sated: a Programmer's Editor for you

Update (2015-09-28): I am no longer working on sated. A short while after writing this post I ended up taking a job which involved working on a text editor and so continuing work on sated would have been a conflict of interests (and potentially caused my work on sated to be the property of my employer at the time). So I stopped working on sated, and now here I am, three jobs later, and I’ve started using Atom, and while it’s not exactly what I had in mind for sated, it is close enough that I’ve stopped using Emacs and I don’t really have any plans to start up work on sated again.

I have begun work on sated, a lightweight, extensible, cross-platform text editor for programmers.

I’m taking a “lean startup” approach to this, and so I’m approaching this as a small commercial venture. Currently, I am at an extremely early stage of both software and business development. How early? Well, right now, it’s just me, an iteration’s worth of tasks in Pivotal Tracker, and a single landing page.

sated is for you, programmer

sated is going to start as a basic core which only allows for two things:

  1. Editing text files.
  2. Extending sated.

This makes for a very natural Minimum Viable Product. Essentially, I will have a simple framework for building a text editor, and power users will have a way to get the editing experience which they want by writing code to customize their copy of sated.

Not everyone is a power user, of course, so the next step will be to create optional modules which can be plugged in to the core editor, ideally as easily as possible. Which modules get created will depend on what feedback I get from users.

One more key component I mentioned above is that sated will be “cross-platform”. Many of the popular text editors out there today only run on a single platform, which means that some users are forced to switch to a different editor when they go from Windows to OS X to Linux. By targeting all three platforms, users will be able to use the same editor anywhere they go, perhaps even carrying a flash drive with all three builds and their favorite plug-ins, so they can edit in comfort even on computers which aren’t theirs.

Why this is viable

I know that there is a market for commercial programmer’s editors, considering the continued existence of products like TextMate, UltraEdit, the E Text Editor and others.

I also know that a large number of users don’t pay for their text editor; editors like Emacs and VIM both have huge followings, as do several more “modern” free editors.

The problem with most commercial editors is that they generally only run on a single platform, or that they are not as customizable as a user might like.

The problem with most free editors is that they are extensions of decades-old designs (Emacs and vi were both released in 1976), or they are relatively new but designed with a more fixed set of features in mind, or at the very least are difficult to extend. Emacs and VIM can be customized nearly endlessly, but you have to deal with all the cruft and eccentricities of their respective architectures.

With sated, I’m starting with extensibility in mind, but also simplicity. Those users who just want to try out an extension shouldn’t have to open up a configuration file and edit it by hand. However, users who want to will still be able to.

Programmers tend to be busy people, and plenty of them have demonstrated that it’s worth it to them to pay for someone else to give them a good editor to work with. I’m confident that if I can make an editor which is better in at least some way, that developers who have more important things to do with their time will be willing to pay for it.

How I’m planning on making money

There are a few possibilities I’m considering for revenue streams. In true lean fashion I am not going to lock myself into only one way of doing things.

The simplest and most straightforward idea is to take the same approach as other commercial editors: just sell the editor, with all its bundled features, for a fixed price.

Another alternative is to take an “app store” approach: sell the core editor for a low price (or even give it away for free), but then have bundles of functionality which are available for purchase, each for a relatively small price.

The app store approach also could have the benefit of eventually allowing third parties to develop their own extensions and sell them in the app store as well. There could be an interface in the editor to find and purchase plug-ins for feature you might need.

To start with, I think I will take the single-price route, just because it’s simpler, both for me to implement and for users to know what they are paying for. Version 1.0 will most likely be somewhere in the $50 range, since that seems to be the standard price point in the text editor market.

How I got here

I found out recently that at the end of March, I will find myself unemployed for the first time in nearly 4 years, but rather than immediately trying to find a new job, I decided that it was time to try and start a business of my own. Soon after making that decision, I was helped along by discovering AppSumo’s Lean Startup Bundle for SXSW, and that was all the motivation I needed to get started.

For the next two months, my wife and I are living off of savings while I work full time at getting sated off the ground. Two months is a lot less time than people usually give themselves for this sort of thing, but I plan on counting the time to my first release in weeks, not months, and doing so on one hand.

Not only has this bundle gotten me ~$6000 worth of stuff and services for $99, it has also saved me the trouble of going out and finding each of these services on my own. It’s fully possible that I may decide some of them are not for me, but at least I’m not wasting time now trying to decide that.

Here’s what I’ve done so far with the bundle:

What’s next

Right now, I have a theory: people will be willing to pay for an editor which will run everywhere and can become the exact editor they want.

My next step is to test that theory.

I’ve already built my first MVP, the sated landing page. It’s not so much an actual product, but a way for me to gauge interest before I even have a product to show.

In between my attempts at getting people to tell me if my idea is worthwhile, I am also going to start building the real MVP: the basic editor itself. This is a bit of a break from the usual lean process, but since it’s only me, the only thing it will cost me is my own time, and at the very worst I’ll end up with an editor that works exactly how I want it to.

If the feeling I get from the feedback I receive isn’t too discouraging, the next step will be to see if people are willing to put their money where their mouth is. Version 0.1 won’t have much to it. It will be extremely basic, but it will have to potential to become exactly the editor a given user wants.

Even still, I can’t in good conscience charge $50 for what is essentially a slightly-improved notepad, so here’s what I’m thinking:

If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, checks for large sums of money, or anything else you wish to send my way, please get a hold of me via either the “help” button or the “tell me what features” link on the sated landing page.

This post doubles as my entry into the AppSumo Lean Startup Challenge, and will hopefully lead my winning. Of course, I’d love to get one of the top prizes, as that would allow me to continue working on sated full time for much longer than my relatively small amount of savings, but any of the prizes would be invaluable to helping sated become a success.

If nothing else, having a link to this blog post on the contest voting page will gain me some potential customers, and that by itself is worth something.

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