I’ve never been quite sure which direction I wanted to take this blog – should I blog about the music industry, the start up scene or just personal stuff? I’m still not 100% sure, but at least I have a little direction now. Loosely inspired by Eric Ries’ ‘Start Up Lessons Learned’ blog, I decided I can offer some tips and wisdom to those starting out since I have some experience on the front lines. In fact, I’m currently there now. For you musicians who may read my blog, a lot of these lessons will apply to your career, as well.
I thought I would start out with a basic lesson learned, but far from easy – choosing a name for your web venture. You’re not just choosing a name, but you’re trying to find a name that’s also available as a dot com. Picking right name is tough enough, but it’s availability as an online domain makes it twice as hard. To spare you some aggravation and common mistakes, here are some guidelines that will point you in the right direction.
- ALWAYS a ‘.com’ – There are a lot of domain extension options (.net, .org, etc.), but unless you have the money for professional branding, ‘.com’ is the way to go, ALWAYS. The reason is because ‘.com’ is ingrained into our heads. If someone tells us the name of a web site, we immediately think ‘.com’ unless we’re told otherwise. The down side to this is that everyone else in the world wants a ‘.com’ too, so you have your work cut out for you in that department. Creativity is the key here, because more often than not your first choice of a name will probably not be available as a ‘.com’. What about using the extension to spell the name(ie: Del.icio.us, or God forbid, Plugo.la)? From experience (I operate Plugo.la), I can tell you this is NOT a good way to go, unless you’re completely out of options. If I’m talking to someone face-to-face, I usually end up having to go into deep explanation on what a person needs to type-in to get to the site. The most common response I get is, “So, there’s no dot com then”? Even people online sometimes type-in plugola.com first. Trust me when I say, it’s not worth the hassle. If you’re not sure where to register your domain name, I would say GoDaddy is probably the easiest and slightly cheaper than most other registrars. Personally, I mainly use DirectNIC; mostly because that’s who I’ve always used and all my domains are parked there. I like it because it’s light on all the flashy design and very simple.
- Check Social Media Availability – To complicate things even further, it has now become important that your name also be available on the social media sites (ie: Facebook, Twitter, etc.) for communication and branding. When I’m choosing a name, I use a free service to check it against all the big social media web sites called, NameChk. You don’t need to worry about every single social service available out there. Just focus on the big boys and/or where you feel it’s important to have a presence. You may have to get a little creative here too if your first choice(s) is not available. I noticed some people who couldn’t get the name they’re looking for they’ll add a little something extra to their name. As an example, instead of ‘MyName’ you may have to register something like, ‘MyNameCom’.
- Keep it Easy & Catchy – Creative, yes; complicated, no. If you put too much into a name people will have a hard time remembering it. You would be surprised how forgetful people can be (myself included), especially when you’re just starting out and you’re unimportant in most people’s eyes. Coming up with name that’s easy to spell and has a little ring or zing to it can really help in the long run. When Google launched, the name was easy to spell and remember. From the first day I visited Google, I never forgot the name and most of the time I still type it in manually to this day. However, it’s very tough to acquire a good one word domain these days, but not entirely impossible. I would suggest that you should try to do your best and limit your name to no more than two words. Anything more than that, unless it’s band or product name, it’s just too complicated for the masses to remember.
- Abbreviations & Misspellings – Once you have finally landed on a name that’s right for you, it can’t hurt you to register any misspellings, abbreviations or even shortcuts of the name. The freshest example I can think of is Overstock.com’s recent shortcut URL announcement. The public can still reach them going to overstock.com, but their new shortcut url is simply, ‘O.co’. It’s pretty tough to get a better abbreviation/shortcut than that! If you think that there may be some people who could easily misspell your name, it’s not a bad idea to register that misspelling and have it redirect to the correct name. For example, if the name of your start up/web site is Pharmacy.com, you might want to register Farmacy.com, too.
- Keyword Domain Names – This is when you register a domain using keywords/phrases of what your site or company represents. This is usually done to rank higher on the search engines and it DOES work. However, I would highly recommend against using any keyword domain as your brand/company’s main web site or name. It usually looks very unprofessional and could easily be interpreted as ’scammy’ or ’shady’. Personally, I do this from time to time to bring in additional search engine traffic, but I never use them as my main landing page.
I’ve been buying up domains for various ventures and reasons for over 10 years now and this is my basic checklist for each domain name I register. I’ve made some expensive mistakes over the years and hopefully these tips will prevent you from doing the same.
The other day I read a a blog post by Derek Sivers, original founder of CDBaby, on how to hire a programmer to make your ideas happen. It’s very good advice, as I have been going through these same steps in my latest venture, Hifidelics. I’ve developed a few web sites in the past several years and although Hifidelics is still in it’s beginning stages, for the first time I feel like I’m on the right path. I couldn’t tell you if Derek’s advice comes from first-hand experience, because I’m fairly certain he has programming skills himself, but I have been learning these methods the hard way. I wanted to elaborate on Derek’s advice with some of my own experiences so you can avoid some of the pitfalls I came across.
