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I built an application to solve a problem but got nobody to buy it
69 points by hemtros on Apr 13, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 56 comments
I have built a Windows Desktop Application to solve a problem, the problem of creating Identity cards of a large number of students/staffs. The creation of ID card is generally done with photoshop and separately edited for each card, arranged in a sheet of 10 cards. I automated this whole procedure. I showed this application to people who make ID cards in manual way and have suffered a lot in past. They want the application but not interested to buy. Why do people want everything for free when other have put a lot of effort on making it?



You are probably pitching your product to the wrong audience.

Your customer is not the one actually making the cards, rather their boss. Making the cards only costs the employees time, something they don't mind wasting for the most part. For the manager or owner it directly costs money, time wasted on making cards costs the employer money in the form of wages. They are also the one with the purchasing power in an organization like a school.

Creating a more efficient organization is generally speaking not part of the scope of someone making ID cards, but it certainly is for their employers or managers.


I completely agree. By talking to the guy making the cards and not the boss, you are essentially showing him a product that makes a big part of his value as an employee obsolete. Buying it would be like cutting off a big portion of his value to the company and future as an employee. To his boss however, it could be a huge savings, he saves on wages and he no longer needs someone with good Photoshop skills to do the same job, thus he can probably find someone cheaper.


It doesn't have to be that an extreme, making the employee(s) currently responsible for the cards redundant, but it would allow them to do more productive tasks. That said, those productive tasks may not be as relaxing and mindless as creating those cards in Photoshop.

Point still stands though.


Often when you automate a job done manually, the only productive work for that person to do is to contribute to the profit margin by getting laid off.

I've written a lot of MS Office macros that replaced people - immediately they became the person who ran the macro while other things were looked for that they could do, then a month later they were gone. The entirety of a lot of people's $30k/yr jobs is taking digital data from one source and entering it into a different program. $30k/yr is a lot of money.

I've seen it so often that it actually soured me to the work.

edit: This is exactly the kind of thing that I would work on. It could clearly be reduced to a .csv, template image, and a few Imagemagick calls.


> $30k/yr is a lot of money.

Another way to think of automation is that you're making it $30k/yr cheaper to run a business. The more automated the world becomes, the cheaper it becomes to start (useful, profitable) businesses--and so the more likely people are to start them.

Or, to put it another way: to whatever degree social mobility is enabled in a culture (and to whatever degree people realize "start a business" is an option to escape unemployment), automation converts a culture's proletariat wage-earners into bourgeois capital-holders. This process is lossy--it also outputs non-adaptive workers on welfare--but if the exchange is recognized at a cultural/governmental level, it can be optimized through education and incentive programs to produce more entrepreneurs and fewer non-productive workers.


>Another way to think of automation is that you're making it $30k/yr cheaper to run a business. The more automated the world becomes, the cheaper it becomes to start (useful, profitable) businesses--and so the more likely people are to start them.

And the less employed people would be out there to buy your stuff.

Sorry, but automation either ultimately leads to something like communism or similar, or to a severy damaged market economy.

The only reason neither has happened thus far is because we haven't achieved nearly total automation, actually not even for 10-20% of the jobs. And still, what there has been have led to a shrinking middle class compared to decades past.

>it can be optimized through education and incentive programs to produce more entrepreneurs and fewer non-productive workers.

The only reason entrepreneurs are "productive" is because there are workers (either productive or non-productive) that have salaries to buy their stuff and services.


sure they do more than just making cards full time.


To me the right customers are bosses who are making the cards...or rather owners who are doing so. This is a tough sell to a bureaucracy because it's a bureaucracy.


This is certainly true. Saving the owner of a small-ish business several hours over the course of the year is valuable, and probably an easier sell than selling the same to a large state-run school.


"The creation of ID card is generally done with photoshop and separately edited for each card"

I've actually never seen this done. The schools and companies in my area all have systems that integrate the picture taking with the identity information and automatically print a card. What you're describing simply requires too much skill and time.

So you've built a product, but you're competing with packaged systems. I did a quick search and picked the first (non-ad) link: http://www.idsecurityonline.com/photo-id-systems/?gclid=CI2s.... It looks to me like you assumed you'd found a niche market without realizing the breadth of competition. Sorry ... and good luck.


I'm guessing from the author's writing that he/she isn't from the US. A quick stalking suggests India. This is important because the the market is much different in places with low labor costs and many eager and able workers. For example, cutting grass next to the highway in the US is usually done something like this: http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4007/4710027673_eff0b14e9e.jp... (with a tractor) but in other countries it is often done like this: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-lWs-yzp5oV0/Tn93Q7_ZQwI/AAAAAAAAAL... (with a "weed whacker").

