In today's fast-paced and technology-driven world, 𝐧𝐨𝐧-𝐭𝐞𝐜𝐡𝐧𝐢𝐜𝐚𝐥 𝐬𝐭𝐚𝐫𝐭𝐮𝐩 𝐨𝐰𝐧𝐞𝐫𝐬 𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐢𝐧𝐜𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐬𝐢𝐧𝐠𝐥𝐲 𝐯𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐮𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐢𝐧𝐭𝐨 the realm of software development to transform their innovative ideas into tangible products. These individuals, hailing from diverse fields such as healthcare, finance, education, trading, etc., possess a burning passion for success and a drive to create products that bring social value. They may envision e-commerce solutions for untapped markets, specialized communities for service providers, e-learning platforms, and revolutionary social media platforms, etc.
As a software development consultant with over a decade of experience, I have had the privilege of working closely with individuals from around the globe. I have witnessed their determination and unwavering commitment to their entrepreneurial dreams. However, I have also observed a common challenge they face—the transition from idea to practical product.
In order to transform their visions into reality, founders must possess a profound understanding of their target users and the complexities of their respective industries. By evaluating feasibility and market demand before initiating the development process, they can establish a strong foundation for their ventures. While non-technical startup owners may not be expected to have extensive knowledge of software technology, it is crucial for them to articulate their business model, comprehend their users, and envision the product or service they intend to offer to the market. Regrettably, not all startup owners delve deeply into these critical aspects before embarking on their development journeys.
In this article series, we would like to draw lessons from our experiences, we will provide actionable guidance to help startup owners overcome these challenges and effectively drive their businesses forward.
This is the first article in the series, it examines common pitfalls encountered by my clients, accompanied by real-world case studies.
Most often, founders face challenges such as difficulties in communicating with software development teams, ending up with an unsuitable product, running out of budget, or experiencing delays in release. I have observed that they often fall into several pitfalls:
1. Vague idea description
If you don't know who your customers are and what they need, who will answer those questions? I believe that the owner, along with their team, should immerse themselves in understanding their idea and clearly envision the product they want to create. This enables effective communication with investors and the software development team, presenting a coherent and persuasive concept.
Case study: As a consultant for Niche Social Network app development, I received numerous inquiries about the project's development costs, including one from a client in Boston, USA. When I asked for a description of their software, they simply said they wanted a Facebook-like platform with subscription-based revenue instead of advertising. When I inquired about what differentiated their site from Facebook, they struggled to provide an answer. It seemed they had only noticed the attractive features of our product, similar to Facebook, without recognizing the uniqueness and distinctiveness of their own product. It's challenging for any developer to take on a project with such a simplistic description as "Facebook-like”.
2. The missing business model or development purpose
When an idea sparks, some of my clients immediately think about software development without defining a suitable business model. They are unaware of how to generate revenue, what expenses to consider, or the key success factors required for their business. Rushing into software development too early leads to mistakes, resulting in an unsuitable product or budget depletion before the product is launched.
Case study: I had an extremely generous client from New York with whom I developed a good friendship. He had a strong background in software development and had plenty of ideas for online business ventures. As the project manager, I formed a team of four developers and one quality control specialist. I praised the clarity of his software description, which provided detailed instructions for our work. Whenever there were doubts, he would promptly answer with mockups to illustrate his ideas. This was excellent for ensuring that our team delivered what the client needed. However, once the project was launched, he surprised me with a question: "Can you suggest ways to monetize this product?”. It seemed he also lacked a clear purpose for developing that application. Eventually, the project was put on hold because he didn't have a clear direction afterward.
Rome is not built in a day. Many customers want everything in the first release. They want the initial release to include all the features that their customers might need, including a mobile app and web application platform, multilingual support, and more. While I support thinking big, it's crucial to start small and take it step by step. A feature-rich product requires substantial resources to develop, along with significant costs. Not every startup has abundant resources to start with a large-scale product. Moreover, the development time can be extensive, and you might miss out on golden opportunities. Are you willing to put all your eggs in one basket? And what if you discover that most of the features don't align with your target customers at the end?
4. Lack of alignment with the development team
Having an in-house development team is great, but offshore and nearshore development are also popular solutions due to their cost-effectiveness and expertise. While an external development provider supports your business execution, it can also lead to conflicts. Common conflicts revolve around cost disputes, scope of work, and timelines. These issues frequently cause delays in launching by months compared to the initial plan or significant cost overruns. The root cause is the lack of long-term vision regarding software development, resulting in loose contracts and confrontational approaches rather than collaboration.
Case study: I once failed in a project to develop an online cruise booking application in Norway. We worked together using the Offshore Development Center (ODC) model, and at that time, I was just starting my project management career. We signed a 6-month contract to develop this application. Within two weeks, the team scaled up to 9 members enthusiastically working on the project. The customer continuously provided requirements, and we worked diligently to develop them. Due to the time zone difference, we often had online meetings in the evening after work. It wasn't uncommon to answer questions or fix issues for the customer at 10 PM. With that work pace, the customer expected a fast delivery timeline, while our team needed time to organize work and make improvements. This resulted in dissatisfaction. Looking back, the lack of a common set of rules in project management and development methods was the cause. We lacked common guidelines for communication, management tools, reporting, and production planning to meet expectations and shared goals from the start. Later on, when applying those improvements, my projects gradually improved, and customers became more satisfied.
Overcoming Common Pitfalls
There may also be other reasons, but those are the four common ones I have seen among the clients I have worked with. It is crucial to consider the development team as an integral part of your business and involve them in the process. Here are some suggestions to overcome these challenges:
1. Clear software idea
Define the necessary features (think big) and establish a prioritized order. Once you have a comprehensive list of features, it's time to prioritize them. Not all features are equally important or urgent, so you need to establish a prioritization framework to classify them into: Must-have, Should-have, Could-have, and Won't-have.
2. Business model/development goals
Determine how the business will operate and estimate the budget that can be allocated for maximum software development within the timeline. Revise the prioritized order of required features to fit goals’ constraints.
3. Software development planning
Based on prioritization and budget, create a balanced software development plan that aligns the elements of budget, scope, and timeline appropriately.
4. Alignment with the development team
Select a suitable team to execute or develop the software, and establish common conventions as a way to manage the providers. As a non-tech startup owner, you may not be familiar with software development processes or how to manage providers. You can seek advice from experts in the software field or hire an expert within the founding/management team in roles such as CTO, product owner, or consultant. They will greatly assist in establishing a common understanding with the suppliers and contribute to creating a more viable MVP.
In this article, we have explored the common pitfalls that non-tech startup owners often encounter in software development. We discussed the importance of avoiding vague idea descriptions and the significance of having a solid business model and development purpose. We also emphasized the pitfalls of impatience and the lack of alignment with the development team. By understanding and addressing these pitfalls, non-tech startup owners can set themselves up for success in their software development journeys.
To overcome these challenges, we provided guidelines and strategies that empower non-tech startup owners to navigate the software development process effectively. We emphasized the need for a clear software idea and established a prioritized order of features. We also highlighted the importance of determining a strong business model and development goals, which include estimating budgets and revising feature priorities accordingly. Additionally, we discussed the significance of short-term and long-term software development planning, ensuring a balanced approach that aligns budget, scope, and timeline.
In the next articles, we will continue to delve deeper into these insights and provide further strategies to help non-tech startup owners outline their software ideas clearly and create comprehensive development plans. By following these guidelines, non-tech startup owners can enhance their confidence and readiness when collaborating with software development teams.