Launch on a tiny budget


7

I have a product I'm developing on my own, with no other investors or partners. Via another project I'm developing, I have an IP Waiver and NDA that I can use for the project, I'm using my personal computer and resources to build the application.

The product is a web-based application for a particular market, which can be very niche, or grown, as I have the time and resources available to build it. That is, the fundamental components of the application are NOT niche, but the way it's presented IS niche. When I have time/resources to add additional presentation methods, the niche market can grow.

My question is this: I have a very small budget to spend money on for the project - $1000. I have the personal technical expertise to develop the architecture of this application, but I am not a web designer or a graphic designer. I have one user of the application already lined up, with a potential second. I have three companies who's clients would want to use this application who have agreed to do some beta testing for me, free of charge, prior to the public launch, and, if they like what I've done, to promote it to their clients. Both beta testers are technical in nature, and will be somewhat forgiving of a simple UI in the first version.

What would you say would be the best use of my money? I already have the domain for the site registered, and have earmarked $75 for hosting for one year (yes, I priced it out, and the only reason I would have to increase that would be if I had enough revenue to justify the increase).

So, $925 to spend to design/build/test/launch/market/support the application. What do I spend the money on?

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asked Dec 8 '09 at 03:08
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Elie
4,692 points
  • It's not clear to me, is this product B2B or B2C ? Those companies who will suggest the product to end customers, what is their benefit in this? Do your potential customers strongly communicate with and reference other customers inside this niche, i.e. is this niche tight and sharing experiences at identifiable venues (trade shows, blogs, universities, etc) or the opposite? – Jesper Mortensen 8 years ago
  • It's a B2B2C product. The 3 companies referring the product are doing this as a favor for forwarding business in their direction. There will be no cost to do this. It's possible for some portions of the market they work collaboratively, but for the most part, it's each customer for himself. – Elie 8 years ago
  • @Elie: OK, so business partnerships / affiliate marketing doesn't sound like a obvious fit then, sadly. – Jesper Mortensen 8 years ago
  • @Jesper Mortensen sadly not. It's a matter of getting to the people in the industry and convincing them to use the product, or to their clients to ask them why they aren't (I designed the product such that my users' clients will want them to be using this product over other alternatives). – Elie 8 years ago
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6 Answers


10

This is a tough one, but instead of focusing on the thing you don't have (money), focus on the thing you do have (time and talent).

Getting early customers is always, always hard. My advice would be to kick off a blog (that's a long term play, but still necessary). Second, start locating bloggers that are in your industry and forging the relationship. Read what they write, contribute to their conversations. Start poking around in twitter and LinkedIn answers. The idea is to find people that are not just potential customers (which would be great), but also find potential influences and well-wishers.

But, as soon as possible, you should be working to find real customers for the application, not just free beta testers. People willing to support you in the early days is great, but it still doesn't help you answer the question as to whether people will pay for it.

answered Dec 8 '09 at 03:17
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Dharmesh Shah
2,860 points
  • Thanks for the answer! As I mentioned, I have two customers lined up, one of whom has already agreed to pay for it, and the other is in the works. The beta testers are the same people doing the marketing (lucky break). I have a blog already, where I'll be posting info about the product. I'm active on various social networks including LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook. Reaching out - need to start doing that :-). – Elie 8 years ago
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3

