Heads up, shut down.

It was a very social weekend, he tells me. I read into this and try to pry more details out of him. This friend keeps things to himself effortlessly, so this is about as effective as asking Bellichick for an injury update. (Can any of you tell me how I have been a rabid Patriots fan for 20 years and have not learned how to spell our head coaches name? No?) There is a bit of something there though, so I work on the nail with my screwdriver, unequipped to get the job done. He sums up his non story like this: “I think I might just have my head up these days.”

I know what he means.

There are times when we are aware and everything feels possible. Our town delights us with new restaurants, the act of mulching around a bush feels like a gift to the neighborhood, the people sitting in the cafe look engaged and intelligent, each a possible friend or colleague. Posters show concerts, pop up dinners, pumpkin patches, and fundraising runs. I want in on each of them.

Quick meetings leave to do lists that are evenly distributed, easily accomplished and with community wide pay off.

The row of closed doors don’t represent lives unled, but lives yet to be led. Knock and enter, or just barge in. See what is back there, get messy with it and make something. These are the good days, the heads up days.

Then in a phone call the I come crashing down to earth. The accountant has finally gotten through to the IRS after the shut down and amongst other unsavory details informs me that the interest meter was running during the shut down. I want to howl with the unfairness of it all. I took a risk, tried to create a product to help families, poured time and money into it. The worst part of the audit has been revisiting my efforts. I really tried to make Marble Jar work. Conferences, sponsorships, blogger outreach, many many marketing efforts and product refinement. So many. Now, not only did I lose over $100,000, but the IRS is claiming it was not a business but a hobby. If I can’t prove that it is a business by providing contracts (bank statements and Amex statements don’t count) for each of my expenses then not only will I owe $16,000 for 2011 but will have to go back to 2010 and ahead to 2012, and there will be interest and penalties to pay. This is after I paid over $250,000 in taxes. And for fucks sake this is the worst hobby on earth.

When I quit things early it is a protective mechanism. Quitting is less painful than failing. But this research into 2011 puts me face to face with failure. A piece of me still believes that if I try hard enough I can do anything. I don’t want to disabuse myself of that idea. It is what makes me take risks, and believe in my kids. Its hard to nurture that belief when I revisit an above and beyond effort that failed so spectacularly that the IRS claims it was never a business venture at all.

I’ve got my nose to the door and my eye to the keyhole, but from the outside the reverse fisheye makes everything so small and far away.

Possible has turned to impossible, curiosity to my own kind of shut down. I wonder why any of us put ourselves out there.

We may want in, but staying out seems safer…it might just save us an audit.

It is easier to keep our heads down. I’m just not sure easier is better.

Possibilities, or dead ends?
Possibilities, or dead ends?

14 summer weeks.

Summer is coming, and I am scared.

It is our last sodden week of school, and field days and picnics are being relocated inside. School trips are mud baths, and the ark building elective is full up. I cant remember such drear.

My fantasy summer with the boys is being reimagined as a rainy nightmare. Substitute iPads for treasure hunts, building houses of cards instead of forts in trees, Swimming in the puddles in our yard instead of the pool at the club. Or most realistically never leaving the house at all. Those 14 short weeks seem so so so long.

Lets be honest. Even in full sun a summer of stay at home parenting can be anything but golden.

We start with images of art projects and tree houses and neighborhood tag. S’mores and late night movies with pop corn.

Then day three arrives.

Thats my pokemon. How come you have the longer turn on the computer. This is the worst family evah. You are SO MEAN. I will NOT go to tennis. You can’t make me. This dinner is disgusting.

Such small phrases. Its death by 1000 cuts to my imaginary super mom.

Bathing, always a tenuous situation at the Palmer house is over. Chlorine is clean, right? But if it rains we won’t swim. Does that mean we need to wash with soap? Do we have soap?

The summer brings me face to face with the ultimate stay at home parent question. How can all of the planets align in such a way that my kids BOTH want to leave the house? With the beach, and bikes beckoning  no other season makes stay at home parenting seem so stay at home-y.

