A foray into growth marketing

6 months of startups

I’ve build a website; now what?

Over the past 6 months I’ve built 4 “startups”. Yes, they’re more products than companies at this point but we’ll come back to it. There are a lot of checklists out there for how to get this, but I want to throw my opinion into the ring.

4 Weeks to Launch is exhausting. I don’t recommend it to others, but hopefully through my repetition and experimentation you can skip to success right away. Wouldn’t that be nice. Let’s just say the “Lean Startup” feels slow compared to how I’ve been approaching it. All that being said, it’s difficult to keep going. It’s hard to keep focused and keep working towards a goal when it feels so far away. More on this in future posts.

So what does the process look like after doing it 4 times over? What trends are there? While I keep iterating on the process, it’s pretty straightforward from a high level:

  • Pick an idea. It doesn’t have to be good.
  • Pick tools. How are you going to build it really quickly?
  • Build it. This is most people either go slowly or just plan forever and never take action.
  • Deploy. Get it out in the world as quickly as possible.

This can be done with no technical skills. The part that’s missing? Users.

The product for Guitar String Box, which is an ecommerce store, is finished. The strings are shipping from China in the next few weeks and I’m going to start focusing on marketing now. Check out guitarstringbox.com and let me know what you think. More importantly if you know anyone who plays guitar, sent it to them and shoot me an email to get 20% off.

User acquisition and strategy

User acquisition is something that I know about but haven’t ever focused on but is obviously essential for any business. You need customers. I talked with a friend of mine who has built a few different passive income businesses before and got her take on marketing. She’s monetized Instagram accounts and hacked her way to the front page of reddit before.

Her advice was simple, but actionable:

  • Define your users and user segments
  • Brainstorm as many different acquisition channels as possible
  • Prioritize your list based on how likely it is to work. (Will work, maybe work, might work)
  • Prioritize list based on how expensive it is to test
  • Test a few channels per week
  • Once you find 3 that work, reinvest in those channels

Now that the ecommerce store is finished (more or less) this is what I’ve started to do. I’m tempted to spend more time on the website making it look prettier, but I don’t want to distract from getting users. Everything I’m going to focus on now is going to be getting users.

The best place to start is with friends–can you get any of your friends to buy what you’re selling? If you can’t get them to buy it, why not? Ask them to give you negative feedback. People typically try to be nice to their friends, but if you ask for them to critique your product you’re more likely to figure out why they wouldn’t buy.

How do you keep yourself motivated? Let me know by email, reply/comment, or phone.

How to Build a Box Subscription Site in 1 Day

Learning a new skill = bad

Building an ecommerce subscription store has been surprisingly difficult. For the past 2 weeks I’ve been working with a new framework Moltin, building a custom store. This affords me far more customization and scalability than any other method but it comes at a price–it’s slow, complex, and the fact that Moltin is an early stage startup doesn’t help. I’ve found over half a dozen bugs and missing documentation, further slowing down development.

I thought that Moltin was the right choice for my subscription store. What I realized was that learning a new skill is actually bad, at least at times. The flexibility that I desired actually made things more complex and frustrating. When you need to get something done, stick with what you know and don’t try to learn.

Solve the problem you have today

Moltin was also the wrong choice because I focused on “the future” instead of “the now”. If Guitar String Box blows up and needs to be really scalable, sure, Moltin is probably better than other solutions. But that solves a problem I may never have, and creates problems right now. Solve the problem that you have now when in the validation phase of building a business. You can deal with the future when you have paying customers, not before.

Rely on what you already know works

I scrapped my site and went back to the drawing board. What would be the fastest solution that would work? Both Squarespace and Shopify are good platforms for building stores, but neither natively support subscription products. The plugins that let you set up subscriptions suck because customers have to go through extra checkout steps. Not good.

WordPress comprises 26% of the internet. WooCommerce (biggest ecommerce plugin for WordPress) has over 2 million installs in the internet. Ok, that works. Let’s use that.

Leverage your strengths, don’t improve your weaknesses (when focused for speed)

WordPress also has the added benefit of being easy to work with and something I’ve spent a lot of time learning when just starting out. I spent 2 weeks trying to get Moltin to work and had a half finished product. 2 hours into WordPress setup I had my entire store built. Subscriptions, products, dynamic pricing, everything I wanted. By leveraging skills I already had I went from 2 weeks to 2 hours. I’ll never make that mistake again.

