Distribution: Part Three on Bringing a Web Application to Market

This is the final part of our series on design, development and distribution — the process of getting a product, specifically a web based application, to market. In the edition that covered design it was pointed out that the first step to making an idea manifest is to think very clearly about what needs could be filled by the technology at your disposal. In development we looked at how we could build that idea out into a functioning entity. In this final part we discuss how we got all this wonderfulness that has taken so much time and effort to create to the people who matter most — the people that might actually want it.

“The first question you have to ask is, “Where are the people you are trying to reach right now?” What blogs are the people you are trying to reach reading and go and talk to those bloggers and try to get them to write articles about you. Buy advertising on their site.

“You can do bizdev deals with companies that are already selling into that channel. You can also do the affiliate model where other people can advertise for you and you pay them based on how many conversions take place.

“You can also provide branded content by providing a monthly or weekly email which shares information about your industry which in turn gets shared around. You are building your brand while you are helping people get information about what is relevant to them.

“A good recent example of sending out emails is Hootsuite. One of the things they started recently was Hootsuite University where they teach people how to use social media tools. Of course, one of the tools they teach people how to use is the Hootsuite application. They are really giving value back to the community but they are also building their brand up for themselves.”

There are other means to let people know about the web application you have built:

  • Search Engine Marketing: Ads appear as part of the search results for the keywords related to your business.
  • Search Engine Optimization: Where you optimize the content on your page to show up as one of the top results when people type in a relevant word.
  • Social Advertising: Advertising on Facebook or other social networks. The opportunity there is to be able to reach to the demographic that most closely resembles the demographic for the people who would care most about your business. 

    “If you were trying to sell t-shirts you would probably look at those people who are 15-25 years old. And if you are t-shirts are do with cars you try and place them on the pages associated with cars on Facebook and so on.”

  • Public Relations: Getting the press and different bloggers writing about you and your company.
  • Promotions and Competitions:There are companies like Wildfire which can help with putting different types of promotions together.

“Another part of distribution is about retention and referrals. How do people talk about your application? Do you make it easy for people to refer? When people land on your page, how do you activate them and get them involved?

“Bizdev, sales and marketing are encompassed within distribution. But these are are all just terms. The reality is, how would the the person who would be interested in your product find out about your product. If they don’t know about it right now then why do they not know about it? How can you reach them?

“It comes back to the we discussed in the articles on design and development. Certain people know the general area of a topic and other people are very good at certain specifics.

“You need to find the man or woman who is best at adwords campaigns, the best person at running social media, the best person to be your community manager and it is not always going to be the same person.

“As an entrepreneur you have to be able to coordinate things in such a way that you get the best people into certain roles.

“You have to recruit the best people for the specific role and you probably aren’t the best person to do all those roles. However, you have to understand all the parts of your business to be able to communicate with the brilliant person who is doing it for you. You have to build a rapport with that person so that they have respect for you and that they know that you have respect for them.

“People will share good things. If people like something they will tell their friends about it and share it. That is how things really go viral. With Groupon people see this good deal and then they post it on Facebook and say, “Who wants to come kayaking with me?” Then their friends sign up. It is a simple sharable concept with instant gratification.

“All this stuff together is distribution — there is no silver bullet. With a lot of web applications you have to do many, many things.”


You can watch Fergus give a talk on design, development and delivery from his presentation at BlogTalk 2010 in Galway last year.

Special thanks to Dave McClure for letting us use the main image in this article.

Fergus Hurley: Developers and Product Development

In the second part of our series on bringing a product to market Fergus Hurley discusses the role of developers in the development stage. He has been, and still is, heavily involved in the development of Clixtr and PicBounce. The first question we put to him is, “Where to start?”

“With development it is crucial to pick your technologies first and stick with them. There are a lot of frameworks for building these web application and when you pick a framework you are by association picking a language that most of your applications are going to be built with. Your developers are going to need to know that language.

Ruby on Rails is very popular right now and that is one that we use. It is a great framework to get you up and running.

“The main thing now with web applications is that there are a lot of libraries available and APIs and gems which is the word they use in Ruby for pre-coded packages that you install in your application. The advantage is that you can leverage this code that other people have written and not have to do it all yourself.

“So the first question is, “What frameworks am I going to use?” The framework is tied to the language but also tied to the gems that are available for what you are trying to do.

“If you are trying to do location based stuff then Ruby on Rails has some gems that you could use but Python has a lot as well. Python is the language that is used in Google. They are pushing out a lot of stuff and they will be pushing out even more so that is something to take into account.

“Python is the number one priority language for Google and the framework for building applications in Python is Django. So, if you want to work with their service you will have to build your application in Python.”

How much code does an entrepreneur need to know?

“As with design the entrepreneur needs to understand development as well. They need to be able to look at the code and ideally, be able to write some code themselves. If you look at most successful web companies like Twitter and Facebook, most, if not all, of the founders and early employees were able to do development themselves.

“However, development is not rocket science and people need to start learning the development process themselves. I would say the first step is to learn Ruby on Rails and before that you need to learn to use the Ruby language. To be able to use Ruby effectively you need to learn how to program. Those are steps of the process of learning to code.“

If you are not a great developer yourself then how do you find one who is?

“Finding brilliant people is always the hardest part and finding great developers is extremely difficult. Your first step would be to ask your friends. Ask them who they worked with in the past that has been brilliant and that might be able to work on some stuff.

“What I found that has worked well for us and has worked well for a lot of friends is to attend a lot of these developer events like Hackathons and work with some developers there.

“Maybe the entrepreneurs might not be brilliant developers themselves but they get to work with these developers and they can get to really see who are the best ones. Then they get them to work on some side project with them and then over time they become full-time people.

