When I was young, one of my favorite things to do was go to Computer City with my dad down by the mall. We would do that bonding thing, drool over the new tech, and walk away with a copy of the latest PC Gamer Magazine. Then on the way home I was always bouncing in the seat next to him excited to try some new Shareware.

In the back of that magical magazine was a floppy or CD filled with games. It was like the prize in a box of cereal, only so much more! Back then software companies (usually game creators) would take a chunk of their product, package it, and distribute it for free calling it shareware. If you were lucky enough to have a modem at the time, like my family did, then you could also find those demos by dialing into a local BBS.

Father/Son pic from around the time I discovered shareware!

Shareware is how I discovered Wolfenstein 3DCrystal Caves, and many others. No sign up, money, or commitment was required. Plus, cross promotion really wasn’t as much of a thing as far as I can remember. Instead of embedding ads, selling email addresses, or propping up sponsored content, these demos tried to do one thing: Convince you to buy the full version.

For a program or game to flourish in that system it had to be pretty compelling. You have to remember, back then information outside of mass media was pretty pocketed because the internet wasn’t quite a thing yet. Part of the fun was finding something great and sharing the floppy with friends. In fact, most of the great games I ended up with were loaned through friends and family. Like when my uncle loaned me a floppy with Commander Keen on it.

Commander Keen Screenshot

When I installed Commander Keen — Episode 1 Marooned on Mars, it began pretty simply without much introduction. You play as Keen, an 8 year old boy genius named Billy tasked with defending earth and the galaxy from aliens using a homemade spaceship, pogo stick, and a tiny ray gun. That first episode contained a lot of levels and all of the major mechanics within the game. Personally, when I got done with that first episode, I was HOOKED!

Commander Keen turned out to be a breakthrough title, and they GAVE AWAY almost a third of the content for free. The result? They sold 50,000–60,000 copies which was pretty incredible for the time.

The market has changed a lot since then along with the way we game. Now we see strategies like season passes, add-ons, and tons of others to extract more money from gamers. Even though there’s arguably a lot more content per dollar than older games, it can still be frustrating to spend $50 only to need to spend even more to keep up.

But I see a striking resemblance in the challenges that Apogee Software faced in effectively introducing people to Invasion of the Vorticons and what any startup producing and distributing a brand new consumer app faces. It got me wondering if applying some of the same techniques could improve user adoption for our own app — Sujjest.

Sujjest Lunch

Sujjest takes the complexity out of planning get-togethers and empowers everyone to make decisions as a group. It does this by providing an interface to Approval Voting. Essentially, you pose a question like, “Where should we meet?” then everyone you invite can add options and vote on them to decide where to go. It’s completely free and you can ask any question you’d like. In fact, sujjest.com features waves of potential prompts like, “Bike ride to/from” or “Which trail should we hike?”

With the strategies driving Shareware in mind these were our goals:
  • Lower the barriers to try our solution
  • Simplify the experience without taking away high value features
  • Engage the community of users to share Sujjest with their friends

To that end, we created Sujjest Lunch to give you and your friends a quicker and more inclusive way to decide that specific recurring question, “Where for lunch?”

What makes Sujjest Lunch different?

Sujjest is already free, but we received feedback that users wanted to try the tool without being required to register. That’s an understandable request and would clearly lower a barrier to participation, but it also limits the way we can provide notifications and updates. Not super viable with our main app where you can ask multiple questions and feedback can span days. But with Sujjest Lunch, there’s usually a much shorter time frame to make the decision.

After that, we trimmed down some of the features in the interface (like multiple prompts) to remove complexity for new users and we came up with a new way to invite others to these special Sujjest Lunch sessions. Now you can get a simple link from www.sujjest.com/lunch and share that with anyone you’d like to be involved. No email addresses, phone numbers, or address book access. We hope that simplicity will enable our community of Sujjesters to share with their friends more easily.

Sujjest Lunch isn’t exactly Shareware. There are no floppies or modems involved and distribution in today’s market is totally different. But we hope that in following the intent of that model we’ll create a better overall sharing experience and lower barriers for people to give it a shot and hopefully tell their friends about it too!

This edited content was originally published on LinkedIn and can be found here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-can-commander-keen-teach-startups-traction-2019-jeff-cole/

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