Matter – Building an agency, businesses, and team while bootstrapping

1 year and 10 days ago I started 4 Weeks to Launch, with the goal of launching a new product every month. Today I’m launching Matter–a product studio that creates sustainable businesses.

Balance side hustles with work life

When I moved to New York City a year ago I focused on building my own products and 4 Weeks to Launch was born (read about it here). The year started off well enough–I consulted with an interesting startup for half the week, which allowed me to spend the rest of my time building side projects. In 6 months I launched 4 “startups.” But then then my client pivoted and I was out of work.

I didn’t want the same situation where I was dependent on one client, so aimed to have at least two concurrent clients at all times. Redundancy is smart, right? I reached out to my network to see who else was in need of my skills and quickly got a few introductions.

One month later I had outdone myself. I had 4 clients and while I’d solved the problem of consistency, I’d sacrificed my free time. How was I supposed to balance this equation? I set out to finish the work I had committed to, but meanwhile I was trying to find a system to sustainably balance side projects with consulting. How could I have predictable income and time to explore new ideas?

What is Matter?

Today I’m launching Matter. Matter is a product studio. That’s a BS term I made up, but I’m sticking to it. So what is Matter?

Matter is a product agency. Matter works with startups to improve their products and development, and with established companies that want product innovation. We help build and manage engineering teams, implement product development best practices, and build products, prototypes and MVPs.

Matter is a startup studio. Matter builds startups. We build businesses in-house that are designed to be self-sustaining. Each business aims to be profitable in 6 months. If not, we shelve it. We’re not an incubator where applicants apply to work with us. We build our own ideas, that our team has picked, that we run. And we don’t build pie-in-the-sky potential billion dollar startups like you typically see in Silicon Valley. We focus on niche and revenue producing businesses.

We are a team. More importantly (and to my great relief), this isn’t the Elijah Show any more. This about something bigger. We’re a team of builders who can think. Thinkers who do. And we’re all in it together. The agency is the studio and the studio is the agency.

Matter Product Studio.

Biz #1 and the Journey Ahead

My biggest takeaway from last year was that working alone sucks. Matter is starting as a team of 4, with a breadth of experience across multiple industries (more on the team soon!). Not only am I happier working alongside just as hungry and ambitious people, it also increases my bus factor. It now takes 4 buses to kill Matter, not one. That’s what I call progress!

We’ve already begun our journey as a team with the pre-launch of our first business, The Greeting Card Club. Sign up, tell us a loved one’s birthday, and get a pre-stamped envelope + card sent to you 2 weeks before their birthday; just sign and send. We’re currently doing a referral campaign. Sign up if you want to remember your mom’s birthday for free. This is the first of many products we will launch in 2018.

The mission of 4 Weeks to Launch was to build products quickly and create a repeatable process for launching them. Matter is doing the same, but with extra emphasis on building sustainable businesses. The Greeting Card Club may never sell for $1B, but that’s not the point. It solves a very specific need (that I always seem to have) and we launched it in under 2 weeks. It’s these types of startups that we’re exploring.

4 Weeks to Launch has grown up! It’s evolved into Matter. Just like 4 Weeks to Launch, Matter wants to define the best process for launching startups. In less nebulous terms, we want to define a repeatable framework for launching profitable businesses; from idea validation to go-to-market strategy. And like 4 Weeks to Launch we will share all of our thundering successes and abysmal failures along the way.

In the upcoming months the Matter team will share more insights into how we launch our businesses, pick our ideas, and run our product studio.

Excited, intrigued or dissatisfied? Send this to “that” entrepreneur you know. !

Thanks for reading.

Elijah + Matter Team

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.

4 Weeks to Launch…Launch!

I am building a new mini startup every 4 weeks. The goal of each startup is to provide a useful product/service and to generate 💰. By blogging about my journey I aim to teach others about how to build a business rapidly through Silicon Valley know-how.

Why am I doing this?

