Dear Daniel and Jonathan, (only you two are listed in the About page)
Unlike others, I’d like to comment on the current state of things. I’m a paying Pro customer and I actually wish to support you, but I feel some things must change dramatically if you are to actually get out of this alive, and potentially succeed in the future. The following may sound a little blunt (too little time), apologies in advance.
I had purchased my license in early January from seafile.com – as the order confirmation email subject and images inside it clearly say – but all the emails were signed by Seafile Gmbh and the download links were all from the .de domain. From the very beginning it all felt very amateurish and fuzzy. Two apparent companies, gazzilion download places, open source code, closed code, multiple github repos, borderline rude replies from what appeared to be team/support members (i think mostly german ones, daniel and johnathan were ok, but it’s the general perception regarding a product that’s affected), untested fixes deployed, shady documentation, broken scripts, etc. This would be fine for a community project, but not when charging a fee. Right now I am asked to register when trying to download the Pro version from the link I received in the email…
Your .com website could be much more professional. For example, there is no clear contact section (it’s hidden under About with an obscure email icon - one may think that you don’t want to be contacted); or support section for customers; or download section for the Pro version. The blog with actual news is hidden away. Some past attempts to get support for problems received delayed or no replies, or was asked to post in github, sometimes I had to resort to forums where some attitudes were rather abrupt (possibly german, I don’t know, but I shouldn’t care).
It makes one wonder. Who am I a customer of? Seafile Ltd or Seafile Gmbh? The order confirmation emails are anything but clear. Where do I actually get support from as a paying customer? What guarantees are there time-wise? How am I kept up to date with important news or changes? Where do I actually download the thing I paid for? I now see a very obscured link to the Pro version in the forums - that’s hardly the professional choice!
And right now, as a paying customer I’m being exposed to an absolutely ridiculous mud-fight that makes two companies look completely unprofessional, unattractive, and inexperienced. Both companies chose to fight in public in a manner resembling two adolescents hitting puberty, driving away paying customers and potential customers. You are both playing with your customers’ money and time, and also with your own future!
More importantly, it raises concerns whether either of you are capable to act professionally and responsibly enough and provide a service customers paid for. They didn’t pay you to put on a public entertainment show. They paid you to develop software and to provide actual support for it.
Here’s my brutally honest feedback - no particular order
- The worst possible reply to these criticisms is “they started first”.
- Stop posting public information about your fight with Seafile Gmbh! It makes you look like a 13-old schoolgirl who is wasting their customers’ money, and drives serious customers away.
- Hire a lawyer immediately to deal with all of it and to advise you on how to communicate to the public and to your customers!
- Hire a professional web and content designer and put up an actually professional website.
- Add clear sections on the website for News, Contact, Download of Pro, Support for paying customers, Bug reports. Currently it’s chaotic and feels amateurish.
- The German website already looks and reads a lot more professionally (despite their blog post regarding the fight with you being pathetic) and this very reason alone can get them more customers! Don’t ignore this!
- Hire someone who can communicate in a more professional, more diplomatic manner, and with better English skills. Your level of English is not a problem per-se (I have no problem with it), but it makes you look less professional given today’s context and the fiasco you’re currently riding. Don’t underestimate this!
- Keep your paying customers updated via email whenever anything important happens, including changes to the software that may affect current installations.
- Despite popular belief, customers are actually not expected to go out of their way and dig obscure blog posts or the likes to keep up.
- Keep a single domain name for everything.
- Don’t release updates/features without really extensive testing … a single hitch can topple a customers’ business. The Pro version must not be treated the same as the community version.
- For example, I wanted to migrate from sqlite to mysql by using the official migration script and the official docs and it all extremely buggy and left my database in shambles. Asking for support was a bad experience (I believe it’s still not officially fixed).
- Provide official and actual OS packages. The current Pro package and installation procedure is anything but professional!
- Don’t use paying customers as guinea pigs (yes, it happened to me in the past). You cannot ask your paying customers to try untested fixes or on-the-spot ideas. It can affect affect their business!
- Be prompt and also upfront regarding support timeframe for paying customers. You sometimes reply quickly other times very slowly, and other times ask paying customers to post in Github when they report a problem. That is not acceptable.
- You may want to take some IT business/management courses or, if you can’t afford the time, hire an advisor for a fixed term. Learn from established companies.
The list is long and there are too many to list … but if you’re committed then I think you can do it.
At this point please consider a professional message (and I do mean professional - not the silly type of the recent blog posts) to all your customers in which you explain in brief that you are undergoing structural changes (don’t mention the mud-fight), that they will receive prompt support during this period, outline a clear list of items (with a clear timeplan) you are planning to undergo for the next period, and very clearly and warmly invite them to provide new suggestions and/or vote on the items that you have already identified, and provide a professional avenue for them to provide such suggestions (don’t just ask them to reply via email or leave comments on your blog - show that you care about them and their views). Sent this both via email and also post it visibly on the website … don’t obscure it as a blog post. Create (now!) an account on http://uservoice.com and put that list of future items in there, and include the link in the email.
If I were you, I would cease ALL development of new features right now, and start prioritizing the non-code issues like all of the above and putting in place an actual and working support context for paying customers.
Remember, you are selling a product and are charging a very hefty fee (it doesn’t matter if some competitors are more expensive). You simply can’t afford to appear inexperienced, childish or unprofessional … sadly, that’s how you appear right now especially given this public mud-fight with the German counterpart.
Bluntly put, get your act together and you may just make it!
EDIT: Right now you have pretty much a single trump card: a pretty good software idea and software product - don’t blow it. However, given that another company (with some resources and manpower) is trying to take ownership of it requires you to be orders of magnitude more careful and more adept in order to succeed! I hope that you are now investing in top-level professional help - it doesn’t look like you two alone are experienced enough to really succeed and be profitable.
I wish you the best of luck!
p.s. While I decided not to renew my license for now, I will follow your progress from here on and I will support you if I can.