Tools Used

  • WordPress
  • WooCommerce
  • WooCommerce Subscriptions
  • Storefront WordPress Theme
  • Storefront WordPress Child Theme (for customizations)
  • Some basic customizations to the theme to make it not look crappy

When to Learn, When to Do

Learning new tools is fun but it doesn’t get you results fast. I didn’t start building Guitar String Box with my goal clearly in mind. If the primary goal is to learn, fine, then focus on that. But if your primary goal is to get build a business or get something done, then focus on that and use what you already know.

Don’t make work harder for yourself by learning new tools and building for scale. You can deal with that later when you need to. Right now you need to get users. Focus on complete, not perfect.

Next steps

The next steps for Guitar String Box are to design the website, setup secure checkout, and get the products! The Chinese factory that’s giving us the strings should be able to ship them in 2 weeks! I’ll post pics once I have samples in hand.

I’ve been working on 4 Weeks to Launch for 6 months. So far I have 2 failed products, 1 awaiting app store approvals, and 1 in progress. Once Guitar String Box is completed I’m going to teach myself the final piece of the puzzle, getting users! Here’s the

  • ✅ Idea selection
  • ✅ building the product
  • ✅ staying focused
  • ✅ optimizing for results/speed
  • ⬜️ getting users/revenue

Question: What do you need most help with? Idea selection, staying focused, building the product, or getting users/revenue. Let me know by email, reply/comment, or phone.

Startup 4: Week 1 – Building an ecommerce business from scratch in a month

Startup #3 Update

Last month’s startup, Extreme Vacation Deals, is submitted to the App and Play Stores and waiting final approval! Make sure to download it at extremevacationdeals.com once it’s live.

Goals Update

The goal of 4 Weeks to Launch is to make passive income. I haven’t made any yet. That’s a problem.

The first step, I thought, was to be disciplined at building products. And fast. I couldn’t generate revenue without something to sell.

This time around I’m going to shake things up. While I will still be building a new product, I’ll also focus on marketing and user acquisition (my old nemesis).

You can make money with marketing and no product, but you can’t make money from a product with no marketing. It doesn’t matter if you’ve built the best app in the world if no one knows about it! It’s like that tree in the forest thing…I think…

Without further ado, Startup #4.

Startup #4: Guitar String Box

Guitar String Box and it is a guitar string subscription service. Guitar strings delivered, every month.

I started this project awhile ago but haven’t focused on it until now. Online store subscription (whether digital or physical) is one of the best passive income models. A great example of this is Dollar Shave Club. If you haven’t heard of them before, they were bought for $1,000,000,000 (billion) and they’re f***ing great.

Subscription is great for passive income. Get a customer once, and then generate revenue over and over and over.

Getting the Goods

I also have a great deal for the guitar strings. A Chinese supplier is giving me the strings for free. Sounds too good to be true, but in reality it’s a good opportunity for the manufacturer. I have a friend who works with the Chinese supplier extensively already, so the strings a free add-on they’re offering. The factory also gets co-branded packaging and the potential for a lot more business in the future.

It’s amazing what you can get if you just ask. Worst case scenario you get a, ‘no’, best case scenario you get exactly what you want. Low risk, high reward.

Targeting to get the first 500 strings packages in from China next month. We’ll repackage and ship via USPS on the 1st of every month!

The landing page for pre-registration is live so sign up if you’re a guitarist or want to give guitar strings to someone as a gift.

This past week I’ve been working on building the ecommerce store.

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Building the Store

After a lot of research I found there aren’t many options to start a physical product subscription site. Cratejoy.com is the only option but it’s priced at $99/month and near impossible if you ever want to migrate away from them. I decided to build from scratch using a new startup’s API based ecommerce platform named Moltin. It’s more scalable and I have full control over everything. Hook up to their backend for inventory management and you’re good to go.

Moltin is a startup, and with startups come problems. Their team has been very supportive on their slack channel and my hope is that once I build one store, I will be able to quickly spin up other stores in the future. Invest now, rewards later.

As with all my projects, I try to keep things as bare bones as possible. I have 3 different products, light, medium and heavy gauge guitar strings. You can see the ecommerce store scaffolding here.

