The Challenges of Marketing Software Tools to Developers
Sizzy is pitched as a “browser for web developers,” and its creator, a Macedonian developer, known simply as Kitze, is hoping to turn it into a thriving business. Currently, the product is available on a 14-day free trial, but after that, you’ll need to sign up for a monthly subscription ($15 per month for an individual).
At the recent Infobip Shift developer conference in Croatia, Kitze was the opening keynote speaker, and he spoke about his struggle to earn a living selling software to developers. He didn’t just sound sad about this; he was downright angry (see the featured image of this article).
I caught up with Kitze after his presentation to find out what Sizzy is and why he’s finding it so difficult to market it.
Sizzy: What’s in It for Developers?
A $15 per month subscription sounds reasonable, but for a freelance developer, it is a not inconsiderable sum when you add it up over a year — not to mention the year after that and so on. Since Kitze is clearly a developer, I asked him why he built it and what it offers a working dev?
“So it started with my frustrations with resizing my browser,” he replied. “That was the number one feature; I was using Google Chrome for responsive design and I had to switch between multiple devices to check if it works with an iPhone, on an iPad, on [another] tablet, on this and that. And I was like, why don’t I just make a [web] page with a couple of iframes where I can open localhost:3000 and I can see it in multiple devices.”
The original version of Sizzy was a Chrome extension that enabled just that. He launched it in April 2017 as a tool “for developing responsive websites crazy-fast.”
However, by July 2019, he’d come to the conclusion that “GitHub stars won’t pay your rent” and so he redesigned and relaunched the product as a full-on browser (built using Google’s open source Chromium project).
The new version of Sizzy came with a price tag; but also, according to Kitze, it had added benefits for the developer.
“Anytime you open localhost, instead of opening in Google Chrome — which has the dev tools hidden, everything is hidden behind something — [Sizzy is] a tool where all the things that you need as a developer are just right there for you.”
He also said that Sizzy offers a “more accurate simulation than Google Chrome, because in Google Chrome they only show you a frame.”
Being able to log in to different user accounts in the same browser window is another feature that Sizzy has that “regular browsers” don’t, he added.
For all of Kitze’s frustrations with Chrome, Sizzy is built on top of the same codebase: Chromium. So it offers Chromium dev tools, including Chromium Inspector. Although Kitze added, “it’s on the roadmap to build our own dev tools and our own inspector, but for now you can have exactly the same dev tools.”
The main difference between Sizzy and Chrome from a dev tools perspective, he told me, is that Sizzy has a “universal inspect element.”
“So when you go into Inspect Element and you hover over multiple devices, you get the info about any element — and if you click on any element, it takes you to the dev tools for that device,” he said.
The Software Subscription Blues
A big part of the problem Kitze now has is that Sizzy started out as a free product — and users never like it when a free product they become addicted to tries to charge them money. Especially if they rely on that tool for their work.
Sizzy said in his Infobip Shift presentation that he received a lot of kickback from users when he introduced the new product as a subscription service. Part of the negative feedback, judging by this Reddit thread, was that developers dislike the subscription model; they’d rather just pay for the product once.
Another issue for Sizzy is that there’s a lot of competition for browser-based products that help developers do responsive design. CSS-Tricks reviewed a group of them, including Sizzy, a couple of years ago — it chose Polypane, which happens to be another subscription service, as its winner.
Perhaps Kitze’s biggest problem, which he alluded to in his relaunch post, is that he has many side-projects and also travels regularly on the tech conference circuit. As I witnessed at the Infobip Shift event, Kitze is a very talented presenter — he reminded me a lot of Gary Vaynerchuk, the US entrepreneur and media personality. Not only does Kitze look like @garyvee, he has the same bouncy charisma.
To me, it’s apparent that Kitze has no problem getting attention on the internet — he has over 29,000 Twitter followers — so I asked him why that doesn’t help him in his Sizzy business?
“Because we’re trying to change the mind of [developers],” he said. “The oldest habit that people have is using a browser […] and we’re trying to compete against the free browser.”
He also seems caught between two extremes. He told me he either wants to build something really big out of Sizzy — he mentioned Microsoft’s VS Code as an inspiration — or it’ll remain a side project.
Ultimately, while I sympathize with Kitze’s desire to make a living from his software creations, he faces the same challenges the rest of us do when it comes to making money on the internet: proving value over all the alternatives, including free ones. Often the winners in software are the products that do something no other product can do (see Figma or StackBlitz). If Kitze thinks Sizzy does offer something of unique value for developers, he needs to make that the centerpiece of his marketing.
Disclosure: Infobip paid for Richard MacManus to attend the Infobip Shift Conference in Croatia.