We did the research, found our glorious idea, defined our brand identity, so the only thing missing was making this baby walk.
One would think that in this day and age, when there are thousands of websites created every day for any possible purpose, where Google tells us the answer to anything, and having a domain name is almost a mandatory part of one’s contact information, nothing is simpler than creating your own website.
Well, turns out that things are not so simple. Unless one has the patience to spend the next six months learning HTML, php, CSS, etc., a programmer/designer are a must have.
As a start-up, you also don’t want to shell out a huge amount of money before you can actually validate your idea. We followed these guideline and tried various approaches in order to develop our minimum viable product.
Step 1: The Do it Yourself Approach
YouTube is full of tutorials such as this one, that show how one can setup an e-commerce website in under an hour. I would say that they are mostly helpful in terms of setting up a domain (godaddy.com or registero.br) or getting a server to host the website (hostgator.com). Then the tutorial tells you that all you need to do is install a content management software (ex: WordPress), which is basically the back end where you can create and edit the pages of your website, and there you go. NOT TRUE. This is just the beginning of the end.
Once the website is setup, every little thing that needs to be changed (the logo, the title, the layout of the page, the color/style of the font) requires a customization through changing parameters in various files, that to someone who is technical may seem very simple, but for an entrepreneur it is a huge amount of time wasted not thinking about the business idea.
We got the advice that one can make a very cool looking website through a ready-made template, bought on themeforest.com. True. It did look great – www.spartana.com.br, but then small things started coming up – like how do I change the text of a button into Portuguese? How do I add another line to describe my product. How do I place links in a certain part of a page?
We wasted quite a bit of time on the above. In general, I found that being an amateur web-designer is just useful for one to have a better sense in terms of thinking on how should your future website look like and understanding the amount of effort required from a programmer.
Step 2: Hire someone of less experience but more motivation
Through various contacts, we found a recent university grad to help us with our project. He was perfect: he asked lots of questions, he had previous e-commerce experience, he was young and motivated, he had great ideas. We were thrilled. He made a reasonable proposal, and we were looking forward to hiring him. There was just one caveat to this situation. He was only willing to do the project as a package deal with some designer he found off the street. The designer was not that good, plus we didn’t require one at that stage. Being young and ambitious has its downside, the kid wanted to create his own his web development company and refused doing the project without the designer. We had to let him go. This ate another month from our progress.
Step 3: Use comparative differences between countries to hire cheaper talent
Another one of our numerous advisers had the brilliant idea of using oDesk or Elance to find freelance programmers. One can hire web developers in India for as low as $5/hour. Once the programmer is hired, it keeps screen shots of the work, to show the client what he is doing during every hour charged.
We opted to upgrade to one that was $12/hr. She had very good reviews, and when we skyped with her, she seemed very organized and professional. $200+ charged later, we were still explaining that we are not an e-commerce site, discussing with her that if it will be possible to add a Facebook plugin to our website (which was what we asked for at the first place), and crying over screen shots that showed Google searches of “wordpress plugin”, or other basic stuff one would expect this type of profile person to know about or at least study before accepting the job.
We shortly decided to terminate her contract (after much grievance and blame from her side) and this is when we started hearing from everyone else we knew in this sphere about their disappointments and horror stories from hiring through these websites.
I suppose that this is the type of thing that you have to learn on your own skin in order to understand the difficulty involved.
Conclusion: Back to reality – hire a real programmer
Talking to start-ups everywhere, but especially in Brazil, we have been hearing numerous complaints about the difficulty in finding a good and trustworthy programmer. We have been applying all of our networking powers to try and find one. This has not been easy but we do have some promising leads. Dealing with all of the above challenges taught us a lot about the technical aspects, about working with technical people (not easy!!) and helped us focus on what exactly we wanted from our product and from our web developer.
Lesson learned: instead of spending an effort on saving money, spend it on getting someone good and then pay him a decent amount. Your time is worth much more than saving $500, especially if you believe that your business will bring $$$$$$ in the future.
In my next post, I will write about my perceptions of Start-Up Accelerators and Lean Start-up Bible Beaters.