This matters because we cannot think of the software in question as having the power to reduce costs by very much. If Photoshop is being used, it may be an unlicensed copy, and if a person has to do this job 10 hours a week, it may cost about 1200 USD per year.


An Indian friend told me a story. In India, it's cheaper to pay someone to come to your house, drive a nail into a wall, and hang a painting for you than to buy a hammer.


What you say is true. But ... bosses are loathe to spend money when the current solution works "adequately" in their assessment. That's why they'll buy more weed whackers than a new tractor - to use your example. The tractor salesman would generally be disappointed.


Same goes for conference badges, which is similar. There is dedicated hardware (printer that fits the size of the badge) which is sold together with its accompanying software.

Consider that programming it made you learn new things!


This, pretty much. At my school(s) the cards are generated automatically from registration on Moodle/WebSurf/WebPortal, and are printed from machines built specially for the purpose. I mean, one of the schools I'm talking about has 25,000 students, with at least a 20% churn rate every year. That's a lot of cards, they're not doing it in photoshop, sorry man. Cool product, good application of skills, though!


That's why whenever I get a neat idea (after "Oh, I can't believe I've never seen this kind of app around, it would be awesome to build it!" moments) I always do an extensive market research. It helps with two things:

1) You don't get disappointed that much to see others also have thought of it before (comparing to the shocking moment of discovering that someone else has already done it better by the time you are almost finishing your product). 2) It helps me to look/analyze what my kind of different ideas my competitors have thought about the product. If they have a crappier version of what I have in mind, then I am happy to see that there is an actual potential to beat them. If they are in a far better condition, then I force myself to think "what else could be added to this". If there is not much idea I can extent the product into, usually I give up since there is not much point of wasting time.


Looking at it another way, the existence of the packaged systems probably validates the market and the developer's intuition that it scales. Likewise, his experience that people use Photoshop to hand craft ID's shows that it is underserved.

Sure, a Windows app won't own the market. But there are may be many small organizations within and without the education sector that could streamline their organizations - conference organizers, wedding planners, caterers etc. Think mom_and_pop with XP not organizations with IT. Think Bingo Card Creator[that's HNer Patrick McKenzie]

There's money in the long tail where integrated solutions and government contracts are rare. Looking at it another way, the existence of the packaged systems probably validates the market and the developer's intuition that it scales. Likewise, his experience that people use Photoshop to hand craft ID's shows that it is underserved.

Sure, a Windows app won't own the market. But there are may be many small organizations within and without the education sector that could streamline their organizations - conference organizers, wedding planners, caterers etc. Think mom_and_pop with XP not organizations with IT. Think Bingo Card Creator[that's HNer Patrick McKenzie]

There's money in the long tail where integrated solutions and government contracts are rareLooking at it another way, the existence of the packaged systems probably validates the market and the developer's intuition that it scales. Likewise, his experience that people use Photoshop to hand craft ID's shows that it is underserved.

Sure, a Windows app won't own the market. But there are may be many small organizations within and without the education sector that could streamline their organizations - conference organizers, wedding planners, caterers etc. Think mom_and_pop with XP not organizations with IT. Think Bingo Card Creator[that's HNer Patrick McKenzie]

There's money in the long tail where integrated solutions and government contracts are rare. Looking at it another way, the existence of the packaged systems probably validates the market and the developer's intuition that it scales. Likewise, his experience that people use Photoshop to hand craft ID's shows that it is underserved.

Sure, a Windows app won't own the market. But there are may be many small organizations within and without the education sector that could streamline their organizations - conference organizers, wedding planners, caterers etc. Think mom_and_pop with XP not organizations with IT. Think Bingo Card Creator[that's HNer Patrick McKenzie]

There's money in the long tail where integrated solutions and government contracts are rare

http://www.kalzumeus.com/


>Why do people want everything for free when other have put a lot of effort on making it?

I don't think that's the problem. People will pay if what you build solves their problem. More specifically, they'll pay if they see that what you build solves their problem.

Before building, you should check:

1. Do they have a problem?

2. Do they know they have a problem?

3. How much of a problem is it for them?

4. Who, exactly, has the ability to act on this problem?

5. What language do they use to describe the problem?

6. Do they have any requirements that aren't obvious to me? Can I incorporate them into what I'm building?

If this sounds like marketing, it is, but it's the good sort. Building something people don't actually want is a perennial problem.

