It’s time to stop pretending; Cart45, the web app released in July 2008 was not the resounding success I or my employers had hoped for. This post, will undoubtedly burn some bridges, but I hope something can be learnt from it.
Cart45 was built (in theory) to rival Actinic – as an easy to use ecommerce platform that would be as easy to install and operate for a online shopkeeper as WordPress is for a blogger.
The product was built, it had some great features but it didn’t sell like hotcakes… so why not?
1: A lack of features
If you’ve read Getting Real, you’ll know it’s good to launch a product with fewer features than your competition, but sadly our web app was lacking in some really important areas – mostly payment gateway integration. Launching with only Protx/Google Checkout was a big problem and, although I may be wrong, I think it made a lot of people not want to buy an online store that couldn’t process payments with their bank and/or Paypal.
I have to take a share of the blame here; my lack of API integration skills at the time meant that it took a long time to get those APIs working and with no budget for extra developers – that played havoc with the schedule.
2: A lack of time
I wrote Cart45 on my own, in its entirety, within 7 months, with around 2 months spent working on other projects, that is a long time but for a one man development team it wasn’t long enough. For a piece of software where the target market involves people downloading and installing the product upon countless different server setups – there simply wasn’t enough time to cover the test base and get everything right.
By the time the product was finished, we had just about run of time (I suspect, we’d run out of budget too but that was not my area so I can’t confirm that.) Consequently, there was no steam left to power on with the most important aspect of the launch – sales. There wasn’t even time to launch a proper demo version of the site and populate it with products/content.
3: A lack of time management
More important than the aforementioned lack of time was a lack of a proper time/project management. Having never written a full web app before I could only estimate the time it would take. We also lacked a definitive feature set – and as such, time overran whenever someone came up with a new feature or a new way of doing things. Failing to document, at the start, the exact requirements and define a schedule (that couldn’t be interrupted by other projects) was a major flaw in the plan.
4: A lack of budget and resources
As much as I like to work alone, getting things done efficiently without having to worry about fixing other people’s errant code – I can struggle at times. During development there were times where I had to do things I wasn’t 100% confident with: Protx’s API was one such thing but there wasn’t anyone else about I could outsource to and so it took longer and wasn’t done as well.
Now that I work for myself, I always factor into project quotations the cost and time of a subcontractor to perform specialist tasks.
5: A lack of interest from the world
My boss took on the task of promoting the app and did a fantastic job driving traffic to the sales site but after a week or so that traffic trailed off quite sharply and, sadly, never picked up again.
The people we contacted to try and get buzz weren’t overly interested and didn’t share our enthusiasm. Once again, this wasn’t my role so I can’t really state how well oiled our PR machine was but it’s clear that we didn’t gain the necessary trust and therefore exposure in blogs, trade magazines that would be needed to sell to hundreds of people which would have made the venture profitable.
The fact that there was very little marketing budget, meant that sustaining a promotional campaign without paying for advertising* wasn’t possible. I’m not saying that paying for advertising is the only way to market your product – you can do it in other ways but, whether you pay for marketing with your time and effort or with bank notes – it’s never free.
* Disclaimer: We did take out some banner space on some targeted websites which did bring in some good traffic.
I think a lot of people, myself included, think that creating a web app is an easy option. You can code it for free then post a link to it on twitter and suddenly you’ll sell thousands – but it doesn’t work like that. Some web developers with huge blog subscribers can work on an app/ebook and rely upon those followers to spread the word and keep marketing costs down but most people can’t do that.
Also, the success of a web app does not depend solely upon the greatest and/or uniqueness of the idea. It’s how well you apply that idea along with hard work and a little bit of luck that will make it successful.
I hope this has been good a good read and I hope it encourages some wannabe web app developers out there to perform a little bit more professionally through the process of conceiving and launching a new business.