- External Apple wireless keyboard
- Atomic Web Browser for the iPad
- QuickOffice Connect Mobile Suite for iPad
- Cloud Browse
- Micropreneur Academy
- Tech Zing
[00:01] Mike: This is Startups for the Rest of Us: Episode 20.
[00:12] Mike: Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers be awesome at launching software products, whether you’ve built your first product or are just thinking about it. I’m Mike.
[00:20] Rob: And I’m Rob.
[00:21] Mike: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s going on this week, Rob?
[00:26] Rob: I’m coming back off a nice vacation. My wife and I spent a week at the beach with my brother and his family and my dad. And it was a lot of fun. It was great to get out, see the sun and all that. But I brought with me a new device—my iPad.
[00:42] Yeah, so I went through this interesting experiment where I basically left my Netbook at home, which is what I normally travel with, and I tried to replace it with my iPad. I was surprised by the limitations, actually.
[00:54] Mike: Really?
[00:54] Rob: Yeah. I got an external keyboard, the Apple wireless, which is just amazing. This thing is so nice. It’s super light. I know you have one.
[01:03] Mike: Actually, no. I have the wired keyboard, the one with the docking station for the iPad.
[01:07] Rob: Oh, interesting. OK.
[01:08] Mike: I got mine thinking I was going to use it on the plane. So because of that, you really can’t use wireless stuff on a plane. So that’s why I got the wired one.
[01:17] Rob: Oh, that’s a good point. When I was researching it, they basically said, “You have two choices. You have the dock in keyboard, like the combo that you have, and then you could go wireless and get a separate dock to hold it up in case you weren’t able to prop your iPad up.” So I went that second option.
[01:33] And now I can sit on the couch and use the wireless keyboard and have the iPad kind of balanced on my knees, and it works really well.
[01:40] But the keyboard is just gorgeous. It’s the Chiclet keyboard. It’s such an Apple product. The feel of it is gorgeous. I mean the thing is $70 and it’s this little super-light piece of metal. But I really enjoyed using it. It totally replaces my Netbook in that respect. Like, I can type super fast and do everything I need.
[01:58] What I found was really limiting, I was really surprised at how the lack of Flash impacted me.
[02:04] Mike: Really?
[02:04] Rob: Yeah! Some of my friends had commented when the iPad was going to be released that there was no way they would buy it because it didn’t have Flash, and that was such a big limitation. And in my mind, as a web developer, I’m thinking, “Yeah, but when was the last time I built anything with Flash?” Right? I mean aside from those old flashy entertainment sites, or stuff built around 2001, or Flash games or stuff, which I don’t play, or YouTube, which has an app that you can use on the iPad.
[02:28] So, you know, I’m thinking, “Aside from that stuff, when am I ever going to need it?” But sure enough, within about the first three hours of using the iPad, I’m on the road at this beach house, and I am doing some research for a new niche.
[02:28] And so the first interesting thing is I jump on the Google AdWords keyword tool, which is not Flash. And I’m typing some stuff in and it keeps crashing. It crashes Safari and Safari shuts down like five times in a row.
[02:53] Mike: Wow.
[03:11] Mike: Really?
[03:11] Rob: Yeah. I use this thing, like, all the time. I’m on the AdWords keyword tool once a day at least.
[03:16] Mike: I understand that, but I use that device for doing things when I’m not at my desk that I really need to do, and I just can’t see myself ever doing AdWords. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it doesn’t need to work or that it shouldn’t work anyway.
[03:29] I’m just pointing out that there are certain things I do at my desktop, certain things I do on my laptop, and certain things I’ll do on the iPad. I guess, for me, AdWords is not one of the things I would do on the iPad. Because I do a lot of copy/paste, export to Excel, things like that.
[03:45] Rob: Yeah, don’t get me wrong. I’m not putting together and AdWords campaign. I was just doing a simple brainstorming session where I was like, “Oh, how many people a month search for this term?” Because when I go on vacations, I tend to do all my high level thinking and my brainstorming. And I really wanted to check a few niches out.
[04:00] So all I was doing was typing in X. I don’t even remember what it… “Inventory Software” or something like that and hitting Return, and I just wanted to get a vague idea how many people are searching for this.
[04:10] And on my PC, I have a program that I use for that; it’s a niche-finding software. But when I am on the road, of course, I would just use the AdWords keyword tool, even though it’s not quite as good. So that’s all I was doing, was trying to validate a niche or just get an idea and get some things. I was not putting together a full AdWords campaign. And if I am going to be gone for a week, I am going to need to go in and do some of this stuff from time to time.
