Week 1: Finding a Startup Idea, Testing It, Co-Founders and Building BehindTheBuild
Time to read: 10 Mins | Tech, tools will always be in the last section. Feel free to skip it.
Building in public means all the inevitable failures will be showcased to the world. Most stories we hear of a founder’s journeys are after they’ve already become successful. This means there’s a major selection bias there as only the successful ones are out giving advice. It’s entirely likely that many people did the exact same things, and failed. We don’t hear their stories though. As I start sharing my journey on Behind The Build, it’s obvious that I’ll have to share many failure stories. Startups are messy! Things don’t work out, you have to pivot, there are dips and plateaus… and they’re also slower than one would think!
An overnight success takes years to build. Some weeks, a lot will happen. Other weeks, I’ll sit at a desk trying to build and finish up the mundane tasks of running a startup. It’s a long slog to building anything huge, and parts of it are boring. I think the boring part might just be more important for people to see though! People shares the interesting highlights, but the true cause of success is often someone doing the mundane tasks repeatedly, getting a little better at it every time. In spite of the fact that I’ll be letting out a lot of personal failures that will at the very least be uncomfortable to share, I think it’s totally worth it to build in public! This post from last week covers the 6 reasons why.
Selecting The Idea
I also wrote a detailed post on how to select an idea to work on last week, but the essential steps are covered here:
Step 1: Identify a problem or pain point people have.
Step 2: Brainstorm potential solutions.
Step 3: Test the solution (or even the main assumptions in the solution) in the cheapest manner possible.
Step 4: Develop the product further. Make sure you have product market fit.
Step 5: Scale! This is when you can go crazy with the marketing.
Many startups fail because they burn money in marketing a product that doesn’t solve the problem they think it does, and even worse… a problem that the customers don’t even feel they need to solve! This is why, it’s important to test two things – (i) are you solving a problem people genuinely want solved? (ii) is the solution you’re offering really solving the problem?
The Big Reveal
The idea that I’m working on! It’s going to be a while before details of the idea are clear because we’re still working on figuring things out, but I’ll run through the above framework and explain how we came up with it. I started working on brainstorming with a friend from school about 2 months ago!
Problem we’re solving: People want to do a lot of things and achieve a lot of goals, but don’t have the discipline required to do it and stick to things consistently. Achieving things requires repeated action over time – there really are no short cuts. This is where most people fail. Not in knowledge, skills, ideas, smartness… failure starts in not doing things consistently.
A product that helps people do things consistently to make their lives better would work!
PS: Easiest way to find a problem: You have it yourself (as is true in this case). Another: You see it in your industry. Also okay: Copy a foreign country idea and adapt to domestic market. Works: just go around looking for problems, talk to people about the ones they have. Doesn’t work: just dream up a problem! (My advice, don’t start on building before being sure it’s a problem people want solved).
Brainstorming Solutions: I spent a few days talking to about 20-30 people about what would work in solving this. We came up with a lot of things, but I’ll talk about just one in this week’s update – Astrology!
We hit upon the idea that a large number of people really believe in astrologers and astrology. Sure, the space is full of charlatans, but if we used it in conjunction with psychology and leadership coaching techniques, we could use people’s belief in astrology to propel them towards achieving their goals! In essence, we create self fulfilling prophecies! (You get told it’s a great time to focus on diet and exercise right now because the stars say so, and you do focus on it… then, it leads to better health!)
We tied up with an astrologer and a leadership coach to build extensive reports for each individual manually, and we threw together a website to sell it!
No apps, no automation. Simple site built the same way this one is (on WordPress – last section of this email covers how that’s done!)
Why? Because I’m trying to validate an idea. I don’t know if it’ll work, and I’m a data analysts and political consultant! I don’t assume anything! Test, survey, focus groups, data, experiments – that’s how we decided on what to do in a campaign and I’ve seen its effectiveness!
MyNextYear Reports are designed to help people live their best life and achieve their full potential in every domain of life. We combine insights from Vedic Astrology with the latest scientific research in psychology, motivation and leadership to craft custom monthly reports for you that help you navigate the challenges and uncertainties of life in a manner that maximizes your happiness, well being and productivity.
The reports were really good! The predictions were seeming accurate to people, and the personality report actually helped them self introspect and know themselves better. Feedback is great. We did 6 reports for free, and 8 paid ones. Other people we talked to loved the idea and were genuinely excited! But… the experiment isn’t succeeding. Not in the way we’d hoped!
