Thoughts for an unexperienced customer

An introduction, too long but necessary

There used to be a time when you were the best
You had the fastest tongue in the west
Ya gave a look and a line like nobody else
You'd try to sell the Bible to the devil, Himself.

(Alice Cooper - Why Trust You?)

This epigraph is not about you. It is about people who give bad advice. You always have some of them around. If you decide to create a new startup and do not have necessary experience, most likely you will find somebody who would be happy to share his or her valuable knowledge in this area.

If you have read something like Timothy Ferriss' "4-Hour Workweek", he may have told you that such work does not cost much, does not require special attention and brings a lot of money in a very short period after the release. And you could decide that developing a web application is a simple process, exactly as Ferriss discovered: "It turned out that you can outsource everything from manufacturing to ad design. Two weeks and $5,000 of credit card debt later, I have my first batch in production and a live website".

I know that people prefer easy roads and want simple solutions. When they go to a store they want to know two things: how much a thing costs and how soon they can get it. This is valid for every part of their life. For example, I noticed that people often buy health or beauty this way. They go to a store for beauty and ask: "How much does this amount of beauty cost?"

This is amazing, but usually they receive answers they are looking for. There are big infrastructures in every area that extract money from potential buyers very efficiently. Do you want 5 pounds of beauty? Here it is, 150 dollars please. A portion of good health? We have tons of health in our drug stores, come and get it.

As a result, you may see a lot of women that wear all beauty that they can get for money. Sometimes it looks funny when a fat young lady with a cigarette who has never thought about making her body more trained and her face more friendly, wears all that "beauty" bought for money. The infrastructure works well and helps people to keep drowning in their delusions.

I see the same attitude in many potential customers of mine. They want a great website that will help them to gain some money. And they want to know two things:

  • a) how much a web project costs and
  • b) how soon they will get it.

The only correct answer I can give them is: I do not know.

Cost

"I need an alarm clock," I repeated.
"Which one have you chosen?" she asked.
"I would like to know the cost," I said.
"You will know the cost afterwards," she answered drowsily.
"When, afterwards?" I stared at her assuming she is joking.
"When you buy it," she yawned covering her mouth with a hand.
"Strange store," I noted, "the cost is known before the buying in other stores."
"All stores are the same here," she shrugged shoulders.

(Helju Rebane - A city on Altrus)

There are two ways of doing a job:

  • a) to do exactly what the client wants and
  • b) to do what must be done, no matter if the client wants it or not.

Here in Anadea we strongly believe that the second option is the only correct option if a developer wants to call himself a professional. Thus, instead of following the client's requirements which may be very peculiar sometimes, we try to make him realize a few facts about the projects development before work is started.

Here is the first fact: there is no cost of a project. Some people think that such a cost exists, but it does not. A software is not an orange or a pair of boots. It is a living thing. It lives, it grows, it changes all the time. It takes efforts of both the customer and the developer. These two should work hard to make their child better, smarter, prettier.

Can you say how much your daughter costs? Impossible, isn't it? Although, it is possible to say how much she costs per month. The same is valid for a web project. It is correct to measure its price in dollars per month rather than in dollars, period.

Some customers say: hey! I gave you detailed specifications, I had spent two months on them. Can't you assess the overall cost using these specifications?

The answer is: thank you for the project description, but it was helpful to understand the big idea only. No matter how detailed it is it covers no more than 20% of real work which is going to take place. After we start working, the description will change many times, and you will be the one who will request those changes. Thank you for the work you did over the mentined two monts, it helps a lot, but the specifications are not indicative in terms of the cost.

What is indicative is your impression and constant feedback on updates we will be providing.

Time

"But why the cost can be found out only afterwards?" I boiled over.
"Do you ask for a price tag when you make a decision? No. How much does one or another step cost, you will find out later. But a buying is a step as well, moreover the most simple one."

(Helju Rebane - A city on Altrus)

Well, as it was just said, every initial cost estimates are no more accurate than the initial project description. Thus, the overall project cost is not determined before the project starts. But money is not the only thing you dedicate to your startup, is it?

The second fact you should realize before you dedicate yourself to this work is about time. A potential customer may be confused by uncerntainty in regard to the time the developer is going to spend on the project. But actually he should be concerned of the amount of time he is going to spend on the project himself.