[04:33] So anyways, I was surprised, and I was surprised that everyone else was having the issue. And then the next thing that happened is I started getting a ton of book sales coming in–boom, boom. So I was getting all these PayPal emails. And I’m like, “Sweet! Someone linked to me or something happened. I am going to jump into Google Analytics and try to figure out what’s going on so I can engage with it or whatever.” Google Analytics is all Flash! You can’t log in to Google Analytics! It was crazy!
[04:56] And I login to Google Analytics at least once a day just to poke around, especially when weird stuff happens. You know, when I get a lot of sales or something.
[05:02] So then I was like, “Oh, no! This is getting worse!” And then, sure enough, like two hours later my wife and I, we were watching a video on it. Everything was fantastic. And then, she was like, “We only have half an hour before we have to go to bed. Why don’t we watch a quick episode of Jon Stewart?” And I was like, “Sweet! That’s great.”
[05:19] So I go to thedailyshow.com and it’s freakin’ Flash!
[05:22] Mike: [laughs]
[05:23] Rob: The videos are Flash and there is no app. And so I go search for a Jon Stewart app, a Daily Show app, and there aren’t any. So we wound up bailing on it. I felt, like, really cheated and really kind of irritated that I couldn’t do this for no other reason than because some guy doesn’t want Flash on the iPad; some guy being Steve.
[05:42] Mike: You on a first name basis with him now? [laughs]
[05:45] Rob: Yeah, Stevie J. As a caveat, I later did find there is a $7 app in the iStore that essentially uses the Google Analytics API. And so it’s an app that allows me to look at my Analytics. So I did buy that, which is great. So I have Analytics.
[06:00] In addition, I found that if you force a Legacy on the AdWords keyword tool, you use the old one, that works. So I’ve started doing that.
[06:08] And then the third thing that actually didn’t work for me is I couldn’t use Google Docs. You can view, but you cannot edit a Google doc…
[06:15] Mike: Oh yeah, Google Docs is where I’ve noticed it. But actually, I don’t even use Google Docs anymore when I’m on the iPad. There’s an app that I downloaded called Quickoffice that allows you to go into Google Apps and download your documents and work with them through Quickoffice.
[06:32] And Quickoffice is basically…it’s the equivalent of Apple’s Pages, but it seems to me like Quickoffice is much, much better than Pages ever even dreamed of being, and it just works better. And it integrates with Dropbox and other file-based file servers, more or less, to allow you to use them as a repository for your documents and then open them and edit them with Quickoffice. So I use that. You are right. Google Docs doesn’t work.
[06:57] Rob: Yep. And so after a few minutes of realizing like, “Oh, man, I can’t edit this stuff,” I totally went to Google at that time, realizing that anything that I’m encountering, a lot of other people have encountered. I started seeing that pattern. And so, yeah, there were a bunch of suggestions of getting…what is it? It’s not Open Office. What’s it called?
[07:13] Mike: Quickoffice.
[07:13] Rob: Quickoffice, yeah. And there were actually some other suggestions. There are like a handful of apps that do exactly that; that download the Google doc and allow you to edit it. I haven’t bought it yet, but I’ll buy that and it will take care of it.
[07:24] So at the beginning of the week, I was like, “Oh, my gosh. I am going to be returning this thing. It’s not going to cut it. It’s not going to replace even this basic Netbook functionality that I use.” Because I don’t do development, I don’t do hardcore technical stuff when I’m on the road, but there are some basic things that I do all the time.
[07:41] And at this point, I’m feeling much better about it, and I do plan to keep the old iPad. And I think I’ll be putting a netbook up on the auction block here in the next week or two.
[07:49] Mike: Yeah, I don’t think I ran into quite as many of the issues as you did, because anything where I ran into where there was something where I absolutely needed Flash, for example, there are a number of applications on the iPad where you can use Remote Desktop. There’s WinAdmin and then there’s RDP. And I just RDP’d directly into my Windows Server that is out there working as my web server. And I just log into that and just use the web browser on there and it works fine.
[08:14] Rob: There’s an iPad app called Cloud Browse that allows you to do that. You don’t even need your own machine. It just allows you to browse through a remote instance. But my question on that is, when you do it through Remote Desktop, could you go watch an episode of Jon Stewart or no? Like, would the sound come through and all that?
[08:30] Mike: Probably not.
[08:32] Rob: It seems like it would be kind of jerky, you know?
[08:33] Mike: Yeah, because I don’t think that the bandwidth would be there in most cases. I mean because it’s my web server, it’s certainly got the horsepower behind it. I would be worried about the latencies involved, to be perfectly honest. I mean it would have to cache some stuff, and maybe it would work out, maybe it wouldn’t. It depends on what their caching strategy is on the server.
