2009 has been my busiest year to date since I’ve started blogging almost 4 and a half years ago and founded LandlordMax 6 years ago! Looking back, it’s hard to believe everything that’s happened. Which is why I’m going to take a breather today and look back at 2009, to share with you all that’s happened. Every once in a while I like to do that, and it’s been way too long since the last time.
When 2009 started, LandlordMax (the property management software company I founded) was growing at a very nice pace and the real estate market hadn’t collapsed as far as it has today. We were in the process of trying to release our biggest ugprade, version 6.05. We were also trying to get a Mac version out in the first half of the year, and hopefully get much further on the networked multi-user version. I had also just published my book Blog Blazers (November 2008) in which I had interviewed 40 top bloggers about their take on blogging. Above that I was in the process of a major redesign of this blog. Those were the major items on my plate as 2009 started.
Overall it mostly went as planned, with some surprises and exceptions. The biggest unexpected was just how much work it was going to take to make it all happen. If I had known ahead of time just how busy 2009 was going to be, I probably would’ve been a lot more stressed. Sometimes ignorance is best. In any case, here is my journey broken down into sections:
Just to quickly re-iterate, LandlordMax is the company I founded about 6 years ago. The company primarily builds and sells property management software to real estate investors, property management companies, property managers, banks, colleges, and anyone else who needs to manage rental properties. The software manages the accounting, workorders, invoices, leases, tenants, buildings, and about a million other things. It’s a very useful and powerful piece of software.
When 2009 started, we were very actively working on a major upgrade of LandlordMax, which eventually was released as version 6.05 in May 2009. In it we included many new features, including a large amount of charting, email integration, Outlook support, whole new sections (accounts, contacts beyond tenants, vendors, etc.), over 20 new reports to the already more than 100 reports, and lots of other exciting new features. It was a massive undertaking that although started long before the year began, was finished before the year ended.
The only downside is that we couldn’t offer all the features we had wanted to and release it within a reasonable time. For example, we wanted to offer a feature we called “Archiving”, but as we tried to implement it, I realized it was going to be a major undertaking, taking more time than I wanted to get this version completed.
We also tried to get check printing into the software but had I to make the very hard decision to push it to a future release. After having committed a lot of time and money to check printing, it became clear that it wasn’t going to be doable within the time frame we had. So for now, this is a feature that has been put on hold. I hate to see all that effort put on hold, especially after having already invested so much effort and time, but it was the right decision. It was the hardest decision I that I had to make in 2009.
That being said, LandlordMax version 6.05 was very successfully released in May 2009. The feedback and comments we received have been amazing. Here’s just a few samples of the latest testimonials: 1, 2, 3. And those are just the ones I’ve published here on my blog, there’s many more on the LandlordMax Success Stories page.
Within days of version 6.05 being released, a big push went forward to make it available on the Mac. We’ve been working on this on and off for some time, going as far back as 2007. The problem with the Mac version is that there’s always tons of small and extremely annoying differences that need to be correctly handled. Things from how the installer works to how the program is rendered on the Mac. But this year I decided we had to make it happen no matter what. What I initially thought was going to be a certain amount of worked turned out to be a lot more than I had planned. And I mean a lot more! On the scale of 3-5 times more work!
Back in August 2009, I was already mentioning here how the Mac version was going to be coming very soon. That we only had one issue remaining. How wrong I was! A month later, in September I wrote about it again saying how wrong I was in my last post. We had resolved it, but now there were other issues.
One issue that was particularly troubling was due to the fact that LandlordMax is built on the Java platform. On the Mac, Leopard uses Java 5, and Snow Leopard uses Java 6. There is no overlap, and you can’t choose one version or the other, they each use a different version. Which means to support Leopard and Snow Leopard we needed to make LandlordMax fully Java 6 AND Java 5 compliant!! We’d been planning to upgrade to Java 6, but we were hoping to push that off until after the Mac version was released. Turns out we had to deal with it now.
At the end of October, we finally released the Mac version of LandlordMax! And it was compatible for all versions of the Mac OS, Leopard and Snow Leopard. Not only that, but you could take a backed up database file from the Windows version and move it to the Mac, and vice versa. In other words, you could use LandlordMax interchangeably on the Mac and Windows!
The Mac version of LandlordMax has since been received with lots of enthusiasm as shown in this initial testimonial, with many more to come. But in terms of estimated cost, we spent several times more than I had initially planned. And this is after having already committed lot of resources in the past.
During all this, the property management software market has dramatically changed. A company that’s been buying up many of our competitors over the last couple of years in the hopes of becoming a major player, Domin-8, has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. They acquired companies such as Rent Right, Spectra, Tenant Pro, iCam, Management Plus, and so on. This is big news because most companies have very limited success after filing for Chapter 11. Not only this, but we’re already starting to see people jumping ship as they’re learning the news. No one wants to be stuck with a software from a company that’s no longer around, especially with the speed of technology today. Which means 2010 may be a very interesting year for the property management software market. A shakeout year…
And as you all know by now, the real estate market has also been going through a major recession! You would expect our sales to be impacted negatively, but quite the contrary has been going on! Our revenue growth hasn’t stopped in the slightest, we’re still growing at the same fast rate as before as shown below (the graphs below only include sales of LandlordMax):
All in all, it’s been a great year for LandlordMax. Things have definitely been going in our favor. The only thing we haven’t yet succeeded in doing is releasing the networked version. A lot of work has already been done here, but the progress has been slower than I’d have liked. Not because it’s hard or a lot of work, which it is, but because I’m always having to allocate effort away from it to other more immediate items. For example, to get LandlordMax version 6.05 out on time, we had to pause the effort on the network version for several months. And for the Mac version, well let’s just say that all the effort was focused on the Mac version during those months. Like I said before, the Mac version required much more work than anticipated and I made the commitment to follow it through, even at the cost of delaying other items.
Which means that this year, we’re now working very hard on the network version. I expect there will be a new version of LandlordMax before the networked version is available, but I can’t confirm this. I also believe it won’t be until at least late in the year that the networked version will be available, if not in 2011. Above this, the website is in the process of going through a major uplift! That’s what’s going on right now. We’ll see what happens. I can’t wait to write a similar post when 2011 comes on what happened this year!
In November of 2008, I published the book Blog Blazers. In Blog Blazers, (also available on Amazon), I interviewed 40 top bloggers, (bios can be found here). The book took me a good year to publish and I’m very proud of the results. In it I asked everyone the same questions so that you the reader can compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. Not only that, but one of my goals was to make sure the questions had a lot of follow-up material so that you could continue learning after you were done reading the book. Questions such as What was your most successful blog post ever? Which books and websites do you recommend to new bloggers? What’s your best tip for writing a successful blog post? To name just a few. I even wrote some follow up posts to help people find further resources such as 10 Most Popular Books in Blog Blazers.
Because the book was released in mid-November, it was just in time for the Xmas rush. And of course, because it’s a new book from a new company (Levac Publishing House – owned and operated by yours truly), there were some initial distribution issues. For example, Amazon will only initially order a limited number of books for new books and from new publishers. And because of this, Blog Blazers was almost immediately out of stock on Amazon. The good thing is that although it took alittle bit of time, we were able to resolve the issue quickly enough. And of course, it’s a good problem to have!
Other than that small initial glitch, Blog Blazers as a whole has been a pretty smooth ride. Most of the issues with the book were in it’s production, the marketing and sales was fairly similar to LandlordMax. Actually, I learned so much from the production side that I ended up writing a 3 part series on how to publish a book. Here is the link to the series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
The biggest thing I learned about publishing books is that profits can only really be made by selling books in large volumes. You have to move at least 10,000-100,000 books to make any kind of money. Less than that and I’m at a loss how you can make any profit (assuming you have a marketing budget). The profit margins are definitely lower than I expected. To be honest, I really did learn a lot more than I ever expected about the book publishing industry. I now have a very big appreciation for the effort that goes into making a good book, and just how hard it is to produce and succeed. I now thing that books in general are under-priced. That being said, lots of copies of Blog Blazers were moved. Right now there’s just a fraction of what I initially printed left before I need to make a decision on the next print run. So that’s pretty exciting.
In regards to how the book has been received, it’s gotten a ton of glowing reviews. It’s been reviewed on major websites, blogs, magazines. It’s landed me several interviews, podcasts, radio spots, video reviews, guest appearances, etc. It’s been used used for a workshop at Drake University. What’s also very excited is that on Amazon, a site known for it’s reviews, Blog Blazers has gotten an average 4.5 star out of 5 stars! Almost no books get 5 star reviews, it’s extremely rare. Most books get anywhere from 3 to 4 stars. 4.5 stars is exceptional!
As the year has been wrapping up, I’ve had to decrease my marketing efforts. Right now the book is mainly selling itself through word of mouth. I might put another big marketing push or two, but I don’t expect to put as big a marketing push as I did in 2009. It’s a lot of work and because of that I believe it took a lot of my time away from LandlordMax. It was ok for 2009, but I can’t commit as much time to promoting Blog Blazers in 2010 as I did in 2009, not with everything coming down the pipe for LandlordMax.
Overall though, Blog Blazers was a success which I’m very proud of it. The only thing is that in retrospect had I known beforehand what it takes to publish a book I doubt I would have done it. The last time I had calculated, I put 1000-2000 hours into publishing the book. That’s just my time! This doesn’t include the money I invested. It’s definitely a costly endeavour. So if you’re planning to write a book, you should really check out my book publishing series I wrote on my blog (mentioned earlier). It’s a BIG project! Not that there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just nice to know what you’re signing up for before you actually do sign up.
As always, in 2009 I continued to write articles/posts here. The biggest workload came from a complete custom re-design of the site. And I have to give credit to Reuben Whitehouse for it’s success. He designed the new logo, as well as the whole look and feel. If you’re interested, Reuben wrote a blog post about how he designed and came up with the FollowSteph.com logo. It’s a pretty cool post with lots of pictures and explanations on how he did it.
The other big news for FollowSteph is that the Feedburner subscriber count, which I don’t publicly post yet, has been climbing fast. In 2009, the blog grew in subscriptions by 500%!! I can’t even begin to describe how exciting that is!! Normally I’d see a 50% to 100% yearly growth, never 500% times. 2009 was a big year. Very exciting stuff!
For 2010, my main goal is to increase my blog postings, bring it back to my pre-2009 levels. 2009 was just so insane that I have to admit I didn’t post as much as I use to. Especially the last few months of 2009. In November and December I only had 2 posts each. My goal is to get back to my usual posting schedule of at least once a week, preferably more if time permits. It’s definitely not a lack of ideas and things to say, it’s a lack of time.
RealEstatePigeon.com is expected to be publicly released later this week or early next week. You’re more than welcome to check it out now, just be aware that we’re putting on the final touches as we speak. There are a few outstanding graphical issues. That and I’m in the process of seeding it a bit more before fully going public with it.
What is RealEstatePigeon.com? It’s a Q&A (Questions and Answers) website about real estate. The website is based on the success of StackOverFlow.com, a Q&A website for programmers. The idea is that you’ll be able to ask real estate related questions and get answers. Not only that, but because it’s a community website, you can also show off your real estate knowledge and answer questions posed by others.
The differentiator here is that unlike discussion forums where the answers are all listed in chronological order which makes you have to read everything just to get any idea of what’s going on, you’ll be able to quickly see the best answers. This will work because all the answers get voted on, and the best answers will get pushed up to the top based on the number of votes. So the better an answer is, the higher it goes and the quicker you can get to it.
Not only that, but the website is going to have a reputation based system. What this means is that you receive reputation points for each of your questions and answers that are up voted. The more reputation points you get, the more real reputation and credibility you get. And the more real reputation you have, the more real opportunities you’ll get offline, in the real world.
For example, on StackOverFlow people have gotten such high reputation scores that it’s attracted the attention of people looking to hire experts. Yes, opportunities are being presented to people directly because of their reputation scores! People are getting contracts because of their reputation scores. People are getting hired for work because of their reputation scores. Basically, people with high reputation scores are attracting the attention of others who want to work with them.
Therefore the goal of RealEstatePigeon.com is that not only will you get answers to your real estate questions, but you’ll will be able help others (and as a side effect show off your knowledge). And in return for helping others, you’ll be able to potentially achieve success yourself! Who wouldn’t want to work with a mortgage broker who had a high reputation score. What about a knowledgeable real estate agent? When you approach an investor for money, wouldn’t it be great to be able to show them how much you know and your reputation score? Even better, I can’t wait to hear from the first person who tells me they got approached by investors instead of them having to approach investors because of their reputation on RealEstatePigeon.com!! That’s the ideal goal! To get people come to you rather than you going to them!
To summarize, in 2010 I plan to:
- Continue to grow LandlordMax
- Release at least one new major version of LandlordMax
- Get very close to releasing a networked and multi-user version of LandlordMax
- Finish the major uplift of the LandlordMax website
- Sell out all the remainder copies of Blog Blazers’ first print run
- More than double the number of subscribers to this blog
- Bring back to the posting frequency to pre late 2009
- Launch RealEstatePigeon.com with success
- And have a lot fun doing all of the above!!
Let’s see what happens.