This week, we made a ton of progress with our first app — MinutesNotice.  We launched Beta last Saturday, invited a very limited group of friends for feedback, launched a  Beta 2 with about 15 bug fixes, added some functionality, and removed the "Beta" suffix from the app when we considered it "good enough for a v1."  Not bad for a few guys and the help of a lot of friends.  We’re very encouraged by what has transpired so far — we know we can build something decent on a shoestring, and we know where to go next with feature set.  I thought I’d share a few quick highlights on the things we’ve faced while developing our first app.  It’s helpful to me because this will probably be a resource for me for the future.  I’ll probably re-read this blog post when I create startup #5.  (Quick aside, but this experience has been so much fun, I’m 99.9999999% sure I’ll do this again.)  It may or may not be helpful to you — though this is probably more for people who have a future building apps or startup software/internet companies.

  1. A ton of effort goes into this —  Perhaps not building a startup in 5 years made me forget :-)… but think about everything you need — opportunity identification, business model, distribution channels, catchy domain names/Internet properties, product requirements, user experience, integration with existing services, finding good developers/business people, selling your idea, finding people to test, getting financing, then finally making the leap to work on it full-time when it seems appropriate.  Sometimes I feel like I was more suited for this ten years ago ;-)… which is why some folks think that it’s a young person’s game.  I don’t necessarily disagree, but don’t count us "old folks" in our 30s out.  We aren’t Olympic gymnasts you know.
  2. Releasing our app has turned this into my obsession — Call it a "law of nature," but I guess that’s how this goes.  No worries here.  I pretty much sit in front of my computer all day, every day, from 7am-7pm and again after a few hours with the wife.  Thankfully, it doesn’t feel like work.  But I am surprised at how all-consuming this has turned out to be.  I love it.
  3. Early stage business people *MUST* have product management skills —  I used to think that startup business folks could come from a variety of different backgrounds.  But it’s hard for me to see someone with a strength in Finance or Networking really getting a product into the right place.  Product management is about monitoring the market, understanding users/customers, knowing what the dev/test process requires, and having an innate sense of knowing when a product is ready to go to the next level.  Maybe someone with a great Marketing background could do it, but it’s hard for me to see a Finance geek or Networking genius contributing a lot without having help on the PM side.
  4. It is *almost* impossible to *nail* your first product at the first shot — I have a new respect for companies that get out of the gate with a huge and immediate impact… especially companies that don’t have an inherently viral product.  Sometimes folks have lightning in a bottle or trip across a good idea that nobody else discovered.  But often times, the iterative Web model is a lot more forgiving — it’s almost expected that you’ll release in a "perpetual beta" (thanks Google) which makes consumers alot more forgiving about things like downtime, a quirky UI, or product limitations that just shouldn’t be there.  Our users have certainly been forgiving — and that has helped us spend valuable time not tweaking the app to meet someone’s expectations.  Instead we are working almost exclusively on new & necessary features to help our app work better.  That’s a big plus in a resource constrained environment.
  5. dev & test take more time than you think — It really doesn’t matter who you have or how capable they are, dev & test always takes longer than you expect.  If you have a lot of logic in your app, as we do, you can get tripped up by the most subtle of errors.  IMO you need to do a good job catching the small things more than the big things.  Most people can catch the obvious — but the small things matter in a big, big way.  Then when you have the basic logic coded, you then have the nightmare of dealing with multiple browsers… which felt to me at times like the old OS compatibility issues we faced in the mid-late ’90s.  Compatibility with IE6, IE7, Firefox, and Safari are all necessary at this point… and while we aren’t 100% there, we have spent a ton of time getting things to work the right way across browsers.  And even still, we have more work to do on compatibility.  It’s pretty miserable work, I gotta say.
  6. Focus & the Founding Team dynamic is paramount — There may not be two bigger success factors than keeping your eye on the ball and making sure your team is right from the beginning.  Focus is difficult in the sense that you have to continue to be agile *while* you have to focus on the task at hand.  As a startup CEO, you need to foster creativity while making sure you make progress.  It’s a fine line, but I think we’ve done a reasonable job here so far.  We’ll see how we do later.  On the team dynamic point, I think that you probably need two of the following three things from your dev/test team to make it work:  1) expertise in the exact development model, 2) a founding team that has worked together successfully in the past, or 3) willingness to work mad hours (16+/day) to bust through the issues.  IMO if you don’t have two of the three, you will have a lot of trouble that you shouldn’t have.

I hope this was helpful to you.  I knew these things & read them & lived them a few times before… but reading certainly isn’t the same as doing.

So where does this leave Notice Technologies and our MinutesNotice Facebook app?  Some things we thought have proven to be true.  Some false.  We’ll prioritize some things differently and de-prioritize others.  All told we’re in good shape.  And we have the help of great friends.  Here’s hoping it continues as we continue to build, rebuild, refine, and expand our reach.