Dear Professor Bruce: I’m thinking about starting a small technology-based business. Is now a good time? If so, what are some of the initial steps to turn my idea into reality?
A: Small technology businesses are budding all over the country despite the recession for two reasons: The rewards have never been better, and the costs and difficulty have never been lower.
Online marketplaces, social media, and the Internet in general are a “yellow brick road” with no speed limit on the velocity of your sales. Vastly improved tool sets, templates and online support communities have made product development easier than ever. While in years past, the deck was stacked in favor of businesses that had software development expertise, now it’s stacked in favor of the businessperson with a strong idea.
“Focus on what you know. If you don’t know much about doctors’ offices, don’t build a product for them unless you want to spend a lot of time learning about their business,” said Alex Cowan, author of “Starting a Tech Business.”
“Build the simplest possible version of your product and then go validate it with your market. If it’s a website, for example, don’t worry about a fancy back end. Use a spreadsheet for starters.”
The ease and speed of producing technology-based products means that successful businesses are the ones that engage and adapt with the customers most intimately and most frequently. If you’re an expert in an area and you think the existing solutions are poor, you’re probably looking at an opportunity.
Start by laying out all the assumptions that need to be valid for your business to work, and then figure out the quickest and cheapest means to validate those assumptions. There’s great data online you can use for that purpose, but be sure to balance that research with hands-on observation of your target users and buyers. Build the simplest possible product, get it in front of customers, and determine whether you’re on the right track or need to pivot to a new approach. In the worst case, you’ll learn key skills that are likely to serve you well in another endeavor.
For further information, please visit www.alexandercowan.com.
Bruce Freeman, The Small Business Professor, is president of ProLine Communications, a marketing and public relations firm in Livingston, N.J., and author of “Birthing the Elephant” (Ten Speed Press). E-mail Bruce@SmallBusinessProf.com.