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!


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!


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 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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