Can you make a buck from giving something away?
Christchurch-based spam-buster Nick Bolton claims he made $3.5 million in 2003 from sales of his Mailwasher spam filter.
The 31-year-old former financial planner became so frustrated with spam that three years ago he spent $25,000 to create Mailwasher.
With development work subsequently subcontracted to software company eCosm, Mailwasher was hoisted on to the internet in August 2001 and Bolton held out his begging bowl for donations. “I had this banner ad saying ‘Hi, I’m Nick. Please give me some money’,” he says.
Around 10% or 12% of downloaders donated, he says, compared to the 2% rate claimed by most other “freeware” software providers.
Typically Mailwasher users would donate around $US16, some paying $US30. In May 2002 a record $150,000 was given, though donation income has since slumped to $40,000 a month as his paid-for software grows in popularity, he says.
Bolton claims more than three million people have downloaded Mailwasher, and more than 130,000 users have registered for support, updates and other features. MailWasher Pro and anti-virus sibling Benign are also selling strongly for $US30 and $US35 respectively, Bolton says. A server version for businesses using Microsoft Exchange will be launched in February, with a Linux version to follow.
Mailwasher works in conjunction with two live servers that continuously monitor spammers and their addresses. It allows users to sort legitimate email from junk while it is still on the server.
Bolton’s company, Firetrust, which employs 28 staff, is now working on algorithms that learn what users like or don’t like, such as the type of emails users open. While he claims to greatly enjoy his work and refuses to work long hours, Bolton accepts he is open to being bought out — one day.
“I would like to think we have a few more years,” he says.
While the donation model has been around for years, the apparent success of Mailwasher could make it more acceptable. Fellow Christchurch business Excedere recently created a site offering online psychology tests by donation. “I did not think donations were an option worth exploring until I heard about Nick and talked to him on the phone,” says director Katrin Hille.