Need to build a web app for your startup? No, you don’t. No… really!

| 8 minutes read

I would like to share with you the conversation I had this morning.

I’ve been working for a few days with two founders of a new startup. They are in the jewelry space, but this doesn’t matter. What only matters is that they are in the B2C world.

Usual fun with early stage startups: we simplify. The goal is to find the real value, and focus on it.

We are moving forward with good momentum. Value proposition is tested and tweaked, and a few experiments allow us to better understand our future customers. The startup is evolving a lot, and we iterate on a lot of versions on the Lean Canvas.
We even find a way to hack the growth of our market place without being a market place at the beginning.

“How much to build our web app?
Nothing. It’s free, you already have it!”

And then, comes The Moment.

It’s Cyril who ask me the usual question:
We need a web app. How much will it cost, and when can you deliver it?

My answer to him:
Well. We can develop it. But we won’t.

[ add a pause for some drama effect ]

I have a better solution. It will be free, and you have it right now. It’s even already installed on your phones.

[ add a longer pause 😉 Cyril and Emmanuel are looking at me like I’m crazy. I can feel all the trust we’ve built during the past few days vanishing with a deafening sound. ]

Your web app should be only a Facebook page.

Let’s think about it!

You need virality? It’s built-in, and does a better job than you’ll ever do on a separate website. Free!
You get social proof, with users seeing who of their friends already liked it. 
✅ Not some random testimonials written by some random John Doe.

You also need a plugin to organise events, invite people and allow them to share with their friends that they are going? Free!

You need to be able to share pictures, and group some of the pictures in a collection? Done.
You also wish that people could comment on the collection, and on  separate pictures? Let’s add the possibility to tag a friend, and you can consider it… available. Ready!

You want to sell your products? Just add a price and a link toward Paypal on the description of each of them. Available with a small tweak. Update: or use the new Shop feature, that Facebook is gradually rolling out.

You don’t have a logo yet? We don’t need one at this stage. Put a gorgeous picture of one of your model wearing one of your product on your cover photo. That’ll be perfect.
We don’t know yet which messages we want to send, so you are likely to change the pictures often at the beginning. As an admin, you can change it simply by clicking on it. That’s my gift, I’m happy to offer it to you.

You might want notifications. It’s there.   But you want them to be smart. Let’s group them when it makes sense, instead of sending 10 unique notifications on the same subject. You didn’t ask, but you also get notifications when people tag or mention their friends, not just when you decide to send something. ✅ Good for customer engagement, right?

“I’m willing to bet that the % of users that
have accepted the notifications from Facebook
is much higher than you’ll ever dream.”

You don’t know if your brand signature will be publishing photos or videos of your products?
  You can try right away. And we even have a measure of engagement

You already know how important it is to talk to your customers. Here you go, a built-in message feature ✅

Let’s now talk IT:

You didn’t add in your financial projections the costs of hosting your website? You were right, you get the hosting for free, and an admin team that will make sure everything is always up and running.

State of the art security? And every future technical evolution?  We Will Be There.

You wish the website to be responsive, and need iOS and Android apps? Of course!
But I only accept because you won’t have any problem getting your apps installed on your phone users: It’s. Already. Done. Which is not a small task, considering our customers target.
And, by the way: They Already Know How to Use Your App.

You didn’t know it was possible, so you didn’t asked for it, but let me bundle —still for free— some nice technical things to smooth the user experience:

how about using the thumbnail of the pictures, so we have something to show while waiting for the download of the full size image to complete? And some of this downloads could be done in the background, so it’s already there next time the user opens the app?
Let’s also cache the posts already downloaded, so your customers can look at them again even without a connection.

“Who cares that you look like a legitimate business?
At the beginning, except you, nobody.”

Trying to build all that would probably have costed between 60 to 90k€. With a lot of compromises, due to technical possibility and budget.
Trying to match the user experience? Sky is the limit, but we could very quickly have been talking about 200.000 € to 300.000 €.

Embrace the constraints to meet simplicity

By embracing the constraints, you can do more simple.
Your customers don’t care if you have faked legitimacy by burning a lot of money on a shiny new website. They care about how you change their life.

Sure, you wont have control on a lot of things. ❌ Sure, there a lot of actions that you will have to perform manually. ❌ Sure, what you can do can change without notice. ❌ Sure, there is some data from your customers that you will never get. ❌ Who cares? Start this way, and adapt later on. And by the way, do you still believe that your first release won’t have way more limitations?
By accepting the rules of the game in Facebook yard, there are a lot of things you don’t need to worry about.

Learn fast. Start Today.

The most important thing in a startup is to learn fast.
Why wait 4 months (writing the spec, getting a quote, waiting for the app to be developed and tested, and the classical unexpected delays) when you can start right now?

Once your app is ready, if you really want people to use your app, what is the simplest? To ask your fans to use the app, or to somehow convince the whole Internet® that you suddenly exist and that they should all signup on your app now?

“Focus on your customers
and competitive advantages,
not lines of code.”

Keep your developer happy

First, doing it this way will allow Cyril and Emmanuel to understand what they want. What words they use. What kinds of pictures works. Which features are used or not.

They will keep their developer happy, as he will know his job makes sense and the code he’s writing will be used and make an impact in the life of someone.
And he won’t work 5 times on the same features, changing things.

This is the best way to recruit a CTO. Show them your accomplishments and they’ll jump onboard.

“This is a strategy to Start Fast.
I know I don’t know
what we will need later.
The idea is to Learn Now.”

Maybe you don’t even need a web app at all…

Later we will likely need a web app. Or maybe not. We won’t build it just because that’s what a real startup should do.
Maybe it will be a bot, maybe it will be a Slack community. Or two communities, on Pinterest and Instagram. Or everything will be done with good old emails.
Or maybe, they will learn that nobody cares, and they will save energy, time and money and use it to build something else. I hope not, but I know I dont know.

The only thing I know for sure is what Cyril and Emmanuel will develop in a few months will be very different from what they think they need today.

Even if they were so damn good that they could specify it, their future true competitive advantages are the way they sell and their community. And they should focus on that. Not lines of code that will deprecate over time.

Nice idea… but wouldn’t work for you?

Think this is a nice idea, but it wouldn’t apply to you? Rethink.
We are doing the exact same thing with an other startup in the Surf industry. Instead of using Facebook, he is launching his geolocalized marketplace using Google My Map.

I also asked a startup I accelerated from their beginning.
Tristan, founder of MoiChef:

Translation: Awesome! That’s exactly how I would do if I were to restart.

Guillaume Cerquant Author: Guillaume Cerquant

Entrepreneur and geek,
focused on User Experience and Innovation.

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