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.

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

Sign up for mailing list if you want to these weekly updates in your inbox. Promise, no spam, only posts.

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.

Seriously, sign up for mailing list.

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.

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

  • Do you want to learn how to design a mobile app? Let me know why or why not below.
  • Sign up for mailing list if you want to these weekly updates in your inbox. Promise, no spam, only posts.

Startup 1: Week 4–30 Day Startup Learnings

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.

This is the 4th week of my 4-week-old startup, JFDI.Ninja. I’ve faced a lot of bumps with getting up and running, both with JFDI.Ninja and 4 Weeks to Launch. I’ve learned a lot, both in what to do next time and also what not to do. Thanks for all the support in keeping me going with 4 Weeks to Launch!

JFDI.Ninja lives on!

JFDI.Ninja is up and running smoothly and with little maintenance. I estimate to get about 1000 unique visitors a month, though it may be lower depending on backlinks and SEO.

Only installed Google Analytics part way through, after launch.

Last week I hired a virtual assistant. All new tasks will be forwarded to him, with me doing review. We’ll see how it goes, but ultimately I built the business that solved the problem for me. If JFDI.Ninja gets more traffic I will set up the Google Form to go directly to Slack. By having multiple virtual assistants working on the tasks in Slack I can scale quickly.

Review of last week: scrappy marketing

Do what you like to do. I’ve been trying to beat myself into doing marketing and having little effectiveness. DON’T DO THIS! Figure out any way to not do what you don’t want to do. Hire someone, delegate, automate or work around it. I knew this in my head but sometimes you have to go through something painful to internalize it.

I don’t like scrappy marketing. So what do I do next time? Find something that is easier and more my pace. This means focusing on referability, or low paid acquisition cost. Referability relates to the product (I like) and paid acquisition relates to funnel optimization (something I also like). Commenting, cold messaging, and reddit-ing are all things I don’t like so I just won’t do them. Delegation at it’s finest is just effective laziness.

I had a friend email me with suggestions for marketing and thought I’d share since I found it useful:

  • [don’t] do adwords/fb ads at least until your know the LTV of the customer since your price is so low.
  • …advertise on entrepreneur fb groups. message the moderator to let them know the service and sometimes they will send out a message to the group about it.
  • reddit ads may be a good option since impression are so incredibly cheap.

T-Dog McAwesome ← that’s a real last name

JFDI.Ninja postmortem

What is a postmortem? Postmortem is a term popularized by startups. After completing a project the team discusses what went wrong (hopefully it’s not over a dead body).

  • Business was solving a “generic problem”.
    • A business should solve a specific problem for people
    • Isolate a specific pain (save money on cellphone overages), and target that with branding/ads
  • No “launch strategy”
    • Make plan on where to “launch” product for initial users. Be specific with links, audience sizes. Can delegate
  • No shareability
    • Add “share” buttons everywhere
  • Add testimonials from day 1
    • Testimonials give immediate credibility to a product
    • Get friends to give you testimonials so you have them on Day 1 or fake them until you have real ones
  • 24 hours is exhausting; moving to 48 hours
    • Don’t make a product that is stressful to produce. If it is, hire someone to be stressed for you.
  • Use google forms from day 1
    • Spreadsheets > Email.
  • Establish how to invoice from day 1
    • Billing through paypal ended up being another chore. Make sure you know how you will invoice/collect and make it painless

Metrics & goals

  1. See Metrics for JFDI.ninja
  2. See Metrics for 4 Weeks to Launch
  3. Week 2 Revenue: $6

4 Weeks to Launch vs JFDI.Ninja

If I’m honest with myself JFDI.Ninja wasn’t the focus of month 1–it was 4 Weeks to Launch. I’m working to build a sustainable system for launching businesses. Businesses are my goal and my product, and JFDI.Ninja was just that. I’m proud of what I’ve done in 1 month but also know that there’s a ton of more work to do. I’m excited to build off of what I’ve learned in the first month and push startup #2 further. I have big plans for it, and will teaming up with 2 people (one of whom does marketing!) for it.

The Ask

  • What do you hope to learn by reading 4 Weeks to Launch?
  • Sign up for mailing list if you want to these weekly updates in your inbox. Promise, no spam, only posts.

Startup 1: Week 3–Overnight** Success

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.

Overnight success is awesome, right? Wake up in the morning to see thousands of dollars in your bank account? Ok, that’s enough daydreaming. Back to reality.

We all have a vision of successful people. They are superhumans. Titans. Unlimited willpower, perfect problem-solving abilities, and the ability to work tirelessly. In truth successful people aren’t as super as imagined. They’re a combination of systems, testing for quick results, and having the right team.

