Category Archives: Business Journal

Weekly-ish entries about the business of InstantQuick.

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.

InstantQuick Technical and Office 365 App Marketplace Week 2 Diary

I’m a couple days late getting this post up, but the analytics in this post cover the same range of days as last week’s entry.

App Updates

This past week we pushed two sets of updates for Instant Legal Practice and Instant Consulting Practice.

The Updates

The first on the 17th fixed a number of issues and made some improvements in the time billing system. I use the apps to run my consulting business and based on a few things I noticed creating invoices for the first half of the month there are some more tweeks to come. These fixes were delivered by our application services.

The second set of updates changed the app packages to request additional permissions, the first was Read on the site collection. This was required to fix an issue that prevented the creation of content types in app webs installed in subsites. It turns out that this is necessary because the parent content types are part of the site collection’s root web. I will write about the provisioning of content types in an upcoming post.

The other update added a request for app only permissions that will allow impersonation when persisting settings to fix an error when users who are a not site owners attempt to update settings or generate invoices.

The changes for additional permissions required a resubmission via the seller dashboard. We submitted both apps on Friday 9/13 and received approval on Monday for one app and on Tuesday for the other. We watched and the new versions appeared in the marketplace late on Tuesday, but it wasn’t until Thursday that the apps prompted us on our test site that an update was available.

New users will get the new version but old users will not receive the update until they accept the update via the link shown in the screenshot above. How long will it be until we can implement the change affecting users with member access? We will need to implement additional code on our end to check a user’s version and prompt them to apply the update! Even then they could ignore the update so we will need code to accommodate that situation as well.

Lessons Learned

The primary takeaway is that you should always ask for the highest permission set you think your app will ever need. Getting an update to all of your users later on will be complicated and time intensive. The amount of time required for any update and the fact that such updates to the app package are always optional requiring user consent is another reason we do not like SharePoint hosted apps in the marketplace and prefer our hybrid model or pure provider hosted apps.

Stats, Analysis, and Disappointment in Google

Downloads per day were similar in weeks one and two. We still have not begun any advertising or promotion and we figure it is still too early to expect much word-of-mouth. Therefore this is organic traffic coming from views in the Office 365 marketplace. If the trend continued with no advertising or promotion we would have 1000 installs in a little under six months.

Of course not everyone who installs one of the apps uses it after checking it out. The usage pattern from the first two weeks breaks down as follows:

A little over half never used the app after the first download, but as I wrote last week, half of these people hit a bug that prevented the installation from completing. Over half of the people who managed to complete the install came back another day and there are now real people using the apps to run their small practices!

Trouble with Google Analytics

The InstantQuick site is new and has migrated content from the now retired Elumenotion.com site. I was very concerned when I decided to make the change that Google and Bing would punish the move and we’d lose traffic from search. We use Google analytics on this site as we did on the old site, but this site uses the newest tracking script where the old site used the script from 2007 when that site launched. Looking at the analytics data it appears that the drop in traffic was much worse than expected, but it turns out that there is good evidence that the numbers Google is providing aren’t anything close to accurate!

Earlier this week I wrote a technical post titled Design Tips for SharePoint 2013 Apps on Tablets and Subnotebooks. This site uses Feedburner to syndicate content via RSS and the RSS feed is in turn used by a few content aggregators. Among them is a site I recommend, Planet SharePoint. According to this single aggregator 143 people followed their link to my content in the first day it was available.

Feedburner’s statistics have been unreliable for a long time and they have become even less reliable lately oscillating wildly from day to day so I don’t put much stock in their reporting. But their stats say there were 48 clicks on that article in the feed and that only 10 of them were from Planet SharePoint.

Google Analytics tells me that the page was viewed 13 times.

I’ve done a few other things to confirm this using other pages, but it looks like my Google Analytics numbers are off by over a factor of 10!

Although I am much more interested in the usage patterns of the apps I will need to get to the bottom of this Google problem soon or find a new way to measure traffic on this site!

InstantQuick Technical and Office 365 App Marketplace Week 1 Diary

Last week we submitted free versions of Instant Consulting Practice and Instant Legal Practice to the marketplace as a soft launch with no advertising other than this blog. For the next few weeks we will continue to give the basic apps away while we shake out the problems found by real users. This post is about what we learned technically and our experience with the marketplace.

Office 365 App Marketplace Stats

At the moment the listings are for English US which limits our target market a bit. The apps are new they aren’t on the first page of the store and so we had pretty low expectations for the first week. We were pleasantly surprised. According to the seller dashboard we had a total of 42 installations and 1341 browser hits and a review.

As expected, the Instant Consulting Practice had more downloads, but we were contacted by three organizations this week and two of them were small law firms. It seems our market research was valid and there are enough people looking at the store that we are getting views in spite of not being on the front page.

Usage Notes

Most of the functionality of these apps is implemented on our servers. Since we generally don’t know who are customers are and don’t store any personally identifiable information, it is important that we have some decent analytics to understand usage and identify problems.

Of the organizations that tried the app, 20% used it more than once and most of them have used the app they downloaded several times. We figure that we have around a dozen active users after one week.

Unfortunately, 20% of the organizations that tried to install the apps did something we didn’t test for and their installations failed! Most of those who experienced the error did not try again.

Technical Notes

There was an issue loading a javascript file and fixed the second day the apps were live. There was another issue that affected the viewing of individual invoices and we fixed it on day 5. We were able to push these fixes with little delay because of the way our systems are built.

Unfortunately, the big bug that affected the ~20% of installations that failed occurs when you attempt to install the app on a subsite instead of the root site of a site collection. Fixing this requires more permission than the original app packages have, but we identified the problem and implemented a fix. Because this affects the apps permissions we must repeat the app validation process with Microsoft to update the apps and prevent the problem from recurring in the future.

All in all, a great first week!