In-Depth

App-To-Market: Can You Go It Alone?

You're a smart developer and so it's possible to do everything yourself. But your chance of success improves if you build a team to help you get your app to market. Here's why.

You're a developer who has just created a great idea and then verified that a marketplace exists for it. You've got an idea how to create income from it business. Now the problem is, you are just you and there is still lots of stuff to do. How do you move forward now? Let's walk through a number of these issues.

The first thought you have at this point is to start building a Minimum Viable Product. Yes, you need to build an MVP. Sounds simple, but there is more to this. Startups need two things to get off the ground: Someone to build a product and someone to market that product.

Note: I've also heard that you need someone to: Make It, Market It, Collect On It. Marketing can also handle collections early on, so I just go with: Make It & Collect On It.

Isn't Technology Enough?
The truth is, your knowledge of technology takes you only so far. There is an overriding view in the world that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door, and that is just not the case. The technology world has a history of "better" technologies not winning.

Let's talk examples: Today, the PC world has a set of standard high-speed mechanisms to add functionality to PCs, Macs, and various laptops. We have USB, Wifi, and other interconnection standards that have been gained market acceptance. When I was getting into PCs back in the late 1980s, PCs used a standard 16-bit bus architecture to add functionality to a PC. It was a mess of switches and jumpers that had to be set that could turn into a nightmare if things did not easily fit together.

Back in the late 1980s and early 90s, IBM introduced a new PC architecture called Microchannel. Microchannel was easily configured and had a number of features that were great improvements. Unfortunately, outside of IBM's PS/2 line of products, Microchannel never really went very far. The marketing of Microchannel was poor as was working with the intellectual property requirements. The bottom line was that Microchannel never took off outside of the PS/2 line of products, IBM was not able to drive the market to Microchannel. Once Intel released the PCI bus family of products, Microchannel was dead. Even IBM PCs by the mid-1990s threw in the towel and went with the PCI bus. The most supportable technology seldom wins.

A real world current situation is Windows Phone and Blackberry. Microsoft has won many awards regarding the design of the user interface with Windows Phone since the introduction of Windows Phone 7, yet it lags significantly in the area of applications and real-world usage. In 2007, Microsoft's mobile operating system captured 42 percent of the mobile device market. By 2015, Microsoft's mobile operating systems in 2015 is down to around 3 percent. Blackberry has had a similar drop in market share.

For Microsoft's part, it did not do a good job of selling the product to users, which meant that developers had no reason to build apps. Microsoft's message to developers that they were going to be approximately 20 percent of the market by 2015 seemed out of touch with the marketplace. Users and developers stayed away and moved to other platforms in droves. The best design aesthetics does not always win.

Note: Microsoft has had other successes where it has won over better technology.

Blackberry had a highly secure device that was light years beyond other products in the marketplace in the mid-2000s. Security is important as mobile devices can be lost or stolen relatively easily. For Blackberry, it produced products that were not always compatible with each other, developers were not interested in building apps for multiple devices, and Blackberry's security features did not resonate with users who wanted better functionality and were wowed by the virtual keyboard and touch screen of the iPhone and Android platforms. The best security technology doesn't always win either.

If all of these technologies that are considered "best" in the marketplace don't always win, what is a technologist to do? All is not lost. Combining good technology that solves problems and creates value through marketing can get your product moving and be a winning strategy.

With a startup, there is an additional reason to have other people involved. Let's be clear, single founder companies do work out. There are data points to support this. YCombinator, one of the premier startup incubators invests in single founder startups.

Jeff Bezos was the driving force behind Amazon. Drew Houston was accepted in YC as a single-founder company. Stephen Wolfram founded Wolfram Research. However, not all of us have the ability to be single founders. For most of us, we need interaction, help and encouragement. We need someone that can keep us going when all seems lost. We get easily frustrated. There are times when all we see are obstacles and want to just quit. Another founder can help us focused, keep us motivated, and can provide the marketing that a technologist would just be lost in.

