The 7 Day Startup Experiment

We read Dan Norris' book The 7 Day Startup and thought it was interesting, but we weren't convinced it was a repeatable idea. So, we are testing his methods and doing a 7 Day Startup of our own.

To make this more interesting to you, we are going to be blogging and tweeting the whole experience.

You can follow along here, on reddit in /r/Startups, over at Hacker News, discuss on bootstrapped.fm, or on Twitter.

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Day 1 - The 9 Elements of a Great Bootstrapped Business Idea

The first day of this process is all about coming up with the business idea you want to pursue. We have never had a shortage of ideas at Retro Mocha, so coming up with ideas is not the hard part. Filtering those ideas down to a single thing that meets the criteria, that is the hard part.

After running our ideas through the 9 elements checklist that Dan gives in the book, we have what we think is our best idea. We discarded a lot of other ideas simply because we didn't think they could be launched in 7 days, they didn't have immediate profit potential, or they didn't have a clear path to customers.

Unlike every other business we've tried out of Retro Mocha, this idea is not a software business. We are both software developers, so building an app, widget, or SaaS is in our wheelhouse. With this idea, we are moving out of our comfort zone.

The idea we are going with is best summarized as "WP Curve for Shopify." It would be exciting to have a more original idea, but honestly we see this as a hole in the market that needs to be filled.

Here's our thinking. WP Curve is a great business concept, but we don't want to compete with what Dan has built. At the same time, we see a lot of opportunity in ecommerce. We chose Shopify because it's a single contained platform like WordPress, it has 140,000 stores hosted on it, and it's a solution we've both recommended to friends and family who need an online store.

We also have experience in this problem space. We are both web software developers. Shawn helped his mom put her antique store online on Shopify years ago. Brian's day job is building complex custom software on top of the Spree platform. Brian also has a background in SEO and PPC, which lends itself well to the needs of store owners.

So, how's this idea stack up to the 7 Day Startup idea evaluation checklist?

Enjoyable daily tasks

If we are doing small website fixes all day long, it's not the most exciting or enjoyable day job ever, but it is something we do all day long anyway. We have both been doing this kind of thing professionally for over ten years. It's enjoyable enough.

More importantly, our goal is to hire out the work, so we don't plan to be the ones doing all the fixes. Longer term our daily tasks will be management and marketing of the business. That is a closer fit to what we'd enjoy doing.

Product/founder fit

We have pretty decent product/founder fit. We understand the work, we understand the pain of our customers, and we should have the skills needed to launch and grow the business. Most of what we would need to do to start and grow this business is something we've done before in our other business ventures.

Scalable business model

WP Curve has shown that this business model can work if you can have reasonably priced labor. Based on a simple back of the napkin calculation, if we can charge $100 per month, and each employee can handle 25 customers, that's $2,500 revenue per employee per month. If our labor costs are lower than that, then we're fine.

From our research, it seems possible to hire talent in the Philippines for $1,200 or less per month. That gives us a 50% margin. It's possible that labor numbers and efficiency numbers could be a lot different, but it seems like a reasonable estimate to start with.

Operates profitably without the founder

Our goal is to get ourselves out of the business as much as possible. Frankly, we have other ideas that are more exciting and fit our "passion" more, but will take longer to develop.

The work of doing small fixes on Shopify sites can be hired out and once we have need, we will hire out the team management as well. We aren't sure which marketing angle is going to work best, so it is harder to envision what that will end up looking like as a hired out role.

Really, we don't know what the business needs will be, but we are very happy to find someone else to run it as we setup systems to make that easy.

An asset you can sell

The customer list is going to be the biggest asset. If we grow to hundreds of customers paying us every month for service, there are plenty of other companies that would love to purchase that business. There are already established service companies that do Shopify related work, so that's one possibility.

Also, it is possible that over time the company builds software solutions to solve Shopify store problems in the Shopify Marketplace. That would be another valuable asset.

Large market potential

There are over 140,000 stores on the Shopify platform. That number is up from over 80,000 at the end of 2013. Shopify stores sold $3,700,000,000 in 2014.

That is just to say there are a lot of Shopify stores making a lot of money. Businesses are willing to spend money to make money, and we know that businesses are already paying for developers to build, tweak, and customize their Shopify stores.

So we believe that there is an opportunity to create the WP Curve style service for Shopify stores and provide a lot of value for shop owners who don't want to pay $150/hr. for developers or thousands of dollars just to make a batch of small tweaks to their site.

Tap into pain or pleasure differentiators

Small shop owners want to sell product, they don't want to learn HTML, JavaScript, and all the other things you need to know to build a website. Even something as relatively simple as taking product photos and uploading them is too complicated for a nontechnical user.

Creating a "done for you" kind of service where a shop owner emails us a request and we just log in and do it for them quickly is a valuable service.

Also, developers are expensive and setting up a project with a development shop just to do small fixes is not awesome. We've seen even small projects go way out of scope and budget at your average developer shop, so we think offering unlimited small fixes for $100 per month is a good way to solve that problem as well.

Unique lead generation advantage

We don't have a great insight into how we are going to get customers. Our two leading ideas on lead generation at this point are cold calling/email and content marketing.