[08:53] Rob: Right. So, that’s basically my tale for the week. How about you? What have you been up to?
[08:59] Mike: I’ve just been getting used to my new iPhone. I bought a Sleep Number bed while I was out traveling and it just got delivered like a week or so ago. So I’m still trying to figure out what my sleep number is. But between those two, those things have been trying to keep me busy. And I’m just trying to keep up, in general, with all the other stuff, because I’ve been traveling a lot this summer. So I’ve been more or less neglecting most of my business stuff. Probably a lot more than I should.
[09:24] But, you know, just kind of relaxing for the time being. My son is getting ready to go to school for the year. He’s going into preschool this year. It’s his first time. So that will be interesting to have him out of the house for a couple of days out of the week.
[09:37] But yeah, not too much other than that. I guess I am just kind of gearing up for the Fall and getting ready to get back to actually working. [laughs]
[09:45] Rob: Cool.
[09:49] Rob: So what are we talking about today, Mike?
[09:50] Mike: So today we are going to go into five laws of minimizing your launch day problems. And what the goal of this podcast is, is to talk about five different ways that you can make sure that the number of problems that you encounter during your launch are going to be minimal. The way we do this is we discuss some of the planning aspects, how to get over your fears of launching. Because for a lot of people, the first product that you launch is essentially the most terrifying. And that’s the one that you really need to do a lot of planning for.
[10:21] Don’t go overboard with it, obviously. But you want to make sure that you are doing things the right way so that when you do run into problems or if problems do come up, you’re adequately prepared to deal with those problems in an efficient manner that is not going to kill your launch.
[10:38] Rob: Yeah, I think it’s really easy to kind of blow a launch out of proportion in one direction or the other. Those of us who get anxious about these kinds of things, you can really put yourself into a tizzy and keep pushing off your launch, not wanting to do it because you’re so freaked out that everything has to be perfect, not only with your product, but with your marketing and your plan and execution and all that. And realistically, we know it’s never going to be perfect. So for those of you who really get anxious, at some point you need to just put a date on it and you need to make it happen.
[11:05] For those people who tend to be more freewheeling about this stuff, it really is important to plan this. It is absolutely a huge day in the history of your product. You should make more sales on your first day than you’ll see in the next several months if you run an ideal launch. You should have a bunch of pent-up demand. You should have a large mailing list. You should have done a lot of planning that goes into a really heavy launch day.
[11:29] We’re not going to talk specifically about building the mailing lists and a technique for launch, but we’re really going to talk about how to avoid some pretty common mishaps that we’ve seen.
[11:39] Mike: The first law of minimizing your launch day problems is: Don’t leave your beta test as the last thing to do before your launch. Make sure that you leave room after your beta test to fix issues, and make sure that you’re QA’ing those fixes. For most people, this is typically a few weeks before your launch day.
[11:55] One of the things that I’ve seen before is that people will go through the motions of having a beta test, and then their beta test ends on, say, a Tuesday and they want to launch on Wednesday. That’s generally not a good idea, because what you’re doing is, as part of that beta test, you’re implementing new code, you’re fixing bugs, you’re addressing concerns that have come up, and you’re reworking some things.
[12:18] So what tends to happen is that those fixes that you just put into the software tend to not be tested as well. There are known problems there that you’re trying to fix, but you may not have fixed them properly. You’re not going to necessarily know that until people start hitting those pieces of your code. So if you make those changes and then you launch immediately after that, you are essentially more likely to ship your product with some fairly obvious bugs in it to some users.
[12:44] One day of testing isn’t usually enough for a SaaS app, because you’re generally making continual tweaks to the software. It’s a very good idea to have essentially an offline environment where you are making those changes to the software and you are testing those changes in a repeatable fashion. This is one of the ways where unit tests come in, but you really need to make sure that you’re testing any of those last-minute tweaks.
[13:07] It’s very tempting to tweak a SaaS app, and that’s something you really have to refrain from doing. If you have to ship your product with some bugs in it, that’s OK so long as you know what those bugs are. The worst thing you can do is ship a product after you’ve tried to fix something when you’ve actually made the problem worse.
[13:24] Rob: And law number two is: Don’t be afraid to make last-minute changes if you need to. Realize that you’re not a huge corporation. You don’t need this really long release QA cycle.
[13:35] So in law number one, while we talk about not leaving your beta test to the last thing so that you have a bunch of things going on right before you’re trying to launch, on the flipside, as a one or two person company, you should be a really agile entity. And that’s a big advantage you have over larger companies.
