For your side project, why do you need a co-founder? This Hacker News comment reflects the conventional wisdom:
While the primary developer co-founder is working on the app, the co-founder focuses on the ancillary features necessary to get an app launched.
User git-pull is right: when building a web or mobile app, often the core functionality is only 60-70% of the work required. You have to develop several features and modules that have nothing to do with the core feature set of your app. Most of these features are common to all online SAAS businesses:
- Logos and UX/UI
- The homepage and brochure site.
- Backend dashboard and reporting metrics.
- Billing system
- Customer service system
There is no open source framework covering all of these functions. But, there is a series of best practices that allow a solo developer to focus most of their limited time on coding the main app and launch these extra services with minimal effort.
Logos and UX/UI
It is easy to spend a lot of money on graphic design at the start of a project. Often, the screenshots and logo render you get back from a designer are the first tangible elements that make your project feel real. In reality, this is often wasted money, especially if you are just trying to build an MVP. You can prove a product has a customer base that will pay without paying for expensive UI/UX. Improving your UI will come later — when you are trying to improve your conversion and engagement, not when trying to prove product/market fit.
Use FIVERR to get a logo for $15 or less. Find a graphic designer in the logo section that has 500 or more positive feedbacks with a perfect 5-star rating. Send them some logos you like, and you will get back a similar logo with your project name. It won’t be fancy or particularly original, but it will work.
Instead of paying for UI, just use the popular Bootstrap framework. Make sure you study the documentation and then use the classes correctly in your page renders. Spend your time making an easy, simple layout. The Bootstrap framework is so common, that if you do it right, your users will find your app to be familiar and simple to use. It won’t be fancy or visually beautiful, but it will prove your MVP.
Homepage and Brochure Website
For your web or mobile app, you need a website to promote it. This brochure for your app or service is the landing page for all your marketing efforts, it sells (and upsells) your customers, funnels them to the conversion pages (sign up forms, app downloads, etc.) and acts as an ambassador for your product.
Some developers are tempted to run this brochure website as they are running their app: as another set of code on their app servers. But, that is a mistake.
The fastest, easiest and cheapest way to build your homepage and brochure website is with WordPress. WordPress is a wildly popular content management system that is:
- Well supported by developers
- Cheap to run
- Very customizable
- Easy to use
- Backed by an extensive marketplace of plug-ins
You can run WordPress for free on any server or select a dedicated host. I am hosting DNDEmail.com on wpgengine.com – a dedicated WordPress host that prioritizes updates and stability. I pay a little more, but I never worry that my WordPress installation is out of date or unstable.
WordPress’ sizeable plug-in ecosystem is a powerful tool when you start marketing your project. Need a cheap landing page generator? A popup maker? A/B Testing? You can add all those features to WordPress with low-cost plug-ins (without recurring fees).
It is easy to run your brochure/Wordpress site on one host and your app on another — just use a subdomain or different domain for each. For example, your WordPress site can be https://tryfancyapp.com, and your app itself can live at https://app.fancyapp.com.
Be sure to check out ThemeForest — this is a marketplace of WordPress themes. For under $100, you can buy a theme that will give your website a distinctive look.
Dashboard and Metrics
We have all seen the fancy backend dashboards many startups built to visualize their data and users. In my opinion, these are a colossal waste of time. You can use Google Analytics and its native Events capability to dashboard any activity in your app for free and with minimal effort.
You need to track EVERYTHING. Every click, action, interaction, and impression. Sign-up? Record it as an event. Upgrade? Record it as an event. Account closed? Record it as an event. Clicked a button? Record it as an event. Used a feature? Record it as an event.
You want 100% of the user interactions with your app sent as Events to Google Analytics so you can look at the data to see what is working and what is not. What is popular and what is not.
By the way: Are you offering an API or did you build a microservice? Track their usage by merely recording events to Analytics on each request.
Be sure to implement USERID tracking for your logged in users so you can track their sessions and usage in Analytics.
You can then build fancy dashboards in Analytics, have real-time data and email reports. You can also export events to Google Sheets and full the data in Google Data Studio for more in-depth analysis.
Beating Stripe for ease of implementation is hard. Most subscription type Saas offerings can merely implement their HTML buy buttons and a single webhook to handle all subscriptions. You will also need to support coupons and have a simple way to upgrade/downgrade users without running them through Stripe. I spent about 10 hours of coding integrating Stripe billing into my subscription web app. As above, no need to build a dashboard or complicated user management system — you can log in to Stripe’s Dashboard to view everything and handle most tasks.
The number one thing you can do to improve customer service is work on your app to make it easy and intuitive to use. Number 2: Build a quality help section on your WordPress site. Every time you get a new question, reply to the sender and post the answer on your support pages.
To start, I recommend just using a support page in the WordPress site and Gmail. Later, as you grow and have multiple customer service agents, you can implement a help desk solution like Zendesk.
If you want to succeed as a solo software developer, you need to get your MVP out to the public as quickly and cheaply as possible. You can do this without a co-founder by focusing on the core feature set of your product and minimizing the time you spend on the app overhead. Once you set your project live, your work is just beginning — now you start climbing the mountain of marketing your product and finding those initial customers.