First we need to find the time to leave the house. Any time before 10:30 is out of the question, because we haven’t yet glazed over in front of our collective screens. Too close to noon is tough because there is obviously no place OTHER than our kitchen to eat the piles of crackers that make up lunch. Any time between 2-4 is rough because my internal clock seems to think I am European and wants me to nap then. Between 4-6 might work…unless we have a dinner that needs to be prepared. After 6 is impossible. Despite the blinding light and kids waxing energy levels my parenting abilities are over by then, so a public appearance is simply not in anyone’s best interest. From 6-whenever they fall asleep my parenting goal is simply to keep them alive. Which they can do on their own now as long as they are not trying to wipe each other off the planet.

So assuming 11-11:45 or 12:45-1:30 works we are all set to go. But then…we have weather limitations to contend with. Rain, grey, cold, or heat…any of these things can stop us from leaving the house. Factoring in all of our preferences I have found that between 72-76 degrees with partial sun and a light breeze are our effective parameters.

OK, so its 11:15, 73 degrees and we are ready to go. Two of us are ready at least. The other one probably needs an outfit change. Perhaps some long underwear and bog boots? Sure. Now he needs to painfully collect each individual pokemon card from whatever hidey hole he has squirreled it away in. Inevitably the MOST SPECIAL ONE is missing. By now Oliver and I are roasting in the car. Can you feel it? The clock ticking closer to lunch?

So we are off. Except he has hidden the car keys. Lets search. Lets retrace our steps. Lets be distracted by things we find on the way. Keys recovered in his brothers backpack (Obviously.)

And I realize…we have no idea where we are going.

When in doubt…

Screen shot 2013-06-19 at 10.21.51 AM

And I get a picture. And I save it to Notabli. So we can all remember these perfect summer days.

 

Inside the App-tors Studio: Blogalicious11 Slides

What works in person…unscripted, non-bullety slides, doesn’t translate so well online. Please ask questions in the comments and we will try to conjure the technomagical moments again. You were an incredible crowd! Thank you.

Training Wheels

Oliver, 6.5, who swims the length of the pool, battles rebel warriors, can define half as “something divided into two equal parts” and thinks he can run as fast as a blur had us put his training wheel back on his bike this summer.

I totally understand.

Riding his bike had been a joyful act of freedom, and after the training wheel removal it was fraught with the fear of falling. He practiced for a day and decided it wasn’t for him. Was this quitting?

Not in my opinion.

I have 100% faith that through positive peer pressure, a boring weekend day, or some difficult to determine developmental leap Oliver will wake up one morning DETERMINED to ride on two wheels. So the reapplication of the training wheel was taking a step back, rather than giving up the biking altogether.

It is similar when you are the parent of a product.

I feel as though I am running behind the bike of the Marble Jar app while it is practicing riding without training wheels. Crash.  Pick it back up. Crash. Pick it back up.

What is that I hear in the background? The infant “Patience” app wailing?

Unlike Oliver the app won’t wake up one morning excited to ride. But it might display some sibling rivalry.

Free to Be You and Me

If any of you had doubts about the most powerful marketing word on earth…let go of them.

I quietly made Marble Jar free FREE on Saturday to help with a bit of a back to school PR push and have had almost 3,000 downloads in less than 48 hours.

Those little robo trolls that scrape copy and spread it around like so much bad information seem to have their tentacles on the pulse of the app store discounts. Holy twitter.

I’ll follow up with some real stats and graphs but this is my last week of vacation before real life starts next week, so I wanted to put this out there as a teaser. Perhaps this 0 dollars and 0 cents price thing has legs.

Plus I will have to investigate iAd and all.

If any of you want to help with that feel FREE.

Here is my latest screen shot so there can be an image on this. I am going to guess that it has to do with a little app called Marble Jar.

Actions to get out of the house in the morning
Morning Marble Jar actions

My totally transparent iPhone app marketing efforts part 2, soft launch

Read the totally transparent iPhone app marketing efforts part 1, pre launch.

What is a “soft app launch”? In many cases it is a carefully constructed period of time when the app is live in the app store and the developer and marketing team are working in concert to give exclusives and previews to media folks like Mashable. It is a delicate balance between wanting to get it in the hands of key influencers quietly (assuming you have registered all of the devices you can during beta testing with actual beta testers (whoops) rather than a mix of beta testers and press and influencers) , and not wanting to use up your apps time on the “new app” apple list.

So the app launched on 6/23 and that first day I had one sale. Thanks mom. Really, thats not a line. It was my mom.

