Creating a webapp is creating a startup
Do you think of writing a webapp in similar terms to creating a startup? I think that they are in very similar. Let me explain to you why, and see if you agree.
I’ve been building and coding webapps for many years now. I have experience of working in a startup that went bust, and I have experienced working as a consultant helping other businesses create their webapps from first principles, as well as working for large corporations building large application. I have build several side projects, and tried running them as businesses, including my latest project, Frozen Event. So I think I have a pretty good range of experience to draw from to back up this argument.
What is a startup…
In order to explain what I mean, let me first explain what I mean when I say “startup”. I’m thinking of something different to what I suspect you are picturing right now. It’s not about being cash strapped, or working out of your parents basement. It’s more about trying to build a business. Building a way of doing work you can in some way sell.
But what does “Building a way of doing work” mean? If you think about any successful business. They know how they work. Anyone from McDonalds to the tailor who makes my dance trousers. They know how they greet a customer on first contact, how to market to them, and how to reliably deliver the product the customer wants. All of this together is “a way of doing work”.
Now think of a startup (it doesn’t matter what industry). They are figuring this out. They don’t yet know what marketing is going to work, what steps are needed to time and time again deliver a reliable product. This is the essence of a startup. They don’t yet know how they work. But they are in the process of figuring it out. Once they have figured it out, they are not longer a startup.
What does that have to do with webapps?
Can you say that the code is the most important part of any webapp you have launched? I can’t, in every example I can think of, the most important part is the way the user experiences the site (I’m not talking about UX, but what I would call concept design). It is also normally the hardest part to get right. Building a webapp for a clients lets me see this time and time again on a variety of different projects.
Typically we start off with an idea of what we want the site to achieve, maybe it’s to increase the number of phone calls to a bookings service, or encourage more sales for an e-commerce site. Sometime we will also have an idea of how to do it, but not always. As we build the site, we start to think about questions like “Does the user need to log in in order to do what we want them to do?”, “What happens after they take whatever action we are trying to get them to do”, and similar questions.
Let me give you an example. For Frozen Event (a site which allows photographers to sell photos) I’m considering some from of bulk discount. Something along the lines of if a user buys one photos the price is £2, 5 photos is £7 and 10 photos is £10. But there are several things I don’t know… What if a user buys 5 photos from one photographer, and 5 from a second photographer. The user is likely to expect to pay £10 for 10 photos, and each photographer is going to expect to receive £7 for selling 5 photos. It’s not immediatly clear how to resolve that.
The specific questions can vary a lot from site to site, and each one has to be considered on a case by case basis. However in the early stages, we don’t know how they work. At least not yet.
Can you see the analogy yet – how this is the same as a startup? We start of not yet knowing how it works. As we proceed into the project, it is a task exploration and discovery. Working out what it is we need to do, and how it needs to be done. There is no predefined set of steps to take, no map. Because if there were, then we would just be duplicating a system that already exists.
At least, that has been my experience of building webapps, it is also why its always interesting. Each new project brings a new set of questions, and a fresh set of chalenges to keep me fresh. If you have had a different experience or viewpoint I would love to hear it in the comments below.