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.

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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.

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.