Over the years I've developed several software products and sold them online, often without much planning or strategy - they sort of 'happened', and often failed. It wasn't until I built Scribblar (which I am still working on) and ShareMySlides (which is mainly sitting idle) that I started to add a bit of a methodology to my approach.
Right now the web is full to the brim with startup advice, and I figured I add my own experiences to that. So here are my top 3 (admittedly rather generic) tips for launching your own product - tips that I have received at some point and which held true.
1) Make something people want (thanks Doug Richard)
This sounds almost too obvious, but how many applications (read: potential products) have you built only to find out that noone was really interested in them after you shipped them? I've got far too many to list... For that reason, the best way to make something people want is to initially not make anything at all. Instead spend some time researching:
Is there a market for this product? How big is that market? Are my potential customers easy to reach? Can I make a profit from this?
Once you have that information you should go ahead and build a really simple prototype, then rinse and repeat the customer feedback loop. You will increase your chances of building something that people actually want by a huge margin.
2) Focus, focus, focus (thanks Mike Butcher)
Keeping focus is insanely hard. If you are thinking about building and launching your own software product then it is highly likely that you have more than one potentially good idea - I know I do. Figuring out on which idea to focus is a real challenge, but once you made your decision you should try your best to stay focused. Try not to get sidetracked into doing too many things at once.
I remember vividly when I set out to pitch my company for the first time - and I thought it was my company I *should* be pitching. Oh how wrong I was. It became quickly clear that there was so much stuff contained within by business that I needed to focus on one product, and I ended pitching Scribblar (and the pitch went very well). This was also a turning point for me as I now started to focus on my strongest product. Up to this point I had tried to work on several products at once, maybe in my mind I tried to spread the risk of failure, but in actual fact it is much harder to succeed that way. Of course you should move your focus from a failing product to the next, but not before you've actually giving it some focus in the first place.
3) Learn to say no (this one comes from me)
we're staying on the focus track here: learning to say no will help you stay focused. If you are a software developer you are likely being asked to undertake projects from time to time. Ask yourself if you really need the cash, or if your time would be better spend working on your own product rather than someone else's.
It can be incredibly tempting to take the cash whilst it is on offer, but if you still have a financial buffer left then I recommend you keep focus and learn to say no. Rest assured, more work is out there should you need it.
It's not about turning every job down - I know that bills have to be paid, I have a mortgage and three children - but it's learning to say no to the right ones. If you take on an 8 week contract then that'll turn into 10 or 12, and you can push your launch date further into the future.
so that's it, my distilled startup advice. Please leave feedback below and add your own tips.