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In the business arena, software remains one of the fastest-growing categories of startups today — and for good reason! The scalability of software, and it’s unique ability to serve one or one million users, makes it the ideal weapon of choice for entrepreneurs looking to make a big impact.
In my 10+ years as a software developer and as the cofounder and operating partner of CiteMed, I have built my own software, hired teams and worked for teams hell-bent on creating the next big thing. From apps, to software as a service, I have hit major pitfalls, failed and even found my way into some successful companies.
Are you thinking of bringing your own software platform to market and want some helpful advice? If so, here is a highlight reel of the top mistakes that plague most young and ambitious software entrepreneurs. I personally made many of these mistakes and can attest to their severity.
If you are thinking about building something, struggling to find the best product market fit or are fighting it out in the marketplace already, it’s imperative to avoid these key mistakes.
Not choosing your market wisely
Most software startups are doomed from the start simply because their founders have chosen a bad market. Bad markets can be too competitive or too empty (no real paying users). So when you are picking a market to enter with your software idea, make sure of two things: first, that your product can compete (don’t try and build a competitor to Facebook), and second, make sure that there will be paying customers or advertisers to pitch what you end up building to.
Not building a REAL minimum viable product
It’s all too tempting to set out with a features/functionality list that rivals the top competitors in your space. However, you are wasting your time and resources if you are waiting to build the perfect product before launching.
It’s (now) common Silicon Valley wisdom to launch a version of your software that you are a little embarrassed by. This is sage advice and should be heeded. The reality is, until you get feedback from real users and customers, you won’t be able to know exactly what to build. So take a guess of what that may be, build the fastest/quickest/dirtiest version of that guess, and then go out there and try and get people to use it.
Not knowing who your target user is
While you may not know exactly what to build, you should have a very strong notion of who you are building it for. To do this, construct a detailed “avatar” of your ideal user. Who are they? Where do they work? What do they do for fun? Why would they need your software? The more you understand your target user (and their problems), the better your software product will turn out. You can add functionalities and more that they would really find valuable.
Underestimating your budget
If you are in the more traditional “startup” and venture capital world, this translates into one thing: raise enough money. If you are a bootstrapper and self financed, this is even more critical to building your product. In my experience, I have found that software tends to take twice the time and (at least) twice the budget of whatever a professional or development team quotes you. As much as I hate to admit it, this is just the way it always seems to work out.
So when you set out to hire developers and build a team, be sure that you have enough capital to actually get a product out into the marketplace. If not, you will end up with a half-finished project and shattered nerves.
Cheaping out on developers
When you do manage to find the budget, be sure that you aren’t just attracted to the cheapest bids from offshore development companies. Yes, while an $8/hour developer may seem attractive on paper, I assure you they will end up costing you more in lost time, poor craftsmanship and headaches down the line.
Pick good developers, and if you don’t know the difference, hire someone to pick them for you (let me tell you, a good chief technology officer (CTO) cofounder is worth their weight in gold).
Not having a techie in your corner
While a CTO is not essential, working with one does eliminate the vast majority of problems that non-technical founders ultimately face in the building and launching of software products. They also significantly reduce your initial costs if they can write a large portion of the code themselves. If you can’t find a suitable cofounder that’s a programmer, simply having a friend or trusted adviser in your network to vet ideas and hire developers is well worth the effort to secure.
Waiting to launch
Waiting until things are “perfect” is one of the biggest mistakes I have made in my software career. The truth is, your software will never be perfect. And by waiting, you are losing out on the most precious asset of all startups: real user feedback.
To combat this, instead of waiting to launch, launch immediately but with a very fast system in place to hear about and fix bugs. For example, you can set up an email address that all of your users can be instructed to send problems to, a phone number directly to you, or a live chat box. The important thing is that users have an easy way to complain to you.
The second part of this is a way to quickly fix things. This is more of a challenge for your development team, but be sure that your developers have the capacity to fix things and get it to your customers immediately without a complex process of updating your software.
To wrap it all up
Congratulations on starting the journey of bringing new software to market! Make sure to avoid some of the most common mistakes that plague new software entrepreneurs, which include not choosing the market wisely, underestimating the budget, being cheap when selecting developers to work with, and waiting to launch. Avoiding these blunders should help your entrepreneurial endeavor be nothing short of successful.