Disclaimer : I am in no position to be an expert on advising early stage start ups, but this is the summary of mistakes we committed, and what we learned from them.
Part of the reason my blogging activity dwindled, is because I got way too busy in building my own web-app (If you happen to be in the valley – they call it a start-up). Although I never quit my full time job for this, I was well into the idea of building my own product. This blog is a story of what I learned while co-founding FurlanGo. FurlanGo is a new web service that helps you find/ discover events around you.
1. Do not launch your product until its finished!
When you are building something, your first instinct is to show it to as many people as you can and get some feedback. That’s exactly what we did. I emailed my friends, I posted it on my personal blog, shared it on Facebook, and lot of curious friends visited the site and we did receive lot of feedback. However, when we were actually ready with our finished product, people had a fatigue to open it up and share it further. We had already exhausted our resources. Yes you do want to get some feedback, and show it to people, but limit this number. Include people in your alpha testing who are willing to visit your site more than once. My experience says, you can get a lot of good feedback within first 4-6 people. By the way – this was our very first version.
The other side of the coin is deciding when the product is actually finished. In software its tricky to define whats finished. This is what we call a feature creep. That’s my second lesson.
2. Avoid feature creep
There is always some feature that seems too important not to include in your current release. As far as FurlanGo is concerned, we had long list of features – more data sources, personalization, cloud / scalable infrastructure/, sharing, searching events, adding your own events etc. Each seemed adding a lot of value. But we had to prioritize, and decide what should be the minimum set of features that makes your product compelling. This is more of an art than science. But if you are clear on whats important and have a good product sense, you can avoid this. We have not quite mastered this art yet, we missed out on one the most important feature, and that was my next lesson.
3. Never launch your web-app without browser compatibility
We were too naive, and we assumed if something works on one browser it should just work on another! Turns out that’s far from being true. We spent a lot of time getting our app to work on Chrome, Safari and Firefox, but we are still some time away from getting FurlanGo working on Internet Explorer! As a result, we turned away a lot of IE users. Worst part is IE commands over 70% of total browser market. This is how your browser compatibility ladder should be – Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera, Others. Unfortunately, IE was last in our list.
4. Plan your publicity in steps
Obvious reason being you get a time to fix/ work on early suggestions. We were fortunate to have this well planned. We got some publicity from respected blogs such as Killer Startups, Feedmyapp etc. However this is a debatable strategy. If you are building an iPhone app, perhaps you want to spend all your advertising dollars and marketing ammunition in one go. Reason? well, one of the most common ways you can make it big with your app, is to get into weekly top apps i-tunes list. Perhaps that’s not true with web apps. In fact Google takes anywhere between 2-6 weeks to index your site. So some bake time between marketing efforts turns out to be very handy.
5. Optimize your site for search engines
Now although it sounds obvious, its easier said than done. Building back-links, and having content optimized for certain keywords is a lot of painstaking work. Building links to your site takes time, and finding right key words is game of trial and error. We are optimized for “events around you”, but who searches for “events around you”? – very very few. There are lot of good articles on how to do this, and why you should be optimized for SEO – but obvious one line answer being – its the cheapest marketing tool. We have not yet learned from our mistake yet, and FurlanGo is largely unoptimized for search engines.
6. Plan your space – find your niche
This was perhaps the biggest lesson we learned. Events is such a general space. There are literally thousands of sites listing events. Unless you have significant technology advantage, or content advantage, I’d strongly advice against entering this space. Its easier to find your niche and area of expertise and build from there. In context of FurlanGo, we could have entered a niche eg, sports events or even smaller niche like indian music concerts in US, build some loyal fan following and then expand. Of course, this is not sure shot winning strategy. And we are still sticking in general event listing space – but if that’s your choice, be prepared to compete against the best of the best.
7. Get a Co-Founder
I was fortunate to have a very smart and intelligent co-founder. You need a co-founder for your sounding board, maintaining your motivation and of course helping you build stuff . No matter how cool stuff you are building, there will be times when you might just lose bit of belief in your product. You need motivated people around you. In case of FurlanGo, I was fortunate to have initially one and later two very intelligent and motivated people around me.
We did make many other mistakes, specially on the technology side, but that’s the topic for another day. We are still working on our product, and you can always follow updates on FurlanGo here. No matter how many mistakes we made – it was hell of a lot of fun!!