“You really have to network to get the best developers in the world and they are really hard to get.”

What are the cost factors to look out for in development?

“The cost of development has gone way down which means that your cost of development is your developer. With Amazon services you can be up and running in half an hour with a full website and a full hosting environment on a dedicated server if that is what you want. You can scale it up and down with a click on your computer. You don’t have to pay for the licences and servers and so on.

“A really awesome developer, like a really awesome designer, can do way more in a short space of time then a newbie who doesn’t know anything. If someone has built an application that is very similar to your one before then they will have made a lot of mistakes along the way. So, when they build it the second time, the third time, the fourth time, they are going to be way more efficient and know which mistakes to avoid.

“Most of the time-sinks in development are when you don’t know the solution to the problem that you are trying to solve. You have to spend hours googling, going to stack overflow, going online to Quora and other different websites, messaging your friends, messaging helpdesks and so on, trying to find an answer. A great, experienced developer can help you bypass a lot if not all of that.”

What should we keep in mind for the future?

“Development of web applications has got much easier over the years but building mobile applications is really where there is a huge shortage of developers and there is going to be a lot of opportunities there. A lot of developers are going to be moving over to mobile because every company in the world is going to need to have a mobile presence.

“In the web and development space that we have right now we are not really solving that many hard technical problems. I think we are entering a transitionary stage on the web where it is now about design. However, in a couple of years time the development will become more advanced and much more important again.”


You can watch Fergus give a talk on design, development and delivery from his presentation at BlogTalk 2010 in Galway last year.

Fergus Hurley: The Role of Design in Getting a Product to Market

Fergus Hurley is an Irish entrepreneur working in Silicon Valley. We have written about two of his projects before; Clixtr and PicBounce. Fergus has agreed to share his observations and experiences in the form of a three part series which we will feature on Technology Voice every Wednesday. The subjects he will discuss are design, development and distribution. These are the three most important elements in the process that brings a project from just being an idea to being a product in the market. This week Fergus will talk about design.

When you are coming up with a web concept design is probably the most important part of your success. Because if you don’t have good design people are not going to be able to use your product. The first part of design is need finding.

Finding out what do people want and what people want to do with your product. You might have the best idea in the world but if nobody wants to use then is it really a great idea? Once you have the idea about what people should be able to do with new technology then you need to be able to take it and come up with the best incarnation of that.

Historically, design has been less important in the web and in engineering in general. But we are now entering the era where design is number one. It is a space that is evolving all the time.

It is much harder than engineering in the sense that there aren’t any fundamental principles that that you can count on to remain the same and stay constant. The fundamental laws of gravity don’t change but design philosophies are changing all the time based on what is possible with technology and what people actually want to do with the technology.

Who to hire first, a designer or engineer?

I would say that one designer can keep many engineers busy. In the first early stages what you want to have is a really awesome designer who is committed to your product. The impact that a designer can have in a few hours is much larger than an engineer can have in a similar amount of time. That is not to devalue the engineer’s time but it takes a long time to build out the applications because it takes time to code.

Getting a designer that is really awesome is crucial. If you try and hire a designer that matches your salary constraints as a startup you might end up with a designer that is not the most awesome one out there. It is a false economy. An awesome designer will produce better work in a much shorter period thus you may even ultimately end up with a lower cost.

How to find and what to look for in a good designer?

Finding good designers in Silicon Valley is a very difficult thing. I would say that to find a really, really good designer there are probably two ways:

  • One, is that you look at a really good product that is tangential to your space and you find out who designed it. Then you contact that designer and try and recruit them to work on your stuff. That is probably the best way. That designer has experience. They have already proven how good they are and you are impressed with your work.This approach also works with personal connections. You can ask your friends, “Do you know any designers?” When you get their recommendations you can look at the designer’s work and then you can reach out to them.

    Also, since good people have a tendency to associate with others that are as good if not better then themselves, if a great designer is not available it may be worth being referred to one of their associates who may be available.

  • The second way is to put a job posting out there and to try and get someone through that mechanism. But I think that is less effective than going out to try and find a product that is brilliant and was conceived by a great designer.

Good judgement has to be used

There are many facets to design. Just like in engineering you may have one engineer who is good at iPhone development. You may have another who is good at Ruby on Rails development and another engineer who is good at front end development. Each one of those skill sets is specific in itself. Probably all three of those engineers understand the other two area but only one is going to be really good at their particular speciality.

The same with design. A lot of the time one designer won’t be able to do all the different parts. User experience design, laying out the flows of how people will go through the application, is a different skill-set to those possessed by the people who put the skin on that and make it look beautiful.

The different steps of the design process

  • Need finding: What to people want?
  • User experience: Paper prototyping. The application I recommend to use for that is balsamiq.
  • User testing: Once you have the balsamiq mockups you can show the flow of the application to people. At this point you ask them such questions as, “Here is the homepage, what button would you press?” “Is this what you were expecting when you pressed this button?” “If not, what would you have expected to happen?” And so on.
  • Take it from the mock up to the UI. This is where you use the photoshop documents that look really good. The hi-fidelity prototypes. Then you do more user testing.
  • Turn it into an actual product. Now you do usability testing. You are not asking the person, “Would you use this?” anymore. Now you are asking very specific questions and you are giving very specific tasks to your testers. Asking them to find a specific route through your application to a specific goal, etc.

We have talked about the design process in this article. Next week we will be discussing product development and working with developers and the week thereafter we will be discussing distribution.


You can watch Fergus himself give a talk on design, development and delivery from his presentation at BlogTalk 2010 in Galway last year.

Recommended reading:

Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love by Mark Cagan

Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug