Getting started on a new project is no joke, there are always challenges to be faced. But what if it is a new project in a field that you’ve never tackled before?
That sets the bar really high.
This is usually the case as I begin working with a new client. They have an idea they want to try, but have very little if any experience in the tech industry.
As I’ve been thinking about this, there are 5 main less technical aspects of starting a tech project.
This is probably hands down the most important consideration when starting your new tech project. And the part that I personally have the most difficulty with (being the technology guy that I am).
I cannot tell you how many discussions I’ve had with want to be founders, who have only thought about their project in their own frame of reference. Sure it might sound like a great idea, but you’re at this to solve a problem and perhaps even make a business.
So you need to get out there and really figure out how this solution you’ve dreamed up fits the market. And it isn’t enough to just ask if there are people out there that have the problem that your solution fixes.
There might be people out there with that problem, but they might already have a solution that works for them (enter my dislike of excel spreadsheets being used for entirely too technical of problem), or they might not want to change to a new platform, and even worse they might not care to pay for your solution.
This is not an all inclusive discussion on validation, there is too much to cover on that topic (and a lot of great places to dive deeper). Here are a few things to get you started:
You’ll be at this project for a long time in the best case. Make sure that you’re working with a target audience that you can empathize with and you genuinely enjoy being around.
Go to their watering holes, where do they usually congregate? You should be a fly on the wall in these locations. Perhaps it is in Facebook groups, or maybe a subreddit. Perhaps they have a local in person meetup. Do some research and figure this out.
Once you’ve identified a few places, start looking for common problems that people in the industry/group deal with. This will help you form a hypothesis for the next step (but this is just a hypothesis, don’t hold onto any results in these early steps too tightly).
Great, you’ve found that group of people that you want to rub shoulders with. It is important to start asking them questions. But not so fast.
This is the tricky part. In general people are nice, they don’t want to hurt your feelings. So if you start pitching your idea and asking them if they like it, be prepared to be lied to. As nice as it might be in the moment to hear they like your idea, it is likely they just didn’t want to hurt your feelings.
I know what you’re thinking, “OK, then what do I ask them?”
Be sure that you’ve taken good notes from the previous discussions, you’ll need them in this step. Perhaps you had a hypothesis of what problems your target audience was dealing with, but if not that is OK, now is the time to start teasing out the common themes.
So, you’ve got a start on validating your product, you have a real feeling that your solution is the right move forward. Does that mean that it is time for you to round up a team of developers and start building the full suite you are dreaming about?
Let me keep this simple, no!
Development can be really expensive, you need to manage your costs, and make the smart choice about how you can prove your idea out. This usually means starting with a smaller subset of what you eventually want to build.
Let me give you an example from a previous client. Please be patient, I’ll try to describe the project without giving it away (because it isn’t my idea to give away).
As I started talking with this client, we’ll call him Josh, it was apparent that he had an ambitious tool he wanted to build. It required a content authoring flow, file uploads, and chat between users. Not to mention search engine optimization for visibility in search results.
First off as as software engineer I got to think about all of the ways I could start building out these features (because that is what I love to do). But as we started discussing the project I realized that that would be the wrong route to pursue. There was too much risk for him to take on, even though he had started validating the idea.
We devised a different plan, what we really needed to learn, is how other people would interact with his product. What the general website visitor would see and experience. So rather than building out the whole suite of tools, we decided that a few simple web pages could be built with the desired content, and using analytics tools we could track how people interacted with those pages.
If these pages worked out well, we knew we had a minimum viable product (or perhaps a minimum viable idea), and we could move on to the heavy lifting of building out the many different pieces.
The trick, is this isn’t always the same. The MVP is dependent upon your target audience, determined solution, and analyzing the technical effort required to build what you need.
Just like many things in life, running a tech project is like an iceberg. There are a lot of things that you’ll need to get a handle of to get the benefits that you desire. I am not saying, though, that you need to be an expert in these skills. You just need to be familiar with them.
