The research below was done by Kosta, who recently joined Apparent Software to lead business development.

Having recently entered the world of MicroISV for Mac, one of the first things I wanted to know was what are the characteristics and types of ISV, what are the main groups that they fall in etc. Basically, I wanted a market research. To my surprise, I found nothing satisfactory of that kind.

As a good catchphrase goes – you want to get something done, you’d better do it yourself – and so I did ☺

This is summary of my analysis based on randomly-selected several dozens of MicroISV developing software for Mac OS X platform. I apologize in advance if I offend anyone but I focused on regular Mac applications and excluded plug-in developers and game developers from this research. Both of these constitute different groups and deserve another detailed research that can be hopefully done by another volunteer ☺.

In order to cluster the ISVs, I collected several parameters for each examined ISV:

  • What kind of applications does it develop?
    • Specialized / specific applications that would interest only a small niche (for example, applications that add a watermark to images or print  invoices )
    • Generic applications, designed for the general public (like productivity applications, generic image-editing applications etc)
    • Both specific and generic applications
  • Applications quantity – how many applications did each ISV develop
  • Application categories quantity. All applications can be usually divided into well-known categories: personal productivity, utilities, imaging, internet applications etc. I checked for each ISV how many of these categories does it span.
  • Application price

Having collected all this data, I was ready to cluster the ISVs – create meaningful homogeneous groups having similar characteristics. Having these groups will help us better understand what kind of ISVs are there and what the differences between different types are.

But before presenting the clusters, let me first build some suspense by listing several generic conclusions based on the research:

  1. Most ISVs create generic products or both generic and specific products. Only 21% of the ISV develop only specific products.
  2. About half of the ISVs develop applications in 1 category only. That includes ISVs who develop specific products (the 21% shown above) and ISVs who have 1-3 generic applications.
  3. In terms of application quantity – there is almost no middle-ground: either you develop 1-3 applications, or you are in 6 to 9 applications league.
  4. Price wasn’t determined by the ISV type, but by application type. Only one exception to his rule – the only ISVs providing ALL applications for free have 2-3 applications in 1 category only.

And now – for the winners!

What are final conclusions of the research?
What are the clusters that MicroISVs can be broken into?

Necessary disclaimer for these of you less familiar with marketing or descriptive statistics: there are always border-line or unique cases not falling into any cluster – but these are the exceptions that only underline the general rule.

  • Small fry (49%): Most of MicroISVs fall into this category. They have several generic or both generic and specialized applications, belonging to 1-2 categories. They probably lack the resources or the will to grow and become a Generizer or a Micro-monster, but they may still become one.
  • Generizers (16%): These ISV have larger amount of applications (5-6), all of them generic. All applications are usually in 1-2 categories, like utilities, web or productivity. These ISV may still grow to become Micro-Monsters.
  • Micro-Monsters (16%): The last stage of Micro-ISV development – these companies have it all. They have many (8-9) applications spanning several categories, some specific and some generic.
  • Specializers (15%): ISVs that have few specific applications, all of them usually in one category. This is usually the case of 1-man show that has a personal interest in that particular category, and doesn’t want to expand beyond this category. This ISV will rarely turn into another category, and will expand by slowly creating additional specific applications in the same category.

MicroISV clusters

MicroISV clusters

MicroISV growth

MicroISV growth

Concluding thoughts

How can your ISV benefit from the analysis you’ve just read?

My take is that each ISV owner should ask himself the following questions:

  1. What group does his ISV fall in?
  2. Are you satisfied with belonging to that group?

If the answer to the previous question was “No”, ask yourself

  • Who do you want to be when you grow up?
  • What is stopping you from getting there?

And make a long-range plan how and when DO you get there!

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