  1. +1 for a web site. Hiring a good web site designer is expensive (beyond your current budget) and means you still have to come up with all of the content for them. Then you have to pay them to keep it current. If you use a Mac, you can build great web site yourself with a very short learning curve with RapidWeaver for under a $100. If you don't have a Mac, Buy a Mini for about $500. You can use it for all your web site work and to make sure customers using Macs have a good experience with your app and web site.
  2. Buy some design time for a company & product logo to make you look polished and professional.
  3. Get a toll free number. Put it prominently on your web site. Make it as easy as you can to talk with prospects and customers.
  4. Set aside a press release budget of a few hundred dollars. Send out at least a pre announcement, release announcement, and a press release for each upgrade of your app in the first year. Spend a few extra dollars the first couple of times to have the press release firm help you write your release.
answered Dec 8 '09 at 04:03
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Keith De Long
5,091 points
  • Are toll free numbers really an asset still? I don't know ANYONE who would be put off by a non-toll free number if they were thinking of calling. – Tim J 8 years ago
  • I thought press releases are generally considered useless. – Tim J 8 years ago
  • Spending half of his budget on hardware just to use rapidweaver sounds like bad advice. You are asking him to spend capital he doesn't have AND asking him to learn something new just to make a website. Why not just learn wordpress or something else? Or spend the $500 on someone to make the site? – Tim J 8 years ago
  • I must say I agree with Tim about the Toll free number item. Considering that the application itself and the website are tightly coupled, using an application to "help build the site" is unlikely to help me in this case. Item 2 is definitely useful - I have the concept for the logo and such already designed, but it's on paper. Press releases I can handle in terms of editing, having done that before, but I forgot about the promotional budget... definitely important. – Elie 8 years ago
  • I don't disagree with having a phone number - I meant why get a toll free one. I should have been clearer. I agree you need easy, prominent ways to talk to customers, but these days toll free numbers are not really a big deal. – Tim J 8 years ago
  • Ignoring the telephone is a common misconception about doing business on the web. People want to know who's behind the web site. We're an on-line software company that's been around for more than a dozen years. We get more orders via our toll free number than by e-commerce. We get tons of useful feedback every month by talking to our customers. – Keith De Long 8 years ago
  • Tim, Though we've always had a toll free number, our call volume doubled when we prominently displayed a toll free number on our web site about a year ago. It's still a very cheap way to effectively tell people that you want to do business with them. And yes, as I mentioned in my original answer, RapidWeaver and a couple of useful plugins will set you back about $100. Even with a Mini, it'll set you back much less than it'll cost you to hire a decent web designer. – Keith De Long 8 years ago
  • Again, the real issue is having a phone number - no need to pay additional for toll free number. The point of this person's post was low-cost. You are advocating spending $600+ for technology he might not be familiar with and to spend time learning it when he has lots of other free options. I really don't think that people who are willing to call a toll free number will decide not to if there is just a regular toll number. But I agree having it very visible. – Tim J 8 years ago
  • Tim, you have the right to your opinion on toll free numbers, it just doesn’t coincide at all with our experience. – Keith De Long 8 years ago
  • Keith, you said you only saw a jump in contacts when you displayed it prominently - you have no evidence to show that toll-free numbers increase call volume. Also, if people are that concerned about price, perhaps those are people who are not willing to pay for a product and just want to kick the tires... In my experience the people who don't have unlimited calling plans either from their cell or work or wherever and who worry about a dollar or two on their phone bill are NOT the people who buy software over the web. Maybe my customers are different from yours. – Tim J 8 years ago
  • Keith, I would have agreed with you years ago, but phone rates are so cheap now that toll free is just a non-issue, and I guess to flip the argument over since it costs so little as a business to have one then I shouldn't be arguing against it. – Tim J 8 years ago
  • I think the issue here is two-fold. First, I need a dedicated business line so that I can be reached via phone, and that number should be prominently displayed. The second issue is whether I need a toll-free number, or if I can use a local number. In that, I would say that initially it would be better to start with a local number (to save the cost), but once I hit a certain threshold to also get a toll-free number. – Elie 8 years ago
  • Tim, you're assuming that we went from no phone number shown to showing a toll free number. That is not the case at all. We doubled call volume when we swapped our regular number for our toll free number. You can assume that cheap rates are proof that it won't affect call volume. It just wasn't true at all for our software company. – Keith De Long 8 years ago
  • @Keith - I misunderstood the comment about displaying numbers. Also - how does call volume relate to sales? If you only increased call volume but did not increase sales then you are actually losing money. – Tim J 8 years ago
  • Based on my better understanding of Keith's toll free experience then I will have to say that is good advice. +1 for that one. – Tim J 8 years ago
  • Our call volume increase did correlate to an increase in sales. But the feedback beyond sales is also invaluable. For Elie, it is vital to talk to as many prospects and customers as possible. They will tell you what they like about your product (how to market it to others) what they don't like (what to work on in the next release) and where the friction is in doing business with you (i.e., what to change on your web site). For a business, these perspectives are all that counts at the end of the day. They may even tell you that you ought to get a toll free number ;-). – Keith De Long 8 years ago
  • And if prospects told me that, and I had the cash flow to cover the expense, then I would listen. I think that's the piece of advice that Dharmesh was giving saying to start blogging - I need to learn to start listening and responding to client input. – Elie 8 years ago
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3

I took a look at the root site of your blog, and I'd say improving your web design needs to be a top priority. Spec out what you need for the sales site, and find someone on eLance that can set up a CMS and theme it for you for $500. It doesn't have to be original, it just needs to look professional. You'll need to do the work to make the application itself look similar. Request a minimalist theme; it will be easier for you to reproduce its look and feel (pay attention to colors, fonts, and spacing).