We've seen companies build their business simply by making a lot of phone calls, sending a lot of promotional direct mail, and doing webinars. It's a slog, but it works. We think if we cold email enough people, it's possible that we can generate some initial customers that way.

The other idea for the longer term business is to turn every solution into a page of content on our site. That way, we get the long tail traffic of Shopify users who are trying to DIY their way to a solution. This builds our credibility and allows us to say "here is a solution, would you like us to just fix it for you?" That seems like something nobody is really doing right now, so we have an opportunity be unique in that approach.

Ability to launch quickly

As Dan explained with WP Curve, there is no software to build. We need to figure out how to onboard new accounts, get paid, and then handle customer support via email. All of those are solvable problems that don't require a bunch of upfront setup or development.

To begin with, this business will be a landing page, a Stripe payment page, and an email address.

End Day 1

That pretty much wraps up where we are at for Day 1. We have an idea. It fits the criteria well enough. This should be an exciting adventure. Tomorrow, we determine what the MVP really looks like.

Day 2 - WTF is an MVP?

After deciding what we want to do for our 7 day startup, we are defining the Minimum Viable Product. The focus here is for us to define what is both valuable enough for someone to pay for but small enough to create in a week.

A common MVP mistake is over-emphasizing the “minimum” and underemphasizing the “viable.”

What we are selling is a Shopify support service for small shop owners. There are over 140,000 stores on Shopify. Our target group is the smaller shops that need help but don’t have a large budget to hire full-time developers or expensive consultants.

In the vein of WP Curve, we plan to offer unlimited small Shopify store updates to a single store for $100 per month. Services could include:

  • Posting or updating a product to a Shopify store
  • Improving on-page SEO
  • Fixing JavaScript or CSS issues
  • Installing plugins/modules/apps to the Shopify store
  • Researching the best Shopify apps to solve problems X, Y, or Z
  • Setting up Google Analytics
  • Creating landing pages
  • Any other sensible change that can be done in 30 minutes or less

We aren’t doing larger project consulting or new store builds. While it's possible those could be productized services down the line, for now this is the focus.

How we deliver the product

Our main support tool will be email. Down the line we will integrate with some other tool, but to begin with it will just be email and possibly a Trello board if things get complicated enough.

To begin with, all the work will be done by Shawn and Brian, but once we get past 10 customers, we’ll begin hiring developers to do the work as we both have day jobs.

To sell the service, we are going to create a landing page and hook up Stripe payments. There are now tools like Plasso that make it dead easy to hook up Stripe and get paid. We are not even hooking up WordPress or Middleman to power our site. It’s just going to be a landing page.

What will change over time

The product is going to be very close to the final productized service that we end up offering as far as the customer is concerned. It’s email-based support for your Shopify store. Later we might use a live chat widget if that makes sense for our customers, or we might make a phone call when it is really needed, but the primary product is email-based support.

One part of the customer experience that will change quite a bit after the MVP is customer onboarding. To begin with, we are going to do a very manual process, but as we find the way that works best we’ll turn it into a better system via screencasts, us remoting into their system, or something more repeatable for the initial support account creation.

Behind the scenes, if this evolves, there will be a lot of refinements on the backend. At some point a support ticketing solution will be useful, a full WordPress backed website might happen, and we’ll have more refined standard operating procedures, but the customers don’t care about any of that.

Our customers just want changes made to their Shopify store quickly and correctly. That is what we plan to deliver.

End Day 2

That pretty much wraps up where we are at for Day 2. We have a MVP. Tomorrow we come up with a name that fits this new startup.

Day 3 - Choose A Business Name

This is not our first rodeo when it comes to creating and naming products. We have a very strong bent towards names that are obvious or self explanatory. Our products like Weight Tracker and Paint Colors are examples of this.

“It’s more effective to do something valuable than to hope a logo or name will say it for you.” - Jason Cohen (founder of WP Engine)

We also know all too well the quickly diminishing returns of time spent on coming up with the “perfect” name.

The irony is that a terrible name is often the result of overthinking it.

In coming up with a name for this startup, we spent time talking about what the product is and what our identity should be. What we came up with something along the lines of being “the computer guys” for Shopify store owners. Anyone who has ever been seen as the family technology nerd gets what this is about. Also, this goes along with the way that a lot of people have a go to person for some service like this.

To capture that into a name in a simple way, we started combining the subject with the job/identity. We looked at a lot of variations on ecommerce, shop, store, shopping, etc. for the first word and then added words like ninjas, heroes, geeks, nerds, guys, people, etc. Unlike WordPress, Shopify doesn’t really have a cool shorthand, so no easy wins there.

That gave us names like Commerce Nerds, Shopping Geeks, Shop Ninjas, Store Heroes, Ecommerce People. From there we checked what domain names were available and what names we liked best. If we were going to be stuck with this moniker, geek or nerd is not as awesome sounding as ninja or hero.

The best domain we could find is myshopheroes.com based on the name Shop Heroes.