Do not trust anyone who says that a web project can develop itself without your direct participation. You are the only one person who at least partially knows which demands the application should serve. You will have to participate, the more the better.

The parallel between a project and a child is valid again. I have two kids, both are loved very much. When we planned the first one, I was ready to do everything I had to do: to cook, to clean, to bathe her. But I could never imagine how much time and attention a child would need. Usually she or he wants all of the time you have.

A web project is much more facile than a child. It does not require all of your time. Just an essential part of it.

Participation

Then the astrologers answered the king, “May the king live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”
The king replied to the astrologers, “This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble..."

(Daniel 2:4, 5, New International Version)

Thus, we came up to the third fact. Your role, your participation. How can you participate in the development?

You will have to review updates every day, talk with your developers, give your feedback and, the most important, make decisions. You may trust your developers, but still everything they do you should accept as your own ideas or correct them when necessary. This is a big responsibility, isn't it?

I noticed that the time question is somehow related to the cost question described above. For some reason, customers that want fixed price projects do not want to participate too much. It is kind of a common attitude: I want to know the cost beforehand and I do not want to spend too much time. Please, do everything without me and send me the application.

Why do you think this is possible?

The Chaldean king Nebuchadnezzar II in the 6th century BC gave his astrologers an assignment which became classic. And now every self-respecting customer tries to propose the same to his contractor: "Please, tell me what I saw in my dream and what it meant".

When I only started working as a sales manager I often asked another specialist in my department about the meaning of one or another line in specifications I was receiving constantly. He always answered: "I have the same crystal ball as you have".

Sorry, this is the way we joke here. We do not want to offend anyone, but there is a sense in what was just said: your developers will have questions no matter if you have specifications or not. They will have a lot of questions. They will have questions that you cannot even imagine. Your specifications are just a matter to start working in a close communication with you, nothing more.

Another way

The executioner’s argument was, that you couldn’t cut off a head unless there was a body to cut it off from: that he had never had to do such a thing before, and he wasn’t going to begin at his time of life.
The King’s argument was, that anything that had a head could be beheaded, and that you weren’t to talk nonsense.

(Lewis Caroll - Alice in Wonderland)

Is there another way? Why not? You always have another way. As I mentioned in the introduction, there is a huge infrastructure which helps people to actualize their favorite dreams for their money.

Do you want an eBay clone? Here you go! For a fixed price? No problem. For 500 dollars? Yes, it is possible, here is a script, do whatever you want with it.

Sometimes I feel like the mentioned executioner trying to explain things which appear to be difficult to understand. Once I had a customer who agreed to an hourly basis but wanted to know a "maximum project cost". I told him that there was no maximum cost, just exactly as there was no maximum amount of customer's desires. But he was sure that "anything that had a head could be beheaded" and finally told me that he would rather find a contractor who would tell him the maximum project cost. I am pretty sure that he has found one.

Do you want to spend money this way? Feel free to do so. The infrastructure works efficiently and you will definitely find your contractor. And I agree that you can save some money this way. You will not get a high-quality solution for sure, but you will spend less money than you would spend on a real product. And who said that it would be a bad result? Didn't Timothy Ferriss do the same way? He paid some money and got "something". We do not know what it actually was. He said that the application was very successful just like every thing Timothy Ferris did in his interesting life, but I doubt that he was sincere.

Conclusion

No epigraphs. Just plain lessons. I would word them this way:

  1. You are the most important person in your project. The development needs your participation badly. It needs your decisions badly.
  2. When you give a life to your project, you can never imagine what demon you are calling out. Be sure, it will become a big part of your life.
  3. Do not trust anyone who says that you can work less than an hour per day and get more money than people who work hard. These people are professional liars, they earn money for selling you wrong but pleasing ideas. Every good result requires a lot of work. No pain, no gain.
  4. The same is valid for project development. Developers are not miracle makers. After the project is kicked off, they will not build a great website within a week. They will start working, talking with you, clarifying some points, building a good foundation for a stable application, adding some features step by step. Yes, sometimes it will look slow.

Even more than that. If your project succeeds, be sure that you will need at least one full-time developer all the time while the application is live. If there is a moment in the application life when the number of development hours spent on it within a month equals zero, it means that your project is dead.

Is such work for you? Are you ready to bear a responsibility for this child? It will not be easy. But if you understand everything I described and decide that you are ready for this, we will be happy to help you and show you the best way to implement your ideas.

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