Launching a startup on your own can be quite lonely at times.
At this delicate, embryonic stage, you don't even really want to discuss what you're doing with anyone, except maybe your wife. It's too early. None of the stuff is ready yet, it's all existing in your head, and there are a billion and one things to do to get it ready.
I've found a little solace in reading other startup blogs, although you start to realize just how greatly the odds are stacked against you. Most of these startups fail for one reason or another.
So you have to be okay with the idea of failure. Personally, I'm completely fine with it. I've got a set deadline and a set of things I want to accomplish in that time. After that, I'll be going back to more traditional employment, barring the extraordinarily unlikely chance that I'm bringing in enough money from the startup that it's not necessary.
It's more of a personal thing with me, a chance to prove I can do something and create something great on my own.
But it's definitely lonely sometimes.
The final part of my semi-review of The Lean Startup deals with the lesson about Engines of Growth. Startups need to grow or they run out of money and die.
There are basically three engines of growth: Sticky, Viral, and Paid.
The Sticky engine relies on some sort of lock-in to keep customers using the product. For example, people would stay on Facebook because all their friends and family are there. Another example would be a proprietary database or file format that people would stick with because the cost of switching would be too great. You don’t have to have 100% stickiness, because you can still search for new customers, but the rate of gaining new customers has to be higher than the rate you are losing them.
The Viral engine is the trickiest but perhaps the best bang for your buck. Basically, users tell friends and family about your product and you get new customers via word of mouth. Basically you need each customer to bring in more than 1.0 other customers to have steady growth. If customers bring in only one other person each, growth will be steady but slow. Lower than 1.0 and growth will slow down and eventually stop. This number is the viral coefficient.
The Paid engine is the most traditional: you buy advertising, and if the cost of gaining a new customer via advertising is less than the money that customer brings in, you’ll make a profit. Traditionally, companies fed that money into more advertising, in a kind of feedback loop that ended up with national ads in every magazine and on every TV show. This is how big-name brands like Coke and Tide became popular, not because the product was actually that good--in fact, the two are pretty mediocre--but because the advertising was very effective.
The Viral engine is probably better for startups who can’t afford a lot (or any) advertising, but the challenge is that you have to build a compelling product that people will actually like so much that they will evangelize others. Tivo made good use of this method, as do a lot of web-based startups.
The important thing to remember is that no matter which engine you choose, you need to be able to measure whether or not what you are doing is working. So for the Sticky model you need to know your customer retention rate and your new customer acquisition rate. For Viral you need to know the viral coefficient. Finally, for the Paid model, you need to know how much it costs to get a customer and how much each customer brings in.
It sounds simple but a lot of startups don’t bother to analyze all these things and thus end up growing too slowly or not at all.
Speaking of startups, I did a little work today on JetCondo.com, installing the Solr 4.0 database. It’s not much but it’s something. I also made a new comic. Go read it!
I’m in the process of installing Solr 4.0 on my web server. This is a tool I used at my former job to search things really quickly in interesting ways. This is something I want JetCondo.com to be able to do, so it’s a hurdle that must be overcome.
I met with another ex-coworker (an early member of the ever-increasing club of people laid off by my company) yesterday and we had an interesting chat about software and selling apps and the web and how things might be monetized. There are a lot of options, but my primary concern is how to make advertisers happy while not making users unhappy with spammy, intrusive ads. I was reading through an ancient Penny Arcade post (circa 2003!) and Mike Krahulik was talking about how all the advertisers wanted flashy, animated, pop-up ads, but he personally hated them and refused to sell ads like that on his site.
Here’s the kicker, though: the ads on his site got more engagement and more sell-through than the flashy ads on other sites.
Because the ads on his site were for things that people who were on the site already were actually interested in.
There’s a lesson there, somewhere...
It’s much more important to spend your time building your actual product. Logos and color schemes and font choices and stuff are fun, but they shouldn’t take time away from actually, you know, making something.
Still, it’s nice to have an image to focus around. I doodled something that looked like a flying building today when I was writing mockups and design diagrams for JetCondo.com. (Those who know me know that I always HATED planning and writing documents, but it turns out that it wasn’t that bad)
Oh, I also updated the server from Ubuntu 10.04 to 12.04 LTS, which was somewhat harrying (I always worry that the Internet will drop out halfway through and I won’t be able to SSH in again, but everything was fine). This was a big maintenance task that I had been putting off, so it’s nice to have finished it.
Anyway, here’s the logo.
Tomorrow the plan is to put some real rockets on that thing.
This morning I was taking care of more administrative stuff, so I didn’t have time to work on my creative projects. But I’ve committed to doing a new comic strip on Wednesdays and Fridays, so I made one.
Doing comic strips is really outside my area of expertise, but I’m enjoying slowly building up the universe and characters. The drawing part still feels like a chore, but I learned how to use the Line tool in photoshop to make backgrounds that at least have straight lines!
While I was writing the comic I was watching the old BBC show Brideshead Revisited on the TV. It made quite a juxtaposition: aliens and spaceships with British historical costume drama in the background!
I didn’t do any work on Jetcondo.com, but I’m doing a lot of thinking. I might actually have to do some (gasp) planning for this thing. I’m kind of excited about it.
I'll blog again on Monday. Have a great weekend!
The first day is exciting, as you make all your amazing plans for world domination and let imagination fuel your wildest fantasies.
Then the second day comes, and you realize that in order to achieve any of it, you’re going to have to sit down and do work.
A lot of work.
Suddenly all the dreams seem like they are an infinite distance away, and you can’t possibly do everything you need to do to achieve them.
My solution for getting out of this funk was just to do something, even if it wasn’t directly related to world domination. In my case, I did some personal financial administration stuff that I had been putting off for months because I was "too busy". Ha! Can’t use that excuse now! But after completing this task, I felt a bit better.
So I enabled my new Rockets forums (the web development framework I built)
Then I made a post on Google+ about it, just for fun.
So I did something, which was better than nothing. Still a long way to go, but at least I’m moving!
Well, I said that I would be doing daily updates for a while, so here we go. These probably aren't going to be very long.
I registered a new domain today. Jetcondo.com. Don't go there, it doesn't do anything yet (just redirects to jeremyreimer.com). The name doesn't have anything to do with jets or condos, but hey, Amazon doesn't have anything to do with the river or the rainforest either.
It's a working title for a new piece of software I am developing that hopefully will become something interesting. I'll talk more about it as I create it.
I'm also trying to mix in some other projects that I haven't had time to do, so I made a new comic strip for Star Gamer. The art is still pretty bad but hopefully it will get better if I keep at it a bit.
See you tomorrow!
I'm a writer and occasional programmer. I write science fiction stories and novels.
I also write technology articles for Ars Technica.
I'm the creator of newLISP on Rockets, a web development framework and blog application.