Is it solving the problem? Nope. People like the reports, but they’re not acting on what they’ve been told to focus on for the month. Astrology is entertainment for a lot of people. Or we’d have to scare them to action with threats of bad things happening!
The other issue – we pissed off a large part of our target market! Our goal is to get consistent action and make people productive so that their lives improve. Many people who want an app for that are anti-astrology and think it’s a sham!
The experiment is a success in that I think I can build a viable business out of it, but it’s not the business I want to build. I quickly realized my personality wasn’t suited to selling an astrology product at all. I hated marketing it! And clearly, if I myself don’t love the idea, I won’t stick to it long enough to make it a major success. It could be a niche lifestyle business, but not one for me.
→ Identifying issues like this is why running experiments is so important! You have to know your assumptions and solutions are truly working before you put in massive resources into building a full fledged product.
Note: The MyNextYear website is still live and running. We’ll continue to take orders on it for the next few months and continue testing feedback, though I’m not actively marketing it anymore. Do feel free to order if you’re interested in seeing what an astrologer, psychologist and leadership coach have to say about your personality and months ahead!
When I was brainstorming if the astrology idea would work, I was working with a friend that I’ve known for over 15 years! We went to school together, and lived in the same neighborhood. He’s also a backend developer, and we’ve worked on tech projects together in the past where he made the backend on Node.js and I made the frontend on React.
I knew we’d work well together and invited him to join as co-founder. I can do the tech bit myself, but it’s clear that someone more experienced to lead the tech while I go out raising funds and acquiring users is the best way to structure it. I’ll be much slower at the tech and at the business operations side if I’m doing both. He was very excited, worked for a bit on the idea with me, and then realized he can’t leave his full time job.
In the last one year, he’d gotten a 40% pay hike working for a foreign company (so basically a lot of money). Developers are always in demand, but the market is crazy right now! He didn’t want to risk it, which makes total sense from his perspective.
What this means though is that I’m in the market looking for a tech co-founder! I’ve haphazardly been talking to people for the last week, but it’s time to get strategic and serious about this. More on how to go about finding the right person (or how I’m thinking about it right now) in the next week’s update.
The last section is full of tech stuff, so I wanted to put this before it in case people choose to skip that part.
A Thank you!
We’ve crossed 130 subscribers before the first email is out – 136 to be precise! Thank you all for your kindness, vote of confidence and support! When I was transitioning from politics – my main domain for over 7 years now – I wasn’t sure how people would receive it. I’ve gotten nothing but support and encouragement! It really means a lot.
Your comments, thoughts, feedback and suggestions are always welcome. And if anyone wants to connect me to a potential co-founder or investor or something, I’d be delighted!
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you know anyone who’d find this newsletter to be interesting, do forward it!
This has also been a longer post because it was catching you up to speed on what all’s happened. The ones from next week will be shorter. See you all next Friday! (Unless you want details on how this website was built, in that case – 2 more minutes of reading below.)
Building BehindTheBuild – Technicals and Costs
The website was built in less than 48 hours.
Step 1: Bought a Domain: namecheap.com [Rs. 792 | $9.76] – GoDaddy is cheaper for the first year, but charges more on renewals.
Step 2: Got WordPress web hosting. Used Hostinger [Rs. 3908.16 | $49] – it’s the cheapest if you buy hosting for 48 Months (4 Years)! The Rs. 3900 is for the full 4 years. Though it is slower than some hosting providers, especially on mobile – and this is harmful for listing highly on Google Search.
Step 3: Install WordPress. Happens with 1 click on the hosting website.
Step 4: Go to the WordPress admin panel → Appearance → Choose a Theme.
Step 5: Choose and install a starter website for the theme. This will serve as a starting point that you can customize. Just google “starter template ”. [Some free, some $49, $79, $99 one time. I’ve used a free one here because I knew I can customize it a decent bit myself.]
Step 6: Customize!
Step 7: Install plugins.
- I use Yoast for SEO, like almost everyone else. (SEO means Search Engine Optimization, so that Google can find you and show you in searches! – Will cover this in detail in a later update, when I’m actively working on this.)
- Google’s Site Kit for tracking who’s visiting your site!
Step 8: Get the email newsletter sign up form in place. I’m using ConvertKit right now, but as I started getting subscribers I realized what it costs once I cross 1,000 subs! Likely not sticking to it, will explore best options.
Note: Only Namecheap is a referral link right now, all the rest are to the direct website. Thinking of getting referral links for more services I use though – free credits / affiliate commissions if you use the link to buy anything will help with the build without costing you anything!
If you haven’t already, please subscribe!