I have launched a few startups over past few years and many of them have failed. While I haven’t built a startup to the million dollar revenue point (yet) I have startups that have gained traction and continuously increasing revenue. It’s something I will keep doing, until I succeed.
Here is some of what I have learnt so far.
1. The Idea
I first started out thinking you need to have a revolutionary idea that no one has thought of, that will change the world. Those ideas never ended well. The best way to build a startup is to go by these guidelines.
- Find a market with a lot of growth potential
- Find companies in that market and see what they do
- Can you do any of those things better?
- Would you use the product yourself? My most successful one was a product I wanted for myself originally.
Don’t expect to build a world disrupting service on your first try. I don’t know anyone who has. Every founder of the massive companies we see today all built other apps/services that gained popularity first. It’s the one after the initial success that lead to greatness and again they were never the ones that came up with the idea first.
Unless you have a great track record or recognized name, e.g. Jack Dorsey, you can’t walk into a VC firm and say give me $1 million dollars I have a great idea.
It’s always the chicken and egg problem. You need traction and revenue to get funding, though to get quick traction and revenue funding would really help. You could try an incubator program. Personally I don’t like the move to the location, get $20k or less (a small amount in my opinion) to give your idea a go.
My approach has been growing a business consulting / website conversion side of the business to fund my startup. It is a time for money situation that I want to move away from but at the moment it pays the bills, I am building a great reputation and also a list to mention my startup to.
There is a lot of debate about whether a startup can succeed with 1 founder or whether it needs more than 1 to be successful. You can start a business with 1 founder but it is harder. I am not a single founder. I work with my wife. She comes from a business background and is amazing at marketing and sales. My core strengths are in strategy, programming and finance (though I really want that outsourced as soon as possible)
I will side on the argument that co-founders are preferable, especially when their core strengths are different than your own.
The longer I spent developing the web application, the worse the startup failed. You need to make the core usage of your application simple and easy to use. Then build on it making sure that the core functionality remains just as easy to use.
As for what to program it in. Don’t worry about NoSQL or trying to use the latest hyped programming language. You need to push out features fast. Stick with what programming language you know well. All of them are decent provided you know how to use them. (e.g. PHP, .NET etc)
Also, don’t reinvent the wheel. Use these services as appropriate:
- Chargify (recurring billing)
- Freshbooks (invoicing)
- Postmark (sending email)
- GetSatisfication (feedback)
- LaunchRock (viral launch page)
- Language specific functionality (e.g. login controls etc)
I may get many objections here but when starting your application, put it on a cheap web host with reasonable reliability. I have had some good experiences with Godaddy Grid Hosting (US Data Center), some bad ones with their AP Data Center. It is very cheap and lets you test out your startup idea. It will also scale to an extent should your receive a spike in traffic.
Once your site is gaining revenue and traction I would recommend upgrading to a “proper” web host. Examples:
It all depends on your needs. Please let me know in the comments if you have other suggestions.
With building a consulting business it has given me a reasonable list and access to other lists to launch / advertise my startup. However it also depends on what target market you are after. Since my startups are always based around the B2B sector, launch strategies are different than the B2C sector.
If you have something really news worthy, a pitch to Mashable or TechCrunch can do wonders for a big traffic spike and users. Make sure your landing page converts first. You can test this with Facebook ads first.
I am yet to get any coverage on these sites yet so I can’t validate any of these methods. The people responding are editors from Mashable so I would assume they know what they are talking about. However from when these articles were written compared to today, Mashable and other tech blogs would receive an insane amount of pitches per day that you really need to have something special to be covered.
Don’t forget a to try submitting to application directories if applicable. Here is a great list from Hacker News.
Getting great tech press can result in a really great starting user base and word of mouth can continue from there. Developing those close relationships is worth more than any interruption marketing. Get networking, get to know people in your industry, target market and your current users. They can be the best marketing resource you have.
Saying that: if you want to connect with myself on Facebook. Please do. Though please enter a message. I want to connect with real people not just friend collectors. Be prepared to get to know me
I found this a great way to validate my application and conversion on your homepage. If the conversions are good enough (e.g. you are making a profit after the ad expenditure) keep running them. In fact throw as much money at them as you can find, beg or borrow.
There are many other roads you can take to marketing and I am only scratching the surface on some of the better known ones. The last one I wanted to share (and I haven’t done this myself yet but am implementing it soon) is to allow people with relevant blogs or sites to do a review of the software in exchange for a years free usage. If you are in the US you need to comply with the laws regarding affiliates and reviews where they must state they are reviewing this for a years free usage or whatever your deal is.
8. Running A Business
Remember this is a business, you aren’t in a job any more, you need to take care of all parts of business. To make life easier I recommend:
(Note these are just some recommendations, not a complete list of everything you need)
Systems (Marketing And Other)
- Twitter / Facebook – Use it properly for engagement
- CRM – since I was managing user accounts I built a simple one on top of my systems. I know not the ideal approach but I couldn’t find just a really simple CRM system, everything was so incredibly bloated.
- A business coach or mentor can really come in handy here.
- Well, that is vastly different per business.
- Check out BizSpark if you are a .NET developer.
Well this is where I am up to so I don’t feel comfortable talking about something I haven’t had much experience in yet. But I will certainly keep you posted.