How does a single blog post on UI prototyping become an MVP built in 3 hours, and later a product used by over 50,000 designers, entrepreneurs, product managers, and teachers in more than 80 countries?
Is it enough to create a product and “just launch it” to get that kind of traction? Or do you need to work hard on marketing your product after you launch it?
Are press mentions and blog posts good enough to build sustainable long-term traffic?
How do you price your product to maximize revenue while keeping the price reasonable enough for people to buy?
Ever heard about the ultimatum game? It’s probably one of the most important concepts related to entrepreneurship, and one that had profound impact on my business.
Here’s how it works:
One of the most valuable skills to have as an entrepreneur is the ability to strip an idea down to its core essence so that you can validate it quickly and cheaply before creating the full product.
This is the story of my most recent launch (GUIToolkits.com), how I tested the market demand for the idea before creating the product, and how I stripped out part of it, made it profitable and used it to bootstrap the rest of the product.
Every one fails at some point or another. However, very few can survive so many failures, and fewer would take one hit after another, and turn them into a lifetime of accomplishments.
The following is the true story of a man who did exactly so…
It all happened too fast…
The raft entered the rapid, heading directly toward the rock wall, and bouncing up and down through the waves. I heard the guide yelling something about leaning in and holding on. The side of the raft hit the rocks and was thrust by the strong current further up the wall. The four people who were sitting across on that raft a minute ago were now almost directly above me, holding on to their dear lives.
Then Ralph fell off the raft and was swept away by the strong current.
But that wasn’t the worst part…
The huge raft behind us was now entering the rapid, with 9 people onboard, and was heading on a direct course toward the rock wall that Ralph was trying to swim away from.
I heard our guide yelling “NO! NO!” and took a final glance at Ralph’s floating body disappearing behind the big blue raft.
I closed my eyes and clenched my teeth. That was NOT how I’d imagined a relaxing white water rafting trip to end…
Over the years, I’ve heard mixed opinions about this topic. Some people say keep your job and work on your idea on the side, because you need the income and you never know if your idea is good enough. Others say having a job will prevent you from giving your full attention to your idea, which might be the reason it fails or someone else beats you to it.
And I’ve seen friends who left their jobs pursuing an entrepreneurial dream, only to start looking for another job a few months later, and others who never regretted their decision to quit.
I recently learned an interesting fact: Most of the fuel in a space shuttle is burnt in the first few minutes of launch, in order to bring the shuttle to enough speed and altitude to escape Earth’s gravity without falling back.
That speed is called escape velocity.
Once the shuttle breaks free, much less fuel is needed to make it to the orbit.
Why is it interesting?
I recently had a very interesting conversation with a friend who recently launched an online business, and it surprised me how our fears are never what they seem to be
It went something like this:
Do you check your email first thing in the morning? Do you answer your phone when it rings? Do you reply every message and tweet you receive?
If so, you might be sacrificing a lot more than just your time and focus; When you do these things, you are playing your role in the selfless game.
It’s a mutual game that we’ve been playing for decades with our families, friends, teachers, managers, and spouses. And the rules are simple: we are expected to answer other people’s requests, and we are greatly rewarded with praise and approval, and with the comfort that others will also do the same for us. Failure to play by the rules might cause others to feel ignored or unappreciated, which may lead them to treat us the same way in the future.
The past couple of months have been very interesting. Since launching Keynotopia, I’ve witnessed many serendipitous events that made me believe that the simple act of starting up something without knowing how to finish it ends up attracting those who can help finish it.
This is one of those events:
One of the most frequent requests from Keynotopia customers had been a mobile app to help preview clickable PDF files without accidentally popping up toolbars and breaking the illusion of the prototype (especially during user testing). Obviously, no PDF reader on the iPhone or iPad was ideal for that scenario, and I knew it was time to create a viewer app for Keynotopia.
The problem was that I had no experience with iOS development, and didn’t have the time to learn it and create the apps. I also knew that finding a good iOS developer who wasn’t working on his own app was like finding a needle in a haystack. At that time, I was doing some updates to the templates, and decided I’d revisit the idea after I finish.
Before the updates were done, I received the following email from a customer:
In 2007, after four years of serving time in a large organization, I decided to work with startups. Here are some memorable conversations I’ve had in both environments.
Photo Credit: Pranav Mistry
Being a good hacker is an invaluable skill. But is being a coder the same as being a hacker? Is it possible that coders are at a creative disadvantage to hackers who don’t know how to code?
Here’s a story that helped me see the difference.
I was recently invited to mentor at Startup Weekend. On Friday night, we gathered to eat pizza, pitch ideas, create teams and discuss launch plans. At the end of the day, everyone was feeling great about what they’d be working on for the rest of the weekend.
I arrived Saturday morning to find people hard at work. Some people stayed overnight to jump start their ideas. That’s the startup spirit!
But I was surprised to see so many teams already writing code! It seemed that the rush to get something up and running by Sunday evening made most teams focus on implementing their first ideas, rather than exploring different ideas and hacking the best ones.
Last year, I played a game that changed my life.
