By Dirk Paessler
Each early-stage software startup is different; however, they all share the same core challenges. Competition, costs, and the struggle to find the right market niche are all threats to long-term success. To survive the early lean times, small software startups can operate as a bootstrapped firm if they follow the following 10 steps to move from an idea to an established business.
- Review the market need. Your product needs to match concrete needs from the start without major software glitches.
- Offer the product for sale. You need an informative website with full ecommerce functions to meet demand. Consider an external provider that can handle billing, credit cards and tax rules so you can focus the team on development.
- Focus on search. The right search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) strategies will ensure interested parties can quickly find your product, which is especially important in very competitive fields. If you lack the time or resources to focus on these practices, then look for a reliable external partner. Once your SEM is honed, if you still aren’t attracting customers, then it’s time to reassess the product offering.
- Skip the tradeshows. At this stage, going to a tradeshow that is dominated by the big players is an exercise in futility. Save the money for development refinements.
- Shore up your marketing strategy. Focus the core features of your product into sound marketing communications, public relations and social-focused outreach. Your sales and tech support need to be top-notch as they represent the brand and will be the “lawyers” representing your customers within the company. Your customers will be happy to help in return with error analysis or beta tests.
- Expansion time. Once your local market is saturated and your rollouts perform flawlessly, it’s time to expand to different markets. You need specialist business development managers who know their target territories or countries and what outlets to pursue.
- Implement localization. To scale globally, the software should be designed from the outset to handle multiple language translations so it can be adapted to myriad local markets. If this wasn’t built in to the program in advance, then you either need to scrap localization or spend a lot of money in re-development.
- Expand channel business. Now is the time to market your software through distributors and even resellers. Such programs should be formalized, with proper agreements, a retailer network, and an established partner program. If you can hire additional staff, then regional channel managers can be invaluable for driving growth.
- Hit those tradeshows. At this point in the company lifecycle, you should have the press contacts and resellers in place to drive attendance at industry events. You are a known entity, and you need events to drum up interest in your newest partners or major updates.
- Branch out. If you feel local representation would boost customer satisfaction and sales, then consider branch offices. You might already have channel managers in different regions, so simply add some back office and support staff for a complete local office solution.
These guidelines are not set in stone, but following a natural progression will keep your bootstrapped software business on the right track towards long-term growth.
Dirk Paessler is founder and CEO of Paessler AG, which provides network monitoring solutions to companies and organizations of all sizes, from small businesses to the Fortune 500.