A Mindset Shift

This undertaking has been much more than I imagined, even already. There’s an old saying that I refer to from time to time.

It’s not what you know you don’t know, it’s what you don’t know you don’t know that will get you.

Shifting My Mindset

Over the weekend, I read Start Small, Stay Small (I also bought a few extra copies that I’m going to be giving away), and so much of it really blew my mind.

Focusing On the Product

Here’s a common scenario ever since I learned even the most basic programming task. I’m sitting at work or at home using a piece of software, and I think to myself, “I could totally make this better.”

I know, completely arrogant, and a little ridiculous, but tell me you haven’t done the same! Tell me you haven’t sat using Quickbooks for some reason and thought to yourself that if you ever had the time, you could write a better solution for business owners to keep their books.

What’s the second thought?

“Intuit made $4.2 BILLION dollars in 2015. Imagine what I could make with a better product?!”

I start thinking of the features Quickbooks has but doesn’t need; what it needs but doesn’t have; how unintuitive (no pun intended) the interface can be. Give me an uninterrupted year, and I’ll meet you at the billionaires club.

Make a better product, and people will line up to pay for it.

I know it’s unfair to disparage a perfectly good and extremely profitable company, but my point is that I’ve always been focused on the product. I imagine what database tables are needed, how you would code little portions, what the menu headings should read, etc.

Never once do I think of marketing, or advertising, SEO, business partnerships, or sales teams. After this weekend, I realized that this is why Intuit is so successful. They put the lion’s share of their time and energy into getting people to buy their software.

Learning What You Don’t Know

It has slowly been sinking in, but it’s hard to argue that the product is the least important part of running a business. If people don’t buy your product, who cares how much better it is?

If I’m being honest, here’s how I really imagined this process going. Code up an app, email some people, throw them a free invite, get a mention or two from prominent bloggers, and watch the service grow. If the product is superior, people will talk about, tell their friends, and everyone will switch over.

Now I have a glimpse of why I saw a fat ZERO for sign-ups when I’ve launched products before.

I’ve only been vaguely aware that SEO, search keyword rankings, marketing, advertising, sales funnels, and partnerships exist, but have had no clue how important they are to your success.

This is worse than learning a new programming language, or database, because I don’t have the transferable skills or vocab to even understand the concepts right now. I have full confidence that I’ll learn it quickly, but I just feel like I keep putting more books into my Kindle queue.

At some point, I know I have to just say that I know enough and get to work, but I want to give myself a better chance of success from the jump.

My first step towards success is a realization that I have to focus less on the product. I have to become the sales guy, the SEO guy, the marketing guy.

I’m learning a lot and feeling a mix of being completely overwhelmed with how far I have to go, but at the same time being excited about a new challenge and learning experience.

Any Tips?

Got a favorite book or blog that will help? Know the best SEO girl in the biz? Share your thoughts below or shoot me an email.

As always, I appreciate you sharing your own valuable time to read and interact. If there is anything that I can help with, please reach out.

Week 1 Review

Week 1 is in the books, and I really can’t believe it’s already Friday! I’m consistently amazed at how fast time can go, and how poorly I still estimate how long something will take.

Without further ado, here are the answers to the questions I’m committed to answering weekly.

1. What did you do this week to make your business better for your customers?

This is a difficult question to answer at this stage because the “business” doesn’t really exist. I’m still in the validation phase, and trying to flesh out that I’m going to have a product to sell.

In the short term, that’s a non-answer, but I think it will make things better for the business long-term because I’ll have a better idea of what customers want and need.

2. What have you done to acquire more customers than last week?

As mentioned in my last post, I’m actually talking publicly about the business. I’ve emailed a few people in the space, gotten good feedback, and even got a nice tweet from Alex Turnbull of Groove. This was really exciting for me as the Groove blog was really one of the biggest inspirations for me to start this project.

I also had an interesting bit of feedback on the level of my goal from Peter Cooper — a prolific educator and curator for anyone unfamiliar. His take was that the goal of $1,000 in MRR is too low. He felt that by shooting for a more ambitious target, I may fall short but still land beyond my initial conservative hopes.