[13:50] I can’t tell you the number of very small tweaks, or even a little bit bigger than very small tweaks that I’ve made right before a launch. I test them as best I can and then I monitor email and check to see if things are breaking.
[14:03] You kind of have a live feedback loop if you have an email list that you’ve sent to and people are starting to hit your site, and you can sit there and watch. If people have issues with something, you can fix it right away really quickly.
[14:15] I think this is something that a lot of us who cut our teeth as corporate developers, it really scares us to make last-minute changes and to not be able to put it through this full horrendous QA cycle. But it is such an advantage to be able to fix things at the last minute and just roll with it, or even fix things after the last minute.
[14:35] Once you’ve launched, you’ve sent the email, you can, especially if you have a SaaS app, you can be making bug fixes live. It’s a big advantage we have as “agile”, with a lower case “a”, software shops.
[14:46] Mike: I think the big thing about those first two laws is, one, you have to be careful about the changes that you are making and try not to make major changes before you launch. But along with number two goes the fact that you have to realize there are times when you have to make those last-minute changes, or that you really should make those last-minute changes. So you shouldn’t be too afraid to do them if you have to.
[15:06] The third law is to perform a soft launch a few days in advance of your real launch. If you’ve decided on a launch date that maybe starts on a Tuesday, go ahead and publish everything on a Sunday or Monday and see how things go, because people are going to probably end up at your website anyway, even before you’ve actually launched your product.
[15:24] Assuming you’ve gone through the launch process correctly and you’ve got traffic coming in, and you’re trying to build a mailing list, those people, instead of seeing your mailing list sign up, they’re actually going to see your product, and they’re going to be able to download and try it. Or if it’s a SaaS app, they’re going to be able to sign in and create an account and try that application.
[15:41] If you perform a soft launch a couple of days in advance of the actual launch date, what that does is that essentially gets people to your site and trying it out before you start sending out emails to your entire mailing list.
[15:53] Chances are really good that the people who are on your mailing list are not going to be checking back at your site every single day. The fact of the matter is that they’re going to check back at your site when you email them and say, “Hey, this is live now”, because that was the expectation when they signed up for it.
[16:08] So what you’ll end up with is there will be this small subset of people who are going to hit your website and try out your application before your launch date and before you start sending out that email launch that will try and drive a lot of traffic to your website. Those people will help flush out any last-minute bugs.
[16:24] Because inevitably, there are always these little flags and toggles inside of your application that, essentially, before you go live, they’ll say, “OK, well this is in a development environment or this is on a particular sub-domain on a web server.” You just have to be careful of those. What this will do is it will help flush out any of those bugs.
[16:43] Rob: I actually think this is a really underrated strategy. I don’t think a lot of people talk about it, but this idea of a soft launch, meaning you’re not doing all the hardcore marketing yet, but you’re having a trickle of people come in and play around with it.
[17:12] Then other times, someone will say, “Hey, I’m on Chrome…” If you happen to not use Chrome, which I just started using last week, holy smokes! It’s a fast browser. I’m loving it. Someone will be on Chrome and then they’ll say, “Oh, this looks all jacked up.” Then you realize, “Wow, that might be worth fixing,” if you’re marketing to people who are going to be using Chrome.
[17:29] There are a couple ways to do this. One way that you touched on, which I think is really good, is if you’re already driving a little bit of traffic to your site to pick up email addresses for the launch, you just replace that page with your live site and see what happens. Let people try it out, and you’re going to get feedback pretty quickly.
[17:46] Another way that I’ve seen…And I was actually just talking to a Micropreneur Academy member a couple weeks ago about this. He’s doing a launch in the next month, and he has an email list of about 600-650 people. We were talking doing a staged launch where he essentially only emails 50 people the first week and allows them to come and try things out and gets some feedback.
[18:09] Now this is not a beta. He’s not giving it to them for free. He really is launching. To them, they think, “Wow, the product is live and I can come and purchase it.” He can essentially see how many purchased, how many download the trial, and how many run into bugs, and he can fix those.
[18:23] Then he’s going to give himself about a week, assuming everything pans out well, and he’s going to email the next 50 or 100 people. So he’s going to have kind of this stretched out launch. When you think about it, since he’s not Google or he’s not some huge company, you can actually pull this off.
[18:38] Because when you have email addresses, you’re really in control of their perception of what’s live and what’s not. You really can introduce this thing slowly, because it’s not like the whole world is watching you and is going to call you out and say, “Hey, you launched to that group of people and not me” or something. It’s just never going to happen.
