An interesting little wrinkle FW: Xpress-it marketing and distribution

Amusing at least002E

—–Original Message—–
From: Scott Royall [mailto:royall@conchbbs.com]
Sent: Sunday, September 18, 2005 3:14 PM
To: ‘Dennis Gallinat’
Subject: RE: Xpress-it marketing and distribution

If by form factor you really mean distribution method, the software is a
quick download from the website. The user then selects Royall
Enterprise–>License Xpress It from the Windows Start Menu. He is then given
a unique machine ID and told to email that ID to me. If the user has paid
for his license, either on the website or by other arrangement with me, I
will email his machine license number back to him to enter into License
Xpress It. That disables the verbal reminder to buy a license.

—–Original Message—–
From: Dennis Gallinat [mailto:dgallinat@dennisgallinat.com]
Sent: Sunday, September 18, 2005 1:12 PM
To: royall@conchbbs.com
Subject: Xpress-it marketing and distribution

Scott,

What form factor is the software in, and how are you handling marketing and
distribution?

Sincerely,

Dennis

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Status Quo

Status quo.

Yep, that’s
where we stand right now. There is progress in a few limited areas, but we are
waiting basically for Customer #1. That’s what will allow us to both
demonstrate our value to disabled customers, and use their feedback to hone our
value further. As things stand today, a potential first customer has been
identified. It’s a young boy of about 10 years old with CP. I’ll
simply identify him as Kamal. His mother, Sakina, has had a challenging summer
setting up her own business, a business specifically intended to help young
disabled people figure out how to best interact with the world around them. Yes,
that does closely mirror the whole design philosophy behind Xpress It.

What factors
make Kamal a good candidate for being the first customer are his proximity to me,
his ability to use what our product has to offer (and the likelihood that he’ll
need it), and the expectation from his primary caregiver, Sakina, that he will
one day be as independent as possible. Some people have expressed concern that,
while the product is very good, a tiny startup company like us is going to be
hard pressed to provide good customer support. With my two technical assistants
now relocated to St. Louis,
I must acknowledge that I feel more like the “Lone Ranger” as more
and more of the workload falls to me. That’s partly why Kamal is the
ideal first customer. He lives and attends school well within my wheelchair range,
greatly simplifying the overhead involved in potential support calls. Of course,
I have the same expectation as most developers that the majority of my
customers won’t require a great deal of support. Xpress It is designed to
run trouble-free for its entire life-span on a given computer. However, as the saying
goes, no battleplan survives contact with the enemy. If you’ll forgive
the analogy, the point is the same. Having the first customer close at hand is
part of a prudent strategy to deal with teething pains.

I’m
told that Kamal is currently using a desktop at school, and Sakina indicates he’s
has to use it in a variety of tasks. My readers already recognize that as an
environment Xpress It was built for. There’s a tendency to expect AAC
products to meet all of a disabled user’s computing needs, and that
strategy sometimes pays off. Yet, even novice computer users soon realize that
no single program can be the best at everything. That’s why Xpress It sticks
to functions directly related to talking. Kamal seems to be an independent-minded
youngster, and, if the activist nature of his mother is any indicator, he will
be one to push the limits of the rehabilitation system and want to interact with
the broader “real world.” That’s going to require a very high
performance AAC answer such as Xpress It.

All of this
is brought to a head by a meeting that’s now scheduled for the 30th
of September. That’s when Kamal is scheduled for a periodic review of his
academic and developmental progress. In attendance at this meeting is supposed
to be the technology consultant for the local school district. The very same
consultant I’ve tried to catch for months, and Sakina has requested my
presence. I should also mention that this consultant has rescheduled Kamal’s
ARD five times since June. To me, that can’t help but raise some difficult
questions. Still, Sakina has his commitment in writing so we may get lucky. If not,
I believe it was Sakina who said we should continue behaving as gnats until “they”
can’t ignore us. I will have to strike a delicate balance whenever this
meeting does happen.  Its focus is on Kamal’s needs, and nothing can
be allowed to interfere with that. On the other hand, I can’t forego this
opportunity to demonstrate what Xpress It has to offer, and I think the most
compelling approach is a side-by-side comparison with whatever Kamal is using
now.

Shifting gears,
I did a little research and discovered the probable reason for why EZ-Keys is
apparently the only other AAC to even offer the Eloquence synthesizer as an
extra-cost option. Eloquence was originally owned by a company called ETI, which
no longer exists. Eloquence ended up being the property of SpeehWorks, a large
company owned in turn by an even larger corporation (both German, if I recall
correctly). SW still hasn’t responded to my inquiry, but a visit to their
website quickly refreshed my memory on how Eloquence is sold. It is actually a
development tool, and comes with only demonstrator programs. That means Eloquence
is only sold to people like me who are building applications that use it. ETI
used to give away copies of just the speech engine, but SW doesn’t. In
short, the only way for end users to get Eloquence is by buying software it is
a part of. As of several years ago, the cost was a cool grand for the software development
kit, plus a negotiated percentage of sales. No doubt SW has continued to use
that method, and that’s why Eloquence is roughly a $300 option for
EZ-Keys. Xpress It includes Eloquence so it’s priced just right.

I did notice
a curiosity on the SpeechWorks site. Eloquence is positioned to be a low-cost, low-impact
“entry-level” choice. SW really pushes an alternative they call
RealVoice. The site allows you to enter text of up to 250 characters, and then
hear the synthesized output as a MP3. This demo is available for both synthesizers,
and the curious part is that I find Eloquence retains a slight edge in intelligibility.
Even accounting for personal bias, I’d say Eloquence is showing no signs
of obsolesce!