So we’ll start by introducing some of the skills that would be helpful.
SEO is short for search engine optimization. I would guess that a large number of people have at least heard of this, but if not that is OK.
SEO is the intersection of what you provide and people searching for it online.
Taking your insights from previous steps, you’ll have a good understanding of how your target audience talks about the problems you want to solve. Using this language will help you be found on the internet.
The content you create should leverage the language your target audience uses to appeal to them, and to help show the search engines how to find your content and product.
I know that this is a general overview. It is a deep subject. I just wanted to give you the general introduction of what it is and how it works.
I watched a great youtube video on this from the futur. They had a great discussion of knowing what content to use. You can check the video out here.
Email marketing is key to turn your hard earned followers into your audience. There is a deep discussion about audiences wether they are borrowed or earned. This is the process of taking an audience from a different platform (i.e. facebook, twitter, instagram) and turning them into an audience you’ve earned.
Look at it this way, there could easily be an algorithm change on one of these platforms that keeps you from being seen. All of your hard work could be gone like that!
If you’ve moved your followers to your audience on an email platform you can still get in contact with them.
This isn’t the place to dig deep into email marketing platforms, techniques for list building, and nurturing those leads, but, I wanted you to know that it exists and is important for you tech project.
If you do want to start learning more you can read this list at hubspot.
I am no salesman, and therefore feel under qualified to discuss sales. But I’ve learned that developing sales skills has a huge impact on your ability to move your project forward.
This may be sales to your direct customers or working with your team and sharing your vision. The better you are at sales, the more successful you’ll be.
Since I don’t feel qualified to teach sales (as I’m just beginning to learn myself), just know there are a lot of resources out there. Find some books that fit your style and are true to who you are and start learning.
So if sales is what you do to actually make the money you need. What then is marketing? I look at marketing as anything that you do to get your product in front of your target audience. This could be content marketing and SEO, it could be making social media posts, or even buying ads on the different platforms.
Marketing isn’t a silver bullet either, they work best when you know your target audience and how they talk about their problems. If you can nail that you’ll have better success with your marketing efforts.
Technical debt can often times be a challenging topic for people in the industry, so I’ll do my best to describe it here. No doubt, however, it will be topic of content in the future.
When you are starting a tech product, your first thought of what you’re producing might just be code.
But it can and usually is so much more than just the code that you produce.
You’re integrating with data stores (a database or an object store check in on the next article to learn more about this).
You’re probably integrating with payment processors.
Then you’ll include email marketing and transaction email platforms.
And the more you need your product to do, the larger this list tends to get.
On top of all of this, you’ll need servers to host your product. This could be app platforms or setup yourself.
But all of these moving pieces come at a cost. They need to be maintained, so that they all remain working together, and stay secure as well.
It can be expensive in time and money to maintain all of these systems and to grow with the changes that are or aren’t planned. You need to be comfortable with this tech debt when starting a project, because the same technology that enables your idea also is the albatross around your neck that holds you down.
Part of what I want to help you accomplish is finding the right developer for you project. This is no small task. As there is a lot of technology choices out there, and developers tend to pick their own set of favorite technologies (this is usually referred to as a stack).
I wish that I could tell you that you didn’t need to understand any of this tech stack, but as in life, the more you know the better off you’ll be. It is my contention that the more you learn about this the more prepared and better you’ll be at working with your developers down the road.
But, I have a big caveat to that.
When searching for a developer, you must look for one that cares mare about solving your business needs, than spouting off about their chosen tech stack.
In large part the technology is fungible, rather many different stacks can be used to solve your problems. If your developer is interested in discussing your problems and how it helps your business, then they understand that the technology is largely just a means to an end.
Finding the right developer can help minimize a great deal of the complexities discussed above. They’ll have a good grasp of the skills required and managing technical debt (we do this for a living).