Remember I was “in person” at the Type A conference, so in my wildest dreams the 500 parent bloggers would be downloading the app right in front of me. With such a professional booth display as this how could they resist me?

Super pro conference booth

 

So the next day I used my $15/ month upgraded mailchimp account to send an email to my 3100 contacts. The cost of those contacts is a fact under high debate. At least internal debate. About 800 of them are people I have met and emailed with personally over the past 3/4 years. The other 2k+ came from my old restaurant email list. I knew using such an outdated list would put me at risk of going to e-mail jail. But after working 100 hour days I felt that darn list needed to net something. I owned the restaurant, so I felt I owned the list. Lets call the list free. So cost of mailing is $15. It was the only mail I sent to a list that month that triggered the upgrade to the paid mailchimp account so I will make that send bear the full brunt of the $15.

As expected I got sent to email jail. Or got written an email jail warning note from mailchimp. My bounce rate was significantly higher than mail list averages, probably due to the age of the emails from The Waiting Room list.

 

 

So the click rate on the campaign is shown below:

Those unique number of folks that visited the app store was 115. Out of 3100. So those clicks ran a CPC of .13- pretty good. Then 68 of them converted, thats a 2% conversion from the overall pool and a 59% conversion from app store visitors to sales. The cost/sale for that $15 email was .22. Even though some on that list represented the low hanging fruit of family and friends the cost is low enough to tell us all for the upteenth time that building and maintaining our email lists has to be a core priority of any marketing effort.

So that was day 1-2 of soft launch. At 68 sales on day one I felt pretty good. I mean 30 or so of those were my core group, but I had distributed 75 free copies of the app during beta test via Test Flight, so most of my people already had the app.

What would happen next?

For the next few days my grass roots marketing efforts were slowed some by travel home to Vermont from the conference in Asheville, some time with the kids etc.

During soft launch I spent roughly $2100 in my own time promoting the app. (14 days at 3 hrs/day at $50/hr ).  I gifted 17 copies of the app which cost me $3.17 each (2.10 of which comes back to me when apple pays me back. $15/email, $14.98 in app gifts, $2100 in my time, and $1583 in PR (that time period’s portion of the monthly retainer.)  I also spent $100 for a local ad placement. So the total marketing cash outlay was $1712.98. If you add in my time it comes to $3812.98. My total sales during this soft launch period are shown in the second image below. How big was my email spike compared to organic sales?

spike on day one

 

 

 

Pretty big. An average download of 8/day (skewed wildly by the 68 on day 2) A total profit of $302.12. For a net cash loss of $1410.86. Sort of like a mortgage payment. Except I can’t live in my app. How will things change once the PR engine starts working? I will write more in a month. I can give you a teaser that the Press Release itself was picked up by 290 outlets. Which is solid but not outstanding. Tune in for part three where I start paying for reviews, blog posts, and more!

Marble Jar app sales 6/23-7/11 Soft launch

The dangers of app store research

We all have those items on our to do list that just keep getting pushed to the next day. For 8 months mine has been “research great app store write ups.” Yesterday I finally got to it.

I had handed off my phone to Gahlord at Thoughtfaucet to do a thorough test on the Marble Jar app, and I wanted to keep some portion of my concentration on what he was up to.  15% of my mind was already busy running “it itches, it itches” on auto-repeat regarding my poisen ivy, 20% was already thinking about mid afternoon snack, so I wanted to pick a project that could be easily interrupted. App store research!

Browsing the app store is almost a daily event for me (and should be for any iPhone dev team). This “research” was going to be a bit deeper: read every word of the write ups, and categorize the types of writing, and compare those types to each apps mobclix ranking.

I booted up my new iPad and got to work. Three apps and three purchases in I realized that I was not the right woman for the job. Evidently I consider every app store write up compelling. So I ask you. Which apps have you purchases through browsing the app store rather than by word of mouth or paid ads? I need some great examples, and clearly I am not capable of distinguishing fine from great.

Clear Marble Jar Language


With practice kids can do almost anything.

Marble jar is an app for iPhone and iPad that helps families break goals into small steps. Together you figure out “what” you are working towards (goal) and “how” you will get there (skills). Slide the slider to pick how many marbles you can earn for each small skill, and attach a related tangible goal.