I was taking an improv class, and the instructor gave us a game to play before getting on stage, so that we can turn off our over-rationalizing minds and get into the flow. The game was called Status, and it went like this:
A stack of card was shuffled face down on a table, and each person was asked to choose a card without looking at it. Then the instructor asked us to get on stage, and raise our cards against our foreheads so that they are facing the rest of the group. Each person was automatically assigned a “status” corresponding to their card. Then the instructor suggested a business situation for us to enact in a way that helps each person guess the number on their forehead correctly. How would we do that? By changing our postures and tone of voice to match our estimated status and how it ranks against the status we see on other people’s forehead. For instance, if I am guessing the card on my head to be a 8, and I meet with a queen, I’d lower my voice and stand in a way that reflect the other person’s status dominance over mine. And if I meet a 5, I’d assume a higher posture and voice and may be give an order or two. If the person suddenly assumed a different posture and voice, it could mean that either she or I have the wrong guess. The goal wasn’t to challenge each other, but to help each other make the right guess.
After playing the game for about 15 minutes, I had guessed that my number was 9. I was a 10.
So what was shocking about that game?
Several people asked why I chose WordPress as a platform to launch Keynotopia. Before answering, I’d like to share a short story:
When I was at Microsoft, I worked with great developers. But one of them stood out: He was extremely productive, his code was clean, well commented, and almost bug-free. One day, I got curious about the tools he was using and dropped by to ask him. To my surprise, I found him using Vi on a three year old laptop. When I asked him why he wasn’t ordering a new machine or using Visual Studio to write code, he smiled answering: "Because this works for me.”
When my earlier post on how I launched a profitable product in 3 hours with a $47.50 budget made it to the homepage of hacker news, the most voted comments requested that I’d go through the specifics of how I did the launch and which tools I used.
So this time we’re getting our hands dirty.
How did I end up with this system? After trying so many setups, from coding the whole website in HTML/CSS/PHP to using online WYSISYG website builders, this is the one that gave me best results in a fraction of the time and cost.
I’ve seen startups paying thousands of dollars to have someone create their websites, and spending weeks with freelancers and design agencies when they could have whipped together the whole thing in one weekend.
I am using Keynotopia as an example, which is an eCommerce site, but I’ve used the same setup and tools to launch websites for products and services before. It works for more than 80% of the cases.
Which one would you rather have: A finished perfect product that you spend a year or two creating and optimizing before launch? or a half-baked product that you launch in a couple of weeks, and that people start to use right away?
I was lucky enough to experience both cases first-hand. Here are two stories to illustrate the difference:
In 2009, I decided to take time off from consulting and create my own product. My idea was to build a platform like about.me for creative professionals. I did some research, found users who needed the product and were willing to test it, and decided on the initial feature set. I anticipated it would take 3 months to build the initial prototype, and I was confident in my estimation of the design and coding work needed.
But that wasn’t the problem.
The year is 2007, and I had just left Microsoft to dive into the startup world. Like many first time entrepreneurs, I was very excited about the adventure. And like many first time entrepreneurs, I didn’t know where to start.
So I attended events, meetups, conferences, and mingled with the local startup community in Seattle. When time came to move to the Bay Area, I found even more events, more meetups, and more conferences. The startup ecosystem was so busy and alive, and I found a wealth of knowledge and experience being shared, which I consumed eagerly.
There were also blogs, videos, interviews, and books that I ingested with passion. They made great conversation topics during the events, the meetups and the conferences.
I even joined a startup incubator!
Ideas can be paralyzing, and it seems like the more ideas we get, the less likely we are to pick one and act on it.
When the paradox of choice kicks in, some of us opt for postponing the choice, others choose one idea and feel guilty about the ones they left behind, and many stay stuck in square zero trying to make the “right decision”.
It doesn’t have to be that hard!
After being stuck in square zero several times, I came up with a quick formula that made my affair with ideas short and sweet. I basically have a list of 9 questions that often rule out all ideas except one or two that I start working on, without feeling stuck or guilty. Here they are:
So you have a startup idea that you’re very excited about. You believe it’s going to be the next big thing. You passionately share it with few friends asking for their opinions. And you spend your lunch hour daydreaming about TechCrunch’s post on launch day, and on acquisition day.
Then comes this little voice saying that the idea may be silly. May be someone else is already working on it, and may be you’ll end up making a fool of yourself, leaving a secure job with a monthly paycheck to chase a phantom of your own imagination.
How do you know that your idea is good enough before you add it to your "may be someday" list, or leave your job and spend several months in the corner of your bedroom learning Rails and coding it?
The answer is:
“Do you think I have what it takes to be an entrepreneur?”, asked Laura.
The question took me by surprise: She’s been considering leaving her corporate job for the past couple of months, and do her own startup. I was afraid my answer might alter her decision one way or another. “I don’t know,” I answered, ” Why don’t you give it a try and see if it works out”.
But I was unsatisfied with my own answer, and I kept thinking about it for the past couple of days.
This morning, while reading Carl Jung’s “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”, I found my answer.
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I'm a serial entrepreneur, product designer, and startup advisor.
Previously designed and helped launch more than 12 startups, four of which have already been acquired.
Currently, I run several profitable eCommerce and educational platforms for designers, and I am working on a new startup.
Featured by Inc magazine, Entrepreneur magazine, Mixergy, Smashing Magazine, Swiss Miss, The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW), and several entrepreneurship and design publications.
You should follow me on Twitter
- How to create interactive iPad app prototypes in 30 minutes Using Keynote or PowerPoint
- What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Startups 4 Years Ago
- How I launched a profitable product in 3 hours
- My four steps to the epiphany: Lessons learned from creating a minimally viable research product
- How it all began (A personal story)