[18:55] So I think both of those are, both the way you mentioned and the stretched-out email approach, I think they’re really solid ideas if you want to be a little more cautious with your launch.
[19:06] Mike: I’ve actually heard of Google doing this sort of thing as well with some of their upcoming products, where they collect all the email addresses of people they want to do betas of their applications, and they will have some of them do betas and some of them not. So I think that large companies do do this, but probably not quite as often as they maybe should. It’s an interesting concept. I think that’s really cool that he’s trying something new like that.
[19:30] Rob: Yeah, that’s a good point you bring up– Google doing that. Because remember with Gmail how it was invite only? And, I think, wasn’t Buzz invite only early on?
[19:37] Mike: Yeah, I think so.
[19:38] Rob: You’re right. They are doing it. They’re doing it in a little different way, but that is a good reminder that some of the big companies are doing this as well.
[19:44] Mike: Yeah, their reach is obviously little different than ours. [laughs]
[19:48] Rob: Right, totally. But it shows you that even a big company like that, with big QA teams, and really solid developers, and the whole process in place, that even they want to test the waters. And you know that they’re tweaking stuff behind the scenes when the first thousand, 10,000, 100,000 people get on there before they release it to the masses. I mean, you know they learn a lot in the first weeks of that. And by the time that everyone sees it, I bet there are significant changes, at least on the backend, that they have made.
[20:14] Mike: Oh yeah, definitely. And with the number of people that they have, probably, trying out there applications, they can obviously take the feedback that they get from people and add new features or get rid of features before they do a full-blown launch.
[20:26] I mean that’s just the nature of how large they are and the number of engineers they have, coupled with the audience that they have. It’s definitely a method that could be applicable to a much smaller development shop.
[20:36] Rob: The fourth law of minimizing launch day problems is to accept that things will break, but be around to fix them quickly. The bottom line is there is no way to get around there being some problems.
[20:48] It might be a large problem, like when I launched my book and I was accidentally undercharging a bunch of people. That was kind of a catastrophe. But I was around. Within 30 minutes, I was hacking the page and it was fixed. And I only had to go back to people who had purchased in that first 30 minutes and work something out with them.
[21:05] They key point is that it could be large like that. It could be something very small. Like I said earlier, someone has Mobile Opera and your thing doesn’t render correctly, or your fonts are not sizing right. It could be something totally small.
[21:16] But to realize that if it is something big, fix it quickly. And if it is something small, certainly feel free to push it off till later. But the key here is to make sure that you are available and around when your launch starts. You really want to be…you don’t want to be hovering over your email, but I think that’s the one time where I’d recommend having the little toaster popup, or having some type of notification if someone needs to get a hold of you to tell you, “Hey, your site is having some issues.” That you really are notified instantly, and that’s kind of the one exception to shutting down email notifications. That’s the one exception I would say.
[21:49] One thing that I’ve heard a few people consider when they do their launch is to take a day or two off of work in order to be at home and monitoring it fulltime. Boy, in my experience, you really don’t need to do that.
[21:59] It’s unlikely that there are going to be so many things going on that you really need to be doing this fulltime. It’s much more likely that something is going to break, and you are going to determine whether to fix it or not, and then you are likely going to be able to fix it fairly quickly, right?
[22:14] I mean if you’ve done reasonable QA testing, it’s going to tend to be something that isn’t a huge re-architecture, but really is like, “Oh my gosh, this one page is crashing,” and you did something silly with a form post or something.
[22:26] I could be underestimating this, but in the launches that I’ve done, it’s always been something like that—something small that I did wind up tweaking at the end and didn’t QA well enough, but I am able to fix it really quickly. It’s typically the last thing I touched.
[22:37] So my recommendation would be not to stress so much about it that you do need to take a day off work. If it makes you feel better and you have a day off, why not? But I do think you will sit around and be bored watching your emails.
[22:50] Mike: Yeah, I was going to say pretty much the same thing. Taking a day off is more or less a crapshoot, just because of the fact that what happens if you launch on a Tuesday and you decide to take off the day off, and most of your traffic doesn’t even come in until Wednesday or Thursday? I mean are you really going to sit around and take two, three, four days off until you start getting a large enough amount of traffic that you deem that it’s necessary for you to have stayed home for that day?
[23:14] And I just don’t think that…one, it’s not cost-effective, especially if you have a fulltime job and you are launching a product on the side. But second, the fact of the matter is that if you have a major, major problem in your software, chances are really good that you are not going to be able to fix it in 15 or 20 minutes. I mean even having a full day, if the problem is really that bad, you are not going to be able to fix it in a day. And having that day off from work is not going to make any difference, because people are still not going to be able to order your software or use it if it’s a SaaS app or anything like that.
