Ponyfish launch

Wow. In the first 24 hours of going live, the Ponyfish site has seen more unique visitors than the Formstack in the months of March and April combined. New feeds are getting created by the minute, and a good percentage of those users are registering for accounts as well. I even had some of those users already opt for the upgrade to the premium plan.

The money so far would hardly pay for a tank of gas, and the traffic numbers would leave me far from a 4-digit Alexa ranking, but I'm pretty pleased with the response in the first day. Some of the traffic is trickling to the Formstack as well, as ponyfish.com is currently the top referring domain for the site.

Almost all the buzz can be attributed to:

From there, Ponyfish has been showing up on a variety blogs and sites.

Some of the bad news is that there are a few bugs in regards to how Ponyfish handles non-English pages, especially with languages that use different character sets (e.g., Asian languages). This is something that I might have thought to look at if I sat on the release a while longer, but then again maybe not.

[Updated references to Formstack to prevent confusion about the name change]

Announcing Ponyfish.com

OK, I know I mentioned a few days ago that I was putting some finishing touches on another web service, and was thinking about releasing it in the next couple weeks. Well, in the principle of releasing early and often, I'm making Ponyfish public today.

Ponyfish comes from an idea that I'd been tossing around in my head for a while. I use RSS to keep up with new articles on almost all the sites I frequent on a regular basis, and find it to be a much more efficient way to use the web. I would get frustrated when I came across an interesting site that didn't provide an RSS feed, or provided one but didn't quite contain the content I was interested in. (By the way, if you're not familiar with RSS, or don't know why you should be using it, scroll down to the bottom of the Ponyfish FAQ for an explanation.)

Over the course of a few months I had written a handful of scripts to scrape web pages and create RSS feeds that I stored locally. They were all fairly hacked together, and definitely didn't have the user interface that Ponyfish does. I kept coming across new sites I wanted to create a feed for, but was getting tired of writing yet another script to accomplish the job. So, as all lifelong programmers do periodically, I tried to save myself some time by developing some software, and of course ended up spending probably 10x as much time developing Ponyfish than I would have had I stuck to what I was doing before.

I was also spurred by the fact that I had a hard time finding a solution out there that did what Ponyfish does, much less a decent one. The only similar service I found seemed pretty confusing to use, and it didn't work at all for the handful of sites I'd created custom feeds for. I was pretty surprised by this, as even though RSS is a very niche thing right now, it's growing quickly in popularity. I would have been overjoyed to find a good solution before setting out to develop Ponyfish, and a couple people that I pinged about it a while ago seemed to feel the same way.

In all, I really enjoyed this project. First of all, it's dog food that I love eating, and secondly, the development process was fun and challenging. There were some key areas of functionality behind the scenes that I struggled with originally, to the point where several times I nearly gave up and wrote the project off as impossible. I also spent a lot of time with the user interface, and it was fun to indulge in more Ajax and JavaScript effects than I had in previous projects.

However, from a business standpoint I'm not sure that there's as much revenue potential with this project as with Formstack. I could see there being more users, but there's less of an incentive for them to upgrade to a paid plan. But I have a few ideas up my sleeve, so let's just say that my business model is a work in progress right now.

I expect I'll write more later about the launch. In the meantime, let me know what you think, especially if you have some ideas for improvements.

[Updated references to Formstack to prevent confusion about the name change]

Private betas

I read about new web application launches frequently, and as you can guess it's always interesting to me to evaluate what others are building. However, it seems like more and more sites are launching under "private beta" status where you give them your contact information and may or may not receive an access key to try out their application. This is annoying on so many levels:

  • It feels like middle school all over again. Am I cool enough to get invited to their party private beta?
  • Why call it a private beta when it's not really private? I stumbled upon all the private betas I know about as the result of some publicity. If it's really private, they should keep it between themselves and their VC friends, not send out press releases or post the site to Digg and Slashdot.
  • It's arrogant. They achieved one of the hardest things to do on the web — capture my interest long enough for me to visit their site. But I didn't see anything, so they shouldn't think that I'm eagerly awaiting their launch and am going to keep coming back. Unless they're Microsoft, Google, or some other heavyweight, I'm probably not going to think of them again.
  • I don't register for anything unless I get something of value. Even then, I'll likely try BugMeNot to get around it. Sure, they tell me I'm not going to get any spam, but I've been told that before, and I'd at least like a little value before taking that risk.
  • "Beta" is just the Web 2.0 word for "Under Construction". Yes, I too had one of those animated GIFs of flashing yellow lights and a construction barricade on my homepage. But that was 10 years ago, and we've all since learned that every website is always under construction. The word "beta" is getting to be as gaudy as those animated GIFs.

The only benefit to doing this that I can think of to doing this is that you don't want to be deluged by new customers because of support and infrastructure costs. But I can't see a new site getting hit like this unless it's launched by one of the aforementioned heavyweights. And in that case they should be able to absorb that cost pretty quickly.

All this being said, I'm finishing up development on a second web service, and have a true private beta up for anyone who's interested. I think it'll be especially interesting for anyone that uses RSS pretty frequently. There a number of finishing touches left before I release it possibly in the next week couple weeks, but it's otherwise stable, and I'm using it on a regular basis now. Shoot me an email or IM if you want to try it out.

My other dream

Even startup owners need a hobby, and mine's poker. I've been playing cards since I was a little kid, and started to get into poker seriously a few years ago.

Therefore, I'm overjoyed to realize my other dream, and that's to be able to play in the World Series of Poker main event this year. For those that don't know, the WSOP main event is by far the top event in the poker world each year.

I won my seat + expenses online by winning a cheap satellite tournament on PokerStars. It was a thrilling night to say the least.

The main event is getting capped at 8800 entrants, which would make it the largest live poker tournament ever. I'm not holding my breath to cash in the event, but I'm definitely going to do my best. I'm mostly excited about the experience of it, and the chance to take the family on an inexpensive vacation even during these bootstrapping times. Winning the estimated $10M top prize would be nice too though. :)

Recommended reading:

My brother, the slightly more attractive one

This is a public kudos to my brother who's graduating this spring, and is getting showered with awards like:

  • Top 100 IUPUI students (out of about 30,000)
  • Top Finance student
  • Top Kelley School of Business student

It's amazing to see the number of community service and leadership responsibilities he juggles along with a full course load and a job. Well done.

And speaking of which, I invite you to come to a benefit he's put together on April 21st for the Damien Center. It's a silent auction at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art. It should be a lot of fun, and of course all the proceeds go to a good cause.