Don't pay for a logo yet. Your first logo should simply be beautiful type. Try some different fonts for the product name, save them, and show screenshots of the site to friends, with different versions of the logo in each, to get some feedback on which font best matches the feel you're going for with the product.

After typography, the next best thing you can do to improve the design of your site and app is add icons. Check out http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/03/03/how-to-use-icons-to-support-content-in-web-design/ for a guide. There are many free icon sets available with varying licensing restrictions, but consider shelling out $50-$100 for an icon set.

As far as marketing budget goes, I couldn't say without more information about the product and market for it. It's always worth investigating the relevant keywords and seeing how much a search enginge Cost Per Click campaign would cost you.

answered Dec 9 '09 at 05:33
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Jay Neely
6,050 points
  • By root site of my blog, are you referring to www.optimalupgrades.ca? That was a quick hack off a template, and is on the list of things to replace. It's ultimately going to be completely replaced by the blog and associated content. The site itself is the application, so there's a landing page with info about the product, and then the content once you log in. Ergo, the two items are tightly coupled. Thanks for the link and feedback, very helpful! – Elie 8 years ago
  • +1 for the **concrete**, practical and detailed-enough advice. – Eternal Learner 5 years ago
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2

Web design.

Make sure anything the users' experience is as good as possible. All the rest can wait.

answered Dec 8 '09 at 03:13
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Gabriel Magana
3,103 points
  • Where can I get that kind of work for the budget I have? – Elie 8 years ago
  • It's hard to find a good/great designer for that kind of money -- and very easy to burn through available cash trying to figure that out. I agree on the importance of design, but I think it's better to find someone as a committed business partner that knows design and can help ongoing, than trying to hire one on a very limited budget. – Dharmesh Shah 8 years ago
  • Well, I have a couple partners from other ventures that are ongoing, and one is a web designer. I'll have to think about that carefully, though, as giving up equity is something you can rarely get back. – Elie 8 years ago
  • @dharmesh: True, I did not think adding a partner was one of the possibilities. Definitely that would be the best route, if possible. – Gabriel Magana 8 years ago
  • @gmagana Adding a partner wasn't mentioned. It's a [theoretical] option because it assumes I can find someone to work with who would agree to such an arrangement and balance the equity according to work done/ideas generated. – Elie 8 years ago
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2

What you have is time. Code your design yourself. Learn CSS (it's not that hard). There are millions of free resources out there.

Start a blog. It's the best way to attract the attention of Google (SEO).

Once all of this is done, you'll still have $1,000. I wouldn't spend the money on anything. No formal PR. The trick is being persistent. Start your blog now, not when your product is in beta.

answered Dec 8 '09 at 10:18
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Alain Raynaud
10,927 points
  • The blog actually already exists (http://blog.optimalupgrades.ca) but isn't publicizing the product yet. Before I do so, I need to ensure my copyrights are protected, a process which I have nearly completed. I think this is the route I'll be going, though, coding myself, and what money I do spend will be for books (about $100 for a couple of books which I'll find useful in general anyhow). – Elie 8 years ago
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1

One suggestion on how to proceed and where to focus your energies (and money) would be to read Getting Real - 37Signals excellent online book on how to create and run a web application company.

When looking at expenses and where to spend your money, you should put together a basic budget on what you expect the costs to run your company would be (and put some of your up-front funds in reserve) - since you mentioned it is a web application, your $75 hosting / bandwidth budget may be very low if you start to capture significant traffic.

answered Dec 9 '09 at 00:44
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Rs Holman
596 points
  • I've read the Web Startup Success Guide by Bob Walsh (even reviewed it on my site: http://blog.optimalupgrades.ca/2009/11/book-review-web-startup-success-guide/). I'll take a look at Getting Real, though - thanks! The $75 earmarked for hosting is if I get only a minimal number of clients for the site - as I get more users, I'll expand the package using funds from the users (membership model). My question was precisely about costs - what kind of things will come up that I need to budget for, either pre- or post- going live? – Elie 8 years ago
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