Rather than trying to sell what you have, figure out what they want. Then you'll know whether to:

1. Change who you're talking to

2. Change how you're talking about the product

3. Modify the product

4. Abandon ship


I actually just had this experience. I was in need of a simple REST client to test APIs, and I know I could write one, but I figured I'd do a quick and dirty search and went to the Mac App Store to see if there was a decent free one. None of the ones in there were free (which I expected, because putting stuff in there isn't free). I found the highest rated one, went to the developer's site and downloaded the trial. The software is great, and it has more features than I could possibly have imagined, many of which I won't even use. It also has some idiosyncrasies that don't fit in with my workflow. So now I'm stuck with the question of whether or not I want to buy it anyway, or build my own, which I know I could.

OP is fighting that urge, especially since they're not selling a full packaged solution outside of badge creation - namely, identity management, or security access controls, etc. Customers may not be thrilled with the manual process, but don't find it a problem they'd spend money on. You have to know your audience, and either appeal to their problem, be cheap enough that it doesn't matter, or abort.


The win-win here is not between you and the people who you are unemploying, it's between you and the person paying their salary.

Go and talk to the business owners or managers of those ID making people.


Incentives, my friend..

This is the situation where both the Boss and the Employee have nothing (or little to gain). It may appear weird, but indulge me. I have seen this happen over and over.

- Say employees are paid X amount a month. Now, with their current method, they can be slimey and not deliver, and then tell the boss it's complicated, Photoshop, etc.. So it's just few cards to deliver per day.

Maybe they have their macros, etc, to speed stuff up (not to the point of your software), but they only speed things up when they need to, and they slow them when they need a break. A card can take up an eternity, just because it's easier to do work on the same thing for 6 hours: You don't think much. Start the second thing for 2 hours and go home.

So a software that speeds this whole thing risks taking control out of these employees, because there would be a clear metric, a clear number of cards to expect.

It doesn't "depend" on anything anymore. They can't hustle their way around it.

Second problem is that, these employees make X amount a month, producing y cards.. With your software, they would still make that amount with 10y cards, so they have nothing to gain, really.

Sure, they're making more cards but "what's in it for me".

There is one, additional tricky part: The boss doesn't want it, and why..

The boss is paying the employee X dollars/month and the employee produces, say 10 cards/day to fill a 30 cards/day order from their clients.

With your software, the employee produces the whole 30 cards/day, and then what ? Sits there all day ?

Even for the boss, an order can wait 3 days to fill. No problem. The employee is there, he's being paid anyway, so whether it takes 1 day or 3 days is irrelevant.

The reason they're not interested is that they don't ship that many cards anyway, so the benefit of having your software is only marginal.

But maybe you can do the following.. Make your own company and gut them.

Or if you don't want to, and you're willing to force yourself upon them, you can contact their clients and ask them if they had something against your software (which ?)..

The software that makes a gazillion cards per day your contractor doesn't want to buy/licence, making you wait to get your cards..


This is exactly the first thought I had when I read ID cards for "students/staff" i.e. likely a university.

Universities (probably government bureaucracies also) will hang on to some of the most nonsensical manual processes simply because they are loathe to automate anything to the point where a job position might become unnecessary. There are many reasons for this, but mainly that an administrative appointement in a university carries prestige and clout proportionate to its number of subordinate positions. Along with the number of subordinates, the size of the budget it commands is also a critical signal. Maintaining---and if possible, growing---these two peacock feathers is the driving rationale for most of the idiocy you see in university administration.

If you eliminate the need for a staff job, you reduce the budget and the number of reports the boss has. So the boss will be very protective of his/her little fiefdom and will reject any attempts to automate or improve efficnency in any way that might eliminate any jobs.


If I may go slightly off topic, and dive into University nonsense:

I passed by a stocking area in my Electronics faculty, where I catched a glimpse of Tektronix scopes, so I entered.

I asked the man in charge there what's up with those, he said they were obsolete (?) and the faculty doesn't need them anymore.. Sweet. I asked if I can buy them (there were a lot of scopes, function generators, power supplies, etc).

He said I couldn't buy them. He said they're selling them to some companies "by the kilogramme". Most of these scopes probably had some cap going nuts to be replaced or something. I couldn't buy them because it needs to go through some regulations, and offerings, and contracts, etc.