What Type Of Person/People?
If you've gotten this far, I hope that you agree that your startup needs marketing help and most likely needs another founder. So, what is the type of person that you should find to help get your startup off the ground? I'm a big believer in learning from other people. Two of the other people that I have been listening to a lot are Jessica Livingston, a YCombinator Founder, and Bill Reichert, a serial entrepreneur and a founder of Garage Technology Ventures. Some of the items that I have gleaned from them are:

  • People that are just looking at a market size and potential income as the sole driving force tend to not work out. Don't go look at a market report, see that a market is going to be $74 billion per year, and attempt to go after that marketplace. There are two issues with this. First off, if there is a $74 billion per year marketplace, you will not be the only one that is going after it. These other competitors will most likely be established companies. It will be hard to get your message out in this market place. Secondly, without an interest in a market segment, a cofounder just won't put the effort into a product.
  • People that you meet at startup events exclusively are not necessarily good choices to work with. If you have additional tie-ins, that is one thing, but just meeting someone at a startup weekend and taking an idea forward tends to not work out. There needs to be an additional tie-in, and 48 hours is not enough time to create that tie-in.
  • While you shouldn't build a team with "all developers," the same is true with personality types. You need to get people that can make things happen, challenge each other, and at the same time, still respect each other. You should not expect that everyone is going to get along 100 percent of the time. You need those "bulls in a china shop." You need those big tough bulldogs that you keep on a leash. You'll have to let those bulls into the china shop and let the bulldog off the leash occasionally so that sticking points can be resolved and your idea can move on. Sometimes these bulls and bulldogs will get loose accidentally. It happens. Be prepared to clean it up.
  • Frustration is going to happen. It may be between developers, marketers, with customers, or others. These things happen. The pressure that a startup puts on people is rather large. Sometimes people will lash out at each other. It happens. Move on. Don't take it personally. If you lash out at someone, it is a sign of strength to apologize if you do get too personal. Look for people that are tough, fair, and realistic (and yes, it's a tough combination to find).
  • Two cofounders can sometimes get stuck in their positions. Having a third can really help work through the issues. The media is currently in a love affair with entrepreneurs. It is not a party. Inviting a bunch of people to be a cofounder with you is not a good idea. Having more cofounders for the sake of more cofounders is not a good idea. Everyone must be able to understand their role in a startup and understand everyone else's role. Overlapping roles is a bad idea early on. The magical number is 3. If you are a single founder, you get frustrated and can give up. More than one founder means that you can brainstorm and work through issues. Having too many people is also a problem. Success isn't a democratic process.
  • Startups are not 9-to-5 jobs and there are very few defined roles. Everyone must be able to help out as necessary. When there is a leak in the boat, everyone must be willing to do what it takes to bail the water out. If you need testing help, you need to test. If you need to talk to people about the product, you need to talk to people. No one should be too proud to not at least offer to help or stay late to work on something.
  • Be realistic regarding the needs of your cofounders. Keeping 70 percent and only distributing 5 percent to another cofounder is a bad idea.
  • No matter how much you want to outsource your development to low-wage areas, you cannot do this early on and expect to have success. Success starts from having an idea and you taking control of the growth of the product. You must be in control of the product; you must be able to make changes at a moment's notice; you must understand the customer of the product, you must understand how to market to your potential customer. This is very hard to do if the development of a product is being done by an individual ten time zones away. The focus of outsourcing is on cost. This may make sense later on in your company's life, but not in the early stages. have seen startups try this several times, been called in to fix problems, and this has been a common issue that I have seen. You can't outsource product development, marketing, or other business critical features to low-wage areas early in the life of you startup.

Go, Team!
Getting a cofounder is an important thing for you startup, but be prepared,, as finding the right one takes time. Picking a cofounder is not something that you do over night or on a "first date" but is something that should be done with much thought. Finding the right cofounder may not happen the first time. I've been involved in cofounder disputes and am not the only one. Hopefully, you will take this article and use it as general guide to help you select that cofounder.

About the Author

Wallace (Wally) B. McClure has authored books on iPhone programming with Mono/Monotouch, Android programming with Mono for Android, application architecture, ADO.NET, SQL Server and AJAX. He's a Microsoft MVP, an ASPInsider and a partner at Scalable Development Inc. He maintains a blog, and can be followed on Twitter.

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