Lessons Learned From Launching A Web Startup

Many times people ask me about how to launch a web-based startup on the cheap. There are many articles / blogs out there offering such advice. However, when you finished reading them, you left unsatisfied. The advice are too generic, you shouted. Well, you cannot really blame the authors. They try to appeal to the widest audience possible (to enhance their readership), so they do not take a stand on anything controversial.

This blog entry is different. I come from a tech pedigree of Ruby on Rails, so I will be as opinionated as the RoR tradition. Here you go, the top 6 lessons.

1. Use Ruby on Rails. Of course, what else are you going to use to scaffold a website as quickly and elegantly as possible. If you have a business co-founder, learn Ruby on Rails. People always ask for advice on how to find a technical co-founder. No, you do not find them. You earn them. Your currency is your technical knowhow, and your understanding on the technical side will make you humble and thus make you a good business co-founder.

2. Use Bootstrap CSS. It is always tempting to try to do something unusual (‘innovative’) on the website look and feel. Don’t, because you will be wasting time and energy for mininal gains, if not pure losses. Look, if you are a startup, you can rarely be good at multiple things, due to resource constrains. Focus your energy to bring your product to market and delight your customer. Say it with me, “I can live with a generic button.” Also, as a plug, use Font Awesome for your icon needs.

3. Make it mobile friendly. Wait, wait, do not leave and do not be scared. Making a website mobile-friendly is not daunting if you implement Bootstrap framework right amd add css class attributes to make it shine on any mobile devices. “Responsive” is the new hot word in town. If you do not know what it is, do a Google search to learn and then step into the 21st century. My experience with Tenantify (https://tenantify.com) is that at least 10% of traffic comes from mobile. If you are a content publisher, the percentage can be as high as 50%. Be respectful of your customer’s time by making your site mobile friendly.

4. Use Digital Oceans as your hosting solution. Amazon is too complicated to configure, and anything else is too expensive and does not provide a good service. Digital Oceans allow you to start cheap ($5/m) and scale at will.

5. Use APIs. The web today is very different from 10 years back. Back then, the web is a collection of pages linked together. Today, the web is a collections of interactable data that talk in strange language such as XML, JSON. These APIs are nothing but time savers. Why reinvent a telecom solution if you can plug in Twilio? What about Stripe? Building a website is like building a skyscraper. Rather than laying one brick a time, you are better off hauling those sweet APIs like pre-fabbed compartment.

6. Do not build your platform on top of any social media platform. I know many companies have been successful in building a business on top of facebook. However, always remember that you are borrowing something from someone else, and there is always payback time. Both Facebook and Twitter seem notorous in changing terms and pull support from some emerging services. At Tenantify, we originally thought of more closely integrating with social media, but at the end we decided to only offer a weekly raffle for our social supporters. Easy but sweet.

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