Guitar string subscription is a very simple service with a niche audience. I plan on marketing directly to this audience using social media ads, squeeze pages, retargeting, and email drip campaign. More on that in future weeks.

Enough writing. Time to get back to programming.

Question of the Week: Why do you want to make passive income? Let me know by email, reply/comment, or phone.

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Why I do what I do

Tl;dr

Extreme Vacation Deals done!

I finished the Extreme Vacation Deals. 5ish weeks ago I didn’t know how to build a mobile app, and now it’s done for Android and iOS. Pretty awesome, even if I still have the database in Dropbox (can read about that here). We hooked up Slack so every time a customer “books” a property we get a notification and can complete the booking via email, PayPal, and manual processes. Most of my time last week went into building the landing page, designing the app logo, and tweaking the apps.

Tomorrow we submit to the App Store and Play Store! I’ll publish links to the apps once they’re approved, but for now, a little insight into why I am doing 4 Weeks to Launch.

***

When I was 5 years old, I went through a phase where I would reply, “why and how?” to just about everything. Yeah, I was a fun kid. What fascinated me was how you can endlessly drill down with these questions, and down, and down. To this day I still get into the “why” mindset every few months and question everything. Why 4 Weeks to Launch? What keeps me going, even when sometimes I feel like I’m failing? Why blog; why publicly? Why care about passive income?

As much fun as it is to build multiple products, I know that I could build a higher quality product by focusing on one idea for a longer period of time. I also spend a lot of time updating 4 Weeks to Launch, further taking away from my product quality. And in truth, I don’t even like blogging. So why do all of this?

Why: 4 Weeks to Launch

Doing something difficult is rewarding. That deep sense of satisfaction from using willpower to accomplish a hard goal is the best feeling I know. The feeling of meaningful action.

I build a new product every 4 weeks because it’s hard. It’s hard to build something in a limited amount of time, with limited resources. But by doing so, it forces me to grow and to solve problems in new ways. This growth is crucial to all of us. Struggling, failing, and achieving are powerful experiences, and sometimes even scary. That’s why some leave their dreams on shelves; pretty things to look at but not to touch let alone fulfill.

Why: Blog

I blog to hold myself accountable. Publicly posting about my failures, progress, or lack of progress keeps me on task. Where I am sometimes weak in follow through, I delegate to a system that forces me to keep going, i.e. blogging. I feel guilty when I don’t work; not the nicest of motivators but it sure as hell works. I’ve made a public promise and despite no monetary progress so far, I want to keep that promise alive.

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Why: Passive income

Passive income is more than just money to me, it’s a milestone. Money is a means to wealth. Whether wealth is time with your kids or travelling the world, money can (typically) get you there. However why care about passive income since my personal definition of success/wealth is building products?

In a hyphenated word, self-mastery. Passive income to me means that I’ve beaten the system. To the world, our society, and to my mind, that means escaping the 9 to 5 rat race. Not trading time for money. That is meaningful to me. To have power over time. And it’s meaningful because I chose to give it meaning.

Self-mastery has been a personal goal for 10 years. It’s why I blog, why I build startups, why I focus on passive income. I want to beat the system and to have no master other than myself.

Everyone has his/her own purpose in life, but it’s up to you to decide what it’s going to be. Someone else’s purpose isn’t yours, just as much as your experiences aren’t others’. That extends to all the advice from parents and gurus and therapists. It’s what you put meaning into that defines you; what matters to you, is what matters.

I chose to work hard to get closer to my ideal self and self-mastery. This means building products. This means 4 Weeks to Launch…at least for now!

If you’re looking for inspiration:

Question: What are you working towards, and why? Let me know by email, reply/comment, or phone.

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Startup 3: Week 4–App Hacking; Life Hacking

How I’m able to be productive as a millennial.

4 Weeks to Launch is an ongoing series about building passive income across multiple startups — a new startup every 4 weeks. Read the first post on 4 Weeks to Launch to get started, or subscribe for weekly updates. Startup #3 is Hotel Tonight for weeklong vacation rentals.

TL;DR

Key Updates

  • Bought domain, named app, wrote copy
  • Built startup #3 database/authentication on Azure
  • Updated blog design & post template

Key Learnings

  • Increase effectiveness: Plan your top 5 todos each week, Do 1/day. (read below)
  • Increase focus: Timeblock your week to focus the right thing at the right time. (read below)
  • Be specific in your “to dos”. Should be achievable in 25 minutes or less.

