a great motivation for the team as well as a recognition of their work. It also helps to get more attention from the industry insiders and the press as well as being noted in the online community that I spoke of. It certainly creates a big spike in web hits and demo downloads. But the real benefit for sales is rather long tail. It gives the product credibility, especially with people who hear about it for the first time.
DW: Thanks for all your answers!
OB: A pleasure...