#1 Build systems, not willpower

I’ve been struggling with blog posts because I’ve been trying to brute force my way into writing. Every Monday I begin by bashing my head against my keyboard for hours until I have a blog post. It hasn’t become easier.

That’s because willpower is really tough to “tap into”. It’s a finite resource, and is only useful in spurts. If it was limitless, then sure, we could solve all problems by force but willpower is not on willcall. That’s where systems come in.

Systems (and habits) are far more effective than willpower. Once a habit is in motion the amount of effort needed to sustain is reduced. It’s like going to the gym–going every week is more important than going for 5 hours once a month.

To help with my blogging I’ve built a writing schedule to work on blog posts throughout the week instead of just one day. I also made a blog post template document to help with getting started.

Simple systems like this may seem small but have power when put together. Don’t wait a “moment of inspiration” to get started. This isn’t sustainable and you will fizzle out. Instead, focus on your average speed. Pick a pace that is comfortable, and do it every single day. James Clear has a post about someone writing 3 books in 9 months using this technique.

Get scrappy–big results, small effort

I’ve also had trouble with gaining traction with JFDI.ninja in Week 2. Now that the product is finished (fun part), I need users (unfun part). And since I don’t enjoy marketing, I’ve stalled.

A nice side effect of 4 Weeks to Launch is exposing my weaknesses to the world. Marketing is one of those weaknesses. I was supposed to focus on marketing this week and didn’t.

How do I fix this?

Focus on the right mindset. Don’t sulk and complain, but come up with solutions. Ask yourself, “If I knew nothing about X but I had to have results in 24 hours, what would I do?”

This is a powerful question. As an open ended question, there are no wrong answers so you start focusing on solutions not blockers.

My list of scrappy hacks to get users:

  • Post on forums
  • Post in comment sections on blogs
  • Reach out to bloggers
  • Get on indiehackers.com
  • Post on Reddit
  • DM friends
  • Ask for people to share/refer
  • Tell more people about it
  • Redefine how to make it shareable and pitchable. It’s hard to describe
  • Pitch to press
  • Email people daily asking, “what’s 1 thing you’ve been putting off?”
  • Adwords/fb
  • Producthunt
  • Add social proof to website
  • Hand out fliers that say, “Get free time @ http://JFDI.ninja”

Voila! Readymade marketing strategy. I pared the list down to actionable tasks:

  • Find forums/blogs about productivity and post, offering my service
  • Reach out to bloggers about productivity and see if they will endorse my site
  • DM friends on social media and ask them to use JFDI.ninja or ask if they can refer busy friends
  • Add customer testimonials on the website
  • Post on Reddit

This week I’ll try as many different tactics as I can and see what sticks.

Seek professional free help

Most of us try to do everything on our own. Who wants to ask for help? I’ve many had friends and strangers offer to help with 4 Weeks to Launch, but have been stubborn.

But why not ask for help? Seriously, why not? You can’t build greatness on your own, so find others who are excited about what you’re doing.

I’m starting to get people involved with 4 Weeks to Launch. The more I get others involved the more 4 Weeks to Launch will succeed.

Metrics & goals

  1. See Metrics for JFDI.ninja
  2. See Metrics for 4 Weeks to Launch
  3. Week 2 Revenue: $8

This week’s plan/goals

  1. Focus: Get Users (weekly goals link)
  2. Revenue Goal: $50 or 25 orders by next post

This week has been a big learning experience. Hitting the marketing wall forced me to work on solving the problem, even if the solution will take time. Marketing is a huge part of building a company and without users there is no business!

What are you pissed at yourself for?

  • What long term goal do you have but you can’t quite seem stick to? Let me know in a comment and hold yourself accountable!
  • Sign up for mailing list if you want to these weekly updates in your inbox. Promise, no spam, only posts.

Startup 1: Week 2 – How I Built a Startup in a Week

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.

Week 1 has been hell from an emotional level, but I also made major progress; I built a startup in a week, booked my first sale, and messed up a lot on the way. This post is about what worked and didn’t work.

Progress at a glance:

JFDI.Ninja – 1/30 2/15 Goal
Average Daily Revenue $.40 $33.00
MAU (Monthly Active Users) 1 250
Average Daily Users .3 17
see all metrics here

How to build a startup in a week

What’s the strategy?

Week 1’s focus was building the MVP (minimal viable product) & proof of concept. I was successful but ran into many snags along the way. If you missed week 1’s idea selection, read about it here.

