The Software Business Challenge: Unanticipated Challenges Edition
Friday saw me admitting to a shortcoming in my fiction writing process.
We’re going to continue the theme with today’s post. (WARNING: This article is a free-thought experiment on my software challenge. It’s not structured well, so the tips are hidden within it at random.)
I left the Software Business Challenge with me planning out a piece of software and getting a working prototype done. (Check out the latest update here.)
I had a great prototype that sort of worked, and I was anticipating getting everything put into motion.
What happened next?
As you’ll all know by now, November/December was a workshy pair of months for me. Not a lot happened on the software front. A few hours here, a few hours there.
That said, let’s get on with the update.
Software Business Challenge Update #2: Unanticipated Difficulties
If you want to create software, commission software or sell software, there’s going to be a single stumbling block that affects you more than anything else.
What you see is not what you get.
Errors creep in. Stuff looks great but doesn’t work, or works but doesn’t look very good.
My initial piece of software fell into a couple of these issues.
Essentially, I found a different way to do a pretty key aspect of the internet marketing thing. The problem – and reason that most aren’t exploiting this way of doing things – is that it’s a pain in the backside.
Of course, that was going to be my selling point; I take the method and madness, and make it user friendly.
The problem is that that was a pain. It still will be, when I get back to this particular project. My experience with programming is limited; I’m an interested layperson who can hack a few bits together. Dealing with API’s, server configurations and other technical stuff gives me a headache. This would be ok, you would think, because I could just hire someone.
The Problem With Hiring Software Programmers
The main problem you’ll have with hiring programmers is the same problem as you’ll have if trying to do things yourself.
When you hire a programmer, you’re outsourcing the difficulties. They still exist though.
Your programmer will say, “Yeah… I can do it.” They’ll run into troubles though. Stuff won’t work when it should. Or they’ll do something and it won’t have the look or functionality you desire.
That’s not to say, “Don’t hire a programmer” but it is to say that you should expect issues to arise and you’ll have to deal with them.
Usually, dealing with it will mean more money, more time or more freelancers.
When you’re creating products for your own internal use, then this isn’t so bad. When you’re trying to create something to sell, then you need to turn over every stone.
Here’s How To Start Building Software
I’d strongly suggest making something really simple to start with.
Maybe build a plugin or something for your own site that doesn’t have to look good or have lots of different functions.
This is true even if you’re a programming nerd. Start with something tiny that works, and get the jitters out of your system. Obviously if you have programming skills, you can move on to bigger and better things quickly.
But for the rest of us, get something small commissioned. Make sure it works. Use it regularly. Then start thinking about either selling that thing to people (with an expanded feature list) or building something new that’ll be a decent product.
Here’s How To Decide Whether You’ve Got a Good Idea For a Software Service
Bear in mind I’m no expert here. I don’t have a seven figure software business or anything.
Here’s what I’d consider a good start:
- Do you make use of the software every day? (see above)
- Is it simple enough that you could have it turned into a service you could sell?
- Is it complicated or obscure enough that people aren’t just going to do it themselves?
- Can you produce that software/service at a price that’s competitive and profitable?
Once you answered those questions, you’ll have eradicated a lot of possible options. For instance, you might create a social media tool. People use social media every day. An occasional use piece of software probably isn’t going to cut it. Nor is something that’s too hard to use. The benefit of social media is that it’s point-and-click for the masses. If you’re thinking of creating a solution that any guy with a basic knowledge of PHP can put together, then expect people to just outright steal the idea. Finally, if it’d cost $500 a month for a simple service, you’re probably going to be out of luck… on the other hand, if you could only realistically charge $2 for the service, then you’re not going to make any money.
Outside of that, you’ve got a basic calculation to work out:
“How much is it going to cost to develop this software, and how quickly will I make that investment back?”
With a simple plugin, you might spend $500. If you can sell that for $10 a time, you need to sell fifty copies. (That’s the simple equation.) Assuming you have an audience, then fifty copies won’t take forever to sell.
That’s the good side of the equation.
The bad side is that there are people who’ll spend $50000 trying to set up a competitor to Facebook thinking that in two years they are going to land Venture Capital funding and make millions.
That’s a pyramid scenario. There’ll be some guys who manage that, but they’re 1% and it’s arguably a bad idea in terms of expected value.
Final Thoughts/Road Map
I’d recommend getting a working prototype that you use. Then you haven’t lost money because you’ll have gained something you use. Then assess expanding the service to others. If that’s affordable and plausible, then work out if you can earn the cost of development back.
Bonus points if you’ve got enough margins to run a marketing campaign or pay affiliates… that’s a topic for a later update though.
P.S. I’m learning all this software stuff as I go along, and I’m keeping the details purposefully vague. I’ll probably announce the SaaS thing I’ve got planned in more secretive areas, if you know what I mean.