Q: Can a Custom Solution Be The Basis For A Product?

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, skmurphy

Q: I was contracted to develop a custom software application that I delivered with a minimum set of features the client requested so that it was simple to use.  Once my client is satisfied should I try and market it? There are similar products available but mine is simpler and I can afford to offer it at a lower cost.

A couple of quick questions and suggestions:

  1. Was the work done under a “work for hire” or other contract that assigns all rights to the customer? You may not have the right to sell the software to someone else if you didn’t negotiate for this up front.
  2. Do you know why the firm that contracted you decided they needed a custom solution instead of using or adapting an off the shelf package to their needs? Understanding what led them to the decision may allow you to identify other prospects.
  3. If they are OK with you selling it to other firms then you should ask them for both a testimonial or case study and referrals to other firms that might be in the same situation that they were.
  4. There may be products that are similar but there must be some points of differentiation between your solution and the others, who else really needs the particular feature set you have written?
  5. I would try and sell what you have to prospects that have a similar characteristics to your first customer on the theory that they may have a similar view of their needs.

This is a common way to get started and it’s often a good idea to negotiate the right to sell what you have developed to other firms than your first customer, even if you have to agree to avoid certain named firms or a category of firms that your first customer views as a competitor. Sometimes this exclusivity can be negotiated to a certain time period (for example a year or 18 months).  The other trick is to do what you did here and focus on the minimum feature set that the customer is willing to pay for, and start to sell it to others once you have clear uptake and acceptance at your first customer site.

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