Step by Step of Launching a New Service

It’s been almost three months since I decided to create and sell an ad tracking service (in progress), and I’m still probably a few weeks away from being able to find out if anyone wants to use it. There’s so much involved in launching a new service beyond just writing the code:

  • Plan and Develop the Software

    • Determine what data will need to be collected and stored.
    • Design the database, then convert the schema to SQL/DDL statements.
    • Decide on the major units of modularity for the software, lay out the application structure.
    • Code the model layer classes which retrieve, represent, modify and store the data,
      along with stubs for the controller that are just intelligent enough to start recording
      ad clicks and conversions. Doing this and verifying the queries and the code were accurate
      took over a month (this is the core of what the software does, so it has to be right).
    • Complete the controller code with a basic skeletal UI.
    • Design a proper interface and write complete user interfaces to the reports.
    • Code the CRUD and authentication stuff — logging in, adding campaigns, editing
      ads, importing and exporting data, etc.
  • Plan and Design the Website

    • Find a designer to create a logo so I can set up a splash page for the service
      and finish the UI design.
    • Mock up the website layout and pages needed.
    • Explore galleries and directories of other sites to identify what kind of design
      I think will work for this site.
    • Write up a design brief and find a designer to do the work. I ended up doing this
      with a contest at 99Designs for about $950.
      A week and a half later, get the finished design in Photoshop format.
    • Slice and code the design in HTML and CSS, with days spent hacking it for
      Internet Explorer 6 (still not quite there!).
  • Write the Website Copy

    • Spend a lot of time identifying benefits to focus on.
    • Write, write and rewrite feature pages.
    • Create supporting graphics, screenshots, etc.
    • Produce a promotional video for the service, highlighting key benefits and features.
    • Decide on initial plans and pricing, considering competition and target customers.
  • Prepare Support and Documentation

    • Spend days recording screencasts of how to use the service to track
      advertising, integrate with various sites, import and export data, etc.
    • Convert screencasts to Flash videos, write up the HTML pages to embed them.
    • Write tutorials, glossary, etc.
    • Sign up with ZenDesk for ticket management,
      help desk/knowledgebase, forums, feedback forms, etc.
    • Set up e-mail hosting with Rackspace Email (formerly MailTrust), since my own
      spam filters suck. Make DNS changes for the e-mail hosting and help desk.
  • CYA & Legal Stuff

    • Write a Terms of Service agreement to protect myself as much as possible.
      Very important, businesses are going to be using this service to make material financial decisions.
    • Write a Privacy Policy with the help of the Direct Marketing Association’s generator.
    • Come up with a backup and recovery plan, and write code to create offiste copies of all
      user data each night.
    • Document all the server software needed, configuration changes to make, etc. in order to
      set up the service on a different server in case the first should crash/die/disappear/etc. Guesstimate
      capacity until I need to upgrade.
  • Plan the Marketing Campaign

    • Sign up with an e-mail marketing company to manage mailing lists, autoresponders, track e-mail
      opens and bounces, etc. Set up the lists, confirmation and reply mail text.
    • Write a 12 page guide to optimizing AdWords Quality Score to give away for free to
      e-mail newsletter signups.
    • Contact affiliate networks about support for recurring commissions. Figure out what’s
      reasonable to pay to affiliates without destroying any profit margin. Pay an overly high
      setup fee to open the new account.
    • Compile a list of bloggers that reach target customers and are willing to write a
      sponsored review of the service when it’s available.
    • Start a Twitter account specific to the service and start following people that talk about
      advertising and tracking every day.
    • Start an online marketing blog to establish the service as an authority in the field and
      attract search engine traffic to the site, potentially resulting in new customers. Spend a day
      finding and installing MySQL libraries for PHP 5.2, which is not yet officially supported
      by Red Hat Enterprise Linux, so that WordPress will run.
    • Buy SSL certificate not only to secure the signup/payment forms, but to have a “secure site”
      badge to show on those pages to increase conversions.
    • Prewrite e-mails for the autoresponder (drip campaign, automatically sent on schedule).
    • Start writing a press release and comparing wire services.
  • Getting Ready to Launch

    • Decide how to handle payments, upgrades, downgrades, overage fees. Look at invoicing
      services for the overage fees beyond the monthly subscriptions.
    • Set up Authorize.net’s Customer Information Manager for PCIDSS-compliant storage of
      payment data for the monthly billing. Write the code to automatically charge customers each
      month. Test test test.
    • Set up PayPal subscription links, IPN script to handle updating the database.
    • Write and test a signup/payment form.

I’m probably 80% through all this work… hope it’s worth it. Using w3roi, I’ve saved myself about
$200 a month by eliminating unprofitable ads, keywords, times of day, countries, etc. But I think I’ve
invested so much time and money into this, it’ll take a long time for that to add up.