Last Week

Unfortunately I didn’t finish the app last week. Fortunately I made the rules and get to break them. I’m going into a 5th week to get Startup #3 done. Here’s the rundown of last week’s accomplishments:

  1. Picked a name (Extreme Vacation Deals)
  2. Bought a domain (extremevacationdeals.com)
  3. Wrote the copy for the app
  4. Built out basic pages for the app
  5. Setup the database and signin authentication
  6. Updated blog design & post template


This week we’re connecting the backend (storage/database) and frontend (design/interface). We’ll prep the submission process for the Play Store and App Store, hopefully to submit later this week.

I’ve also brought in a friend to help out with marketing. We’re working on a marketing strategy for 4WTL as well as each month’s project. Right now we’re still in the planning stages, but updates to come soon! Below are the other core things needed to finish Startup #3.

Extreme Vacation Deals Checklist:

  1. Connect frontend to database
  2. Build “confirm booking” views in app
  3. Add copy to app
  4. Submit app to app store
  5. Setup domain
  6. Setup help email address for domain

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Weekly Planning & Timeblocking

Every week I try to be more effective than the previous week. Despite this, I sometimes struggle with knowing what to do, when. There’s always a million things to do, but knowing where to start can feel impossible. Here are two simple things I do to help with the paralysis:

Plan your week. I started this habit in January and it has helped me be monumentally more effective. Each Monday write down everything you need to do. Pick 5 of those todos that are truly important. Only pick 5. I focus on todos that relate to longterm goals, are important to me personally, or cause me lots of stress. Prioritize the tasks 1 through 5. Now, each task needs to be done on the corresponding day: #1 Monday, #2 Tuesday, etc. Make sure that each task is bite sized! It should be doable in 25 minutes or less.

Timeblock your calendar. Map out your week so you know what to work on at any given time. You can do this with a Google Doc, spreadsheet, calendar, paper. The goal is to just map out what to do when, and focus. The blueprint of your week helps quiet the incessant list-making in my brain and forces me to get shit done! You can see my timeblocking calendar here. If you like this kind of stuff, I need beta users! See my PS note.

What would make these updates more interesting? Let me know by email, reply/comment, or phone.

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Startup 3: Week 3 – The Blitzkrieg

I built a web scraper, database and half a mobile app last week. Here’s how.

Demo videos of scraper and the mobile app linked below! As a reminder, startup #3 is Hotel Tonight for weeklong vacation rentals.

Phew! What a week! Lots of updates.

The web scraper is done. I learned how to use a scraping tool (and new programming language) to get it done, but am quite pleased with the results. It crawls the website and pulls all listings location, name, description and images and saves them in a readable format.

The language I learned to do this was python. I used python because according to Google, it’s the best language for scraping websites. Go figure. Also BeautifulSoup is the best library for scraping, so learned that too.

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I followed this fantastic tutorial from dataquest.io. Even if you have no programming experience, you could follow this, though you would still need to setup python first. First I scraped 1 page for all the URLs of each listing. Then the scraper loops through each listing and extras the info I need. This rough cut took me about 3 hours to build, but then I needed to format my content as JSON, remove extra spaces, blank images etc. It took me 2 hours to clean up the data. Here’s the finished product.

Now it was time to build my first mobile app. I’ve dabbled with Objective-C before, but building a native app is very time consuming typically and not my forte. Luckily there are some frameworks which allows you to do web dev and compile it into both native Android and iOS apps. Helluva a time savings!

Ionic is one of the most popular frameworks for this. You build web pages (HTML, CSS and JS) and then click a button to turn it into a mobile app. If you have basic web development skills, you can probably figure out how to build an app.

That being said it took me a lot of time to get up and running with the framework. Lots to learn. I spent a few hours reading and watching amazing YouTubes by Traversy Media (60 min Angular intro, 60 min Ionic Intro) and have 2.5 of the pages done. Probably 5 hours learning, 10 hours building and 3 hours hooking up my JSON data to my app.

