Some think that completing their product is the end of the road, and that gold bullion will pour down from the sky and into their wide-open pockets. Let’s just say that, in my experience with start-ups, this is an optimistic misconception. For most, this so-called “conclusion” is nothing but the start of a one-to-two-year marathon before they can expect to see even an occasional light shower of silver or copper.
To put this another way, there’s a lot of hard work between “code complete” and “sale complete”. In the first software company I founded back in *ahem* 1997, we worked all hours to get our first product to market in time, and we did it. We were bleary-eyed and overtired, but man were we psyched. We hit the button and … heard the sound of crickets. Someone coughed in the distance. I swear I saw some tumble-weeds roll past. To one degree or another, that went on for almost two years. Sales figures for that period were a big old goose egg. When it finally came, we framed the check that paid for our first sale. Of course, the story has a happy ending, because if things hadn’t picked up from there, we probably wouldn’t be here today.
There are no two ways about it: building a business always takes energy, resources and a lot of patience. If you are primarily or entirely online, then patience is even more important. Back in 1997, the internet was not as well indexed, featured fewer users and less content, but the challenge was essentially the same: get seen by as many potential customers as possible. Online, everything is about search. People find what they are looking for. You can have the best product and the most beautiful, elegant website known to humankind, but until Google loves you, no-one will ever see it. If no-one sees it, no-one buys it, it’s as simple as that.
Over time, search engines will start to pick you up, you’ll gradually gather press mentions and links from other sites. But it all takes time and patience. It’s ironic, really. The internet is a medium where more information moves and changes faster than at any time in history, but shifts in online buyer behaviour (at least for business software) still seem to happen so slowly.
My advice for the budding online software entrepreneur? Start with a bright idea, plan well, build something solid and then hunker down for the long haul. Trust me, it’s worth it.