[23:49] If you run into issues like that, what you can do is simply pull it off the website. You know, you put a temporary page up that says, “We’re sorry we can’t do anything right now. We’re experiencing technical difficulties due to…” whatever you want to put out there.
[24:02] And that’s definitely a good thing that you can set off to the side as you set up your backup plan. So if you run into issues, you can just throw up a slightly different webpage, just copy one page to another, and have a page that just says, “This site is offline until such and such issue is resolved.”
[24:19] And it’s not the ideal circumstance, but if you really run into a problem that is serious enough to warrant that, then you can plan for that, and you can put that plan in place.
[24:29] So the fifth law of minimizing launch day problem is to write down the steps for your marketing launch activities. If you do this in advance, it will prevent you from either making a mistake, doing things out of order, or not doing certain things at all.
[24:42] Make sure you include everything that needs to get done and exactly how long it will take, or at least how long you think it will take.
[24:48] Essentially, what you need to do is you need to treat this as a list of features to complete. But instead of product development features, it’s about marketing. So each of these tasks is going to have a set amount of time that it takes, or a time estimate that goes with it, and you want to accomplish all of them prior to your launch date.
[25:05] So some of these things you are going to have to do in advance. So if you want to send out a press release, for example, you are going to want to have that press release written several days, or even maybe a couple weeks in advance. You don’t want to be writing the press release the day that it needs to go out.
[25:19] Make sure that you have all these pre-launch activities and all of your marketing activities done well enough in advance that you have enough time to look them over and make sure that you haven’t missed anything, and that when your launch day comes you have time to actually do everything.
[25:33] Now, if you get to your launch date and you are running short on time, if you have to, for example, email a newsletter out, make sure that you, in advance, have put together a Camtasia Studio presentation that shows somebody else how to do it so that you can get help.
[25:49] If there are any activities that you think are going to take you an hour or two hours, or something along those lines, and they need to get done, and you are just not going to have time to do all of them in the same day, outsource them. There is no reason for you to be doing every single task on your list. They all need to get done, but you don’t necessarily need to be the one to do them. As long as they get done right, that’s what the important part is.
[26:12] Rob: I think as developers, we prioritize development tasks. We are really good at putting them in an Excel spreadsheet or in some type of tracking document and just cranking them out. And when that list is burned down, it’s like we’re done with our product.
[26:25] But rarely will a developer do the same thing with marketing tasks, and it’s the exact same thing. They are as required, if not more required, like we’ve talked about. I think this is a really important law.
[26:37] Mike: So with these five laws, there are a couple of things that you have to keep in mind that these laws do not make any guarantees about. The first one is scalability of your site. You simply can’t account for an influx of traffic that you didn’t count on.
[26:50] If you were Slashdotted, there is absolutely nothing that you can do. I’ve written blog articles before where I was at the top of Hacker News a few times, and my server just gets crushed. It just can’t respond to the amount of demand. So you just have to keep in mind that there are certain things like that that you can’t account for.
[27:07] Now, you could go ahead and say, “OK, well I’m going to use some of Amazon’s services, or rack space, or something along those lines and try to account for massive scalability problem that you don’t yet have,” but I think that that’s generally unwarranted. It’s just not a good use of your time.
[27:24] A better use of your time is to make sure that your launch activities are going well, that you are going to be able to meet your schedule, and that you are going to get everything done the way that it needs to.
[27:33] In terms of dealing with unprecedented demand, generally, that doesn’t happen. Yeah, there are certain websites out there. You hear about Twitter that went down a couple times. And you hear about how Google goes down every once in a while.
[27:44] You are not Google, and you are not Twitter. Those are massive sites that already have millions and millions of people who are visiting them, and those are not problems that you are generally going to have on day one. So don’t worry about the scalability of your website.
[27:59] Rob: The other thing these laws don’t make any guarantees about is freak accidents. Like, imagine your server processor blowing up or your hard disk crashing with some catastrophic failure. The odds of these are so ridiculously low that, frankly, not much can plan for these, can make sure they don’t happen.
[28:17] The bottom line is there are a lot of things that are going to be out of your control during your launch, and you just can’t worry so much about them that they stress you out to the point of not being able to get through the launch and to be at your optimal performance.
[28:30] Mike: Yeah, and that includes things like if you are using a PayPal API and they decide to change it on the day of your launch or the day before your launch. There is really just nothing you can do. There is a pattern here, and it is the fact that there are just certain things you have absolutely no control over.
