Building an app does not make you a startup

I just read Andrew Chen’s Mobile app startups are failing like it’s 1999. He raises a good point about the closed nature of mobile app development, which for the most part is a reflection of the Apple way of doing things and especially the appstore review process.

Most software products are not a billion dollar business

Before I touch on how that process can be improved, I want to talk about what I see as the core problem here – many of those VC backed apps, are not in fact, startups. They are startups in the old-school sense, in that they are a new business starting up, however they are not what VCs are claiming they want to back – in short, they are not appropriate for VC funding.

Once you take VC money, the game and expectations change completely, and the vast majority of those failed mobile “startups” never had any chance of living up to those expectations in the first place. Some of those actually have decent launches in relative terms, if they were considered as normal software products and not as startups that were hailed as the “next big thing”. If they had just raised regular funding, via friends and family, loans and personal funds, they could have been a nice small business that generates a decent revenue stream for their founders.

As it stands though, with VC money, those apps will be considered a failure, which is too bad. The mobile trend, just like any other funding trend (social, local, offers etc), makes VCs take a leap of faith and buy into the dreamy future the creators of those apps are painting, while in fact they are just building regular software that is derivative of existing products with a small, fairly insignificant twist. There are exceptions, but most of the apps I see founded leave me wondering how someone can consider them a possible billion dollar business.

In fact, I’d go further and say that the fact those founders have no initial product actually helps them raise – as it’s easier to sell dreams than reality. I have a post coming up on that exact topic, which I call the funding paradox.

Reducing costs and time to market

What can do we do to combine the agility we learned in the past decade with the requirements of the App Store?

Back to the original point of Andrew’s article – lack of agility and relatively high time to market in the mobile space. This problem is not unique to mobile and many software products have this process – despite the introduction of more agile development models in the last couple of decades.

I co-founded my current startup, Binpress, to counter that exact problem. While each app has its own concept and core features that are unique to it, the fact of the matter is that many features are shared across apps. Things like in-app notifications, sharing options, review reminders, UI elements and so forth – are developed from scratch at each company. Those are solved problems that do not need to be developed over and over again.

At Binpress we build a curated inventory of code components for any development vertical, including mobile apps (our fastest growing category right now). We are a marketplace and a discovery tool for free and commercial mature code solutions that solve common needs in software development.

Our main goal in building such a service is to promote code sharing as a business that improves the software industry as a whole. There’s no need for every app dev team to build their own solutions for everything, when much of it has already been done to death before. You waste time and money building it, and you waste time and money debugging and QA’ing it, when mature solutions are already available.

I like to make the analogy to car manufacturing which is a mature market compared to software development. Consider that no car company makes their own wheels, or their own screws, and some don’t even make their own engines. They focus on designing cars that best integrate those various components which are built by companies that are experts at it.

I am convinced that this kind of component-based development is the future of the software industry. Cherry pick mature solutions to fill out necessary but not unique core features, shorten your development cycle and concentrate on the unique value your product delivers to your target audience. It’s really a no brainer.

Check out Binpress and let me know what you think is the solution to the app development life-cycle.


Don’t Mix Business And Personal – Why Facebook Comments Is A Bad Idea For Your Site

I like to leave comments on articles and blog posts I find interesting, and interact with the author. However, if the only option to leave a comment is through Facebook comments, I probably won’t use it for the following reasons:

  • My professional persona is separate from my personal persona. I don’t want my friends and family reading my comments on “How To Make A Two-Sided Business, One-Sided”. It’s not relevant for them, and I’d like to keep my feed clean of those messages.
  • I don’t want people I interact with for business / professional reasons to view or connect to my Facebook profile. I have a linkedIn profile for those purposes.
  • I have no idea if the author is notified when I post using Facebook comments. One of the main reasons I comment on an article is to start a conversation with the author on the subject. If I can’t tell if he’s even notified, I probably won’t bother.

I understand why people think adding Facebook comments will help drive traffic to their site. Perhaps in some contexts it makes sense, but if you were wondering why no one is commenting on your articles, consider if better engaging your readers is more important to you than polluting their social feed. Also – visitors might not even have a Facebook account, or they are not logged-in at the moment. Don’t make this a barrier for engagement.

If people do feel they want to share your article on Facebook, use social sharing buttons, like the ones you see on this blog. Don’t force commenting and sharing as a bundle package to readers.


After reading and responding to the comments below, I understand it was not completely clear what my stance is. First, I’d like to make it clear I have nothing against Facebook, or its comment widget. I was questioning the appropriateness of having the comment widget on sites / blogs where I read for professional reasons, and would like to keep it separate from my personal Facebook profile.

Keep it separate doesn’t mean just that my friends on Facebook will read it, but also whether other readers of the blog will have access to my Facebook profile, which I’d rather avoid.

In addition, I was writing the post from the viewpoint of a site visitor who’s been frustrated by having no recourse other than using Facebook comments – not from the viewpoint of the publisher. Content publishers have their own objectives which might not align with mine, and it might be perfectly fine with them that I don’t leave a comment on their site. There’s nothing wrong with that.

To sum it up – if you care about people who want a separation between their Facebook profiles and their professional reading, you should think twice about using Facebook comments in your site.

Generating graphs from MySQL table data

Graphs and charts are a useful visual way to view historical data – they make it easier to detect trends and get a big-picture view of data. All we need is timestamped data – table rows that are stamped with a specific date/time format, that can be used to group rows into time periods.

Time stamped data

In order to aggregate table data by time periods / ranges, we need a date/time column in the table we want to analyze. Appropriate types for such a column include TIMESTAMP, DATETIME and DATE, but we can also use string / numeric types for grouping data together if they contain some sort of date/time information – though those will be much less flexible than native date/time types.

I usually opt to go with the TIMESTAMP format, for a couple of reasons – Continue reading Generating graphs from MySQL table data

Breaking down the PayPal API

PayPal is the most popular platform for receiving online payments. The relative ease of opening a PayPal account and receiving payments compared to opening a merchant account for a traditional payment gateway is the number one reason, and another is the comprehensive API they provide for their payment services.

Foreclosure: The PayPal API is amongst the worst I’ve ever had to deal with – inconsistencies, sometimes poor and conflicting documentation, unpredictable failures and account changes and major differences between the live and sandbox versions all conspire to make working with the PayPal API quite a pain in the ass.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any better alternatives currently, so hopefully this guide will help ease the pain for some of you out there taking your lumps working the API into your applications.
Continue reading Breaking down the PayPal API

Finding co-founders – Technical founder POV

First, a prelude – though I’ve mostly written technical articles on this blog, it’s called techfounder for a reason – it was my original intention to also talk about startups from the view-point of the technical founder. I have been involved in several ventures so far in this role (currently at Binpress), each giving me more perspective on the overall picture.

I’ve just stumbled upon a nice article titled “Why you can(‘t) recruit a technical co-founder“. The author makes some solid points about why it’s hard to recruit / find a technical co-founder for a startup, but it seemed more common sense than deep introspection.

Idea is nothing, execution is everything

If you’ve started up your own venture, you know this saying is not just a cliche. Ideas, however great, will get nowhere without execution. On the other hand, solid and above execution can get very far with even below mediocre ideas.
Continue reading Finding co-founders – Technical founder POV