There is no doubt that Force.com, Salesforce.com‘s platform-as-a-service (PaaS), is the leading cloud computing platform today. If you are an independent software vendor (ISV) or an entrepreneur looking to build commercial products in a public cloud, it’s probably on your radar already. Force.com gives you the potential to save on development time and get a product to market faster–even more important, the potential to build a business with fewer resources.

Does that mean you can create a profitable cloud business by building your product on Force.com? The answer is–not necessarily.

In reality, most companies struggle to see the return on investment after all their development effort. Here’s why: In a perfect world, seat sales through the AppExchange would happen at the same rate that consumers download music on iTunes. Business buyers, however, are harder to reach and take forever to convince. Both traditional ISVs and startups usually discover they have been overly optimistic not only about how fast they can sell but also about what price targets they can achieve. To make things worse, ISVs find the product development, maintenance, and delivery costs to be much more expensive than anticipated.

Why does this happen when the world seems to agree that cloud equals reduced costs? It happens because ISVs don’t ask the right questions before jumping into the cloud. All ISVs want to know is the answer to two fundamental questions:

  • Is Force.com the right platform?
  • How much would it cost to build our product?

These questions are good. However, they are only related to product development, not profitability. Looking to build a successful cloud business requires much more input than just developing an application. If you don’t ask the questions upfront to understand the cloud business model, you could be writing checks for years before seeing any revenue. Here are the most important questions you must ask before you begin building: