I was quite energetic about writing and selling my own software in the mid-90’s. Perhaps not as energetic as people who made lots of money, but I put a fair amount of time into the study of people who made money selling products on their own. In 1997, I happened to be writing a review of the Thompson Automation AWK compiler for an article I had pitched to Dr. Dobbs Journal called Examining the TAWK Compiler.
For the article, I had written a small client for the Internet finger protocol to demonstrate the compiler’s versatility. As I was going over the code, I had wondered what it would take to flesh out the finger client a little more to make an SMTP e-mail client.
My first attempt was fruitful. I had a command-line emailer working that would simply send text messages via SMTP mail without a lot of frilly features. I did not initially support attachments or other niceties. I decided to use my new creation, MailSend, as a test to learn more about independent software sales.
I found out how to format the supplementary readme files and metadata files whose origins could be traced back to the download sections of electronic Bulletin-Board Systems. I wrote a license agreement and a liberal support policy. I offered free upgrades for life. My thinking was that I was going to be constantly evolving the product, so if bugs or defects arose, I would simply ask the client to obtain the free upgrade to see if they could recreate the problem with the newest version. I was concerned about being able to support multiple simultaneous versions.
Another concern I had was that I had written the code in a pretty obscure compiler: TAWK. I had reasoned that the entire command-line compiler and the source code to MailSend fit neatly on one 1.44M floppy disk … so I could carry it around and could recompile it on just about any machine. After discussing things with the folks on alt.comp.shareware.programmer, I found that many of them took non-traditional approaches to writing their software as well. Some wrote in PowerBASIC, many wrote in Delphi, some in varieties of C/C++. I began to realize that the lone wolf developer needed to leverage whatever they were most comfortable with, as long as the tool itself did not become obsolete.
I priced the software at $10 ( another mistake ) and made a few announcements here and there on various newgroups and forums.
The Early Sales
I was very happy when the first checks made their way to my mailbox. I was seeing a nice little stream of money for this product, but it wasn’t anywhere near what the professionals on a.c.s.p. were making with their software.
After accepting only checks via mail for quite some time, I received an e-mail from a corporate prospect who asked me if I could accept payment via credit-card. I couldn’t at the time, but I asked him to let me see if I could find a card processor. I then signed up for RegSoft ( which later became a Digital River company. ) Although I seemed to have a gift for making mistakes along the way, signing up with RegSoft was the best decision I had made regarding MailSend. In 24 hours after signing up, they processed two orders for MailSend. Neither of these was from the gentleman who had asked if he could pay with a credit-card.
The registrations were becoming much more frequent than the checks-in-the-mail had been. My mentors in a.c.s.p. attributed this to impulse buying; It’s easier to procrastinate on a purchase if it takes work ( such as writing out a check, addressing an envelope, …etc. ) If one can simply fill out a web page and receive a product electronically in a short time, chances are greater that the sale will commence.
Sometime around these years, I also began participating in what had been known as the Euro-Share mail-list. Lots of good conversations went on there.
I should note that I also added a limiting factor to the trial version of MailSend at this time. One could only send about ten emails using the trial version. After that, they would have to reboot their machine so that they could send another ten.
I would still refer to the monthly income I was making as hobby-level money, but it was GOOD hobby-level money. I began to grow my stable of products with some other utilities. By the time the year 2000 had rolled around, I felt like a true independent software developer, although I didn’t make nearly enough to quit my day-job.
I was off and running. I was an independent software author with a small but growing list of products. MailSend was the first and it was the most successful in terms of sales and popularity.