Doing a startup? 50% of your work will not be what you expect it to be.

With the existence of the Internet, it should be rather easy to create your own startup today. Especially if you are into digital stuff, like if you are a programmer like me. You sit down, code your product - be it some software or maybe some online service - hack together a website for this and start selling, right? A dream job: Program stuff as long as you want, fix a few bugs here and there and make money with your favourite hobby: programming stuff. Unfortunately, it doesn't work like this. What a lot of articles about startups don't mention is that your work isn't done after you programmed and released your product:

At least 50% of your work in a startup is marketing.

Yes, that's right. Somehow people need to get to know about the existence of your product. If they don't visit your website, you won't get any money. If you don't do marketing, you won't sell your stuff, simple as that.
For a programmer, this is hard. Marketing isn't easy. I would even say that marketing is more difficult than programming:
  • You can create a beautiful website. Do some SEO. Hope that lots of people will find your product by themselves. But it is likely that this isn't enough: There are millions of websites out there. Some of them are your direct competition. They are longer there, have more experience, higher page rank and similar. Have fun trying to be better than them. It won't be easy.
  • You can buy ads. Ads are nice, and they work. Right? Did you recently look at the prices of Google Adwords ads? About 5 years ago, you would pay about 6 cents per click (depending on the keywords of course). Today, this is about 60 cents. Per click. Which means if one visitor out of 100 buys your product, your product needs at least to cost 60€ so that your ad campaign isn't a loss. And be prepared that you probably waste thousands of Euros in the first months while you are trying to figure out how to tweak your ad settings so that it starts working at all.
  • Did you ever design an ad? An ad that is interesting, not overloaden and actually gets read and noticed by the right people? This is not easy. Take one of my products, CopperCube for example: This thing - in version 4 - now has about 60 major features. The more they get, the more complicated it is to express what the product does in one single, small ad text. You can see my latest try on the right side of this blog (if you are reading the comments). If you see anonther ad, hit 'refresh' in your browser a few times. I had about 30 revisions of this ad. And I still think it sucks.
  • Once you have your ad and found out a few websites where to advertise, don't expect that to be easy. You might assume that if you are willing to pay a lot of money to some internet website, they will take it with thanks and roll out the red carpet for you. Wrong: You are small. If you think a budget of 1000 or maybe 10000 euros is big, then think again. Be prepared that some websites won't even answer your mails. Although you want to give them money. Crazy, right? There are many, very big companies out there, and spending 100.000 euros a month for an internet ad means nothing to them. You have no chance competing with that. Another, specific example: Try to place an ad on the popular social news website reddit. You are lucky if your are living in the United States, then it will work. For all the other people, it won't work: They don't accept credit cards from non-US countries. Ridiculous? Yes.
Somehow, this article now has become more a rant than an informative piece of text, as a lot of my blog posts tend to be. Sorry for that. But should you want to try to sell stuff successfully on the internet be aware that only creating your product and putting it into an app store or on your website isn't enough. You will fail. I had a few of customers who worked for months and years to finish their product, then put it online, and then go bankrupt within one month after release. Because they thought once the product is out, the customers will come and buy it. that's not the case. So remember: Marketing. It sucks. And I hate it. But it is necessary.

Shameless marketing plug: try WebsitePainter, my web editor. Or CopperCube, my WebGL editor.

eight comments, already:

So true…
IPv6 - 01 03 13 - 10:32

As you mentioned in the closing paragraph: it’s a rant. What I’m curious about is how you market your products. Is it just this blog and the Ambiera site or is there more we can learn from?
hermitC () (link) - 01 03 13 - 12:24

Basically what I wrote in that article. Internet Advertising. I think this isn’t probably a good marketing tool, since people reading this aren’t usually the same people buying my products.
niko - 01 03 13 - 14:45

True. I usually don’t click on ads and use ad blockers. Nevertheless I run Adwords campaigns. Some kind of double standard :)
hermitC () (link) - 01 03 13 - 16:55

why did you stop to use google+?
there is for example an indie game deveoper community with 4000 members, and a lot of other places where your products fit well.
it would be an additional opportunity for you to make you and you products known. of course not shameless, but you have a lot of developer knowledge, and could act like an intelligent bot like someone commented in the previous blog ;-)
a4z - 01 03 13 - 20:15

I am possible customer of CopperCube, and I will not buy it for many reasons.

I was looking for mobile game engine, the candidates was Irrlicht, Ogre and Unity.
I am new to game development and I want to understand how it works. So I need open source engine, and I disqualified Unity.
Then I look at Irrlicht and Ogre. I choose Irrlicht because I found perfect mobile tutorial for Irrlicht.

Lesson 1: Don’t express your ‘60 major features’ in one small ad. Create 60 big tutorials and Google search will bring customers for free.

This is how I found your blog and your product.
Lesson 2: Your customers are developers, your open source work is more important than ads.

If your really want to sell CopperCube, spend all the money&time to create a game using CopperCube. You need not to make it big or interesting, just create live wallpaper for mobile phones.

This is the only way to succeed, e.g: – Quake – Unreal Engine – Cry Engine – Unigine

Please, tell me why CopperCube is better than Irrlicht, Ogre, Unity. It should not be the best, it should be able to do one little thing better than others.

Please, don’t build marketing strategy. Build community.
List companies that use CopperCube on the main page. List games that use CopperCube on the main page.

This comment is not a rand.
I respect you for all the hard work on Irrlicht.

Sorry for my English.
Anatoliy () - 02 03 13 - 23:52

s/rand/rant
Anatoliy () - 02 03 13 - 23:54

I always forget google+, right :)
@Anatoly: Once your game is finished, and you try to sell it, come back and review your comment about not doing marketing and building a community is important :) Community is important, you are right, but so is marketing.
About differences of CopperCube: You seem to be a programmer, so CopperCube isn’t probably for you anyway. Most people who don’t want to learn programming are using CopperCube.
niko - 08 03 13 - 07:31


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