If you’re learning a new tool, don’t focus too much on using the tool the right way. I wasted time trying to learn how to do things “the Ionic way” instead of just writing Javascript and CSS to do whatever I needed. The rest of the app should go more quickly without focusing on learning and more focus on doing.

I always start with the hardest thing first, so the rest of the work needed shouldn’t be as bad as what I’ve done so far. To start I’ll launch the app with very minimal functionality. It will show the vacation homes and allow you to request a booking. Ideally we have payment built in but I’m skipping this for now. I can always bill people on PayPal and build it later.

I expect another 15 hours required to build out the pages and make everything pretty. Then time to ship it! Nick has been working on the backend infrastructure but hell, we may just use Dropbox as our hosting and run the script daily manually to update the data. MVP, right? 😉

Key takeaways:

  • Leverage what you know over “the right way of doing things”
  • If you can skip steps, do. Nothing matters until people like what you’ve built. You can always go back and add more features.
  • If you’re not technical, then don’t try to be technical.
  • If you want a mobile app go with Ionic or RubyMotion. It’s cheaper, faster, and you get iOS and Android at the same time.
  • Don’t waste time building infrastructure if you don’t need it. You can manually update your database and store it on Dropbox for free. Get scrappy.

Thanks for reading,

Elijah

PS. Big shout out to my mom for all the support. She emails me her thoughts every week after I do a writeup!

Startup 3: Week 1 – Scrappy n Fast

4 Weeks to Launch so far

And we’re back again. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written and there are lots of updates. Let’s start!

4 Weeks to Launch has been extremely rewarding and a big pain in the ass. I love building businesses, but the amount of time I was putting into my blog posts wasn’t fun. It took ~ 5-10 hours a week, and that’s when I actually did something. Procrastinating always takes longer. All that proofing, editing, and curation. And all I want to do is build projects!

In my few weeks silence I’ve been chugging away at multiple side projects, but just haven’t been writing. That means something’s broken. On top of that what I did write didn’t feel actionable. Sure, I see how it all connects on because I’m the one doing it but it’s not helpful unless I can put it into words (or video?).

Time to shake it up.

4 Weeks to Launch going forward

I will spend less time writing and more time doing. I will spend less time proofing and more time doing. I will spend…you get it.

This is what I enjoy. And I think the content will be more interesting too. I may do a reflection at the end of each startup, but I the weekly updates will be short and sweet. And casual writing. No more crazy proofing (forgive my typoos).

So what happened to the last business?

Startup #2 was a mobile app to make save money fun.

Then it was a game.

Then I it needed to be redesigned.

Then the database schema was bigger.

When we sat down to actually build the thing we had a problem. Instead of a very fast, simple product we started with, we now had a mountain of work. And it was a lot of work.

The point of 4 Weeks to Launch is scrappy and fast. We’re not shooting for perfection, just something. Startup #2 is dead. Come now, let’s not dwell.

Yippee! Startup #3!

Startup #3 is a mobile app that let’s you book last minute rental home deals. Hotel Tonight for week-long rentals.

My friend Nick got access to a list of surplus vacation homes (don’t ask me how). The agency rents the properties, but anything that’s unbooked is wasted inventory. They publish their excess rentals online and offer extreme discounts.

We’re going to scrape the data from the website nightly and offer a simple mobile app for booking. When someone books through our app, we’ll manually go and reserve it for them. We’re still working on the incidental/liability details, but that’s it! Once confirmed we’ll notify our customer.

What happens next:

  1. Design the database
  2. Design the app (and keep it to the MVP!)
  3. Setup hosting
  4. Build the scraper
  5. Build the app (using ionic)
  6. Release to the wild

I’ll send an email out (newsletter link) with the designs when I have them fleshed out.

If you have any questions, let me know!

Now for some actionable advice…

When validating a startup idea, have a system for comparing. I built a spreadsheet that calculates a valuation based on different parameters and weighting. The core criteria is:

  1. Idea quality/value (shit vs brilliance)
  2. My personal ability to execute (don’t know where to start vs I can build this solo)
  3. Market size: (niche, community, industry, global)

Output = Valuation

The valuation doesn’t matter. It’s just a placeholder. What matters is being able to compare ideas to each other. Evaluate each idea you have and you’ll get better at picking good ideas.

