A web based business is your best shot at a "big bang" valuation and exit. The odds are low you'll achieve this but they are far better than a lottery ticket. So what is one of the corner stones in doing this? You need to make your web business all about the users.
It's quite an amazing concept if you think about it. Most users pay nothing, literally zero, or next to zero for web services. You'd think that at free you can't go wrong. Oh, no, that is not the case at all. In fact, you need to be paranoid that your users are always looking for a "new dance partner". Not that long ago, MySpace, was the place to go and then along came Facebook. MySpace isn't gone, it's just relegated to a little "space" on the Internet.
Instagram had a big screw up. You can read about it here.
If you want to succeed then you need to treat your faceless masses of users as if they were paying a million dollars a year. If you've never worked with luxury goods then you'll need to know big ticket retail purchasers expect a few things in every purchase. It is the key to success.
1) Users want a visually attractive space. Could you imagine buying porches from a barn? No, me, either. You need good design that works on different browsers and smart devices. Here's an article on coping with small screens.
2) Users want it easy to understand what your site is about and how they benefit. The best studies I've seen on content consumption are newspaper and magazine studies. You have three seconds to get someone's interest in an article based on a headline. Once they're interested you get TWENTY seconds of commitment to read. I know everyone is down on newspapers and magazines but they have an excellent format for scanning and capturing attention: big bold headline, descriptive subheadline, attractive/intriguing photo and a pull quote or body title about three paragraphs in. The design is specific to get people reading and continue. You need to do this with your site. You have only a few seconds for people to think attractive site, it's about what I'm looking for and get them deeper to explore.
3) Users want it easy to get started. Could you imagine people standing in line for twenty minutes at Coach to pay thousands of dollars for a hand bag? Yeah, me either. Your users want to get started quickly and simply. They don't want to give you tons of personal information. They don't want to be bothered with passwords with seven thousand characters, 15 capital letters and Egyptian hieroglyphics. They just want to get in and get started.
4) Users want more, but they want to choose. Could you imagine going into a designer clothing store and the sales person keeps putting clothes on you saying "you must buy this" and "this" and "this" and "this"? It's being pushy. We see it all the time on the Internet. Pop up ads, feedback surveys that float in front of your eyes, update cycles, etc. Here's a simple philosophy, let the users pick. Everyone who makes software is guilty of "bloat-ware", including this author. We think we know what users want, after all, 10 people told us they wanted it. So we make those new functions and annoy the other million users. Don't push a new drug. Promote and let the users decide.
5) Keep it simple. You'll notice high end retail is the antithesis of clutter. Sometimes an entire display is about one item only. Simplicity is elegant. Steve Jobs was probably the biggest proponent of this motto. He was right. Simplicity has value to users, EVERY TIME.
So now you're thinking "sure sounds good but how do I do this?"
Tip 1: You need an experienced interface designer. I'm not just talking about graphic designers. They need to be able to design, think about navigation and help direct traffic. Not every designer can do this. In fact, I find it the exception.
Tip 2: You need a copy writer with consumer web experience. When looking for a candidate if they don't ask you in the first couple minutes who your target audience is and for a profile on them then that candidate is not for you, move on. You need a word smith. A word smith writes stories that engage. That starts by knowing who you are writing for and something about them.
Tip 3: Define in a couple of words of what your web effort achieves for your users. Visual wow, self-pride, accomplishment, money savings, etc. Please keep it that simple. This will be your guiding star for everything you do. Print it out in big letters and hang it on your wall.
Tip 4: Provide an exceptional quality of product. Could you imagine buying a Rolex and the sales staff says at the time of purchase, remember this is just a beta release of the watch? We see this on the Internet all the time and that is crap. The cloud model has made programmers and product managers lazy. Beta testing used to mean that a software product is released to a limited group of users outside the company to test and report issues. The goal was always to eliminate as many bugs as possible from the product. Now everyone is a beta tester. This is one of the bad things about the cloud model. Quality control is out the window and Beta has been an excuse for "buggy". Have more respect for your users. Reduce the scope of your product release and increase the product quality! Also it means you're always changing, "I mean improving", the product on people. Stop it. Only two major release cycles a year and lots of communication about it prior to the change.
Choose four functions on your site that will be absolutely the best on the Web. This could be presentation of photos, ease of upload, speed of notification, etc. Make these functions your "trademark". Focus your technology, interface design and promotions around them.
When Google got started they always posted how fast their search results were. They were focused on fast searches and relevant results. They did this through a simple interface, code designed to index for speed and computing power up the kazoo. And with every result they promoted it simply and up front "about 187,000 results in 0.22 seconds". Check their search results they are still promoting their search metrics today.
The Acid One Minute Test
If you want to get a true and honest opinion ask a child. Children are the absolute best of assessing something quickly and giving you a frank and honest opinion. Ask a child how you look and they'll point directly to the pimple on your nose, "Not so good".
Pick some children of appropriate age to understand what you're offering online and, with no prompting or set up, ask them to go to your website and tell you what you offer, why they'd want to use it and see if they can set up an account in under one minute.
This exam is a simple pass or fail.
Get on board and treat your users like rock star fashionistas. Follow the tenants of luxury retail and you'll be on your way to growth - "BAM".