Building a startup in 28 days ain't easy

We tried a little experiment back in February called #standardfeb. You can read more about it here but the gist is that everyone on our team (8 of us) launched our own side project in the month of February. Where possible, we utilized one day a week to work on these projects and turn it into a bit of a competition where whomever drove the most revenue would “win”.

It’s one of those projects that kind of failed. By failed I mean we didn’t get super rich on any one idea. We underestimated how much work it takes to build these things. And we neglected to account for our client needs and how time consuming that could be. But in the end, we learned a lot about our own capabilities by pushing ourselves.

We interviewed each team member to ask what they learned and how their product evolved over the month.

Jared (our winner!): →
Jared started with a site that used the ghost of Kim Jong-Un to berate you into being productive (i personally loved it; most folks thought it was a joke though). About half way through the month he changed the tone and style a bit to be more comforting and was born. With 60 paying customers and a frontpage listing on ProductHunt at one point, MeetLeon emerged the winner. Jared’s learnings:
  • Start with vaporware. Build as little as possible
  • The solution needs something to get prospective customers to buy. It could be a well-designed website, a strong relationship, or high-qualtity content. This substance gives the prospective customer trust that your MVP can do what it says it can do.
  • Your product should require you to stay as close to your customer as possible

Interesting side note: uses SMS (via twilio) to correspond with the users of the system. Jared still personally interacts with each of the users. Takeway: don’t automate until you absolutely have to.

Purge + Spruce
Jenn’s idea is to provide a home organization and purging business. Do you have a lot of shit you wanna get rid of? Jenn’s your gal. Her takeaways:
  • Get something out the door
  • Don’t overthink and strive for perfection

The premise to Unwinder was to provide a simple Android app that encourages people who sit on their ass all day to stretch periodically throughout the day. What he learned:
  • When venturing into unknown territory, be prepared to try something at least 2-3 times
  • Building native apps takes waaaaay longer than you would’ve previously thought

This idea is near and dear to Ace's heart in that he has a passion for music. Originally slated to be a personal theme song engine, Sonare pivoted to backing tracks for podcasts, youtube, and indie videos. Ace learned:
  • The time it takes to make a custom song is more than I anticipated.
  • Generating interest in one option is more important than catering to every use case.

Elbowgig is the craigslist for people who aren’t shady as hell. You can post a “gig” on the site and let people bid on it (i posted a job for someone to come clean some debris out of my backyard. another person asked for Portuguese translations). What Abdul learned:
  • Only build features when you absolutely need them
  • Getting traction takes constant effort. For developers, this can feel really tedious and strip away some of the fun of building a product.

Similar to MJ’s idea, Scott wanted the chair bound developer to be more active. His website would (will?) send three texts each day with simple office driven exercises one can do. His key takeaways:
  • Don’t stress the details at first
  • Advertising, or getting the word out is key. Can’t make money if no one knows you exist

Jonathan was a long time iPad fan until he sold it and decided to get his Kindle on. Unfortunately, kindle doesn’t have a nice elegant Pocket interface the way his iPad did. Pocket to kindle was born. He learned much, including:
  • If you’re a tech heavy solution, prototype early so you can understand API limitations
  • If you rely on 3rd party software, ask them for help. You’ll be surprised at what they can give you

I have a long standing desire to wed technology with real life. So I created Be Someone’s Valentine. A service that would allow you to sign up and send a Valentine’s card to someone totally random. I had one very very big takeaway from this:
  • Startups take so much time. We hear almost every day about the startup that dreamt something up on a tuesday, built it on a wednesday, and got rich as shit by friday. The reality is that for every one of these complete surprises there are literally thousands of other projects toiling away in obscurity. Building a successful product is part hard work, part luck, and part good idea.

As a company, we may not try anything quite like this again. We love building products and will continue to expand And we’ll also be the sorts of folks who aren’t ashamed to throw something out in the wild only to see it be totally ignored. Because what else are we going to do? Sit tight and wait for the perfect idea to find us?

Mar. 10 2015