By focusing on your own ability to execute, you stay within a knowable world. If it’s a tech product and you have 0 experience/network with technology, you probably should rethink it. However if you’ve managed engineers before then you’re probably around a 4-6 on ability because you know people who can get it done. Always pick a niche idea you know you can build over a billion-dollar, global game changer.

The $10,000,000 Question

Note: This week’s post is on a different topic than 4 Weeks to Launch. The mobile app is coming along slowly and I’m trying to figure out what to do with it. 4WTL is an ongoing series about building passive income across multiple startups — a new startup every 4 weeks. Read the first post on 4 Weeks to Launch to get started, or subscribe for weekly updates.

Most of the people I know are dissatisfied with their lives. We live in the best age, but all we do is want more. What we crave is more meaning (depth), but what we end up getting is more stuff (breadth).

In short career so far I’ve gone from eating Saltines while living on a leaky, heatless boat in winter to pursuing my dreams on a daily basis. Nothing is easy and straightforward. Some days I’m just as miserable as when I was starting out. Here’s are a few ways I stay aligned and make sure each decision takes me closer to my mountain.

How to find passion something better than what you’re currently doing

I dropped out of college because it was boring as shit. I wasn’t learning much, and all the wrong stuff. After high school the idea of more school didn’t interest me, but it’s what I was “supposed to” do. Isn’t every middle class kid supposed to go to college? But I knew that dropping out would be enough. I needed a dramatic change–something that would force me to grow. So what did I do? I moved to the Philippines. That seemed pretty dramatic.

It’s scary to make a big change. You never know what’s going to happen and your mind tends to thinks of the worst possible outcomes. For instance I thought I would be sold into white slavery by my Filipino host who I met through a mutual mutual mutual friend. The reality? He’s now one of my best friends, and I was in his sister’s wedding in February. The point is the unknown is terrifying. But moving somewhere isolated let me listen to myself. I was able to find “the thing” that I wanted to do–programming. I didn’t know if it was my life’s work, but hey, it was more interesting than college. I took the plunge and started teaching myself to code.

The $10,000,000 question

My favorite question to ask people is:

“What would you do if got $10,000,000 today?

Most people laugh after I say this so I ask again–if you had $10,000,000, after tax money, what would you do?

I often get the same responses; travel, invest, or both. That’s cool bro, that’s my answer too. What then?

The beauty of this question is you can always drill down. There is a theme to this list as you refine it: buy stuff, donate, give gifts, travel. All that takes about 6 months. So what happens then?

This is where people get stuck. It’s a big scary question that we never address. If I never had to think about money again, what would I do with my time over the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years? Years. That’s a lot of free time for playing video games and travelling. You’re going to want to do something more, but what is it?

Just do f***ing it

Ok, so now you know exactly what you want to do! Just kidding. The goal of this question is to find something that you want to do more than what you’re currently doing. And then do it. It doesn’t have to be your life mission, just something better. People often have very simple, achievable goals and don’t realize it. Spend time with your kids, fishing, or getting involved in your community.

If you’re trading your time for money to have more time to play with your kids, why not just spend more time with your kids? Achieving your goals isn’t that hard when you actually know what you’re working towards. Retirement is the golden period of our lives where we have complete time freedom, but we rarely plan what we’ll do with the time once we have it.

Some of your dreams you can’t do yet. That’s ok too. Once defined, make decisions to get you closer. If you want to spend 6 months volunteering in Bali, start with 3 weeks off and try Bali out. Or somewhere closer. All this “some day” shit is just that–shit. If you know what you want, go get it. If money’s the blocker don’t spend on things you don’t need! I guarantee you if you’re motivated enough you can save money by eating Ramen noodles and PB&J for a month. No, not ideal or fun, but we’re talking your life goals here. It’s worth the sacrifice.

Measure each decision against where you want to be. Seeing how your actions bring forward or push back your goals can be a powerful motivator. Don’t focus on perfection; focus on progress.

If you’re looking for some Monday inspiration, watch Shia LaBeouf scream a lot. Just do it inspiration.

How to refine your passion

You change, your goals change. As you progress you may find that your goals are less inspiring. Or you need to level up your goals as you level up. Improve your goals as you grow. I wanted to be a programmer and now building products and ideas is more interesting than coding. I still have lots of fun building MVPs but wouldn’t be happy only writing code for the rest of my life.

