I've been marketing various products and services for years. Everything from dating programs to weight loss supplements. None of them have been as attractive to me as the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model.
In my mind, it's simple - build an app people love and watch it get ten thousand users in two years. I was wrong.
There's so much that goes on behind the scenes of building a web app that has nothing to do with the idea, marketing, and or sales.
Since my strength is in marketing, I was basically lost at sea. Below are the challenges I faced (and still face) while creating KyLeads - an app to help entrepreneurs build viral quizzes, optin forms, and landing pages.
Choosing a hosting environment
I've hosted a lot of websites in my day. I'm partial to WordPress. It's easy to use, can be customized, and most hosts have a one-click installer.
It's a different ballgame when you're looking for a service to host your SaaS app. The language on the marketing sites is targeted at developers. I'm not a developer.
They used language like:
- CLI (Command Line Interface)
- SLA (Service Level Agreements)
- SSD Disk
- Elastic GPUs
- Spot Instances
I was lost. There isn't much literature about it on the web either.
Don't even get me started on the pricing structure.
Google Cloud Computing and Amazon Web Services had the most convoluted pricing structure. I don't even know what I'm paying for. Digital Ocean had the clearest pricing structure.
The following questions helped me clarify what I needed
1. Who's worked with them in the past?
This lets you know if they're able to support the type of app you're building. It also gives you an idea of their scalability. If they can boast huge players then you know their system is robust.
2. What about the support and SLAs?
Are they ready and willing to hold your hand when all hell breaks loose? It will - trust me. How much uptime are they guaranteeing you in their SLA? if it's anything less than 99% then you need to take a long hard look at what you're signing up for.
3. Do they take security seriously?
You're about to build an app that could be worth millions. You don't want to be taken down by hackers or careless security issues concerning your data. What measures are they taking to actively secure your investment?
4.. Can they scale with you?
SaaS is all about scale. Is your hosting environment able to handle 500 as well as 5,000 users? Will the cost be prohibitive? Will they be able to properly distribute and balance the load? Does their system have built-in redundancy?
I went with Google Cloud Platform. It took me weeks. Only time will tell if I made the right decision.
Choosing programming languages
This one was a doozy. There are so many languages to choose from. off the top of my head you've got:
- Objective C
The list goes on. I'm not a developer. This process was like reading Latin.
After I discovered the sheer number of languages available, I took a step back. The approach was wrong. Instead of looking at the language first, I needed to look at what the app would do.
Questions to ask yourself
1. How fast do you need to develop the app?
Do you have all the time in the world or are you on a strict deadline because of internal and external pressures?
2. Are you cash-strapped?
Certain languages need more time and energy which translates to higher development costs. Can you swing the bill or are you staring the end of your runway in the face?
3. Is cross-platform support a priority?
Your app needs to look good everywhere every time. Some languages make this easy while others will make you pull out your hair (if you have any left after getting your startup off the ground).
4. Does your product run on big data?
If so, you need to be sure you're choosing a language that can easily handle your needs. Not all of them are built with scalability in mind.
Hiring technical people
I'm still actively struggling with this one. At the moment, I've outsourced to a small firm to help me with the development process. We're coming up on private beta soon. I've dabbled with a few freelancing sites and my results haven't been ideal.
The problem is that I'm not qualified to vet their technical skills. I don't know enough.
Don't hesitate to fire fast.
I'm all for giving people a chance. You come on board, do some work, and we go from there. The thing is that a startup moves fast. A bad hire can have horrible consequences. I can't afford to teach you what you should already know.
They're not your friends or your family members. They're your employees. If they're not pulling their weight then let them go. It's simple.
Define their roles clearly.
Working at a startup is a fluid experience. Developers are part of the sales, marketing, customer service, and product teams. That's no excuse for slacking. If they want to help out in certain areas, fine. At the end of the day, they have responsibilities to take care of. Period.
Look, unless you're willing to put in a lot of time right now to learn how to hire tech talent - get help. They'll guide you through your first few hires. You'll avoid common mistakes and may find a few rock stars too.
If you don't get help, I can almost guarantee you'll mess this step up. It's easy for someone with a basic understanding of computer science to convince you they can fill a key role.
When you find out they aren't a good fit skillwise, you've already wasted 3 - 6 months.
Hiring isn't foolproof. There will be mistakes. Your job to avoid a fatal one as much as possible.
I've just begun my startup journey. I've already been thrown out of my comfort zone and into uncharted waters.
There are so many challenges still ahead. It's easy to look at them and give up before even starting. Hell, I almost did.
You can't do everything by yourself. Your best option when it comes to navigating the tech side of things is to get a partner you can trust. I lieu of that - educate yourself.
Ask the hard questions and define what you've set out to accomplish. That'll inform everything from your first hire to which hosting company you eventually settle with.
I'm in it for the long haul, are you?
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