Don’t build in-house tools that aren’t core to your business. Focus on your core.
It’s easy to want to build everything yourself. It’s hard to train your mind to build your startup in a modular, lean way. Leverage the hard work of others and focus on your niche, your little problem that you solve in a unique way better than everybody else. Reinventing the wheel takes away very limited resources from your core focus.
An example: We first built a half-assed CRM for our startup that sold local restaurants. When I told one of my software advisors this, I thought he was going to physically hit me. “There are 14 million people that make sales-based CRMs at every price point you could imagine. What’s your unique spin on it?” I didn’t have an answer, there was nothing unique about it, we had wasted our time.
The initial thought was “it’ll only take a few days, maybe a week at most.” Problem there is several fold: your developer could have spent that time doing something else, now you have new database tables to maintain, the code base is now larger/less focused and now you have another whole feature or product to maintain. The last part is the most important point: you think the sales guys just used the product that we made initially? Nope. 100 feature requests later we’re finally “done.” That took 3 more weeks. It’s easy to want to build new things and have entrepreneurial A.D.D., it’s much harder to take the Steve Jobs approach and STAY FOCUSED.
- 50 hours to initially develop + ( 10hrs/week * 3 weeks after launch) = 80 hours.
- $20/hr for developers (it’s a startup after all)
- $1,600 spent on an in house tool
- We could have EASILY outsourced this for $20/month, meaning it would take about 7 years to spend our initial investment
Some tools you can use instead of building:
We’ve used and paid for 20+ web apps now that have allowed us to push off headaches. Here are some of my favorites…
Kontagent is a user analytics platform for the social web. It was originally built for Facebook games and has since pushed outside into web apps. It provides user level data on retention, revenue, acquisition and viral sharing components of your game or app. When we first started building social tools, we were basically shooting in the dark without Kontagent and have now come to rely on it for everyday business decisions.
Do not, I repeat, do not manage your own email server unless it’s core to your business. Did those emails actually go out? What was the open rate on the emails when users did xyz? Emails, especially in social applications are an extremely large driver of retention. Postmark is a service for outsourcing your transactional emails. They have the simplest of APIs and handle everything for you for basically nothing. It pays for itself after the first time your server admin inevitably screws up your email server “in house” (nothing is really in-house anymore thanks to Amazon, Linode and others).
Setting up A/B testing for splash pages is a pain in the ass. It’s not hard to code, just a pain to do and thus never gets done. We ran the first two years of our first startup without landing page optimization testing. Dumb move I agree, however in any startup there are 9 million other things to do and A/B testing sometimes takes a back seat. It shouldn’t have. Google Website Optimizer was a 1 day install for us. It took the graphic guys 5 hours and me on the coding end about 4 hours start to finish. We raised our conversion rate of our splash page by 10% over the two weeks after we pushed this live. 10% in our business equates to thousands of dollars, and we’re relatively small (20 full timers as of October 2011).
Those are a few, there are plenty more. Once you have gotten off the ground, raised a little money, or better yet made some money, then it’s OK to start experimenting. Entrepreneurs learn a ton from screwing things up, we’ve noticed tons of niches we might be better suited for just by screwing so many things up over the years. I still advocate for focus at first, down the road there are a lot of opportunities that emerge when you’re out there hacking around all the time.
Focus on your core.