Update March 4, 2011: This post was featured in Pluggd.in — one of the top blogs on technology and startups in India.
I recently (see my slides below) gave a talk at iWeekend Mumbai (IIT Campus) on the 10 things one should look out for when building a product company. While going through my notes I realized I had some additional stuff that I had jotted down. So, here is all of my brain-dump (including the stuff on the slides)…
* Keep scalability and cost efficiency in mind. Products are highly scalable but also expensive and time consuming to build and market.
* Most programmers you will meet will be veterans of the service industry. Watch out. Hiring for a product company needs a shift in thinking. In addition, I always believe in hiring for attitude.
* Try to keep a slim team initially. Get ready to wear multiple hats — development, design, marketing and support.
* Do not use offline strategies to build an online business. Marketing offline will increase the cost of customer acquisition. Selling SaaS to Indian companies will include multiple demos, presentations and negotiations. You need to evaluate if that is worth the cost of the product that you are selling. Instead focus on online marketing strategies — SEO, blogs, email marketing, social media, forums, q&a sites etc.
* Startups are hungry for attention and reviews. People know that and take advantage of this. Avoid startup events that will ask you to pay money to participate and lure you to meeting tens of VC’s. That is BS. Instead use that money for product development or customer acquisition.
* Build your initial user base quickly. Give free accounts and see how people use your product. Get early feedback and iterate.
* Focus on the minimal viable product that does a couple of things well. Don’t let featuritis get to you.
* Charge early and try to break-even or get profitable. There is lot to learn when people won’t pay for your product.
* Get quotes, testimonials and case studies from initial paying customers. This early credibility will go a long way to get others interested in your product and might just increase the conversion rate on your website. People like to know that others have liked your site and are using it.
* Build an affiliate program. Instead of one to one, think one to many. Most brick and mortar companies have gotten big by leveraging ‘partners’ or ‘resellers’. The same applies to an online business.
* Get noticed early. Get reviewed in blogs. This is one of the best ways to spread the word.
* Create a clean and slick website. Back when I was in the web design business there was a stat which said that people take 1/20th of a second to make a decision about the site they are on. Make sure the initial user experience is a good one.
* In the iPhone/iPad era an ugly looking/feeling app is not going to cut it. Make sure your user interface is crisp. People will like your product if it feels good. This includes the speed of your app and site.
* Customers buy your vision and not what you are selling. There are tons of others who are selling the same thing as you. What you need to do is to fix your vision and truly understand why you are in business.
* Measure metrics and understand analytics. Everything on the web is measurable. Do this weekly. Create various spreadsheets to track traffic, engagement, visitor to trial, trial to paid, churn, traffic sources etc.
* Paid online marketing is expensive. Instead, spread the word via social media. It is much more personal and effective.
* Have someone with above average English writing skills. You will need an online community manager, customer service rep and someone who can maintain your website and blog. Broken English doesn’t cut it anymore.
* Lastly, don’t get too caught up in code. Remember, you are building a business, not just a product.