Don’t let these early mistakes with your software process keep your fledgling company from success
“I eventually had to rebuild the entire app again.”
“I can’t launch because our developers are taking too much time.”
“People will hate our company because of our app.”
If this sounds like you, you are not alone. You are joined by thousands of other founders who are relentlessly pursuing great developers, struggling to keep product deadlines and battling broken builds. Software is their biggest nemesis. But it doesn’t have to be.
After having worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs on software development, we at VenturePact have found that by simply avoiding these five mistakes, you can make software your biggest asset instead of letting it slow you down:
Waiting for the “Dream” Developer
Way too many founders are in quest for their 10x developer, the dream engineer who is 10 times as productive as the average engineer. However, to get started, one hardly ever needs a 10x developer, unless of course technology is at the core of your business (in which case you should probably be the 10x developer yourself).
For many tech-enabled startups, some combination of WordPress, a few plugins and a freelancer can do the trick. Once the first version is out, selling your dream to that dream developer becomes easier. With just an idea on a cocktail napkin, it may take months to get lucky.
Writing Code From Day One
As founders, software development is one of our major costs. So when we hire a developer or outsource to a team, we want them to start churning out code right away. If they spend time planning, we are immediately suspicious that the developer is just taking us for a ride. “Didn’t Zuckerberg build the first version of Facebook in a weekend?”
No, he didn’t. (Do you really believe everything in a movie?) Good software requires some thought up front as to how the development will progress. What will be built first? Which framework is the right fit? Which database will render the best performance?
Unplanned software development will inevitably bite later in the form of delays and bugs. It would hurt less to “waste” some time in planning.
Ignoring Libraries, Plugins and Tools
When we are building a house, do we build every kitchen cabinet, every table and every bed with our own hands? No, you buy them off the shelf. It’s quite similar when it comes to software, and it’s truly astonishing how much software is available on the Internet — for free.
More often than not, what you are going to build is probably already available in some form or another in a library, as a plugin or as a SaaS solution. Especially when it comes to common features like shopping carts, analytics, commenting, logins, customer support; it would be ridiculous to build everything from scratch for an MVP.
In fact, using some tools, you can really dress your MVP up to look like a seasoned product.
Building Too Much, Too Soon
Entrepreneurs — even those who understand lean principles — often end up squeezing a lot of functionality into their initial versions. Now, statistically speaking, no founder — or for that matter, anyone — is adept at accurately anticipating the needs of a customer. So more often than not, they will end up rebuilding a lot of the functionality.
From a software standpoint, rebuilding something takes a lot more time than just building it from scratch. You do not have to worry about dependencies. Isn’t it easier to build an Ikea cabinet from scratch rather than take apart a wrongly fitted one and rebuild it?
The best strategy is to start with a skeleton and then figure out the product roadmap after getting user feedback. It’s better to let the user request a feature instead of spending time building features they don’t want or care about.
As founders, our product is our baby. We are often uber-particular about every little detail: Is the button fully centered, is the website speed optimal, is the color palate just perfect?
Now, a piece of software can always be made better. The backend can always be made more secure and design can always be made more user-friendly. There is no end! However, as founders, we have to put a full stop somewhere.
Perfection when it comes to software is a pursuit and cannot be achieved in one iteration or release. So hours spent to make that little tweak that makes the website 3 percent faster and design just a little better add up rather quickly and cause massive (self-imposed) delays.
Bonus: Build a Business, Not Just the Software
If you build it, they will not necessarily come. On the Internet, there is so much noise that just by virtue of being live, you are not assured traffic.
Founders often blame clunky software for low traffic or conversion and start building their smarter, better V2.0 way too soon. Without adequate user feedback, they load it up with more features and seemingly better design, hoping that now they will finally come. And when they still don’t, founders make the product heavier by dressing it up even more.
Building a business requires more than just good software. But founders, at times, get so caught up in building software that they ignore the larger business realities. A company needs sticky messaging, intelligent marketing and smart sales as well to be successful. Software alone isn’t enough.
Pratham Mittal is the co-founder of VenturePact, a marketplace that helps companies find and engage with prescreened software development firms; he previously founded Newsance, and worked in Product at Host Committee.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organisation comprising the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship programme that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
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