A business that needs more staff to service more customers is still scalable, as long as each staff member generates more revenue than they cost. McDonalds is awesomely scalable.
If you insist on limiting yourself to zero-touch businesses, you'll find yourself competing with all the other geeks who are afraid to go out and sell and build business relationships. On the other hand, if you're willing to build high-touch relationships, you'll discover opportunities that you would have never otherwise found.
Sure, it's a bummer that we'll have to hire a few more customer service people as we grow, but it's much better than the alternative. You open up so many opportunities by being willing to do something as simple as talking to someone on the phone.
You can definitely scale in headcount and try to build a Freshbooks or Harvest and have millions a year in revenue, or build a business that requires touchy sales and commission payments. Or you can be like Amy and Thomas with Freckle and have a very minimal organization that nets a few hundred thousand.
It's a lifestyle choice, and neither approach is the "right" one.
Indeed your own example, McDonalds, is a prime example of this. They are not particularly notable as a human business, rather they represent a case study in very high efficiency supply chain management and process optimisation.
I don't disagree that a strong and skilled front line enables enduring customer relationships and opens many doors. But the recommendation - to do so with a clear eye for efficient processes & systems - is exceedingly sound.
At least in my own experience it doesn't matter that much, but what matters most is that you pick something (if it's your first startup it has to be something fast + easy) and you stick with it with just one goal: you get the first version out of the door as soon as possible and start collecting leads.
Because funny thing is, your lead does not care how you're inserting him into the database as long as you do it okay. But if you waste a month deliberating the perfect tools the time you've lost has been lost forever. The same time you could have spend converting those leads into paying customers, getting your site in Google, marketing, etc are all a month behind (even worse sometimes due to analysis paralysis you get either too busy learning something or too bored with the idea that you may never finish).
A great set of hints was also given by JHH in his widely known presentation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CDXJ6bMkMY (but still so valid!)
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You can't try marketing at this stage (people will expect something that works) and all the people I know are at least slightly out of the target market.
Maybe it all comes down to having a good network... If anyone would like to try Instahero (even for very custom stuff, like hardware sensor tracking), get in touch with me (info is in my profile) and I'll set you up.
Write a sales letter. A great example can be found here: http://charmhq.com/ Start collecting email addresses, and send a lot of mail keeping everyone abreast of your progress.
Blog a lot, either with product updates or educational posts about all things analytics. Check out http://greatemailcopy.tumblr.com/ and http://customer.io/blog, both of which are helping promote a non-released product.
My network is pitiful, yet I was able to get 300+ emails on my announcement list before launching. And when I flipped the switch, about 1/3rd of the list signed up within a day.
Charge right away.
If you've created something good that serves a valuable purpose, it's worth charging for it.
 - https://www.mturk.com/
 - http://www.trymyui.com/
 - http://www.dailywebapps.com/trymyui-com-remote-usability-tes...
Those sites are great for what they do, but my case is a bit more involved...
Here's the Google Cache for the time being: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:www.lay...
"Rule #1: Sell something" - several had no evident source of revenue and as the article says "if your company isn’t selling something, you have a project, not a product"
"Rule #7: Avoid products that rely on a community to exist". As these projects found, when the community (or truckload of data) is taken away from you, you no longer exist.
A good article with pragmatic tips.
Most of your rules only allow you to pick the lowest hanging fruit.
This post isn't directed at people who want to start a company that "really makes a difference", unless those people are trying to start a profitable prior company to fund the really big idea.
That's actually one of the biggest reasons why companies fail. Founders are afraid to talk to people, they just build something and wait until somebody comes and buys it. What happens next I guess all of us know.
You have to interact with your prospective customers and having a high-touch sales process is one way to do that.
If I can see pricing and purchase at any time but I still have questions, sure I'll contact them. But don't force me to.
When you don't see the price - in most cases that means that this solution is strictly B2B, so you're not their target market.
The biggest thing I'm struggling with is finding a product idea I can even test against the potential market.
I want to talk about rule #3. And lets use DuckDuckGo as an example. DDG is a competitor to google, and it is safe to say google is a "must have" because you can't find nothing on the web without it.
But is DDG a "must have" because it is providing the same service as google, and that service is a must have?
Or is DDG a "nice to have" because it is a slightly better version of the service Google is providing and thus I don't have to have DDG because if it disappeared I would switch to google and not feel much pain.
No criticism of DDG is meant here, I admire that business, and it was just the best example of the area where I'm not sure. For my personal business, there is an undisputed king of the hill, like google, but I know there is sufficient business for us to service niches. I just wonder if the king of the hill existing makes it impossible for your product to be a "must have", or if this is just a question of the nature of the product/service, and not the market dynamics of the space.
But you're right, for a segment of the market, the DDG privacy is a feature that would be a must have.