I'm a one-man software shop. I do all the software development, design, marketing, etc for my business. And I'm a big believer in being very open with my customers. I maintain a blog at regexhero.net where I've literally been sharing everything: all the good, all the bad, and everything I have planned for the future.
However, I'm just about to start selling my software online and I'm wondering now how far I should take this. The customer base is very technical-minded. And I want to add a statistics section to the site that shows website traffic and usage statistics of the software. I figure some people might like to see this. But what about sales numbers? Is it smart to create a public sales report? I don't often see this so I thought I'd ask -- what problems might I create for myself if I do this?
My gut is to not release sales dollar numbers, The other info is worthwhile because helps builds social proof (supports that others are using your s/w) and a ticker with "copies sold" ,especially if it grows, supports that your software is worthwhile. But actual sales numbers might put you at a disadvantage when negotiating with suppliers/consultants/employees since they may be able to estimate your revenue/profit. (or mis-estimate if you don't include other revenue dollars like consulting) Also what happens if you make a mistake and have to adjust the numbers what impression will it make. (I understand someone could estimate your sales from the number of units, but they don't know discounts, and other parts of your business, etc so its would be a rough estimate.
It's easy to point to guys like Peldi (who I interviewed on this topic ), and I love and respect what he does, and any attempt to copy his openness and attitude is probably a good move.
However, it's wrong to point to very few examples like Peldi and say "Therefore that's how it should be done."
There are many more successful companies who are secretive. There are many unsuccessful open companies.
In short, openness is not required for success, but simply one piece you have to decide on. How to decide? What you're really deciding is your philsophy and culture as a company, which in turn is really who you are as a person. There's no right answer, only inconsistent or consistent behavior. How to answer then? Does the idea of putting everyone out there excite you? Sound fun? Sound like a type of business you'd be proud to be a part of? Then do it. Else don't.
Be true to yourself and you win.
I can't remember how it's called, but there is one Micro-ISV company that produces software for creating UI wire frames and mockups. They were ultra transparent and from what I remember that was one of reasons why they became successful. People were interested in reading about how they're doing and created buzz around company that generated traffic to their website.
After some time, they stopped publishing financial results (due to worries about their safety I believe :-)) but they still remain more open than many other companies.
I'd say it's worth giving a go - you can always change your mind if you see that it doesn't work.
I would not share sales numbers. If there are few or no sales no one wants to be the first or might think going with your company is risky. If the numbers are large then you make yourself a target of who knows what. (depending on country it could be kidnapping or "protection" or in other countries you just might have the deranged stalker)
Nothing good can come from it in my opinion. Really - what is the benefit? You could run an anonymous blog if you really really wanted to share that and give encouragement after a success, but I would skip it.
It would be great to be transparent, but the side effects are not good IMO.
Up to this day, I'm not yet sure if in Balsamiq's case it was the buzz that created the success or the success that created the buzz. Yes, Peldi was and still is very open, BUT, I wouldn't see in openness a recipe for success. You still have to do all those other things that really bootstrap and grow a business. And although it may not be apparent, but Balsamiq did all that, too.
I think it's more important for you to share stuff that really matters. Things you learn, mistakes, share some of your expertise on various technical or business matters (expertise which you most certainly have if you're starting a business). Eventually you'll attract the attention you want.
Isn't it enough that we have to fight with our Google Analytics stats? Why would we need yours, too? :-)