What do you need to start a product business

I was reading @patio11’s description of how he started a “microISV” (remember that term from a few years back) from a simple Bingo Card Creator in 8 days.  It got me thinking about what you really need to start a product business online these days.  Besides the flippant answer “not much”, here’s the list I came up with:

What do you need to start a product business?

  • a product
  • a place to advertise that product
  • a description of the product and reasons to buy it
  • a way to market that product
  • a way to take money
  • a way to deliver the product to customers
  • a way to handle customer support

Technically, you don’t need to be able to handle customer support until you have customers.  But once you do, you’d better be ready.  Don’t get too worried about it at first.  Email is probably good enough until you have more emails than you can respond to.

You have to have a product, but you don’t necessarily have to have built the product yet.  But you do need to be able to fulfill orders once you have customers  If you don’t that’s called fraud.

A web site fits the need of advertising the product.  You have to tell people what your product is and why they should buy it. Coming up with decent marketing copy is actually one of the most difficult and dreaded aspects of self-promotion.  At least for me.  This can be as simple as a blog or hosted shopping cart.

But no one is going to read that if they never see it, so you have to have a way to drive traffic.  This can run the spectrum from AdWords to outbound sales calls.  It also includes SEO and networking.  You won’t know what works for you without some experimenting and market research.

So you have a product, a way for people to learn about it, and a way to get them to find out about it, and now they want to buy it.  You need a way for them to pay you (this is the core of the business.)  But once you have a website with a landing page that tells people about your product, and people who are in the market for your product are actually seeing that it exists, and are convinced it will solve their problem, you need to be able to close the deal, take their money, and deliver the product to them — you have the core of a business that can scale from a single downloadable e-Book to Amazon.com.

Ok, you may have some scalability issues, but nothing you can’t overcome, right?

As long as you’re making enough profit to make it worth your while.  Don’t forget to balance the books — or get someone else to fund you.

Some other things it might be nice to think about, but not technically necessary up front:

  • a way to communicate with prospects & customers – an online newletter?
  • a cool product name and fancy logo
  • SEO and organic marketing
  • analytics to tell you what works and what doesn’t work
  • recurring billing
  • business organization (LLC, Corp, etc)

You first need to:

1. Find something people want and build it

2. Inform people that you have a product that fulfills their desire

3. Convince them to buy your product

4. Be able to take their money & deliver the product

5. Handle customer issues



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