How to Build a Box Subscription Site in 1 Day

Learning a new skill = bad

Building an ecommerce subscription store has been surprisingly difficult. For the past 2 weeks I’ve been working with a new framework Moltin, building a custom store. This affords me far more customization and scalability than any other method but it comes at a price–it’s slow, complex, and the fact that Moltin is an early stage startup doesn’t help. I’ve found over half a dozen bugs and missing documentation, further slowing down development.

I thought that Moltin was the right choice for my subscription store. What I realized was that learning a new skill is actually bad, at least at times. The flexibility that I desired actually made things more complex and frustrating. When you need to get something done, stick with what you know and don’t try to learn.

Solve the problem you have today

Moltin was also the wrong choice because I focused on “the future” instead of “the now”. If Guitar String Box blows up and needs to be really scalable, sure, Moltin is probably better than other solutions. But that solves a problem I may never have, and creates problems right now. Solve the problem that you have now when in the validation phase of building a business. You can deal with the future when you have paying customers, not before.

Rely on what you already know works

I scrapped my site and went back to the drawing board. What would be the fastest solution that would work? Both Squarespace and Shopify are good platforms for building stores, but neither natively support subscription products. The plugins that let you set up subscriptions suck because customers have to go through extra checkout steps. Not good.

WordPress comprises 26% of the internet. WooCommerce (biggest ecommerce plugin for WordPress) has over 2 million installs in the internet. Ok, that works. Let’s use that.

Leverage your strengths, don’t improve your weaknesses (when focused for speed)

WordPress also has the added benefit of being easy to work with and something I’ve spent a lot of time learning when just starting out. I spent 2 weeks trying to get Moltin to work and had a half finished product. 2 hours into WordPress setup I had my entire store built. Subscriptions, products, dynamic pricing, everything I wanted. By leveraging skills I already had I went from 2 weeks to 2 hours. I’ll never make that mistake again.

Tools Used

  • WordPress
  • WooCommerce
  • WooCommerce Subscriptions
  • Storefront WordPress Theme
  • Storefront WordPress Child Theme (for customizations)
  • Some basic customizations to the theme to make it not look crappy

When to Learn, When to Do

Learning new tools is fun but it doesn’t get you results fast. I didn’t start building Guitar String Box with my goal clearly in mind. If the primary goal is to learn, fine, then focus on that. But if your primary goal is to get build a business or get something done, then focus on that and use what you already know.

Don’t make work harder for yourself by learning new tools and building for scale. You can deal with that later when you need to. Right now you need to get users. Focus on complete, not perfect.

Next steps

The next steps for Guitar String Box are to design the website, setup secure checkout, and get the products! The Chinese factory that’s giving us the strings should be able to ship them in 2 weeks! I’ll post pics once I have samples in hand.

I’ve been working on 4 Weeks to Launch for 6 months. So far I have 2 failed products, 1 awaiting app store approvals, and 1 in progress. Once Guitar String Box is completed I’m going to teach myself the final piece of the puzzle, getting users! Here’s the

  • ✅ Idea selection
  • ✅ building the product
  • ✅ staying focused
  • ✅ optimizing for results/speed
  • ⬜️ getting users/revenue

Question: What do you need most help with? Idea selection, staying focused, building the product, or getting users/revenue. Let me know by email, reply/comment, or phone.

Startup 4: Week 1 – Building an ecommerce business from scratch in a month

Startup #3 Update

Last month’s startup, Extreme Vacation Deals, is submitted to the App and Play Stores and waiting final approval! Make sure to download it at extremevacationdeals.com once it’s live.

Goals Update

The goal of 4 Weeks to Launch is to make passive income. I haven’t made any yet. That’s a problem.

The first step, I thought, was to be disciplined at building products. And fast. I couldn’t generate revenue without something to sell.

This time around I’m going to shake things up. While I will still be building a new product, I’ll also focus on marketing and user acquisition (my old nemesis).

You can make money with marketing and no product, but you can’t make money from a product with no marketing. It doesn’t matter if you’ve built the best app in the world if no one knows about it! It’s like that tree in the forest thing…I think…

Without further ado, Startup #4.

Startup #4: Guitar String Box

Guitar String Box and it is a guitar string subscription service. Guitar strings delivered, every month.

I started this project awhile ago but haven’t focused on it until now. Online store subscription (whether digital or physical) is one of the best passive income models. A great example of this is Dollar Shave Club. If you haven’t heard of them before, they were bought for $1,000,000,000 (billion) and they’re f***ing great.

Subscription is great for passive income. Get a customer once, and then generate revenue over and over and over.

Getting the Goods

I also have a great deal for the guitar strings. A Chinese supplier is giving me the strings for free. Sounds too good to be true, but in reality it’s a good opportunity for the manufacturer. I have a friend who works with the Chinese supplier extensively already, so the strings a free add-on they’re offering. The factory also gets co-branded packaging and the potential for a lot more business in the future.

It’s amazing what you can get if you just ask. Worst case scenario you get a, ‘no’, best case scenario you get exactly what you want. Low risk, high reward.

Targeting to get the first 500 strings packages in from China next month. We’ll repackage and ship via USPS on the 1st of every month!

The landing page for pre-registration is live so sign up if you’re a guitarist or want to give guitar strings to someone as a gift.

This past week I’ve been working on building the ecommerce store.

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

Building the Store

After a lot of research I found there aren’t many options to start a physical product subscription site. Cratejoy.com is the only option but it’s priced at $99/month and near impossible if you ever want to migrate away from them. I decided to build from scratch using a new startup’s API based ecommerce platform named Moltin. It’s more scalable and I have full control over everything. Hook up to their backend for inventory management and you’re good to go.

Moltin is a startup, and with startups come problems. Their team has been very supportive on their slack channel and my hope is that once I build one store, I will be able to quickly spin up other stores in the future. Invest now, rewards later.

As with all my projects, I try to keep things as bare bones as possible. I have 3 different products, light, medium and heavy gauge guitar strings. You can see the ecommerce store scaffolding here.

Guitar string subscription is a very simple service with a niche audience. I plan on marketing directly to this audience using social media ads, squeeze pages, retargeting, and email drip campaign. More on that in future weeks.

Enough writing. Time to get back to programming.

Question of the Week: Why do you want to make passive income? Let me know by email, reply/comment, or phone.

PS. If you liked it, sign up for mailing list.

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 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?

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!