Advisor, web application architect, designer, technical marketing and product strategist. 12+ years of full stack experience with startups and digital agencies.
Honestly, you most likely can't succeed without the support of a capable team/staff.
Or you can...and did...But that's it. You can be a very small business or a consultant/freelancer. Just like you did.
What was not successful about that for you? How do you define success?
You will ultimately need to rely on others if you want to scale a business. From what I'm reading here though it's not so much the "team/staff" as it is your co-founder. One person in particular?
I don't want to discourage you in any way of course, but realizing you need a team took me a while to figure out myself. Save yourself some time. You'll need to start pushing yourself outside your comfort zone a bit perhaps. You will need to become a bit more social. Start networking (many sites, events and meetups to do this) and look for people to help you without giving away the farm.
Take time to get to know the people and their skillset. Given your co-founder was a classmate, it sounds more emotional than analytical. It's easier to be analytical with complete strangers. Though again, I understand this may push you outside your comfort zone.
By setting expectations up front with new people, I think you'll then find that the people you meet won't be so much of an anchor as they will be a sail.
For the design? The downside is that you could end up with a very generic looking application/site. It's also not your (or your developer's) code so there will usually be a period of time required to get used to it in order to make any adjustments.
In the end, it may not really save you that much time...Depending on what it does or doesn't do.
Templates certainly aren't a bad place to start though. They can save time in many cases. Just not all cases.
I assume you had a staging/test environment where you put the site up for some people to test (besides yourself and engineers)? It's important to use a variety of browsers and people to give things a good look over before going live. You have looked at it for too long so you'll gloss over it. Fresh eyes are so very important.
Did you hook up monitoring like NewRelic.com? They have a tool that will ping your site from a variety of locations. They also have insights as to where some bottlenecks might be.
Do you have backups for your database?
Do you have a crash plan? What happens if the site goes down due to load? Are you in a position where you can easily increase the size of your server or add more?
You may want to do some load testing, but it'll likely be difficult now before the launch. It takes a bit of coordination to setup for it...But it's something to think about in the future, especially for capacity planning.
Building a piece of software (that's unique or not) is one thing. Running a business is a completely different thing. Do not worry about your idea being stolen.
That said, I would always suggest looking at a developer's resume and sample code (GitHub, etc.). They should be active. If you find someone without any online presence, they don't follow news or communities for things...That's a red flag.
For a senior developer, ensure they have 6+ years real-world experience. Ensure they have been exposed to a variety of tools and languages. Ensure they are enthusiastic about what they do and that they are a good problem solver.
Get a developer like that...And you're set.
Also try to find those who have experience with the same kind of tools you'll be using. A developer should be able to tell you the appropriate tools for your project. They shouldn't try to shoehorn it into something that doesn't make sense simply because they don't have experience with those tools. So you may need to have a general sense for your architecture first before hiring a developer. You want a very senior person helping you out with this (pssst, Clarity is a good place to for this...shameless self-promo - come ask me, I'll let ya know what you need).
Programming is NOT about sticking to one language and knowing every little tiny detail. It's not about committing some API to memory. It's about problem solving and organization.
When hiring, I rarely ask programmers to do silly tests or write out code on a whiteboard, etc. That's a meaningless academic way of assessing how well someone has memorized something (that likely does not even relate to your own product!). It has absolutely zero bearing on real-world web application programming. Plus, you won't be able to do that because you wouldn't know if it was good code or not.
So instead, I focus on problem solving. You can too. I throw out challenges and ask how would you do this? What kind of database would you use. Or which language? Would you need multiple languages even? What is the work flow? How would you deploy and make changes to the app? How would you handle a situation where millions of users were online and the app was crashing?
You can learn a lot by having high level conversations like that. Don't forget cultural fit and communication skills also play a huge role here.
Social media is all about engagement and discovering your audience. I'd always recommend against buying followers as this doesn't help you actually discover your audience and skews your social media analytics.
The other reason you need to be as truthful about your audience as possible is for advertising. Ads on social are quite effective if you narrowly target user segments. I feel as if their ROI is far better than search ads/Google Adwords (unless you were re-marketing people with your Adwords).
The true power of social media comes from spreading a message (virality) and gaining thought leadership. It is in building a following and having advocates. This simply takes time. There is no short cut. Automation can come off like spam and hurt you.
More than happy to chat further if you like. I do a lot of social media campaigns and analytics (though admittedly more for big brands who may have bigger budgets).
