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small business lessons, web develop

Monday September 20, I’m participating on a panel discussion “Avoiding Pitfalls in Website Development— Lessons for Entrepreneurs.”

If you are in Tampa you’re invited to join fellow high-tech entrepreneurs the Emerging Companies Network Event (Part of TBTF), which will be co-hosted by Tampa Bay WaVE, a member-based not-for-profit organization of web tech entrepreneurs dedicated to generating and supporting successful home-grown web ventures. The panel will be moderated by  Curt P. Creely of Foley & Lardner LLP and was coordinated Linda Olson of WOMbeat.

The panel of Tampa Bay WaVE members (Allen Clary of www.Jibidee.com, Yours truly–Karen Post of Oddpodz.com, and Brian Burridge of Agile Nomads) will talk about experiences, challenges, and war stories in developing their websites, including selecting and managing developers and getting their sites live, and you’ll also get helpful hints on such topics from a website developer.

If you can’t make the event, please check out my follow up blog on Tues. 9.21.10 for more insight from the other presenters.

As entrepreneurs it’s not uncommon that we refer to our companies as babies. After all, many took over 9 months to create, sometimes the challenges are so great, you want to trade the kid in for a better, smarter model, but in the end, it’s our responsibility to do whatever we can to give this living thing a happy, healthy future. So when their life, your company is threatened, it’s serious stuff.

Oddpodz, my baby has had three near death experiences. all evolved around technology and web site development. I’ve written about these experiences in the past. Which I suggest you check out the last post. I cover the biggest lessons learned.

The good new is,  since then, we’ve actually turned a big corner. And that’s what I will cover today and talk about Monday at the “Avoiding Pitfalls in Website Development— Lessons for Entrepreneurs.”

More of gory details are in the past post. Here’s the condensed version.
2006 had an idea and business plan.
Raised over $750,00
We (company leadership) didn’t know poop from apple butter concerning technology
Social media was like wild west in the 1800s, open source solutions were like the pioneers, just a handful

Site 1 – built in .net (cost $400,000, hosting costs $2,000 a month)
Hired a big company to lead us through the journey, they over sold
Should have hired an in house dedicated  IT leader
We did not have a business requirements document for site
We did not have a clear financial model
Our balance of design and functionality in the site dev was out of whack
Should have had a fixed price, scope creep killed us
Should have started in a simpler plan, we had too many ideas
Should have had a penalty for missing deadline, time to market was a defeat
Developer contract left no protection for us, we did not figure this out until it was too late, at the end, should have been at beginning
Bad decisions are a lot worse than the price you pay for them, they cost the new time needed to fix up the mess, plus the cost in professionals and related costs (hosting, ad server)
Once we realized our site really sucked, it took another 7 months to improve

Site 2 – built in .joomla 1.0 (bartered $30,000, hard costs $15,000)
Hired an experienced IT person to write our Business Requirement Documents ($5,000)
Planning and BRD took 60 days
Procurement of new firm took another 60 days
We engaged a smaller firm to built site 2, they needed us and we needed them
The site was much better, but still very dependent on the web dev company
Many solutions were cobbled, combinations of off the shelf and custom apps
There were data migration issues from changing platforms
After the new site was up, the smaller company had staff turnover, our design team vanished
Our low spending with this dev company was impacting the ratio of attention we were getting
Traffic is much harder to get than you think
Still were not generating income from the site
Cost to maintain site 1500-2000 a month, just to keep up with industry
Joomla was not longer supporting Joomla 1.0 and to upgrade was going to cost time and money
I attended a Joomla class and got some names of smaller Joomla specialist
Interviewed many, selected 1 that said they fully examined our site and to make the Joomla upgrade $3,000 and a couple months
BIG FAT LIE – they didn’t look under the hood and when we switched servers most of our apps did not work
They submitted a real bid for $20,000 to make the upgrade and it would take another 3 months
After much thought and RIO on upgrade investment, I could not convince myself that we could earn this back in the short term

Site 3 – built in WORDPRESS MU  (Programming  $2,500, design $2,000, hosting 20.00 month)
Hired two flaky programmers that went MIA
All my hair turned gray
After 3 months, via someone I met on Linkedin, ProTech Assist a veterans and small business IT support company jumped in, built our new site, three blogs, an e commerce store. They also provide monthly support for a nominal fee.
85% of the site updates can be managed by me and my team
We have started generating income from our learning products and coaching

Today
Our burn rate is low
Social media has matured and it is embraced by the world
Open source is wonderful thing
50% of our raised equity was forgiven, due to an aging investor
Our traffic is up 200%
We have a clear business model
We are leveraging our core assets
My other businesses are having record breaking years
This is fun again and we are confident we have a bright future

Also, check out: Finding inspiration in new places. An experienced dog meets new pups.

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