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 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?
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Let me know your thoughts in a comment!

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