Passive income is awesome! Invest once, then reap the rewards forever! At least this is how it goes in theory…. Technology or a lot of cash are the best ways to build passive income and since I don’t have millions to invest, I’ll focus my efforts on technology in the form of startups.

I moved to Silicon Valley 3 years ago and started Lenda with my co-founder Jason. Before that I dropped out of school and built a modest web dev/design shop in Philly. I’ve learned a lot about building businesses, however Silicon Valley still doesn’t have all the answers. The focus there is the classic method of spending time for money. The dream in San Francisco is the same broken dream as everywhere — work hard, get rich. In SF the dream just has more zeroes.

I believe time is wealth. Specifically freedom of choice with our time. We are wealthy when we no longer have to trade our time for money and are free to use our time however we choose; a day, month, year, lifetime, while never having to worry about shelter, comfort, food, security.

This kind of freedom is what I have always wanted to achieve and this is the focus of 4 Weeks to Launch.

4 Weeks to Launch format

Every month I will pick a new idea. I will test the hypothesis by using any legal (and moral) means. So we’re talking to people on the street, blowing up my personal Facebook, cold emails/phone calls. Anything. The goal of week 1 is to get at least 1 paying customer by the end of week. If we can do that we prove that someone is willing to pay for the product.

Week 2 is all about growth — can I get more users? Can my system handle more users, or do I need to make it more robust? How can I get an MVP as quickly as possible? There will be a lot of Google Sheets and Forms, as well as emails, texting and other unscalable tools.

In week 3 I’ll take my customers, feedback and MVP and start building a Ruby on Rails website. What does this idea look like in a self-sustaining platform? What do I have to delegate, automate, eliminate? What is absolutely necessary for a stand-alone solution?

Week 4 is the week for cleanup and blowup. How do I turn on the faucet with users? What is the least I can do for maximum value?

Why not just 1 startup?

One thing that I picked up in Silicon Valley is diversification is key to any investment strategy. Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors aim for 1 in 20 companies to actually do well. That’s only a 5% success ratio!

The problem with this model is that if you’re the entrepreneur, you either succeed or fail. You don’t have a portfolio of startups that you’re invested in. Your pool consists of 1. Your company.

I believe I can flip the model. Rather than build 1 $100,000,000 company, I’d rather build 10 $10,000,000 companies. I also think building smaller companies is more achievable. You can have 5 fail and still do well. Hell, you can have 9 fail and if only one does well you’re still set for life! With the Silicon Valley startup model you have one shot and if you miss, you have to restart way back at the beginning.

One might argue that I won’t be able to build a quality company in just 4 weeks. That’s true, but I believe I’ll be able to build quality MVP that is semiautonomous. After each startup incubates I’ll be able to find the 20% of the companies that make 80% of the revenue, and focus my efforts there.

Lastly Parkinson’s law states that a project will expand to take exactly the time allocated for it — might as well fail or succeed fast!

Free data and code!

All of my data, revenue, earnings for each of these startups will be publicly available. Some of my businesses’ source code will be open source. I want to help myself and make money, but it is almost equally rewarding to help others.

4 Weeks to Launch goals & OKRs:

Public accountability is one of the most effective tools I know of to make sure you do follow through. The more public, the more your fear of embarrassment at failing, and the internet is as public as you can get. These are the goals for 4 Weeks to Launch:

  • $10,000 / month with < 2hrs/week in necessary maintenance
  • Fully automated/delegated businesses to minimize my interaction
  • Build 1 new business every 30 days that generates revenue passively

How can you help?

Is the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard of? Impossible? Exciting? Want to do it with me? Let me know by leaving a comment or ❤️, upvoting on Hacker News or emailing me at elijahmurray@gmail.com.

P.S. I wish I could say that I was inspired by the founder of NomadList, levels.io’s 12 Startups in 12 Months. Sadly I came up with my 4 Weeks to Launch before learning of his adventures. If you haven’t heard his story check it out!