I aimed to keep the product dead simple so I could focus on quick progress. Because of this I also used little of my technical background. This experiment should be replicable by anyone, regardless of technical ability. Not using a lot of tech skills also helps keep the project going quickly.

To get started I brainstormed what the simplest version of the service would look like. Ask, “can I sell my product/service with only…”

  1. Pen and paper?
  2. A spreadsheet?
  3. A cell phone?
  4. Email?

Almost all businesses can be boiled down one of these methods. Definitely not scalable running a business with just a cell phone, but for proof of concept? Definitely. Paul Graham founder of Y Combinator writes about it here. Stay scrappy. Don’t over-engineer anything. Go fast. I picked email as the best tool and began to build!

Step by step process

I always start with design to figure out what I’m thinking. I used a tool called Sketch which similar to Photoshop. If you don’t have design skills you can use Google Sites, Unbounce or Weebly but ultimately focus on speed not design.

Based on my mockup I used the barebones HTML to build my single landing page. If you need a good HTML responsive template, I used Skeleton CSS.

Sketch has a lot of plugins and I used a free one called Zeplin to export the CSS needed for the site. Saved a lot of time by not having to write any CSS by hand!

Again, I am razor focused on keeping the product as minimal as possible. Skeletal. What’s the barebones of a virtual assistant? Email. I built 3 email templates for the site for ordering a Task. Click the link from the website to place an order. Not scalable but definitely effective.

I already have a hosting account with Hostgator so I bought a new domain and wired everything up using an FTP client. Site = live.

Time to test the market! I sent the link to a few friends for feedback and 1 person ordered almost immediately! I completed the task within 24 hours and billed my friend, a successful transaction. And we’re a business that has create money! That’s more than Snapchat and Facebook can say about their first year, and it only took a week.

Other Wins

  1. Setup 4weekstolaunch.com to be it’s own blog/website. I plan on building out more resources links and content over time.
  2. Set up Google Analytics for both sites to I can get some juicy metrics
  3. Half set up a mailing list. Some people have been asking if they could get updates in their inbox

How to stay super fast–avoid these!

During week 1 I felt like I was floundering. Doing this solo is scary to say the least! I struggled with making time to 4WTL, but more importantly how to be effective with my time. Here’s what I struggled with:

Perfection. We want things to be perfect. It’s easier to continue to tweak something than to do the task you know you need to do. I definitely spent too much time on things that didn’t matter, trying to make them perfect. To be effective, get used to accepting ‘good enough’. You can always come back later.

The name. What’s in a name? I spent hours browsing different URLs that were available. The longer I browsed the more and more frustrated I got. Fed up, I picked JFDI.ninja and moved on. This isn’t my first child I’m naming here…So what is JFDI?

Startup culture has adopted Nike’s, “Just Do It” slogan and rebranded it as, “Just Fucking Do It”. Example: rather than spending hours searching for the perfect domain, just fucking do it–buy a URL and move on. Two of my friends have JFDI tattooed on their forearms, for real. (pic of them here of @alexhillman and @martinobranding)

Friends’ Feedback. Getting feedback is good but at the right time and place. Put your head down and get it done. Get feedback once you’ve gotten started and actually need it. Push past the desire to get validation from others and let your friends wait.

Distractions. Ever problematic with no easy answer. One tip to stay focused is plan your work then work your plan. I spend 30 minutes on Sunday planning out my week, day by day. It helps to not feel overwhelmed and helps to know what I’m doing when I wake up Thursday.

Work/Life Balance. What’s work life balance for an entrepreneur? Moving on…

Inbox Purgatory

  • Spent too long emailing people.
  • Started reply to emails with bullets.
  • I like it.

Metrics & goals

  1. See Metrics for JFDI.ninja
  2. See Metrics for 4 Weeks to Launch

This week’s plan/goals

Focus: Refine Product (weekly goals link)

Revenue Goal: 4 orders in 1 day

This week I need to get feedback and users. I’ll be hustling to promote JFDI.ninja all across the web. If you have suggestions, feedback let me know! If you want to annihilate your to do list go to JFDI.ninja and click Book Now.

Want to talk to me live?

  1. Would it be interesting to see me livestream? If so, what should I stream?
  2. Sign up for mailing list if you want to these weekly updates in your inbox. No spam.

Let me know your thoughts in a comment!

P.S. Special thank you AJ (aka Dr. Doom) and Goodwin for all the support!