[28:45] So, when it comes to those sorts of things, there is only so much time you can spend worrying about it. And our general advice is don’t worry about it, because if they come up, you are going to have to deal with them when they come up, and spending too much time trying to plan for freak accidents or changes to API’s that you are using, it’s just not a good use of your time. You are better off trying to market your product effectively, making sure that you are dealing with customer support issues, and moving people through your sales pipeline.
[29:16] Mike: So we have a listener question this week, and this one reads: “Hi guys. I just found you after being a long time listener of Tech Zing. I have downloaded all your podcasts and am halfway through listening to them. My question is, what do you see are the differences between having a SaaS startup and an affiliate website selling third-party products? Would you even go the affiliate route? If not, why not? Thanks for all your valuable information that you put on the web.” — Robin.
[29:40] So I think this question, it’s a little odd, I’ll say, just because I think that it’s comparing apples to oranges. There is a huge difference between having a SaaS startup and having an affiliate website where you are trying to sell third-party products.
[29:54] And I think the major difference is, one, of course, you are selling a SaaS app versus an actual product. But the second and larger thing is that with a SaaS application, you are essentially reaping all of the benefits from people signing up for it. And if you have an affiliate website where you are selling third-party products, you are essentially pushing products that are, in my eyes, little more than a commodity.
[30:16] If somebody is putting out their products onto affiliate websites and affiliate programs, then you are not only competing against the vendor themselves for selling those products, but you are competing against everyone else who is also selling that as an affiliate.
[30:31] So what you have to do is you essentially have to start lowering your prices, and you are competing with all of their marketing efforts for exactly the same product. So let me give you an example.
[30:39] If I were to try and sell…I think that RhinoSoft makes an FTP program. Let’s say that I was trying to compete with them and use an affiliate program to help sell their software. I would certainly, and understandably, get probably a better price if I were selling it as an affiliate, but the problem is I am competing with their marketing efforts directly.
[30:59] Now, if I, as an end customer, were to go out and try and find some software that I would use to do FTP, then I run across this thing called RhinoSoft and I open it up, and it says, “Buy Now”, and I click on the “Buy Now” link, and maybe I end up at either the affiliate website, or maybe I look at it and say, “Well, this is RhinoSoft. Let me go check out their website directly.”
[31:22] What happens is you can start losing sales to the primary vendor because of the fact that, as an end user, why would they go buy from a third-party if they can buy directly from the vendor, barring price?
[31:34] But even with that, some people will look at that and say, “Well, I don’t know as I trust this third party to buy from them. Why should I buy from a third party as opposed to buying from the vendor directly?”
[31:44] So it just brings to mind that I think that selling affiliate products is probably not the way to go if you have the choice between selling your own SaaS application versus acting as an affiliate for other people.
[31:58] Rob: Yeah, I think I have a bit of a different take on that. I think that affiliate marketing is really useful in a couple instances. One, if you have an existing audience, so if you have a blog, or a podcast or whatever, and you can recommend a product that you wholeheartedly use and believe in, and it’s a good product, and it’s an affiliate link, then odds are you are going to have a decent conversion rate on that, especially if people know, like, and trust you, and you are presenting a product that fits your audience—it’s something that they need.
[32:26] Then you are not spending a bunch of money or time building a standard website and doing SEO and that, but you are really just kind of talking to the people that you normally talk to through your blog or podcast, or whatever.
[32:38] That’s one way to make a little bit of money. I think the question that Robin is asking is really more like: “Should I go be an affiliate for another product before writing my own SaaS app?” And I think this is an interesting approach that is actually not explored by many people.
[32:52] The reason is because, as developers, we want to build our own software, we want to own our own software. That’s the fun part, is writing code. The fun part is not the marketing.
[33:00] But as an affiliate marketer, all you are doing is marketing. That’s all you are doing. You don’t have to maintain any code, you don’t have to provide support, you don’t have to do anything.
[33:10] RhinoSoft is one example, but there’s kind of a whole other affiliate world where you don’t actually sell the software through your website, you really create either an email list or a sales website, and then you link over to the vendor. And as soon as you link over, a cookie is placed on the person’s computer and you get credit if they purchase from the actual vendor of that software.
[33:32] So this is a really interesting thought. Because although you are in competition with the vendor, the seller of that software, if you are better at SEO, or you are better at AdWords, or if you somehow have a way to get into a traffic stream and sell this product to that traffic stream, bottom line, it has to be a good product and you have to believe in it. I’m not saying that you recommend stuff just to make sales.
[33:54] But I’m saying that if it’s a good product and you set out and you actually build a competing website, and you do better SEO, and you get to the number one spot in Google for a term that happens to convert for this particular product, then yeah, you are going to learn a heck of a lot about SEO without ever owning a product, and you are going to make money.
