Marc adopted similar principles to me in getting the product to market as quickly as possible. As he says in his book, “do it fast, simple, and right the first time”. Based on my discussions with another tech startup from the north, they have rewritten code number of times to get it right. I do not see this as a problem, as you evolve and your goals change, so should the code, unless you can read the future.
At edocr.com, we had another consideration, how to build without spending money! We achieved this through using open source products as much as possible. In addition, we inherited a technology stack, that each of the team was familiar with, which ensured, low cost and speed to market.
Unfortunately, the “right for the first time”, requires mammoth resource base. I am not talking about 100s! But it require more than one or two developers. In my opinion, your initial customer facing product, should not require the effort of more than couple of developers. Remember, at this stage you are gambling, unless you have a customer who has already paid for your product. Don’t be embarrased to release a product with few known glitches. It’s OK as long as you disclose you are working on them and do have a plan to clear the bugs quickly. By getting a product out to market quickly, you can start validation quickly and your users/customers will not just help you to test and identify bugs, but will also help you validate the product map. But be careful not to build every functionality your userbase asks for. You may end up with a product users like but may not have any chance of ever commercialising it.
Marc speaks about keeping things simple, no fluff as he elegantly put it. He also speaks about their early focus on developing the best possible and easiest to use product; focus on the 20 percent that makes 80 percent of the difference. Whilst I whole heartly agree with this and wish we could have adhered to similar principles, we were constrained in many ways.
Few of the key questions I ask myself before we venture into any further development on edocr.com are:
1. what is the expected return – this is not about putting a scientific figure against an expected ROI, its all about your gut feel. By now you should know your market inside out and know well what could make money and what couldn’t
2. who requested it – if its a customer (better if its more than one) request, and you believe it ought to be provided, yes! but if it was requested by a user that is unlikely to ever pay for you services, think twice before you commit your scarce resources.
3. do you have to do it – perhaps for legislative or any other purpose, including the future failure of your product or its infrastructure. This is no brainer, you got to bite the bullet and commit resources.
4. what about the competition – this should not be a good enough reason. Does it achieve differentiation that will increase value. Be careful in copying your competitors. The one with the biggest market share and capital will ultimately win. So look for differentiation and try to carve a niche, which may help you discover a short cut that will eventually put you in the no. 1 seat. It does not matter, if the rest of the world does not get this, but make sure you test it over and over.
Couple of areas we are working on at edocr.com right now with comparison to above 4 points:
1. Lead capture – there is a significant revenue opportunity, so this meets the “expected return” test
2. Ability to update documents – requested by customer. Even I within edocr has this need to update our brochures, etc. We have the same requirement from Northern StartUp 2.0, who is edocr.com’s first customer.
3. Limiting “email this” facility – at present, edocr.com allows ability to promote documents by emailing document link to unlimited number of email addresses. Unfortunately, this functionality has been misused, resulting in two hosting companies giving us a warning. All our development time is now diverted this week to fix this problem. Fortunately, this has created another (1) and (4) opportunity for us.
4. We cannot compete with the likes of Scribd ($13 million investment) and Docstoc ($4 million investment), but can carve our own niche. Hence focusing on the enterprise and the benefits we can bring instead of focusing on consumer markets, such as taking Amazon.com head on with book sales.
If you are planning for your first tech startup this festive reason, think about how quickly you can get to market, and the four points I raised in here. If you a startup veteran, please share your experience.
For first timers: I am comparing my experience against Marc Benioff who founded Salesforce.com and grew it to be the first $1 billion revenue SaaS company.
– Forthcoming knowledge share blog posts against Marc Benioff