Startup 1: Week 1  – Idea Selection

Startup 1: What I’m building in 4 weeks

Name: JFDI Ninja

Quick Pitch: Pay per task virtual assistant, 24hr or less

The problem (marketing-speak)

You are busy. Really busy. And when you’re not busy, it’s not like you want to do chores. They’re a pain and you need a little ‘me’ time. So that doctor’s appointment that you should go to never gets scheduled and that oil change waits another month. I mean, you have to live life, right?

The solution (marketing-speak)

Get rid of all your chores that never seem to leave your to do list! $2/task buys you mental freedom. Mental freedom’s priceless — but it’s $2. Schedule doctors appointments, book reservations, find that perfect date spot or research who’s in your next meeting. Post to your to-do (or entire task) list and get it done within 24 hours. No setup, no subscription, no bullshit.

Market validation

There is already demand for this service. TaskRabbit, Odesk, Fiverr and many different virtual assistant (VA) services. The biggest reason more people don’t use these VA services is that delegation is tough. Even more annoying, you typically have to pre-buy time with virtual assistants. My hypothesis is that by making it super easy to delegate tasks, more people will clean up their to-do lists.

Competition and their flaws

  • Fiverr: Predefined tasks, slow turn times, not good for personal life/VA work
  • Odesk: Hiring is a pain; all hourly
  • VA Services (YourManInIndia etc): Prepay hours, slow setup
  • TaskRabbit: Expensive, primarily in person tasks

Metrics & goals

I’m absolutely floored with the response I’ve gotten. I’ve had almost 3,000 views, 16 people emailing me with questions and 20+ offers from various people to help out. While I planned on doing 4 Weeks to Launch even if no one cared, it’s all the more exciting (and nerve-wracking!) to have so many people watching. I’m humbled. Thank you all for the support. I hope I can provide some insight and motivation in building businesses. To see all my metrics, view my Key Metrics spreadsheet here.

This week’s plan/goals

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.

From: Post #1: Four Weeks to Launch

I’ve gone a little more in-depth to map out what my goals are for this week. You can see my full breakdown in my Monthly, Weekly, Daily Goals spreadsheet here. Feel free to comment with questions. I’ll revise the spreadsheet as I go.

This month’s plan/goals

4 Weeks to Launch’s goal is to have passive income. That means by the end of Week 4 I aim to have $33 / day in revenue, with 0 hours needed to run the business. That’s a pretty ludicrous goal! If I get there I will be absolutely thrilled. If I don’t, screw it — let’s keep going.

Let’s talk idea selection

What’s the value of an idea?

Idea value is a tricky thing. People tend to be extremely guarded about their ideas — gotta protect the next “billion dollar idea”…cough cough…

The problem with guarding ideas is that they are worthless on their own. An idea only creates real value when you execute it — and execute it well.

4 Weeks to Launch aims to put ideas out there

I’m not fixating on any single idea. I love ideas. They’re cheap, malleable, and relatively unimportant on their own. What matters is execution: with work, grit, tears — even seeming failure — they all have the potential to become something epic.

I’m focusing efforts on the system of building startups instead of a single idea.

The first, second, third startups are only a byproduct of a good system.Again, execution is everything! I highly recommend reading ‘multiply’ by Derek Sivers, for more on this (2 min read).

How unique am I? Wrong question.

Execution does. If 50 people have the same exact idea, the one with the best execution wins by a landslide.

Uber vs Lyft vs Sidecar

Slack vs Hipchat

Facebook vs Myspace

They’re all almost identical products. One company executed better. Simple as that.

That being said, good ideas help. Especially further down the road. My idea selection focuses on simplicity, ideally meeting all of the following criteria:

1. Clear user, value, story / simple product

Because I’m building a new startup every month, I want to make sure that I pick products that are simple. This means that my product should serve a single purpose. Not a lot of frills, extras or complex features. User wants X, website does X — and nothing else. This will focus my efforts to build a quality product.

2. Software as a Service (SASS)

Software as a service is just that — sell software (a website, app, desktop app) as a subscription or service. Build it once, sell it to multiple users over and over and over, typically as a subscription. This business model lends it self to passive income since it’s upfront investment for potentially limitless return.

3. Web Based

There are tons of different mediums for building businesses these days: brick n mortar, web, mobile, social platforms, voice (Alexa), VR/AR… Web is still king, however, so that’s where I’ll focus my efforts. Fewest barriers to entry. High traffic.

How can you help?

Is startup #1 is solving a problem for you? Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment or ❤️, upvoting somewhere on the interwebs (Hacker News, reddit) or emailing me at elijahmurray@gmail.com.

P.S. Anyone have ideas for a company name?