Day 26: Even the smallest steps can sometimes be made even smaller.

STATUS: I’m getting some very light traffic to my Facebook and Twitter feeds! Also discovered a few tools to help me automate this extremely arduous process. That’s more inspiration to automate it!

MOOD: Less tired! Feeling good!

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I took most of the Memorial Day Weekend off to recover and relax. Ate too much and partied too little. I needed it.

I actually lied a little. It just so happens that not only did I work a little during the weekend, but I also worked on maintaining a MVP that I accidentally launched via platforms that I never thought I’d be using.

(I also bought my own coffee maker after wasting 1.5 hours trying to find a cafe to work out of on Memorial Day Monday. #firstworldproblems.)

One of Paul Graham’s most famous tidbits of advice is to “do things that don’t scale.” It’s not the first time I heard that either; Lauren’s (from sea/salt) primary takeaway from our first meeting was more or less this. She suggested that I start a blog much like those that currently exist. I thought it was a wonderful idea. All I could think of for the few days that followed was making that happen.

The only problem is that it didn’t happen.

I was too focussed on the technology. How can I automate the blog posts? How can I automate the source acquisition and the rating calculations and the Facebook integration and the this and the that…Even though it seemed like a smaller step than before (i.e. build the entire damn thing and call it the MVP), I think I thought of it as a reduction from the stride of a T-Rex to the stride of Godzilla. Smaller, but still bigger than the size of Manhattan.

Attending Startup Weekend two weeks ago showed me that I can reduce that stride even further by focusing on the customer. How can I get customers to get excited about my product? How can I prove that thinglistr is something that they’ll not only actually want, but something that could even be part of their weekly night ritual?

So I spent some time focussing on the delivery. I finally made those mockups. I built a profile on AngelList (full well knowing that it only gets me 0.001% closer to landing an investor or a partner). I validated, and then I validated further. I felt like I was actually marketing my work.

(Something else that blew my mind about that weekend was that I actually can sell stuff. I long vowed against selling anything after having trying and massively failing to sell cookies in middle school. Maybe that was for the best.)

I then realized, I think kind-of randomly (while thinking of how the fuck I’ll convince people to invest in giving me a year to work on this), that I’m still side-stepping the actual, really-real problem: how do I get users onto thinglistr?

And then it clicked. It made so much goddamn sense, I couldn’t believe I thought of doing it earlier.

Why the fuck don’t I become thinglistr for a little while?

thinglistr collects a bunch of cool shit happening in really local areas into one easy to navigate page. I wrote code that gives me a list of every bar and restaurant in the area (thanks, Google Maps!). What’s stopping me from doing this while I develop automation around it?

And then it clicked again. Again, I was  baffled by its simplicity.

Why don’t I just use Facebook and Twitter for my MVP?

While this won’t prove the value of ranking stuff, it will prove thinglistr’s raison d’être: that people actually want an easier way of seeing stuff that’s happening around them right now.

So that’s what I did. And, as I expected, the work sucks ass. But it’s extremely valuable, and I’m only two days in.

I’ve basically converted myself into a social media intern that crawls my list of bars and restaurants for stuff that they’re doing and blasts them on Twitter and Facebook. Some bars don’t post much on Facebook; some still don’t post anything at all on there. Their customers, however, sometimes leave clues about events they run (“bar x does trivia on Mondays; it was pretty good”, “their 2-for-1 on Tuesdays,“) on review pages. Surprisingly still, a lot of bars (most of the ones I looked at, actually) have their own web pages. A lot of them don’t look terrible! Some of them don’t leave any clues at all, but other sites fill in the gaps for them (like a bar that does Karaoke on Mondays, but some random third-party site is one of the few on the Internet that knows this, etc).

I only do this for an hour or two per day, though now that I’ve discovered HootSuite and Buffer (so THAT’S what they do), I can probably do this in the morning before I get to work and disperse my posts during the rush-to-happy-hour transitionary period.

If all of this isn’t inspiration enough to automate this process, then nothing is. Actually, that’s not true: the fact that nobody else is searching this deep for stuff that’s happening is the inspiration I need.

On top of all of this, I’m getting a few followers and reaching a few people on Facebook without paying them for the privilege. So some people do think this is useful, and that’s cool.

When I originally told my family that I felt more strongly about starting a venture, my uncle was baffled by the fact that I didn’t know how to use Facebook. I never though I’d use social media for much of anything, let alone to prove a business concept that I still strongly feel is sorely needed by A LOT of people. These two days have shown me exactly why (a) these companies are unbelievably valuable, and (b) why businesses depend on them so damn much. (Something that surprised me slightly was that every establishment I found on Google has a presence on Facebook. That’s incredible.)

I’m learning a lot, which is, I think, what doing this startup grind is all about. Learning, failing, then getting back up and learning some more.

I can’t wait for this to become my full-time job, even if thinglistr isn’t what will get me there (though I really strongly think it will).

…and what of getseatd?

