How to better spend your startup cash

Oh, startups. We love working with you. But we’re worried. We’re worried about the way you’ve been spending your money. Here at Studio Graphene, we’ve been helping companies produce digital platforms for the past four years. In that time, we’ve seen significant changes in the attitudes of clients moving through the processes of product delivery.

Startups have become far more market aware, with an acute sense that technology is advancing at an exponential pace. They’re also quite aware of the fact that they need a stand-out product if they have any chance of gaining traction in a saturated market.

These two stark realities lead founders to the conclusion that the key to success lies in differentiating their product with a top-tier feature offering. They’re asking more and more of their platforms, hoping to outpace the competition with increased usability, flexibility and newer technology.

Inevitably, this leads to increased spending during the development phase – resources that could be used for their paid media budget or an effective PR strategy. Developers call this process ‘gold plating’; founders spend their money on flashy rims and underlighting to attract attention rather than putting fuel in the tank.

The irony, of course, is that this strategy can work. Feature rich applications perform well, and there is a legitimate concern that skipping out on technological developments can leave your platform cornered when new market needs arise. It’s not just a question then, of stripping back, but of carefully picking the minimum range of requirements to tap into the needs identified by your (extremely careful and detailed) market research.

Future proofing is a concern too, but don’t ever make the mistake of thinking you know where the market is going to go. After all, for a while there everyone thought QR codes were going to change the world.

The importance of requirements engineering

I really like the term requirements engineering. It has a gravity to it that terms like ‘feature planning’ simply don’t.

And that’s important; the process of understanding the requirements of your app should not be taken lightly. Researching and planning your feature list should take up the majority of your pre-development phase. You should know exactly how each item serves the underlying problem you’re trying to solve. These are requirements we’re talking about – things you have to have to fill the market need. They’re not just features you think your users will like. That’s the MVP mentality that we subscribe to here at the studio.

Live by the bible of CWHTEW

When designing a new product, I don’t like to think of it as a discrete object – the sort of thing you might buy off a shelf. Instead, I look at it as a node in a network. Digital products, from e-commerce platforms to social media tools, are really just conduits that different types of data move through. Understanding what the information is, where’s coming from, where it’s going and how you need to adapt it on the way is the foundation of creating an accurate requirements map.

When you approach a product from this mindset, you’ll quickly find that the function of your app is a lot simpler than you think. You’ll also start to see how certain data transactions can be handled off your platform altogether. I call this living by the bible of CWHTEW – Can We Handle This ElseWhere.

The answer to that beautiful question is, nine times out of ten, yes, whether you turn to a third-party service, an API-embedded integration or an off-digital solution. In many cases, some out-of-the-box thinking or a bit of elbow grease can save you tens of thousands. Make sure you’re working with teams and partners that live by this motto.

The API economy

Forbes named 2017 the year of the API economy in reverence to the fact that CIOs were turning to API solutions in droves in order to provide new business models and product offerings. Businesses are always looking for bespoke solutions, yet large-scale software projects are failing at an astronomical rate. Rapid market evolution requires that businesses retain the ability to adapt on the go, and APIs paired with third-party services are an increasingly seductive offer for developers. For me personally, it makes sense that the future of technology will be driven by lightweight, specialised modules with boundless integration potential.

That isn’t to say that APIs are perfect, or that the API economy is working to everyone’s advantage. However, if your business has limited resources it’s in your interest to seek out functionality that you don’t have to build yourself from top to bottom.

You’re likely to find that investing your cash on market research to help you nail down your product-market fit will serve you better than trying to carve out an attention-grabbing or seductive feature proposition. Most successful digital products are driven by need, so identifying that need should be your biggest priority. If you have cash left over, spend it on reliable marketing strategies like a high-converting sales funnel, complete with a quality landing page, excellent copywriting and a generous paid media budget.

Save on the spinning rims and you might find your vehicle carries you a lot further.

At Studio Graphene, we are inventors, experimenters and creatives. We turn ideas into show-stopping designs, and designs into market-ready products. We invent new ways of using existing technology, and deliver apps, websites and IoT software to ambitious startups and cutting-edge enterprises. If you’ve got an idea you’re looking to develop drop us a line via this form.

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Holly Sawyer
Holly is the Marketing Manager at Inkwell, the company behind The Pitch.

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