What you are about to read is controversial. The very idea of sourcing one million products may make you assume that I’m going into the drop-shipping business. When I share my plan to have one million products based on a few pieces of software, I fully expect your eyebrows to raise in disbelief. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know that this explanation will hinge on a key word.
So, let us get these terms defined: one million products.
Photo by oxtopus
When we think of large numbers, we don’t always have a handle on the scale. That’s why analogies serve as visual clues. Sometimes though, the comparisons only exchange one unfathomable measurement for another. For a good example, consider how many times two billion discarded plastic water bottles can circle Earth’s equator. No matter what number is given as an answer, it is easier to visualize than two billion. Yet, we really can’t appreciate the magnitude of this scale, unless we have circled the globe ourselves – or have keen spatial awareness and a bit of knowledge about celestial body metrics.
One million is actually easy to digest, on its own. When paired with another word, however, our mental filtering system immediately categorizes the resulting phrase as being believable, fantastical or unfathomable. Therefore, I will use arithmetic factors to break that million down into bite-size pieces.
Here is a relevant definition:
“Good, idea, method, information, object, service, etc., that is the end result of a process and serves as a need or want satisfier. It is usually a bundle of tangible and intangible attributes (benefits, features, functions, uses) that a seller offers to a buyer for purchase.”
Since I will be discussing software, we must really pay attention to that bit about a bundle of tangible and intangible attributes. If you don’t accept this definition, there is no way you’re going to agree with me.
Multi-Function is a Big Deal
If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail. Presumably, people who say this expect you to conclude that you must use the right tool for the right job. Well, what’s wrong with making a multi-function hammer?
When it comes to software, a multi-function tool is far more useful than a simple utility. Consider the products that are most likely installed on your own computer.
With your word processor, you can create e-books, brochures, newsletters and dozens of other products. With your spreadsheet, you can create custom workbooks for different businesses. With Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Camtasia and similar software, you can create just about any kind of digital product you can imagine.
There is a potential hassle that comes with using multi-function tools. You have to start each new project from scratch, almost every time. Sure, there are templates and those can help but, still. There’s nothing like a blank page staring at you, waiting for you to lay that foundation. Modern software solves this by adding wizards that walk you through the process of building projects. In addition, some programs can read special instructions, called scripts. These are very useful for extending the software’s capabilities. When you can combine templates, wizards and scripts, you have a powerful creativity factory at your disposal.
Two Extensible Products
I created two products that use the combined power of templates, wizards and scripts to help me solve two very different problems:
This software helped me create many different types of board game layouts quickly and easily. Board game design takes a lot of time. An accurate board is not important in the beginning, as it is likely to evolve as the game develops. I wanted to get the layout done quickly, so I could focus on the game, itself. The big deal is that Morpho Board allows me to configure nearly every attribute of a game board!
This software automated many of my tedious, repetitive text file chores. I use it to extract account information from my PayPal history file. It has helped me be competitive on Guru.com, as I can fix spreadsheets, reformat text, extract data and generate reports without having to build the entire project from scratch. It can build web pages, too! The big deal is that ParserMonster uses an extensive scripting language to perform a variety of file-related tasks.
Arithmetic of One Million Products
If you can imagine the possibilities, you’ll understand why I am excited. With only two foundational programs, I can literally create millions of products! Before you dismiss this claim as the raving of a circle-walking madman, let’s do the math.
It’s one thing to talk about a million products. It’s quite another to bring that number into focus. Let’s look at the parser program:
- 1 program
- 13 categories
- 385 settings per category
- 100 different customers
Here are 13 typical ParserMonster categories: cataloging folders, email parsing, web form parsing, text file clean-up, text file conversion, text file data extraction, text file search and replace, text file reformatting, spreadsheet import/export, spreadsheet automation, word processor import/export, word processor automation and xml file import.
Each category has settings that can be applied to the input files, either singly or in combination with other settings. Mathematically, the different possible arrangements are a theoretical maximum. To be practical, we want to consider only those combinations that make sense. For example, we would exclude any arrangements whose settings contradict each other, like ignore duplicates and remove duplicates.
To restate this simply, if a category has ten settings, then there are ten arrangements that use one specific setting, 45 arrangements that use two different settings and so on. Due to potential conflicts, we’ll only consider arrangements that use at most four different settings.
Here is a list of ten general settings from the spreadsheet automation category:
- remove unprintable characters
- remove hyperlinks
- remove duplicates
- ignore missing data
- ignore blank rows
- swap columns
- merge columns
- validate data
- sort data
- collate data
Note that, while some categories may have a small number of settings, others will have far more than ten.
One Million Product Challenge
Taking the bits together, ParserMonster alone can be used to create just over 5,000 unique products. My challenge is to find 100 customers for each product. If each customer tweaks the settings with templates, wizards and modified scripts, the end result is 500,000 products. If I can do the same thing with Morpho Board, I will have cranked out One Million Products.
In order to accomplish this goal, I will use everything at my disposal, from affiliate programs to product training seminars. I even envision a team of scriptwriters! One other strategy I am using with ParserMonster is customizing the user interface. This does not scale up well, so I plan to automate that, too. Once people can create their own interfaces, the software will barely be recognizable as a bare-bones parser. Check out these examples.