- Stay Away from “Out of the Box” Software – Yes, it’s MUCH easier on your bank account to go this route, but there is almost no originality. This is where you pay a software company a few hundred dollars, upload the software to your server and you’re more-or-less ready to go. You will end up with a web site that is exactly the same or very similar to hundreds of other web sites. Why would someone come to your site when there are a ton more just like it? It will be well worth it in the long run to have a custom application developed to your specifications. Personally, I see “out of the box” software more for hobbyists rather than someone serious about their concept or business.
- Try to Avoid Offshore Programmers – Really what I mean here is avoid working with programmers from India. I have nothing against the Indian people or their culture, but they have a very different work ethic than we do in the U.S. You may be tempted because the price is right and they DO do good work, but you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. For one, there is a huge communication barrier. Most only speak conversational English and it’s very tough to explain certain things with them understanding completely. This also leads to many do-overs and it will eventually become more effort than it’s worth. Two, they will do EXACTLY what you ask of them. Yes, that’s a good thing, but there is no thinking outside the box. If you forgot to mention a simple, yet obvious task/feature you will not get it. It will be considered extra work. Three, they don’t check their work. The programming will get done, but it will be up to you to catch their mistakes. This also leads to a lot of back-and-forth. And four, they’re on an opposite side of the world, which means while you’re sleeping, they’re working. Unless you can stay up all night, every night to be available for questions, etc., the communication takes twice as long. If you have no problem with all those things, then feel free to go that route. Once again, I want to emphasis that I have nothing against the people of India. This is based off my personal experiences and others I have talked to.
- Keep Costs to an Absolute Minimum – I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but there are a lot of costs you never think about when laying out your plan – not to mention that you’re not yet even sure whether your idea will work or not. Once you get started, or after you see the first working version of your site, it’s very easy to get caught up making a lot of changes or cramming the site with cool, new features. Stick to your original game plan of your Minimum Viable Product. Write down any new ideas and save them for a later version unless it’s something you realized you absolutely need.
- Be Creative – If you don’t have enough money for all this, try to think of creative ways to work around that. Just keep in mind that most freelance programmers get many offers for stock options or partnerships. In other words, that type of deal is a dime a dozen for them and usually do not pan out in their favor. With my latest project, I’m on a very tight budget. The programmer(s) and I tried many ways to come to an agreement that worked out for both sides for the work I needed done, but to no avail. I felt that my only option was to find a less experienced programmer that hopefully would work cheaper, or dump the project all together. A few weeks later that same programmer contacted me and asked if I would like my site built during a weekend programming contest (RailsRumble). They (he and another programmer) would build as much of my site as they could within a 48 hour time period and work for half their normal price. Of course I jumped on that opportunity and although the site isn’t 100% complete, I have a solid foundation built by two very experienced programmers.
I don’t have the same success as Mr. Sivers, so I would follow his suggestions before mine. However, my advice is only elaborating on his, based on my experience with developing three web applications. If you’re serious about creating your own software, I recommend you read 37Signal’s book, “Getting Real” – a collection of easy-to-read essays on building successful web-based apps.
Yeah, I have been away awhile. Not just from my blog (now a whopping four posts!), but I’ve also been very inconsistent with others, such as; Twitter, Facebook, etc., etc. Since my main (paying) gig is sales most of my time has been going into trying to make some, because there aren’t many people buying out there. I’ve also been working on a new “top secret” music-related project/business with my buddy, Refe, over at Creative Deconstruction. I’m really psyched about this one, but unfortunately I have to keep it under wraps at this time. If all goes well, it should be ready sometime this coming Fall.
A couple of weeks ago I/we began a manifesto supporting this project called, Album 2.0 – The New Album Manifesto. It’s only in it’s rough stages and isn’t complete, but it IS live. I’m fairly certain you will be able to see where I’m going with what we have so far, so please feel free to let me know what you think.
What’s going on with Plugola? Well, it’s still going and will continue to go. There’s no problems there…so far. *fingers crossed* However we had to hold-off on new updates while times are tough. Yes, it really sucks, especially while the competition continues to grow and I have so many new features I want to add. We still have a bunch of features that the other guys don’t, so if you’re in a band or even a music fan you should stop by and check us out! It’s totally free unless you except when you download music.
On a much more personal level, I have my own little project cooking. In the past few weeks I’ve also been doing a lot of reading and research on renegade and underground art movements. Most of my knowledge about art is very general and what I learned in school — pretty much the stuff what we all know; Picasso, Van Gogh, etc. So I’ve been feeling very inspired after reading about much more modern artists, or in some cases, anti-artists. I’ve been depriving myself of non-business-related creativity for a very long time, so I figured I’d begin my own art project. I’m really not going to say much about it at this point, because I’m not sure where it’s going to go. But I can give you a hint for now…