You wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t buzzing with the energy that comes from a great new business idea. And given how fast things move in today’s business world, you need to somehow manage to get your venture up-and-running within a couple of months. Well, good news—that quick turnaround is no problem.
As a member of the startup economy of 2013, it can’t have escaped your notice that cloud technology is the path for most young companies. That’s because cloud technology—essentially pay-per-use computing—gives you back the time and resources to focus on the areas where you excel—your business, your market, your customer. And developing in the cloud shifts your IT expense from capital expense to operating expense. It’s the technology of the future, and it lets small companies compete in any marketplace, no matter what size.
If you have undertaken technology projects before, you know that your margin for error was small and it was expensive to get there, and expensive to change direction. Now it’s the opposite—you can move quickly and change as you go and learn. Cloud technology is inexpensive and flexible, allowing you to avoid laying on the drag of hardware and IT staffing costs.
But not all vendors are created equal. Figuring out which cloud vendor is right for your business is critical to your success. Nobody has the time or budget for a mistake, so here’s a quick guide to finding a great partner for your company:
1. Identify your key success factors.
Does the vendor need to be an expert in your market or just in the product set they are developing for you?
Does your partner need to be able to engineer to meet certain standards for security, such as credit card processing or healthcare privacy regulations?
Do you need a partner that can provide ongoing technical support so you don’t have to add staff once the project is launched?
Do you have an IT organization? Does that organization have specific technical requirements that must be met?
2. Identify possible partners.
Typically, we see startups using a combination of referral and Internet searching.
3. Talk to the different vendors you’ve identified, and then ask yourself these questions:
Did they demonstrate a clear understanding of my project?
Can they work within my budget or time constraints?
Do they use a development process that lets me take advantage of the cloud’s flexibility?
Do they have experience creating elements of systems that are similar to mine?
Do they get me? Do they speak my language?
Will they mesh with any in-house IT I have? Do they each understand and respect their roles in this project?
Do they require that I go through a lengthy and expensive planning process?
Will they keep me in the loop on the development process?
Will I be able to test the product during development and provide feedback that can be incorporated?
4. Make sure you have the three-to-four months necessary to devote to developing your idea into reality.
At the end of the day, the success of an effort like this is dependent on a business owner’s direct involvement in the process of the designing of their new system.
5. Clearly define what the shape of the project over time needs to be to best fit your funding, and communicate those parameters very clearly to your tech vendor.
Do you want to make a relatively modest investment to get a basic system launched immediately that will generate revenue in short order; can you wait to add certain features that are nice to have but not requirements for launch?
How soon do you need/want the additional features to be developed and added to the product?
Do you want to be able to incorporate feedback from your customers into later versions of the product, or would your market be better served with all your desired features from the outset?
Are you willing to offer a percentage of revenue from your sales over time to defray a portion of the upfront development expenses?
Using this framework to define your cloud vendor buying process will make your project run significantly more smoothly. You and your vendor will go into the relationship with a strong sense of what the end game truly is, and you will both be focused on that goal.
Why am I sharing this with you? I’m not just a vendor who serves startups, I am also the CEO of a startup. I get the financial constraints, time-to-market pressures, and execution of a vision that exists solely in the mind of one person. And one last tip—there’s something to be said for a vendor that has walked a mile in your shoes.
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Alex Brown is CEO of 10th Magnitude, a 100 percent bootstrapped three-year-old cloud software and services firm that exists at the critical crossroads of cutting-edge technology and exceptional user experience. They develop custom software applications, provide application management and enable Microsoft Azure migration to help businesses of all sizes innovate and compete more effectively.