As you practice the app helps you track progress, and once it is filled it helps you celebrate! This makes it great for building routines, character traits, increasing kids responsibilities, and working towards privileges.

Inspired by our Parenting on Track class, my husband and I began asking ourselves (and our kids) how our kids could take more responsibility for our household and their own lives.

Acting like teachers and facilitators rather than sherpas and task masters, our 2 and 4 year old began cleaning, dressing, cooking, saving money, and learning more about their role in the world outside our house as well.

Last week my now 6 year old sent me to a fundraiser with his allowance and my 4 year old cleaned every bathroom from top to bottom. Sure they still turn sticks into guns, whine that their backpacks are too heavy and add chocolate sauce to most recipes, but they face every big challenge with a “what will it take to get there” attitude…and that is worth celebrating.

I designed marble jar to be able to break large and abstract goals (being a good friend, treating the earth well) into measurable steps (up to ten smaller skills). Each goal comes with a great natural consequence (friends, a happy planet)- but also encourages the family to link it to a related tangible incentive (a sleepover, a camping trip.)

Marble jar can also be used to track routines (before bed I: put my clothes in the hamper, take a bath, brush teeth, pack my backpack) and unlock large one time privileges (what will it take for me to get a playstation?)

Hope your family finds even more ways to use it!

The dreaded(?) uni-tasker

My mother in law has a compact, efficient kitchen. Or almost efficient. My mother in law is a lover of the kitchen gadget. On her counter. ON the counter she has a toaster oven, a pop up toaster, a coffee maker, a coffee grinder, an electric can opener, a kitchen aid mixer, a deep fryer, a popcorn maker, a blender and some other things. The cluster of tools do a lot to make her surfaces unusable.

Amongst that collection I own only the coffee grinder, toaster oven, blender and mixer. And only the toaster oven is on my counter.

In her cabinets my mother in law stocks an ice cream maker, bread maker, hot dog heater (for real), waffle irons (in multiple shapes), griddles and many unitaskers.

I have a breadmaker. There was even a time when I used it.

For years I watched Alton Brown’s Good Eats. In addition to explaining the science behind cooking he lobbied strongly fiercely against the uni-tasker.  What is a uni-tasker? A stawberry huller, a poached egg maker, a hot dog warmer.I’m sure you can all come up with more ridiculous examples.

Things that do one thing, no matter how elegantly have no place in his kitchen.

What does this have to do with software development? It is navigating the line between a single function app and a multifunction app. For marketing sake, it is great to have a uni-tasker. What is it? What problem does it solve? Asked and answered.One great kids app that is a uni-tasker is the screen time app. Nicely designed. But so niche oriented that it can only do one job.

The app store is filled with unit taskers, sunrise calendars, mortgage calculators, burping frogs. Is this for the best? Is the iPhone itself the multitasker and the apps are each one of the 264 tools?

Designing Marble Jar we have stripped it down to keep it simple, but left enough room for customization so that it can do more than one thing. It can be a checklist, you can practice “character building” skills (someone please save me from that phrase), unlock privileges, and more. This does make it harder to market. (see above reference to character skills) but it clutters your counter less than some other apps.

Can my mom use it?

Deep in development on Marble Jar I have finally unlocked our UI (User Interface) catch phrase. Can my mom use it?

After countless training sessions on our remote control she has given up trying to use our TV. Directing her to a blog post about my father I gave her the winwinapps url, and she didn’t scroll the page below the video to find it.

She is an unusual use case. But not so unusual as to be un useful. When designing a UI for small kids and parents on the go “stupid simple” was my original touch stone.

Not anymore. “stupid simple” didn’t resonate with my developers. These are young, clever, braised in technology guys, and the multi touch interface of the iPhone was second nature to them. When I switched over to “can my mom use it” they seemed to respond. Perhaps they have a mom like her at home.

My mom is on her second iPhone, and she was great at taking pictures with her iPhone 3. The iPhone 4 though, with its gorgeous integrated video camera has her flumoxed. The ability to flip the screen to take a picture of herself is also confounding.

Yesterday she took my boys on a hike, and today I got some pictures via email. So she has worked through these feature difficulties. (almost)

I’ll have version two of Marble Jar on my phone on Monday. My mother couldn’t get through the first screen of version one. We have worked hard to make it easy.

I need to make a date with her for Monday afternoon. Hopefully she will make it through.