I loved the concept (I pitched it, after all) but decided to table it for now. After thinking about it for a week, I realized that I’m much, much, MUCH more passionate about working on thinglistr, even if it becomes an epic failure for the ages. thinglistr is on my mind almost every minute of the day. thinglistr is in my sleep sometimes. I’m at the point where I want nothing more than to hear random people on the street talking about how fucking dope thinglistr is and how they couldn’t imagine finding stuff before it.

getseatd needs less people to make money, but if I had to stay up until 01:00 working on something, I’d rather that something be thinglistr. 

For now.

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Day 26: Even the smallest steps can sometimes be made even smaller.

Day 20: Getting out of the building…without getting out of the building.

STATUS: Landing page for thinglistr.com has been refined. It looks a lot better and is significantly more concise now. Did some promotion on the street and around friends and family. On another vain, my team is interested in starting getseatd for real, so now I’m the founder of TWO infant startups! Let’s just say that most of the rap lyrics I’ve ever listened to make much more sense now.

MOOD: I’m feeling pretty good.
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This post will begin the tale of the two startups that grew in Brooklyn. One will win. Only time will tell.
Thinglistr progress, or how I discovered the Mechanical Turk and REALLY validated my project with a few minutes of work.
I discovered the power of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk yesterday while learning more about the art of making perfect landing pages. The basic premise behind the Turk is that you pay people pennies to do just about anything, and Amazon takes a cut for giving you access to them. When this came out several years ago, I had no idea of how anyone would use this thing. I actually completely forgot about it until I found this (insert link) post from someone who successfully used it for validating a business ide…
WAIT! DUH! 50 cents to complete a simple survey? OF COURSE THIS IS PERFECT FOR THE TURK!
I spent $200 asking roughly 300 people (workers) to complete my survey. I made a small mistake by hosting the first survey on SurveyMonkey; they only let you see the first 100 results for free. I got much more useful data after moving it to Google Forms. I put in some constraints over the types of workers that qualified for my task (95% approval rating over at least 1000 human intelligence tasks, or HITs) to help prevent spammy answers, though now that I think about it, I should have also restricted answers to computer location given the market I’m trying to capture.
The results were staggering and definitely in my favor. It appears that my hypothesis of people having problems finding stuff to do is a valid one, given that most people (a) use Google or Facebook to find events, and (b) had at least some interest in a tool like this (7/10 or greater).
While this is pretty cool and is leaving me feeling pretty good, this isn’t why the Turk rocked my world. The Turk rocked my world and melted my mind because I got these results in less than 30 minutes.
30 MINUTES!
I can’t think of any other way of getting responses from that many people that quickly. Despite my mistakes, this was a very solid investment of my $200.
Armed with this information, I started wire framing my concept in Balsamiq. I don’t know why I used them when I could have used Photoshop and achieved the same effect, but it was somewhat easy to use and didn’t frustrate me too much.
What DID frustrate me was LaunchRock. Fucking LaunchRock. Their editing tool is buggy as ever, and all of their documentation refers to previous (and, I’m assuming, better) versions of the product. I’ve never seen buggier font sizing in my life. I used them because I wanted to make a pretty landing page as quickly as possible, but I still ended up having to roll my own CSS just so I could get responsive font sizing. Damn.
 If it weren’t for their easy hooks into analytics and mailing list management, I would’ve migrated off of them a while ago.
To end the night, I finally signed up for angel.co. I figured that finding an investor that believes in this will be tough, but that’s a better start than nothing.
…and then I gotseatd.
While all of this was happening, I fielded a lot of buzz in my email inbox about our weekend project, getseatd.co. Four people were quick to tell me about how a similar company, _____, announced their recent $1.8M funding this past Monday. Their approach to the employee onboarding problem is pretty, but, in my opinion, not fundamentally different from the horde of competitors in this space. Everyone seems so focussed on providing an awesome onboarding experience for HR, but the real problem here is that the onboarding process at most companies involves way more than HR. At the very minimum, the onboarding process at MOST companies, I hypothesise, involves many other moving parts, including:
  • IT: Accounts, computers, data access and other techie things,
  • Facilities: Desks, chairs, accessories, sometimes even security badges
  • Legal: Paperwork, paperwork, and even more paperwork (the amount of paperwork involved in normally proportional to the importance of the employee),
  • Compliance: Different paperwork from legal, some training
  • The manager of the employee: Mentorship setup, PRE-mentorship setup, etc.
  • etc.
What I’ll need to research, and I feel very strongly about this, is that ALL of the onboarding software available only makes things simpler for HR. None of them bring the entire process together from start to finish.
Furthermore, most of the software out there are data islands. They don’t integrate easily with a lot of other software, and they certainly don’t integrate well with custom software without dropping buckets of cash for special treatment. They are other systems that HR has to learn, IT (might) have to integrate and others need to be made aware of.
This is why we started getseatd this weekend. It’s an attempt to bring the process together in a meaningful and collaborative way.
Many of the folks on my team are interested in moving this forward. More work for me! Yay…?
(In all seriousness, working on this shit is 100000x more interesting than my full-time work. Never thought I’d say that, but that’s what makes life fun!)
Day 20: Getting out of the building…without getting out of the building.