If you’re an entrepreneur who has decided to start a business that will require a web application there are myriad things that can go wrong along the way. I say that from experience, both in managing the business side of things for clients engaging with various companies I’ve worked for, as well as in building the web application the powers my business, List Here.
This article is primarily aimed at non-technical entrepreneurs who will have to engage with developers to create their product, though these tips can easily apply to most programmers out there.
Tip 1: You should have an idea on how to monetize your site
The lack of any type of business monetization plan is by far one of the most frustrating things I’ve run into when talking to other entrepreneurs trying to make their way. You should be able to explain in a succinct manner how your company could possible make money. This doesn’t mean that you need to push for revenue on day one, but you need to have it in your head.
While a few companies have weathered the storm of not having a good plan in place early on (such as Twitter), there are many others who ultimately bit the dust as a result of not being able to make money on their product (see Digg).
Tip 2: Don’t let great be an enemy of good
Perfection is something that we always want to strive for, but the reality is that an online application will never be finished and it will never be perfect. If you don’t believe me, name one perfect application that has not changed since version one rolled out. See? You can’t do it. Take the Wayback Machine to look at Google, Yahoo, Facebook, or any other site just a few years ago and you’ll be blown away by how small incremental changes can add up.
As a startup company, you need to get a good product to market quickly. This necessitates that you will need to give up on certain things. Maybe your users can’t login with Facebook or their Google account. No big deal. Maybe the design isn’t as clean as you want – that’s okay.
In the early years you’ll need to spend more time focusing on getting things ramped up, not on which shade of blue is the best for your signup button.
Tip 3: Articulate as much as possible
I write this based on my own experience working with developers, but beyond that this also applies to working with designers, marketers, and many other professionals you’ll cross paths with.
When I first started development on List Here, I had a nasty habit of explaining to my development company how “easy” or “simple” a new feature request was. The problem was that I was conflating the terms easy and simple with “not a lot of hours”. On top of that, I was throwing out broad generalizations on new features.
Odds are that you’ll be working with a limited budget, which means you need to exert tight control on it or you’ll end up with a half built app and zero dollars left to keep going. Telling a developer to make a “login” system or a designer to make “a sign up” page can be a project that takes 5-10 hours, or a project that can take 50-100 hours depending on what you want. How so?
Think about a login system for a minute. It’s one of the most common features that an app can have, and most definitely straightforward for any developer worth their salt to build. How long does it take to build then? That’s where things get tricky. Can you login with Facebook or your Google account? Do you make a user verify their membership via e-mail with a confirmation link? Can a user login and manage their password inside of your app, or does a reset have to happen via e-mail? Can they login with an e-mail, a username, or both?
This list goes on for a “simple” and “easy” feature, so you can see how quickly hours can start adding up.
Make sure to discuss with your developer, your designer, your marketing person exactly what it is you want them to do. Don’t be afraid to ask a question five different ways if it’s what helps you understand the answer.
Tip 4: User testing FTW
Deciding what features to build in an application and divining how a user will engage with your service is one of the hardest things to do. Many times we think in our heads that we have the perfect solution to a problem, so we charge forward with our unique vision of how to address it.
Once we get to version one of our application, we continue to move through a site we know intimately, finding out new things that are broken or could be better. We add these into a new sprint and continue to make our application “better” within our own little bubble.
You should have people who are not familiar with your application run through different tasks after each release that changes the user experience. While something may be obvious to you because you’ve looked at it a thousand times, it may not be to the first time user. I’ve used http://www.usertesting.com in the past for these types of test and love the service (I am in no way affiliated with them, just love their service).
Tip 5: Have a solid marketing plan
You might have a great product that will completely disrupt the vertical you’re in. You may be the next online billionaire that completely changes the game. You may also fail, especially if you don’t have a plan on how to market your company.
I had a “if I build it they will come” mentality when I first started, and quickly found out that it is absolutely not true. There are many alternatives to many problems, and in this day and age there is high likelihood that you’re either building an application in a market that already has a leader, or creating something from scratch that you’ll have to make people engage with.
In either case you need to have a strategy on how to get users to engage – you should also have budget for this. Just telling your friends at a party on Saturday night doesn’t cut it. You should be able to tell anyone exactly what you are doing with paid search, natural search, affiliates, e-mail marketing (to existing and non-users), direct mail, print publications, outdoor advertising, TV, radio, etc.
You don’t have to even engage with all of these, but you should be able to explain why you won’t ever need to run a TV ad, why SEO is the only marketing method you’ll need, or why spending $1,500 on a bus wrap makes sense.
Steve is the cofounder of http://www.listhere.com, a small business marketing platform focused on the classified ad marketplace. Prior to starting List Here, he spent over a decade as an online marketer managing large scale SEO, SEM, affiliate, e-mail, and other marketing initiatives.
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