Most businesses fail. Eight out of 10 fail within a year and a half. If you’re hoping to launch a successful e-commerce site, you can’t afford to make mistakes. A single wrong move can doom your chances.
This post is about mistakes. Most e-commerce sites that fail have made at least one of these mistakes. These mistakes are very easy to make, because they actually feel like smart choices. They are deceptive like that.
Let’s take a look.
Build Your Platform from Scratch
So you’ve got some pretty decent coding skills and you think you can put together an innovative new e-commerce platform, a nice checkout process, or a billing platform? Stop right there. You’re going to waste a lot of time and resources.
With platforms like Shopify available, there is absolutely no reason you should be investing any of your limited time and resources into building your own e-commerce platform. If you were selling in physical retail, you wouldn’t try to build your own touchscreen POS system. You’d use Shopify for that. Why is it any different online?
How many bloggers do you know that blog with pure HTML?
I’m not saying that Shopify is the only platform out there. If something else looks a bit more appealing or customizable to you, by all means go after it.
But unless it’s absolutely vital to your business’s unique selling proposition, do not write a single line of code. Even then, it’s to tweak.
You have too many other things to get done.
Become the Product Expert
If you’re already a product expert, that’s one thing. But if you’re not, you really shouldn’t be wasting too much time educating yourself about the product.
Mike Del Ponte, co-founder of the Soma water filter, did not waste his time becoming a water filter expert. He stayed in the role he was supposed to: that of the business strategist who realized that there was a place in the market for sustainable, design-friendly water filters.
Instead, he worked with a filtration expert who had previously worked with big companies like Starbuck’s and Peet’s Coffee. This allowed him to bypass the years, at a minimum, that it would take for him to learn about water filters.
While you should certainly educate yourself to some extent about the product, your real place as the entrepreneur is to think about strategy, emerging markets, marketing, networking, funding, and opportunities. You don’t need to be the product expert in order to have revolutionary ideas about your product’s unique selling proposition.
In fact, expertise can often cloud your ability to see the possibilities.
Only educate yourself enough to identify genuine experts and opportunities. You don’t need to know how to build your product from scratch.
Wait Until You “Finish” Your Product
This is what kills the vast majority of e-commerce startups and ventures.
Granted, there is such a thing launching too early. It’s possible to launch with a mediocre product that will fail to find a market because it’s poorly made, buggy, and possibly dangerous.
However, this problem is not nearly as common as the problem of failing to actually ship a product. All too often, entrepreneurs will continue to put off the launch, waiting until they get it “finished”. Here’s the hard truth. Your product will never be “finished.” It will always be a work in progress.
Strip away any extra features you think the product needs. Don’t waste your time hunting for the cheapest per-unit manufacturer. (If anything, focus on shorter runs to test your product, not large runs with cheap per-unit costs.)
Until you get to the point where you’re actually selling something, you shouldn’t be focusing on anything other than achieving your unique selling proposition. You don’t even need to perfect that. You just need to get it out the door. If your selling proposition is genuinely unique, and there’s a demand for it, you’ll find success (if you know how to market it).
The more you focus on features and “finishing” your product, the further you’ll get from your unique selling proposition. Your product will get tangled up in a mess of new developments, and you’ll never launch.
Ask Investors to Fund an “Idea”
Whether you’re talking to investors, launching a KickStarter, or asking for pre-orders, at no point should you ask people to help you fund an “idea”. Instead, you need to have concrete plans in place regarding what that money is going to be used for.
Is the money to pay for your initial manufacturing run? Is it to pay for a team of programmers, engineers, or designers for one year?
You need to get specific about where the money is going. Specificity is key.
Please don’t misunderstand me. Traditional management techniques that place too much emphasis on upfront planning can often backfire in modern business, where things are rarely predictable. It’s impossible to plan everything ahead of time, down to the hour.
That’s not the point. The point is that you can’t ask investors to fund an idea. You can only ask them to fund a process or to buy a thing. That is what money is for. Lose sight of that and you will not only have trouble getting funding, you will likely fail to use your investments properly.
Mistakes kill would-be e-commerce ventures. Don’t allow yourself to get bogged down in the details. Keep these principles in mind:
- Don’t build your own platform from scratch. It is a waste of resources.
- Don’t become the product expert. Educate yourself about the product enough to recognize experts.
- Ship early. Very few entrepreneurs ship too early. Strip away any extra features and focus solely on your unique selling proposition.
- Funding, wherever it comes from, is for processes and things. It’s not for ideas.
Avoiding those mistakes can make all the difference.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.