This is really something I’m still thinking over. On the one hand, I want to be conservative and have a realistically achievable goal. On the other, I’m still a dreamer and believe that this could turn into more. I’m definitely willing to move on this, but want to hear your opinion as well.

3. What did you do well that you should repeat?

I’m getting more comfortable cold-emailing people, and just putting myself out there. It can be intimidating to offer something up that you’re unsure about, but I’m starting to realize that there really isn’t any downside. Any potential embarrassment I thought I might have felt hasn’t been felt at all.

4. What did you do poorly that you should reduce?

I need to make it easy for people to offer feedback without taking too much of their time. I started to get discouraged when I would email someone and not get an instant response, or when I would publish a post and ask for “feedback” and not receive any.

First – Unless you’re on the mailing list, it wasn’t simple or obvious that I would love to have an email from you. I have since added my email address to the blog layout, and will start asking for emails.

Second – I added Disqus comments to each post to allow readers to post anything they’ve got there.

Finally – I need to start asking specific questions, and offering a way for people to respond quickly and easily. “What do you think?” or “What’s your feedback?” aren’t great questions.

5. What do you hope to do by next week?

I want to find someone who says whether they would pay for this product. I want to reach out to a few firms who develop with Shopify and Stripe to solicit their feedback. I need multiple people to tell me, “yes,” “no,” or “maybe.”

Everything in my bones wants to hop into a console and type: rails new but I’m going to resist until I know that a market exists.

Bonus: What can I do for you?

I’ve spent a lot of time asking things of my reader, but I want to make sure that I’m answering the questions you have. Want to know how I come up with business ideas? Want to know where I’ve fallen on my face before? Want me to help validate your ideas?

Email me! I’m committed to reading and responding to each email I receive (for now).

That’s all I’ve got this week, but plenty more to come.

The Opposite

Confession – This isn’t the first time I started to work on a side project. Like most of you, I have moments — sometimes daily — where I think of a great new idea and imagine it taking off.

Tell me if you’ve ever gone down this path:

  1. Have an idea.
  2. Get super excited.
  3. Lock yourself in a room and start coding. Implement all the awesome features that you’re sure everyone is going to need and love.
  4. Think about telling someone about it, but not feel comfortable because the product isn’t actually “ready.”
  5. Get discouraged because you have no traction (even though nobody knows about it).
  6. Dream about what it would be like to run your own successful business and think that the reason you failed is because the idea was no good to begin with.

…raises hand

I’ve done it. More than … more than twice.

I’m now commited to doing the opposite.

Today, I am telling everyone about my idea without having written a single line of code.

Notifications

In the course of my day job, I work with a lot of younger people; high school, college aged. Over the past 5 years or so, one thing has become more and more apparent: If you want them to know about something, the last thing you should do is email them. Half of the kids told you an old email that they now haven’t checked in 2 years, or they only check it a couple of times a month. Bottom line, email isn’t what they use.

I’m quite the opposite. I use email extensively personally and professionally. I do beleive that as these youngsters grow older, email will become more ubiquitous in their lives, unless of course Slack conquers the world.

Even as an email lover, there are times that it is not the best media, namely notifications. I’ve found that SMS messages work far better for getting information to people quickly and ensuring that they actually see it.

Like most everyone else in the free world, I order a lot online from Amazon. One of my favorite things about the Amazon iOS app is the native shipping notification. It doesn’t require any action, but just tells me that my order has shipped, is out for delivery, delivered, etc.

What if every store could provide real-time, customizable notifications via SMS instead of relying on installation of a native app.

SMS Hooks

So, here’s my big idea. I want to integrate with Shopify, Stripe, Chargify, etc. and provide developers, store owners, or anyone else the ability to quickly and easily pre-make SMS templates and automatically fire them off as events happen.

Scenario:

I order a new pair of tube socks from an online store. Immediately, I get an SMS message:

Hey Kyle! Here's your confirmation #123. Thanks for shopping with Awesome Socks!

A couple of days go by, and boom! Awesome Socks shoots me another…

Good news Kyle, order #123 just shipped! Thanks again, we're thrilled you're our customer.

Quick, simple notifications that I can read immediately and move on with my day.

Scenario #2:

I run a SAAS app, and a big customer’s card is declined when trying to renew. My phone buzzes with the following:

Big Time Customer, LLC's subscription renewal just failed. Your MRR will decrease by $500.

