What do you need to start a website?

The indisputable answer to that question is- my programmer, Jake Carlson of the web development firm Dragon Eye Design. Jake started out as the person I hired to be the web programmer for Snabbo, but his job quickly morphed into becoming my official Consigliere. If you don’t know what that word means, either rent The Godfather or look it up on Wikipedia. Jake has advised me on everything from purchasing more domain names that were similar in spelling to Snabbo to how to write this blog!

Since there are so many items to attend to when you are a novice in starting a website, I have decided to neatly bullet point as many as I recall:

  • Write a business plan. It is boring and tedious, but the task itself helps you focus on what you want your business to look like. In the end, you may never need to show it to anyone, nevertheless, it will prove to be a useful exercise.
  • Register for a trademark as soon as possible. The process takes FOREVER and you want to have your logo secure when you launch if possible.You can either hire a trademark attorney. I recommend John Cone of Hitchcock Evert in Dallas Texas. You can also do it yourself www.uspto.gov/teas, but it is very confusing and time consuming. There are a number of costs involved and in the end you don’t know if you did it correctly and may need a lawyer anyway to fix it!
  • Purchase all domains that you can think of with similar spellings to your website. Your programmer can then point the DNS to all those domains. Then, if anyone makes a mistake in the spelling of your web address they are correctly directed to your website.
  • Do research on web hosting services. Your programmer can probably help you make that decision. Make sure they will offer you a refund if you are unhappy with their performance.
  • Apply for accreditation with the Better Business Bureau. Look into obtaining a certified privacy seal confirmation from TRUSTe.com. Both of these companies charge yearly fees, so you should weigh the options about user confidence in your website versus money out the wallet.
  • Incorporate your business. A good Certified Public Accountant can assist you. I recommend Dale H. Quenzer in Dallas, Texas. If you choose to incorporate you will need to keep up with your shareholder meeting notes.
  • Have a Non Disclosure Agreement available. You can cherry pick from templates on the internet and make your own. You just need to have people you tell about your idea sign this agreement. Hopefully, it keeps everyone honest.

Finding a Programmer for Snabbo.com

By this time, it was April of 2008. I didn’t know where to begin. My web designer, Marianne Guillen of http://www.array-design.com/, put me in touch with a fellow she had worked with before on another project. On her recommendation, I called Jake Carlson of the web development firm Dragon Eye Design. I told him about the project and asked for a quote on the work. He got back to me with a price. In the meantime, a friend suggested that, since I had such limited funds (a.k.a. my personal savings account) I should call a university’s computer science graduate department to see if they had a grad student that could do it for less. I met with a professor at University of Texas at Dallas. He was interested in the project, but could not help me with any students due to their heavy work loads as doctoral candidates. I met with a professor at Southern Methodist University. She was interested in social networks and put me touch with a graduate student who was going to need a summer job anyway.

Even though I had gotten comfortable with working “virtually” with Marianne, I liked the idea that the grad student was located in Dallas. We met and settled on an agreeable price to both of us. He began work on the programming of the site. This was June. I got back to Jake Carlson and told him that I was going to be working with the grad student, but if that didn’t work out I would get back in touch.

As the summer went on, I thought our meetings were productive and that launch of the Snabbo.com website would be by the end of the year. Then on Labor Day, I got a phone call from my programmer. He had just started his Fall Semester of school. He felt that his graduate studies work load would be too much for him to handle along with the programming of Snabbo. He was sincerely apologetic, but believed he should drop out of the project. I cried for two days.

I called Marianne who gave me a friend of hers name who might know someone. I also tried posting on Craigslist.org and got a huge response from programmers who work in India. Their price was right, but I was too worried about quality control and I wanted someone that could be as emotionally-invested in this project as I was.

I called Jake Carlson, again. I had never met him personally since he lived in a different city. I was gun-shy about putting my entire trust in another programmer to finish the project. Jake’s idea was to build Snabbo from scratch instead of cobbling together social network applications that were already available. After a several phone conversations, I began to feel confident about Jake’s grasp of the Snabbo concept and his programming abilities. We signed a contract and he began work at the end of September, 2008.

A Social Networking Neophyte Learns How to Start a Website

I felt comfortable that the results of my research indicated there was a niche to be filled by starting a Social Networking Website for Baby Boomers. So, how do I start a website? First, I got a mentor. We have a family friend whose son, Jack Moffitt, is a computer scientist and software developer. He is co-author of the GNU GPL licensed streaming media server Icecast. Then he went on to develop http://www.chesspark.com/ and most recently http://www.collecta.com/. Jack started his first company while he was a student at Southern Methodist University and I guessed that he only had a shoestring budget to begin with too.

I contacted Jack by phone and he was amazingly generous with his time and advice. I took copious notes and tried to implement all that he suggested. He said that first I needed a web designer. Jack recommended Marianne Guillen at http://www.array-design.com/. She agreed to help me with the concept and began working on the templates for the website. Communicating by emails and phone calls, we talked through the possibilities of how my concept should look. At first, I was unsure how you could work with someone without ever physically meeting them. But I got used to the “virtual” meetings fairly quickly. After a short time, Marianne had some ideas to show me. Not only does Marianne produce beautiful website designs, she is able to quickly grasp the ideas that the client is trying to communicate. Marianne understood I was a novice-both in starting a website and owning a company. She was a wonderful resource for connecting me with friends of hers to talk to about the joys and pitfalls of being a web startup.

Next on the to-do list: Find a computer programmer.