I'm just a student who'd loved to have a Tektronix "scope". They're selling them as metal. If it came from any other entity, I would've understood.. But from the Electronics' faculty, it's kind of sad.


One of my CS professors gave us this advice about starting a company (which I think generalizes what you're describing):

Companies don't care about saving money. Even when the amount is the same, they're much more receptive to pitches that involve them making extra money.


>Why do people want everything for free when other have put a lot of effort on making it?

people don't. There is a market and you have to understand it before making your product.

It's not a question of how much effort you put, it's how much value the customer can see in it.


> Why do people want everything for free when other > have put a lot of effort on making it?

Ask yourself this: do you like to pay top-dollar for every product and service you buy? There's your answer. If given the choice, you would also want everything for free.

What was the asking price for the software? $1 or $1,000 changes the calculus in the customer's mind. Did you consider a subscription-based service? Charge a small amount every month and you get a steady source of income, and the customer thinks they're getting a deal.

> The creation of ID card is generally done with > photoshop and separately edited for each card

This may be true for an institution you're familiar with, but cannot possibly be true everywhere. ID badges are ubiquitous and creating them en masse is a common problem (Google the competition: http://bit.ly/1sW6BKq). Photoshop is expensive, and while it's great at putting mustaches on the faces of the ID photos, it's not great for creating a ton of badges. Not to mention that it's difficult to find administrators with Photoshop skills that want to remain administrators.


I am from Nepal. Its definite that nobody here can buy licensed copy of Photoshop. People ocassionally buy original Antivirus copies. Selling software in such a market is tough. I have just completed Bachelor of Software Engineering. Developing countries are being able to provide world class education but market is definitely not what they can provide. Creating this software was my friend's idea and he is definitely going to give me share from his earning by making cards but selling software in developing countries is tough since people still think intangible things should be free. Changing this mindset is a big challenge and I am still trying to convince some of the potential customers.


>Changing this mindset is a big challenge and I am still trying to convince some of the potential customers.

Save yourself time and money and find a different market or stop now. If you are a one or two man shop (or similar) with limited resources, you will likely fail. Educating a market is costly and time consuming, and changing mindsets even moreso.

Sorry to be blunt, but been there too many times. Good luck.


I had the same realization few months ago with a product I have been growth hacking for too long, improving on feedback, A/B testing, only to figure out people don't really care.

>> people want everything for free just everything of that value to them. Give them a software that turns them 20 yrs old and they will pay.

If you are about to give up on putting more energy into it, talk to your friends maybe someone wants to jump on board and put energy into selling it.

Hey, you are around 22, already experiencing a seeming-to-fail business. Awesome. Extract your take-aways, learn, move on. Go and read The Lean Startup if you haven't read it yet.


We spent tons of time and effort making an awesome software program only to realize in the end the users were not computer savvy and would rather do the work in a non-technical way regardless of the benefits.

If any of the sales deal with Government entities there could be a million dumb reasons. I've seen: someone doesn't believe that there much be a catch with something so cheap--decides to buy the thing that costs tens of thousands more instead, manager decides they don't want to process paperwork for a new integration regardless of cost savings, management doesn't want something cloud based so they can "have more control over it" by buying servers, "the sales guy emails me alot, so it's kinda creeping me out", etc...,etc...

I also see alot of times the people making the decisions on technology for organizations (again, Government) are the people who don't even own computers at home and don't have even a basic fundamental understanding of the concepts of what they are dealing with. If the IT departments are brought it, it's more of a yes/no we can/cannot support whatever it is you are presenting rather than that sucks or this is smart. Actually, some of the stuff IT was suggesting boggled my mind too. It seemed like they were very against using anything internet based...


"I found this product that does exactly what we need. I've tested it and it works. It's $250."

"Yeah, but our deadline's in 2 weeks and there's no way we could go through the procurement process by then. How's that custom solution coming?"


What if you implement in-app purchases. It will look like a free program, but when they get used to it: "Bang! You have used all your id-card-coins for the week. Would you like to buy more?". This is how consumers are owned these days and they seem to enjoy it.


A lot more dishonest... but haha so true!


How are you doing your sales - one to one? It helps if you have some pilot customers who can give you some testimonials or referrals. You could offer the software for free for a charity or event (e.g. creating ID cards for volunteers).


