The Game is Afoot

Eric Sink has written a huge but excellent article called The Game is Afoot, comparing the games we know and love to the whole Business of Software.

Go read it now, it may take a little while, but it’s well worth it as it’s very insightful, interesting and entertaining, as all Eric’s writings tend to be. Go on, read it now, I’ll wait…

… OK, done? Good, I’ll continue…

Although all of the games vs Software Marketing segments were interesting, one that really caught my eye was the one regarding Rugby, not just because it’s a great game that we love to play and watch here in Ol’Blighty, but because it is probably the most important example in relation to my current venture.

Here is a little section to refresh your memory:

How software is similar

Segmentation is perhaps the most important concept in marketing, and the world of software products is no exception. Very often, the way to win is not to be better, but to be different. Look at your market and identify the different segments or categories. For each category, ask yourself lots of questions:

  1. How many customers are in this category?
  2. How much money do they spend?
  3. Are those customers well served?
  4. Who is selling stuff to those customers now?
  5. What unsolved problems do those customers have?

Choose a category where you can win.

Those five seemingly simple questions are extremely important when trying to determine whether an idea you have for a new product is a goer or not. And also extremely difficult to answer with complete precision.

How This Relates To Me

In case you’re new to my blog or not familiar with what I’m up to, I’m writing a desktop application called CaseDetective for FogBugz which aims to initially address just one main feature often asked of Fog Creek to implement in their bug, feature and inquiry tracking application, FogBugz.

This one feature is “simplified reporting”, or more specifically, extracting data from FogBugz.

So, how would I answer those questions:

1. How many customers are in this category?

I have no idea how many customers are in the category. It isn’t going to be very big though as we’re looking at a niche (people that need to extract reports) within a niche (FogBugz users).

I do however know exactly what my competition is in the category, which is a start I suppose! The category is all those reporting tools and more generalized applications that can connect to a FogBugz database (MS Access, SQL Server or MySQL) to pull data out into one or more formats. These tools range from things like Business Objects/Crystal Reports to MS Excel and Access.

2. How much money do they spend?

I know how much these customers spend on licenses to FogBugz, it’s right there on their website ($129 per user plus yearly support renewals, if you’re too lazy to click through :-) )

But the tools they use cover quite a range, Crystal Reports effectively starts at $200 and can go much much higher, whereas most people get MS Excel effectively for free with MS Office, which the majority of the business world will have bought.

In any case, my target is most definitely clued up enough to know that yer pays for what yer gets or else they wouldn’t have been wise enough to have bought FogBugz in the first place. So relatively few dollars for a tool that could save them hours of grief per week is going to be a no-brainer.

3. Are those customers well served?

Yes and No.

There are some great tools out there for extracting data from databases, but they all require domain knowledge. i.e. you need to know your database very well to get the best out of it’s data, this is no small task.

If you’re a manager who’s job it is to keep track of the progress being made on your next big thing and keep an eye on how many bugs and inquiries are being dealt with, and trying to find ways to relieve the pressure and keep the higher-ups off the backs of your team as much as possible, spending time trying to fathom out how to link all those tables together in this terse SQL language thingy that you’ve never seen before in your life is not going to be the best use of your time.

Having a tool that shows all your existing FogBugz filters and allows you to add or remove as many fields as you like from across the database in language you understand, with options for sorting as you please is going to be much better. Especially as it’s only then a couple of clicks to have a spreadsheet with all your data in your hands.

4. Who is selling stuff to those customers now?

I don’t think anyone is selling to these customers to directly answer their problems, they’re selling to them indirectly with multi-purpose reporting tools.

This is where things get a little sticky for me. Why hasn’t anyone else targeted these customers already? Am I wasting my time?

If Eric were to read that last couple of sentences he’d probably be banging his head against the desk and asking “Why are you doing this then, why are you doing this then, why oh why oh why!”. My answer lies in the next question…

5. What unsolved problems do those customers have?

My potential customers have to fight with MS Excel, Access or some other tool that was not built specifically for what they are trying to do. These people simply want to get data out of FogBugz that approximates what they see in fogBugz every day, they just want it in a format that they can use to create pivot tables and fancy charts in their company logo emblazoned Excel templates and the like.

I see the same question being asked over and over again in the FogBugz forum: “How do I create reports?“. The answer will soon be: “With CaseDetective for FogBugz!“.

The Game Is Most Definitely Afoot!

(Via Eric.Weblog().)


  1. Ian, This sounds pretty reasonable. The only red flag that jumps out is what happens when FogCreek adds reporting to FugBugz?

  2. Hi Jon,

    I started to write a reply to your question, but it started to get to the length of a post, so made it one!

    What happens if FogCreek adds reporting to FogBugz?

    Thanks for the great comment, if you have any further comments I’d love to hear them.