Twenty-five years is a long time to do something; especially on the internet. “Back in my day” we had to use Real Media Encoder on MiniDV footage to compress videos into a handful of pixels so that people with 56kbps modems could watch little moving pictures on table-designed web pages over their AOL or NetZero connections.
Thankfully, technology has advanced and things have changed. Unfortunately, for a vast majority of people looking to get into the online-business industry, many approaches and thinking about how to do that effectively really haven’t evolved. Here’s a list of the ten mistakes I’ve seen founders make, and how to navigate those:
“If I build it, they will come.”
This is the most important thing to consider in the history of considering things online. The hard truth of the matter is that odds are, more educated, more connected, and more financially backed teams have created more brilliant or more innovative products at various points throughout the last 30-year history of the internet. Moreover, an overwhelming majority of those have failed. The internet and the market it serves are a fickle, impatient, globulous mass of needs… but the market is rarely willing to change its habits to address them.
Before you put anything into a flowchart to plan your application, it’s vital to have clear assumptions about how exactly you plan to reach people. This might sound like a simple, “advertising” answer, but if you think back to the time an ad introduced you to a brand you’ve never heard of and that ad turned you into a user of that product… chances are that list is very short. You have to have a better plan than “create noise, get users”.
Yes, creating noise can work, if you have the money to support it; but that noise has to stick. Noise must translate into Signal. Thankfully in 2023, there are numerous ways to generate signal from noise – through influencers, carefully orchestrated launch campaigns, perfectly timed and targeted advertising and networking. Chances are you’ll need to test and try them all to make any kind of impact on the user quantities required to consider a launch successful. Above all, generating “hype” around your application to the point where it has a lasting impact on a scalable user base is the key to anything, regardless of what you’re building.
“It does everything ever!”
I’ll type this slowly, so you can read it loudly in your mind, to make sure it sticks.
Features. Do not. Create. Businesses.
Twitter barely even did its one feature right. Instagram was necessary so people could share images, and that only succeeded after they pivoted away from whatever it was called prior to being named Instagram, where users posted photos and checked into physical locations. Facebook’s added features for years and their user acquisition and engagement metrics are a dumpster fire (their timeline algorithm being terrible is a huge factor in this too though). People like to compartmentalize their needs into focused tools that get a job done, and done right, directly. There’s a reason you can’t go to the Home Depot website, and share photos of your family picnic while watching how-to videos for baking cakes.
Sounds absurd, doesn’t it?
Take that logic and blend it. You don’t want your application to be a social media, e-commerce, video content sharing, gig economy, videogame, loyalty program, and streaming service platform. Pick one, stick to it, and focus hard on what part within that sector you want to accel at. You can’t even create a gig-economy application that covers all verticals. Uber Eats is just Uber Eats, you can get stuff from stores participating, but for the most part, people who need new bath towels don’t think – “oh! I’ll just get my new bath towels from Uber Eats”.
“That’s not my job.”
It might not be your job or even your area of expertise, but if you want to run a technology-industry business, it’s vital to at least understand the basics. This isn’t a call from some computer nerd to beg those not savvy with computers to dip their toes in nerdom; it’s just a statement of fact that if you want something built and you want it to be successful; you’ll want to understand – in part – how it not only works but more importantly, what it takes to make it work for your business.
You don’t need to know how an application load balancer works, but you should at least be aware that an application load balancer is an option, and have a vague idea about when it’s useful for you to use it. You don’t need to know what MVC framework to use, but you should know what an MVC framework (as a term) is and why it’s important. For the most part, these “overwhelming, techy terms” are all jargon-filled words slung together in an effort to make sense of the various moving parts of the way things currently work. The downside, the list is always changing… so it really should just become a thing that you work at routinely; so that you’re equipped to at least make decisions and have conversations for things like “requirements and responsibilities” for new hires, and “systems needs” for scale.
Here’s a quick list of terms that are currently useful in 2023:
For those interested in “how things work”, here’s a quick list of frameworks and engines that are popular among the “commercially viable” folks in 2023 that you can Google to read more about:
- PHP frameworks – CodeIgnitor, Laravel, Symfony
- Python frameworks – Django, Flask
- CSS frameworks – Sass, Less, Bootstrap
- Database engines – MySQL, PostgreSQL, NoSQL, MongoDB, Oracle
- Microsoft stuff – ASP.NET, C#, Azure, MS SQL
Yes, there’s a lot to unpack here, but you also don’t need to know everything about everything – rather, you just need to be aware of what exists, and bonus points if you can understand or at least grasp why these things are used and why they exist.
It’s built, now what?
I’m going to repeat this again – building it isn’t enough. Once you have something built, it needs to be hosted; it needs to be hosted in a way that is effective for user growth, and in a system that can respond to user interest increases over time (and decreases, unfortunately). Costs are associated with this – and in this day and age, there truly aren’t any shortcuts you can take on hosting that won’t negatively impact your business. Shared hosting is rarely, rarely the answer.
Then there are security updates, patches, and maintenance… Just because you got something built, doesn’t mean your application is finished, it’s actually just getting started. There will be updates, bug fixes, new devices, security patches, vulnerabilities that need to be addressed, and changes in how people interface with apps and websites. The technology industry is constantly evolving; to stay relevant – your application will need to evolve with it, to a degree. If architected correctly, keeping an application properly maintained shouldn’t be a huge cost sink, nor should it require loads of planning and thinking. But it does need to be done, and it can’t be ignored.
Don’t be Discouraged
Success comes in all shapes and sizes, and the internet isn’t some special playpen with a constructed set of requirements everyone needs to check off on a list in order to try their best at becoming the next big thing. However, if you want the best shot at providing the best outcomes for your efforts, hard-earned money, and limited time – give yourself the best chance possible by taking all the moving parts into account when creating and launching an endeavor.
Above all, get help, get money, and hire people.