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 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.

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!