One Month since Release – Observations, Lessons Learned, and Future Plans

The Numbers

The apps have now been available in the marketplace for a month. According to the seller dashboard there have been 139 downloads!

We’re pretty happy about that. Thus far the weekly rate is consistent for purely organic marketplace traffic with no marketing. I don’t plan to keep boring you with these numbers, but I’ll let you know when we reach milestones such as 1000 downloads.

The stats we are most concerned with at this point relate to usage after the install. Downloads that don’t result in usage usually mean that we failed in some way.

We hope to improve on these numbers as time goes on, but clearly people are giving the apps a chance and a significant percentage actually use them!

Observations

#1 The marketplace is too obscure

I did a few meetings this month for savvy technology people and a couple for normal folks where I talked them through the installation of an app. Two of these people were SharePoint experts who use Office 365 on a regular basis. None of them had ever added an app from the store and all of them needed more instruction than ‘go to the store and add Instant Consulting Practice’. This was why I wrote the post ‘How to Install and Uninstall Apps from the SharePoint Store on Office 365‘; people, including some experts, really don’t know this basic information.

#2 Most of the apps in the marketplace are seldom downloaded

The SharePoint Store opened August 6, 2012. To date there are 240 apps in the marketplace and if you sort all apps by newest as of this writing Instant Consulting Practice and Instant Legal Practice are the 15th and 18th newest apps, respectively. If you then sort the apps by most downloaded, Instant Consulting Practice and Instant Legal Practice are the 128th and 185th most downloaded. So, in a little over 7.5% of the marketplace’s total existence the main app is almost in the top 50% most downloaded. It will be interesting to see the rate at which we climb the charts as time goes on, but…

That means that 47% of the apps in the SharePoint marketplace have less than 107 downloads and 33% have less than 32 downloads!

I will let you make your own opinions as to the reasons for this, but Microsoft has some serious work to do and they can’t be happy with where things stand presently.

#3 The marketplace is viable for businesses based on quality solutions

I have spoken to real businesses each week since the release and downloads are converting into actual customers buying services. I am increasingly comfortable that this business will be self-sustaining and sooner than I expected. In fact I have had to turn away opportunities we are not yet prepared to capitalize at this point in the process of building the business.

Lessons Learned

#1 Ask for the permissions you think you will need upfront, not just the ones you currently require

I talked about this in the previous post. The next update will include both instructions for people who have not updated their app as well as the fixes that take advantage of the app only identity to handle scenarios that are breaking for users with only contribute permissions.

#2 Be prepared to answer questions about the future

The current versions are free, but of course we have a plan to make money. This plan is based on a side-install of a host web version for a fee, an app web version that uses the soon to be available recurring fees in the marketplace, add-ons such as QuickBooks integration, and services. However, I had not settled on details like availability dates and exact prices. However, every single prospect that has contacted us asks these questions near the beginning of the conversation. ‘Uhhhhm… we are still working that out,’ is not a good answer.

#3 Permissions will be the source of most errors, check them when the app launches

Honestly, I’m a bit embarrassed that the first version didn’t do this because I know from all the farm solutions I’ve built that unexpected permissions are a very common source of errors. The reason for this fault is that we decided to allow a free multiuser version at the very last minute. Otherwise the user would have enough permission to do everything if they were able to install it.

Future Plans

#1 Preflight check on app launch

We will soon push an update that checks permissions when a user launches the app and, most importantly, shows a page that explains problem configurations and provides instructions on how to fix them.

#2 Tutorials and help

We are working on a complete set of tutorials to help people get up to speed quickly and leverage the full set of features. This is a key element of converting people who download the apps into customers.

#3 Standard version upgrade

This is a side installed version that deploys on a normal SharePoint site instead of an isolated app web. This adds a host of features including SkyDrive Pro, Outlook integration, and mail-merge. It will cost money and it will be required to install add-ons such as the QuickBooks integration. We will release more information about this in the coming weeks.

#4 QuickBooks integration

We’ve always planned for this which is good because everyone asks about it.

#5 Email management

This is further down the road, but we recognize that this is required by most legal practices.