5 Tech Decisions An Online Business Must Make
So you have an idea and want to build a business around it? In 2017, the chances are that you’re looking at a business in which a mobile app or website plays a significant part.
You’ll want to be careful here – 9 out of 10 startups fail, and some of the most common reasons, as per Forbes, are lack of a market need, running out of cash, pricing/cost issues, a poor product, no monetization model, or ignoring your customers.
The way you support your business with technology affects each of these reasons. Make no mistake here – technology is meant to support your business. Technology is NOT YOUR BUSINESS. Uber is a transport business, not an app that calls a cab. Flipkart is a marketplace that enables sellers and buyers to transact – not an app or website to purchase a product. Gaana is a music subscription service – their app is just the channel to let this music reach their users.
Accordingly, your technology decisions should be driven by your business needs – and not the other way around. It is far too easy to get excited about a product, and build your business around it. In most cases, that is a mistake. Your product may be incredible, but if you don’t have a way to earn money from it – you have a hobby, not a business.
With that in mind, let us take a look at 5 decisions that a typical online business needs to make with regards to technology.
Make or Buy?
The first thing you need to decide is – do you use an existing product out there, or do you create your own custom system?
Making your own system entails a larger upfront cost and more time to develop, but also allows for much more flexibility in terms of features down the line. An existing product, on the other hand, helps you get your business set up quickly, and at a far lower upfront cost. Forget about a great deal of customization, though. Customizing an existing product can end up costing as much time, effort and money as a custom product of your own (and more at times), and also open the door for unforeseen bugs.
Which Platform to Develop For?
Do you need to make a website or a mobile app? Android or iOS? There’s no right answer here. The best suggestion would be based on your intended use, target customer, competition or budget.
Is the product more likely to be accessed at work? Are there details that need a big screen to be understood correctly? Will the user be likely to conduct a single transaction? If so, perhaps a website is a good choice.
On the other hand, if your product is likely to be used on the move, needs to take advantage of mobile specific features (such as a front camera or location), or has repeated usage, a mobile app may be a good idea.
You’re never going to be able to reach every user. The platform you select should aim to reach the largest possible number of your initial target base. A website would help you do this.
If you do need to create a mobile app for some of the reasons described earlier, I would strongly recommend going for one platform at first. This helps you understand what works and what doesn’t in your app, helping you get it right on one platform first, and then developing it for the 2nd platform.
If you’re in India, Android is a good bet, as it addresses a larger audience. If your target base is in Japan, the US, UK or Australia, you might consider iOS first as it addresses a wide audience. iOS also has the advantage of limited fragmentation in phone and iOS, making it easier to build your app to work across devices.
As a rule, mobile app development is costlier than a website. It is also more difficult to acquire customers for a mobile app and retain them – this drives up marketing costs as well. So you might want put resources into a website if the budget is tight, and you do not need any mobile specific features which are not available for a website.
Technology to use
If you’re going for an eCommerce website, you have the option of creating a custom website or using an existing eCommerce framework. Now, for most businesses, a custom eCommerce website is just not required – it is far too costly to justify, unless your business needs a level of customization that just cannot be provided by a framework. Large eCommerce companies like Amazon, Flipkart, Alibaba would need a more customized platform for their website.
For a new/niche eCommerce business however, it makes more sense to use one of the numerous existing eCommerce frameworks. Existing eCommerce frameworks take care of most of the functions commonly required in an eCommerce site, and also have a widespread support system of modules and plugins that enable different degrees of customization.
- The most basic is Shopify, a DIY ecommerce framework which allows you to set up a store with minimal effort and technical knowledge, in exchange for a monthly fee and transaction charges.
- Woocommerce is an ecommerce framework that is built upon WordPress – so if you intend to keep a blog to bring in customers, a WooCommerce site is a good option, with more customization than Shopify.
- Magento is a framework that allows for the most amount of customization, and is often used by larger eCommerce sites. However, the technical expertise required is considerable, and support is limited to the Magento community. Magento also has an enterprise solution, which does allow access to Magento service staff, but the costs for this are generally only affordable for a large eCommerce company.
Inhouse or Outsource?
One choice each company has is whether to develop in house, or outsource, or a combination of both.
If you or your team has the technical knowledge (or the inclination to learn) and the time, developing in house could help you conserve cash for other activities – business development, marketing and so on. This may also help you have more control over the
If not, outsourcing your work may be a better choice for you. However, you need to select your developing partner carefully. A few pointers for this are
- Look into what projects the company has done previously. If they’ve done a similar project, that would mean better quality and quicker delivery of their work.
- Ask around to find people who have worked with the company you’re considering, and find out how their experience was.
- Evaluate whether the company you’re considering would work out in the budget available.
- Enquire about and understand who you would be interacting with on a day to day basis. Coordination (and lack of it) can make or break a project. Is there a single point of contact or do you have to speak with multiple people? How responsive is the company to you? Are they honest about the amount of effort involved in your project?
- Ask your developers the following questions
- Will your solution scale as I require? How can it serve x users a day?
- How easy is it to maintain or update the existing product?
- I want to be able to control x elements of the product. Will I be able to do so easily?
- What support will you be providing once the product is launched?
- Can this integrate with other systems that are needed for my business?
- Will training be required in order to use this system? Will you be providing it?
What Features to Provide
The final point of discussion is the feature set to provide. Over here, rather than listing out a laundry list of features, I’d recommend go with what your customers/users tell you.
This may be difficult at first, when the product is conceptual. One way to tackle this is by creating a basic product, without much refining, and refining it based on feedback from the customers. So you need to decide what features are most important in order to have a basic functional product. You can do this by asking around in your network, identifying pain points with existing players, or any other means necessary. Build the basic product, get it out to some of the intended customers and request them for feedback.
Once you do get your feedback, refine the product, and release again. By iterating through this process, your product would meet it’s market needs – little by little.
One thing to note, however, and I can’t stress this hard enough – do not put yourself in the customer’s shoes, or asking your developer to do this. The customer has a habit of surprising you. Assuming that you know what your customer wants, without actually asking or observing them, can be a costly mistake – leading to unnecessary development and redevelopment work that costs you time and money.
Tech is just one of the elements that goes into creating a new business, and this article just brushes on some aspects you should consider while making your tech choices.
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