[34:11] I mean these affiliate commissions tend to be between 40% and 70%. I realize that’s crazy, but yeah, I’ve seen affiliate deals, especially for more, like, e-book type things and little information products. But even for software, I mean they are 40%-50% on a lot of small software packages.
[34:27] And so, you are essentially making half of the sale, but you don’t have to write, or maintain the code, or deliver it, or process payments, or do support, or any of that.
[34:37] So while it’s probably not an appealing option to most developers, I absolutely think you can learn a heck of a lot about several different types of marketing without owning a product. And that way would be through this affiliate idea that Robin is asking about.
[34:52]Mike: Yeah, and I would agree with most of what you said, especially in terms of learning. But I think that it just seemed to me like the question, the way he stated it was more, “Should I build a SaaS application or should I build a website and act as an affiliate selling third-party products?”
[35:07] And I guess given the choice of those two things, I wouldn’t go the affiliate route. But I think that’s probably mostly due to my knowledge of marketing, because I generally feel like I know what I’m going. I guess if I had no experience and marketing at all, I might go the affiliate route so that I’m not necessarily trying to sell something that I don’t necessarily know if it even has a market.
[35:29] I mean if the product is already built, there is very little investment for you, because I mean we know that it takes anywhere from $400 to $600 to build a product and launch it and get it out the door. If you can cut out the entire development time for a product and it is an established product, then yeah, you are definitely going to learn a huge amount of information about marketing and be able to apply that information to your own product when you build it and launch it.
[35:51] But I think in terms of a strict moneymaker, or being able to retire on that sort of thing, probably not the way to go if you have the choice between the two, or if you are trying to make that choice between the two.
[36:01] Rob: Yeah, I think as a long-term strategy, being purely an affiliate, it’s a tough way to go. I know several folks who make several thousand dollars a month purely as affiliate marketers. But, they have to follow the hot products. You can’t just stick with one product, because the market gets saturated. And as you said, you are essentially a commodity and you are competing with these other folks who are getting into the market.
[36:21] So you do have to constantly be staying one step ahead of the rest of the crowd, and you really have to know your SEO and your AdWords, and however else you are going to plan to market this thing. So yeah, I’d agree. I think for long-term prospects, owning your own product is certainly the optimal arrangement.
[36:41] Rob: If you have a question or comment, please call it in to our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690. Or you can email it in MP3 or text format to firstname.lastname@example.org.
[36:54] If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider writing a review in iTunes by searching for “Startups”. You can subscribe to this podcast in iTunes or via RSS at startupsfortherestofus.com.
[37:05] Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt, used under Creative Commons. A full transcript of this podcast is available at our website: startupsfortherestofus.com. See you next time.
First off, awesome podcast. Thanks for taking the time to share your secrets of success. For years I have been developing my own sites/products. When I listen to your podcast episodes, I see yourselves as colleagues of profession because I have pretty much passed over most of the same you have passed.
As for this episode, I just would like to make a couple comments.
1) Press releases are not worthy. I have tried them once just to figure the pros and cons of sending them out to a PR service. In my experience, I got zero return. I would like to know if you had better experiences with any affordable PR strategies.
Alternatively, I recommend posting in news aggregation sites related to your product market. In my case, I just launched a new site for Web developers, so I posted in Digg and DZone. You may also want to try Hacker News, Reddit and Freshmeat. Slashdot would be nice too, but usually you never get your own launch published by them. Digg is better but you would better have the help of a power digger (if that still exists in the new Digg).
2) As for dealing with surges that may bring your server down, it would be awesome if that happened in the launch of your product, but you are right, usually you are not that lucky.
Still it is worth investing in some Web development techniques to minimize overloading your servers. A few years ago I was lucky to be hit Digg front page storm that brought about 30.000 visitors in less than 24 hours. Fortunately I was ready, so I published a follow-up article telling how I survived Digg here.
It is a bit technical and some measures require a dedicated server or at least a VPS, but I thought it would be useful for you and your more technical readers.
I just launched my news site http://www.jsclasses.org/ which is derived from my busiest site, and I am happy to say that I have those measures in place, so I did not bust my bugdets in new servers (actually I just run all in one server).
It became a little slower for a while, but that was because I decided to launch the new site in a new Web server using a new database server, all running in the same machine. But that was a temporary migration measure.
I hope these tips are useful.
Another great episode!
I would just like to take a moment to thank you for answering my question about an affiliate website verses as software as a service.
I know my question was a little vague but I thought you answered it very well and it gave me much food for thought.