These days, most entrepreneurs seem to like to start a marketplace business on the web. (A marketplace is something which connects "people who need" with "people who have" or in other words buyers with sellers).
Recently I have been talking to a lot of people from the entrepreneurial community who are bootstrapping some kind of a marketplace business and one interesting fact I observe is that most of these web entrepreneurs (90% of whom are also creative non technical entrepreneurs) seem to be in the mindset of building a web application of their ideas rightaway with all the features. People seem to have forgotten what a MVP (Minimum Viable Product) needs to be.
I agree that these days building a dynamic web application is so cheap, but still are we not forgetting something here? Isn't the fundamentals of bootstrap or lean startup is to demo, sell and build?
The idea I would like to convey here is "Automate only when needed...Do it first manually and understand the pain points. Your MVP (Minimum Viable Product) need not have automation".
To explain this, I would like to give you a simple example of a idea of building a web startup like Craigslist (again a marketplace business) where people post items for sale and connects buyers with sellers. This is how I would bootstrap this marketplace business:
(1) Create a simple static website which looks like the listing page of the marketplace where you list the items posted by the sellers. You can use drag and drop websites like weebly or snappages to create this listing page or even it could be as simple as a wordpress blog.
I know the question that pops up in your head: But I need a user login mechanism to allow my sellers to post their items. Well do we really need this? I mean, do we really need this now? Isn't that just automation.
First test the concept manually. See who are your potential customers and if they are willing to pay for your service.
(2) Just have a button next to every listing on the static listing web page created in step (1) and attach the button to a static html form which allows the seller to type information about their item for sale and upon hitting submit, the form contents are emailed to the entrepreneur. You can use form builders like wufoo to do this.
(3) Now at the backend, manually look through the emails and the entrepreneur connects the sellers with potential buyers.
The idea is to do all this connecting sellers-with-buyers manually behind the scenes so that neither of them know that this process is being done manually. All they know is that the website is damn slow in providing responses. But hey, if you connect the sellers with the buyers and if they are happy, they will come back to your website. Remember, your business is not the website but the service of connecting buyers-with-sellers.
At a point where you really start feeling the pain of the manual process, then start working on automating it.
Even better if applicable sometimes just carry out the whole process through email conversations (ignoring steps 1 to 3 altogether).
In the process of doing it manually, you build relationships with customers, understand the pain points which need to be automated and best of all you spend less money/time validating your idea. If you don't get traction of your idea when you did it manually, find whats the problem with the idea/execution. Don't focus on automating the concept.
Always remember to take the right action at the right time.
The ideas I have mentioned here could be extended or applicable to any kind of startup.