It's hard to vet non technical co-founders. Really hard. Unlike developers they can't always (though sometimes can) show you, "here's what I did." They don't benefit from the same kinda portfolio like a designer/artist or developer.
That said, you could go to meetups in your area (if there are any). Network a bit. You gotta put yourself out there and you can't be afraid to talk about your idea. You might even find someone else with the same idea.
More importantly, figure out what you need a co-founder for. It'll be easier to find one then. You'll know what questions to ask and what to look for. Are they helping you find finding? Find customers? Market the idea?
As far as how you do it alone? Self-education. Both programming and design lend themselves well to self-education. Marketing does as well. Especially these days with the internet and social media. You don't necessarily need an MBA, but if you can pick up just a tiny bit of the skills you need to market and push an idea out there, you're going to run into someone to be your business co-founder a whole lot easier. You'll also better be able to evaluate them.
You don't even necessarily need the code should they pivot and do something else. You just need contracts in place for support. You need them to support you for a certain length of time and even have a stipulation that they support you for yet another length of time after they pivot or no longer have whatever version of the API it is.
That way, you'll have time to build your own. OR at that time you can negotiate buying it from them or upgrade to the latest version of their API.
No one is going to want to just give you the code should they pivot and make a new version. As a developer, I wouldn't. That's potentially trade secrets, etc. However, I would certainly sell it to you (maybe ensuring you don't resell it) should I move on and not want to support you with servers, etc.
But really, what's it take to keep a server around, with an older API version, for one paying customer? It's not as if they are losing on the deal (hopefully).
We're in the business of software here and the good thing is that there's absolutely no reason they would ever lose some version of an API. They could always go back in their revision control systems and resurrect it. So you aren't going to lose it. Not if you have an agreement. Though that agreement doesn't need to be harsh. It should be quite easy to negotiate.
Test the market for sure. I've been at companies that went all in, pivoted several times and kept releasing new products -- none of them got any traction at all. They then said products 1 and 2 were to test the market and prove it so that product 3 would succeed. I think this is one of the stages of grief right? Bargaining?
I don't know anything about laser hair removal, but I'm going to assume you can find some people to survey or provide samples? of some sort? Consultation in exchange for opinions? Either way, if you have the ability to test and research something - do it. Could save you a lot of headaches no matter what you're getting into.
I'd say it even depends on your target audience. For example, .io domains are quite popular in tech. Other domains never really took off like .mobi for example. If you can spell a word or the name of your company with the domain extension that also becomes a clever trick that can work.
Clarity.fm is an interesting one in itself. Of course it's fine right? We're all here and found it. Though fm would be for radio, right? It's actually for the Federated States of Micronesia. Though it's commonly considered "radio." Clarity is not a radio station so it's an interesting choice, but I don't think it was a problem for anyone.
So it's not as big a deal as it used to be. Though it's certainly still valuable and coveted. It can sometimes be used for authority as well. If you don't buy up all the TLDs sometimes people will buy the .net version etc. They do this in hopes to get people from search engines (or mistakes) over to see ads. The .com gives you authority in that regard. Well, aside from the blatant ads on the other site =)
For that rate, you could find someone to spend all day on social media. An intern for example. Use them to engage with people and start sharing content related to your business. Gain mindshare.
Other than that, you could use that money for very narrowly targeted ads on a budget.
A full-time marketer, marketing manager, CMO, etc. all are obviously going to cost you a lot more.
However. Let's back up for a moment. Do you know that you need a marketing expert full-time? What led you to this conclusion? Lack of visitors/users? There could be many reasons for that starting with your product market fit all the way down to the details in your website UX, message, branding, etc.
It may turn out that you just need a copywriter on a contract basis to help you with messaging.
It may turn out that you just need to use some ads more effectively.
Even without a full-time marketer, there are many things you can do yourself. There is a wealth of resources out there (GrowthHackers site, Clarity experts, myself included and the others commenting here) that could help you with a small strategy.
There are simple things that you and other employees can do on a regular basis, without too much time/distraction, that could drastically change your circumstances.
I notice people jump to thinking they "need" a full-time marketer right away. That "SEO" or "marketing" is to blame for slow or stalled growth. Startups can't compete with big companies, so why do we insist on trying? You need to switch up your tactics to stand out and compete.
Also, you said launch. What are you waiting on? You must start marketing now. Not after launch. Not after something is "ready" ... Nothing is ever "done" or "ready" btw. Start early. Even if it's simple. I've seen so many CEOs not even like their own company's page on Facebook and follow their own Twitter accounts. Yes, seriously.
I think you have some options, so the most important thing to do is not panic =)