At the same time, Big Time Customer receives:

Your monthly subscription to My Sweet SAAS, LLC has failed. Please check your card information at https://bit.ly/QDh37c to ensure that your serice is not interrupted.

As the SAAS operator, I can now potentially avert a big drop in revenue and ensure that my customers never see a drop in their service, all because I got notified immediately and it didn’t get buried with the other hundred emails I already receive daily.

Scenario #3:

Just kidding, I think you get it. You build SMS templates to be triggered by an event.

No need to worry about old email addresses that aren’t checked any longer. No need to worry about bounces and whitelisting IP addresses to ensure email delivery. Quick, push notifications to the device that most people now have on them at all times, without the need for any app installation.

Time for feedback

OK – I’m ready for it. What do you think?

  1. Sounds awesome!!! When can I put my credit card down?
  2. I don’t know Kyle… sounds a bit far fetched. What else ya got?
  3. Seems OK. Let’s see how this plays out.

Seriously, I want to know what you think. Would you pay for this for your business? Would you set this up for your clients?

My experiement depends on you helping me validate my idea before I dump hours and dollars into building the software.

Thank you!

I’ve already heard from a few of you, and I sincerely appreciate the engagement. I hope to hear from all of you over the course of this venture, and that we can all share ideas to help one another achieve our goals.

The Side Project

The Side Project, or how I went from $0 to $1K MRR.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted to this blog, but today I am excited to start a new chapter and begin a series on, The Side Project.

“What in the world is he talking about?!”

Glad you asked! I’ve decided to go all in on a side project and want to document the process from start to finish. It’s something I’ve thought about for a long time, and I will put it off no longer.

Inspiration

Like most of you, I read a lot of blogs, listen to podcasts and always dream what it would be like if I were the driver’s seat.

In the spirit of Journey to $500K, the excellent business blog by the good folks at Groove, and the new direction that the boys at Thoughtbot have taken with their Giant Robots podcast, I want to document and share my journey of trying to build a viable business online.

The posts will consist of code, successes, failures, and the resources and products I use. My goal is to build a community to help hold each other accountable in our ventures, and provide usefull feedback to help us all achieve our goals.

Short term goals

My goal by January 1st, 2017 is to have a side project launched and have at least 1 paying customer. As a side project, I cannot devote 100% of my time to it, and we all go through periods of varying activity. I think several months from now is a reasonable expectation to have a product launchged.

Long term goals

As you may have guessed by the title, my goal by January 1st, 2018 is to have a net $1,000.00 in monthly recurring revenue. I can hear a lot of you at there already…

“That’s not really a lofty goal for a year and a half from now…”

You are right! But, it’s also what I consider realistic for a side project, and an extra $12,000.00 a year can make a big difference in most of our lives.

For me, I’d like to use the new money to fully fund my Roth IRA and contribute to our son’s 529 education account. I also think that a $1K MRR business has proved to be viable, and could potentially grow into more, but I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, as they say.

Format

I will post weekly updates on what I’ve done, what I’ve learned, and what comes next. I’m going to blatantly steal from the Giant Robots podcast and answer these questions every week:

  1. What did you do this week make the business better for your customers?
  2. What have you done to acquire more customers than last week?
  3. What did you do well that you should repeat?
  4. What did you do poorly that you should reduce?
  5. What do you hope to do by next week?
  6. What is your MRR?

What can I do to help?

The number one thing to help me is to be engaged, offer feedback, and share with your friends. The only way I can hope to succeed in my goal of learning more and bettering myself is to hear from others. I promise to read all emails, and respond to most.

I’d also love to have you keep me accountable to answering the 6 questions above. If you haven’t heard from me by Friday, find out why!

What’s next?

I want to hear from you! I want to know where you struggle, what you want to hear about, what you think of my idea. Anything you’ve got, I want to hear it.

I have the idea for my product, and that will be shared with people on my mailing list later this week. If you’re not already, please sign-up for the list below.

I’ll be offering exclusive material and engagement with those on the list, and have a couple of other benefits in mind that I don’t want to disclose just yet. I promise to keep your email to myself, and never SPAM you with anything.

Hope to hear from you all soon!