A good way to envision your goal is as a distant mountain. As you get walk towards it, you might notice it’s more to the left or right. As long as you make decisions that get you closer to the mountain you’re doing well. Just don’t go further away from it.

I picked this concept up in a commencement speech by the amazing writer Neil Gaiman (video). Continue to refine your goals, actions, and commitment and every step you take will get you closer to your mountain.
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Startup 2: Week 2–Crap Idea equals Pivot

Note: 4 Weeks to Launch is an ongoing series about building passive income across multiple startups — a new startup every 4 weeks. Read the first post on 4 Weeks to Launch to get started, or subscribe for weekly updates.

I was excited last week to start building the Impulse Savings app. This week I’m scrapping it. This is how I tested my idea rapidly and realized I needed to pivot.

What is a pivot? Pivoting is a term used when changing an idea in a dramatic way–a 180. The lean startup methodology teaches that you need to recalibrate your idea based on continuous feedback. The feedback I got said Impulse Savings needed drastic change, so I changed it.

Vet your ideas

I vet my ideas with friends before starting them. I’ve been getting feedback on impulse savings for a few weeks and while it’s interesting it didn’t excite. No one wishes they had a savings app in their life, right? It wasn’t until I had a call with Andy (the marketing guru/genius/ninja) that my eyes truly opened to the uphill battle we were facing. The biggest issue, “why will anyone download this app?”

It doesn’t matter if you have the best, coolest, sexiest product if no one uses it.

Unfortunately for the app, people don’t spend their time looking for saving apps. It’s not a thing. The goal of this month is to build a tool that encourages savings. That’s it. Because we had clarity in our goal we were able to pivot without heartache. Often people get too attached to their ideas. To be a successful business, you need to listen to feedback and be adaptable.

Make the best decision with the information available that gets you closer to your goal. Don’t get distracted by the mile markers along the way.

The Pivot

People love games. People love celebrities. We wrapped the two together while helping people do the right thing aka saving money.


The game goes like this:
Given two celebrities pictures, you pick who you think has a higher net worth. If you’re right, you save $.25. The game get harder as you progress and 3 strikes and you’re maxed out!

We adapted the game structure from Free Rice, the hottest social-justice-game-website of 2007.

The concept is simple; correctly answer a vocab question and 10 grains of rice are donated to a charity. As you progress the questions get more and more difficult. Doing good makes you feel good, and the game still taps into the our competitive nature (I never got past my high score of level 42 but damn it if I tried!).

No users = losers

Why is this idea better than before the pivot? What makes an idea good? Andy helped me focus on solving marketing first which highlighted the weaknesses of impulse savings.

Your product is no good without users. Period. If you spend 15 years building the best product ever and have 0 users, your product sucks. If you have 100,000 users but your app looks like shit–guess what?–you’re crushing it and I want to meet you. NBC’s Sharks would agree with me too. Sales and users conquer all.

The most important step to our app working was getting it in the hands of as many people as possible. For this it needs to be interesting. Something people want. The impulse savings app on it’s own wasn’t quite there.

Test your idea by answering this hypothetical situation: Would you be excited enough or text/post about your idea if you stumbled across it online? If not then your idea may need a new spin.

Thinking cap time

We brainstormed for over an hour. What makes a financial app interesting? Some ideas were to introduce taboo topics, voyeurism, free money/winning, FOMO, social network. These tropes can make a product more engaging for consumers. Ever pay for in-app purchases by transferring money to your savings account? How about a savings lottery? Is it legal to gamble with your savings against others? What if you could sneak a look into how much your friends earn?

Now things were getting interesting. Each idea had a hook–edgy, or at least unique. This edge is what we were looking for. We then worked to tie it together and quickly–again, 4 weeks time doesn’t leave room for complexity!

Guessing celebrities net worth is fun. Paying yourself your own high score is wacky. C’est fini.

Next steps

I started by putting together mockups. You can see the work in progress (WIP) prototype here. As I update the designs the link will automatically update. Next up is finalizing the game rules and then building the backend code. Still optimistic for launching in 3 weeks!

Questions

Startup 2: Week 1– Why “Cheating” is Actually Good

Note: 4 Weeks to Launch is an ongoing series about building passive income across multiple startups — a new startup every 4 weeks. Read the first post on 4 Weeks to Launch to get started, or subscribe for weekly updates.

