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32 Questions Developers Should Ask a #Startup Founder, by @TonyKarrer

Posted by Amity Sims on 2013-02-12

Founder Feedback gives you insight from the startup trenches.

In a post on his SoCal CTO blog, Tony Karrer, Founder and CTO of TechEmpower, Founder and CTO of Aggregage and organizer of the LA CTO Forum and Startup Specialist Network, shares knowledge based on his experience of working with over 30 startups over the past 15 years.

This article was originally posted as: 32 Questions Developers Should Ask a Startup Founder. Below, a portion of the article has been republished.

 

"Almost every day I'm talking to early stage startup founders (see Free Startup CTO Consulting Sessions) about what they plan to do. I tend to ask a lot of questions, challenge aspects, make suggestions. But I've often been very surprised by one aspect of these conversations. Many of these founders have talked with several developers or development firms about their plans. Yet, I'm often the first person who's asking them questions that I consider to be pretty basic. Of course, it's way more complex than just these questions. It needs to be a conversation. There's just too much variation. Still, if you've not heard these questions from a developer, they are not helping you as much as they should.

Background Questions

Before I jump into the developer questions, let me start with some background questions around the business and product that a developer needs to know. Think of these as the big upfront questions:

1. Who are the customers? What’s their specific need / pain? Please be able to provide me with a few specific examples of different types of customers, what they need, what the system will do for them.

2. Tell me about the business. How are you funding this? What level of funding do you currently have?  Who's helping you with fundraising?  Are there other Founders?  Do you have legal (Founder Agreement, IP, etc.) in place?

3. What are the big milestones you have as a business? Do you have any specific deals done that are a basis of this? Where are you today and what's happening right now?

4. What have you done so far to validate the concept?

5. What’s different, special here? Where’s the mystery (see Matching Algorithm)?

6. Who are the other stakeholders involved? Other types of users? Partners? Administrators?

7. How will you be taking this to market? What channels will you use (e.g., Ads, Viral/Social, SEO for Startups)?  Is anyone working with you on this?

8. What are your key Startup Metrics? How do you make your money? How do you measure success?

9. What already exists in your space? Who are your big competitors? What are some good examples of similar sites? How will you differentiate from these?

10. What special data, content, APIs, etc. are you going to leverage? What’s the state of the relationships that brings you that data? What’s the state of those systems?

11. Where do you stand on your brand, name, logo, positioning? Examples of other brands/sites that are similar from a brand perspective?

12. Are there any specific hard dates or important time sensitive opportunities?

13. What do you see as some of the bigger risks / challenges?

14. Major Phases / Major Features - What are the major features in the major phases for the product? What set of functionality would make your company launch-ready?

15. What has been captured so far? Are there specs? Mock-ups? Wireframes? Comps?

 

Questions Developers May Have Forgot to Ask

So here are some of the questions that developers may not have thought to ask and a little bit of commentary around each question.

1. eCommerce - Is this subscription? If so, how many kinds of subscriptions? What are the rules for subscriptions? Discount support? Free-trials? Bundling? Coupons? Often this ties to marketing support. In other words, you want to offer a discount to a given group to provide incentive. Is it pay-to-play? Do you transact immediately or on delivery of some product or service? Do you have a merchant account already set up? Do you have a payment gateway?

2. Targets - Are you developing for desktop, tablet, mobile?  Are you looking at responsive design or design for a single mobile resolution or something in between?  Is this browser only or are you considering a native application?  Can you do a hybrid web/native application?  Which devices will you test on specifically? This is an area where things are changing rapidly.  Most new sites (but certainly not all MVPs) need to account for mobile delivery which increases the design and development effort.

3. Registration - will you support Facebook Connect or similar authentication? Will you also have a separate login? See also - When to Use Facebook Connect – Twitter Oauth – Google Friend Connect for Authentication. Do you need to round trip an email to validate the email? Captcha? How much member profile information do you need before allowing a user to login?"

Click here to continue reading 32 Questions Developers Should Ask a Startup Founder.

For more startup insights from Tony, check out his SoCal CTO blog and apply to the Spring semester of the Los Angeles Founder Institute where he serves as a mentor.

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