Brad, this is the first time I've seen you talk about your "business" business. It's interesting. I've heard the advice given "Never go into a business where there are substantial nonbusiness reasons for people to enter the business," like bookstores. That would seem to apply to designing games like Galactic Civilizations. So I would expect you to make more money as an entrepreneur in an area like skinning that's not naturally fun and requires focusing on execution.
Anyway, I had two questions. One, this mantra that success = content + distribution + marketing. Do you remember where you learned that? It sounds like something from Business 101, but my college didn't offer anything called Business 101. Or was it from outside reading about how to run a company once you had one?
Second question, who came up with the idea of marketing the skins to the NFL teams? Seems nonobvious but smart. Did you get a consultant, think of it yourself, hire a marketing person who alread had ties to the sports teams, or what?
Skinning is fun. That's why so many people do it. Unlike games, it's something that isn't that hard to get started in. I enjoy tinkering with my WindowBlinds skins or DesktopX objects regularly. I used to do my own icons but in an age of 256x256 icons I'm too far out of my league.
With regards to the mantra for success. I don't remember exactly where I first heard it as it's pretty much an axiom of business.
I saw Jesh's lengthy response to this article. I didn't read the whole thing as it was, unfortunately, so full of almost embarassing bullshit that my eyes started to glaze over. But he clearly doesn't understand the business model he's embarking on. That's why I think he's doomed.
Let me give you a couple of examples:
He implies that I don't think the Disney IP is valuable. It most certainly is very valuable. We would love to have MyColors Disney related content. But we would never, ever, launch with it. If you have 200 MyColors themes then it makes sense to have say 20% of your content targeting niche demographics.
When we started talking to Disney, it was after we already had the NCAA and NHL, and GM, and Ford and several other major IP holders ready to go or signed. Now, TSF had already done a lot of work for Disney and had been touting Hyperdesk as coming out "real soon" (this was almost a year ago). I'll stand by what I said before knowing what I know, I don't think you'll see Disney in the initial launch if HD comes out this month.
Content + Distribution + Marketing Explained
Content. To get content, you have to spend a lot of money up front in advances on royalties. That's the nature of the business. The Skins Factory has no studio. It's just Jeff working out of his house. His contractors and such work wherever. Jeff emailed me the other day bragging that he's got $700k in contracts over the next year or so. I doubt he's underestimating his business. He claims that he made $600k last year. Well, to put that in perspective, that would be almost half of what he would need to sign up some major IP.
Now, in his response, he talks about how great his quality is on Hyperdesk. He has the art talent and he's going for quality over quantity. But his competitor, Stardock Design, has both. I will happily put up the NBA themes or Mustang theme and such versus his Sony Ericson theme in terms of quality. One of our people did his icons after all for the Sony Ericson theme.
The difference is that we won't spend 3 days hyping up one theme which brings us to the second challenge.
In short, he needs quality and quantity. He may have quality but he doesn't have quantity to be a serious player. He has the Sony Ericson theme which he got paid to do I imagine and he has the Darkmatter theme which is the theme he intended to do for Alienware. I suspect that's his initial load if he ships this month.
Distribution. TSF claims that he'll be on the Disney store and implies he'll be on USB sticks. If Hyperdesk ships this month, I'll bet you that it'll be on neither. Having a distribution plan is not the same as having distribution. And being on the Disney store wouldn't be enough.
The USB stick preload would suffice for distribution but I don't see it happening. The uxtheme patching will kill that just like it will kill him on preloads. In his post he says Alienware will take him back when he gets Vista support. Not as long as he's patching system files. I know this for a fact.
Marketing. Jeff claims he has hired the same PR firm that Alienware has. That's nice. But Alienware has stuff to market. IF he can get Disney's help (which he may) then he may get an initial set of articles on it. But then what? PR is only a small aspect of marketing. I mean, we're talking about a guy who has to use his free deviantART page to spread the word.
He's selling a digital product without any web presence. If Stardock releases a major new thing, we have WinCustomize, Neowin, and our own extremely popular website to help build initial awareness. Plus we have very good relations with a lot of websites to help expand on that.
The Skins Factory, by contrast, has its static home page and forums. As someone whose been featured in Time Magazine, the Washington Post, Newsweek, and on TV, I can tell you that in the long haul, that PR, on its own, won't do the trick.
Sports Team Question: We collectively came up with the idea to target sports teams first because of the demographic and because it would allow us to produce a lot of high quality content quickly.
Time will Tell
Some people have commented both here and on Jesh's deviantART blog (though Jeff deletes any negative comments and even has deleted many of his own when he later realizes how out of line he got -- btw, I haven't removed a single comment from this discussion) that we should all just be quiet and see how it pans out.
The mistaken assumption there is that this is driven out of some "fear of competition". Look, we're into skinning. I like it.
A competitor, by definition, is someone who produces something that would cause you buy their solution instead of yours. Hyperdesk isn't a competitor to anything we make. They don't have the same content.
Style XP was a competitor to WindowBlinds. Konfabulator was a competitor to DesktopX. But Hyperdesk is no more a competitor of MyColors than a MikeB skin is a competitor to a Vstyler skin.
I am discussing this because it's interesting to watch plus, Jeff keeps trashing us on forums and elsewhere (on WinMatrix he was really out of control but, like he tends to do, he deletes or edits his comments later when he realizes how bad he was).
And by trashing, I don't mean the equivalent of talking about uxtheme. I mean personally insulting me, Treetog, and other artists publicly and insulting the work of our artists.
So I'm on the record, I think Hyperdesk is doomed. But I also don't think it's going to be that big of a deal. I think Style XP was a bigger deal to skinning. I definitely was concerned about Style XP's popularity. Hyperdesk? Not so much. But I am still very interested to see how well it will do.
I would love to see Hyperdesk be a bonafide competitor to us because it would force us to be sharper. Style XP made Object Desktop a better product. Hyperdesk will make our themes better because it will be a point of pride to make sure our skins and such are better than theirs. So far, from what I've seen, I think that will be the case.