Over the next 4 weeks I will design, build, release, and promote an iOS app (with a little help from my friends). We’ll go from paper to finished product while sharing the process – full transparency.

One startup down! If you haven’t, check out startup #1 (metrics here, about it here). This month we’re shifting focus to users instead of revenue. As Silicon Valley preaches, often to excess, if you get users you can monetize later. We will be building an iOS app that caters to the impulsive tendencies of millennials. Let the experiment begin!

Impulse Savings (working title)

The problem: Millennials suck at saving. We’re impulsive, hate any form of long-term commitment, and don’t worry about the future (though we should). Why save for future me when present me is having so much fun?

The solution: Gamified Savings

Saving money is boring and ungratifying. Impulse Savings is centered on you, whether you’re saving for retirement or a shopping spree. Watch your friends’ progress–are they saving more than you?–and work towards a goal that you care about. Personally, I’m looking forward to Maui.

Early wireframes for the mobile app!

Competition

There are a few saving-focused apps available which fall under two main categories. The first group moves small amounts from your checking to savings passively. This is good but with little incentive, emotional or otherwise, plus it’s hard to get started. The second group focuses on setting up a recurring deposit. Even less fun.

Saving money is an abstract concept and if not anchored to an emotion it’s hard to get excited by moving money around. Retirement is 50 kajillion years away, so why should I plan for it? By creating “want to” goals instead of “should do” goals, saving is more fun, especially when competing with friends.

Why this and why now?

Whether you’re rich or poor, money will affect your entire life. What I find difficult to understand is why financial literacy isn’t taught until 11th-freaking-grade, and even then it’s an elective! It’s as if money is the ugly stepchild who no one likes to talk about. Financial education falls to our parents and I hate to break it to mom and dad, but they sucked at money. This is a problem that needs a solution.

And hey, money isn’t even all that scary! It’s a game and if you figure out the rules, you do well. It’s learning and internalizing the rules that’s the hard part. Spend less than you earn. Make money work for you, don’t work for money. Invest and earn compound interest. A penny saved is a penny earned. While these are cliche they also have a lot of truth to them. It’s time for impulse saving to be just as easy as impulse spending.

Building the dream team

While working on JFDI.ninja I constantly felt overwhelmed. There’s always more to do! Startup #1 was no different so this month I decided to pull in some experts and share the work. I introduce to you the team, Nick Pirollo and Andrew Tider!

  1. Nick is a badass engineer who’s been a great friend of mine for years. Check out his newest app HaterDater that got 100K+ downloads in the first week of the app store.
  2. Andy is a friend who’s marketing success speaks for itself. Check out the 100 pound bust of Snowden he put in Greene Park, later confiscated by the NYC Parks Department.

Isn’t having help cheating?

So Elijah, I thought you were going to be building a startup a month. What gives?

School teaches us to work in isolation. Don’t work with others on the test–that’s cheating! And if you copy Tawny’s homework you fail because you didn’t learn by yourself!

Then a remarkable thing happens. You graduate (or dropout in my case) and realize you don’t have to do everything solo. You can ask anyone for help. If you are able to recruit someone who is a pro then that’s success rather than fraud. Be genuine, yes, but don’t for a minute think you have to do everything on your own like in school. That’s the slowest and most difficult path to success.

Entrepreneurs know this well. A good entrepreneur knows their strengths, but also knows how to find support for where they are weak. Cameron Herold talks about how he outsourced his homework in college (TED Talk):

I hired kids to do my accounting assignments in university for 13 consecutive assignments. But as an entrepreneur you don’t do accounting, you hire accountants. So I just figured that out earlier.

– Cameron Herold

We learn most by being close to people better people. Nick is a stronger engineer than me, and same goes for Andy with marketing chops. Surround yourself with people who force you to grow and you’ll dramatically accelerate your learning.

How to design and build a product

I’ll be leading the product for Impulse Savings. While less obvious than engineering or marketing, product management (PM) and user experience (UX) are critical to building a quality product.

I’m a self taught designer and PM. While my methods may not be from Business School they have served me well to date. So far I’ve finished sketches and wireframes for the product and will be designing pixel perfect mockups over the next week. If interested in watching and learning more about product design post below and let me know you want me to livestream!

 

The Ask

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