You should take a different approach. Your target audience aren't the decision makers. a. Try to sell the product to the decision makers in that business (school management etc.). Pitch them about saving resources. (employee time) b. If for some reason you still wanna target the employees. Let them use it for a small number of cards (say 5% of what the general average for an employee is) and then make them pay for more. (they will only realise there time and effort saved when the witness it.(Pitching to them isn't really gonna help)


Because they are used to that by now. Maybe offer a basic version for free and premium addons for a fee? And in the future I suggest first asking some potential customers before making your product. Will save you some time. But did you ask ALL the people that might be a customer? And the are also other organizations besides schools and universities that need to make ID cards. Maybe they are interested. Or change you software a little and you might be able to apply it to another problem?


Do you have a website for this your product? Perhaps you are pitching it to your locality and the market is not large enough.

You may want to make is a SaaS product and as people have suggested have a free version with limited features. e.g maximum of 10 ID cards at a time.

Remember again, it is in the interest of the people that have the business of making cards to have this as complex as possible so they can charge companies more.

So you may want to pitch this to the companies directly and not the people who make the cards for them.


How much value does the application create for end-users?

If you're targeting consumers, they can be very fickle. As we've seen time and again, they easily shell out $5 for a cup of coffee but complain about $1 mobile applications.

If you're targeting businesses, you got a better shot. Demonstrate how much money you're saving a business, and they'll easily buy. But if your product doesn't create a significant amount of value, it'll be hard to change the status quo.


When buying a cup of coffee, I am normally pretty sure that I am going to get a cup of coffee that I will enjoy to a certain extent.

When buying a mobile app, I may be buying myself a waste of time. Which is double loss.

Most, if not all, of the mobile apps I've bought so far either have free Lite companions or come free with an option to unlock all functions via an in-app purchase.


This is usually done in InDesign if it's a batch job, Photoshop - definitely not unless it's a tiny web shop. InDesign allows you to create a print-ready PDF and the printer will know how to "step it up" (basically lay multiple on a page to save $). Your software sounds goods for people who don't do this sort of work constantly - such as schools, medium-sized businesses, etc.

Try pitching to those audiences.


Have you considered finding a sales partner? Someone that already has the relationships with buyers in your target space? For example, educational book publishers?

I always prefer to partner if I have technology that is useful to a niche market I don't have strong contacts in. They will be able to get to those who really have purchasing power and give you immediate feedback on whether there is really a market or not.


I think you should fight this problem with larger availability. Create a website and put it online for people to download.

Moreover, if you can make it a webapp, even better where you can charge per ID card generated.

I have seen people having this problem and they paid decent money for the ID card generation. You are just targeting wrong audience. Don't talk to people who generate the cards, appeal to people who want the cards.


Don't sell the intangible product, instead try selling the whole package of creating ID cards. It will be a simpler pitch to your customer and for all you know potential customers may start to ask you for the software who already have a established process of creating ID cards but don't have the software capability to support it.


Because secretly they love their complicated process. It's job security. As others state, go to a higher level.


Open source your code. Let it get noticed by recruiters from big companies. Get hired by one of them. Make money. This is the current career model and is counter intuitive. Hey, Google and Facebook are free products! Imagine what would've happened if they were paid?


This is a legitimate suggestion. Just keep in mind not everyone wants to be an employee. Maybe OP wants to run a little business, rather than just make money. OP is asking a specific question, not looking for life coaching.


Maybe change it to a freemium app and have a very easy in-app purchase model.

http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/apps/hh69406...


Because there is a lot of free software out there.

I think a better marketing plan is to charge a monthly subscription. I have no data on this, but I believe a lot more people would rather pay $5/mo indefinitely rather than $400 one time.


I'd question your assumption on SaaS vs one-off payment.

Remember he's selling to large orgs. They have set budgets (often use it or lose it next year), and getting approval for a $400 payment might be easier than recurring payments.


I know it's not ideal but people are not willing to pay for software , maybe you should approach software firms and sell your app to them . They may have the resources to spread the word and get it to scale


Maybe you are solving an annoyance and not a real problem. All problems are being solved somehow. It is important problems being solved poorly that lead to successful products. This likely fails that test.


+1 for not putting a link to your product's website


Maybe because there is a very decent application in Linux called gLabels.

Besides that, the most important factor is the cost of one hour of work of an employee for the boss.


What's the link to your product?


so the problem was not big enough...


>Why do people want everything for free when other have put a lot of effort on making it?

This is a flawed question. People pay money based on the value delivered to them, not the effort the developer put into a project. This is tough to hear, but nobody cares if you put a lot of effort into something if it doesn't solve their problems better than their current solution. Check your ego at the door of your business if you want to be successful.




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