After spending a little bit of time with the name we are going to be known as My Shop Heroes. We don’t know if that’s better than Shop Heroes or not, but it’s good enough for now.

We think it works well enough as a name and could even be said easily in conversation. “Who did you use to fix your Shopify site?” “Oh, I used My Shop Heroes. They’re awesome!”

So, we think it’s cool, but how does it fit the 7 Day Startup criteria?

Is it taken?

We were able to secure the .com domain name, so that is our biggest criteria. There are basically no matching google results for the query “my shop heroes”, so we should have no trouble branding around that.

As far as company names goes, right now this is a service of Retro Mocha LLC, but we can easily incorporate that as a separate entity once we get traction. Also, in our experience, the official company name doesn’t matter nearly as much as the product or service name.

As an added bonus, the Twitter handle was available too.

Is it simple?

Yes, it is. It’s not some wacky startup sounding name like Bazalode or Shoppio or something. It’s a simple name that store owners can understand. We do Shopify support, we are My Shop Heroes. If a store owner needs help, they email My Shop Heroes.

Seems simple enough.

Is it easy to say out loud?

Yes. It’s three short, easy to say words that are easy to understand. My Shop Heroes. The name exactly matches the .com domain name so we think it will pass the telephone test. People can say go to MyShopHeroes.com and there shouldn’t be much need to ask “how is that spelled?” or anything like that.

Every single one of the top 25 brands in the world are 12 characters or less.

Boom. Just made it.

Do you like it?

Yes. It’s a fun name and there is a lot of fun possibilities to brand this with superhero type themes. Our mascot could be like Superman and instead of just solving boring problems, we “save the day” for store owners. Plus, who doesn’t want to feel like a hero right?

Does it make sense for your idea?

Yes. We think this makes sense for our idea. It is descriptive and obvious enough that the name will connect with the service that we provide. We also think it could connect down the line with related products or services if this works out.

Broader is better.

Yep. When we started out with picking a name we didn’t want to be 100% Shopify specific. If this business works, we believe there is a big opportunity in ecommerce products and services. My Shop Heroes could conceivably provide similar productized services for other platforms or even create SAAS apps or Themes to sell on the Shopify App Store.

End Day 3

That pretty much wraps up where we are at for Day 3. We have a name. We are My Shop Heroes. Tomorrow we build a website!

Day 4 - Build a Website in One Day for under $100

Today’s task is both the easiest and hardest for us to handle. Honestly, we have the skills to make an awesome, complicated, fast, impressive website. We could easily spend weeks or months adding shiny junk and widgets to a website that won’t get us sales.

So, today is not about our ability to create a website. Today is about our ability to do as little as possible to sell customers on My Shop Heroes.

To that end we ditched a lot of things even Dan Norris suggests. We aren’t using WordPress. We aren’t setting up plugins. We did the smallest thing possible.

We stood up a plain HTML site and dumped it on a server.

The Coming Soon Page

We did not design our own site. We went on WrapBootstrap and bought the Landing Sumo theme. We spent $13 to get 20 different landing page designs and 3 bonus coming soon themes.

The first thing Brian did was pick one of the coming soon themes, swap out the text and headlines for words that fit My Shop Heroes. The rest came with the Landing Sumo coming soon theme. To capture email, we just used our existing email capture for Retro Mocha with a unique source. We’ll amend that later when and if we need to.

Our coming soon page looks like this:

The Landing Page

After getting that up, we had to pick a theme out of the 20 that worked best for My Shop Heroes. Our first instinct was to try and find a cartoony superhero on Graphic River that would look cool and fit our “hero” branding. It didn’t take long to realize how stupid and unnecessary that was.

So, after about an hour in, we backed up and tried to pick a different theme. The paradox of choice set in. It sucked. Too many good designs to choose from. Instead of spending a ton of time on this, we went with the design that matched the coming soon theme reasonably well. Good enough.

To write the actual copy of the landing page, we spent time looking at WP Curve did. What we are doing is very close to what WP Curve does, so it makes sense to look at what they included on their landing page and the kind of presale questions and concerns their customers have.

A lof of what WP Curve does indeed applies to My Shop Heroes, but a lot of it doesn’t. So, we made it our own.

As time goes on, our landing page will change quite a bit, but for getting something that will convert at a reasonable rate to begin with, we felt like this was the best approach.

We are not trying to be copycats by any means, but nothing is 100% original. We think it makes the most sense to learn what works by looking at great examples and emulating them as much as you can. I know that Dan and his team probably looked at a bunch of good or bad examples to build their landing page and I’m sure some of you will look at My Shop Heroes possibly for inspiration for your landing pages.

That’s how the world works right?

Here's what the landing page looks like:

What about payment processing?

So, coming soon page. Done.

Landing page designed and coded. Done.

What about payment? Well we already used Stripe for payments on previous projects, so we found a tool called Plasso that handles membership subscriptions. After 5 minutes of signup and setup, our payment links were live. That was easy.

That’s it. All that we can do at this point is wait a few days for the site to go live. We might tweak things here and there, but the hard work is done.

One other thing that made this day a real challenge is that we both have day jobs and families. This is a side hustle. We can’t drop everything to build a new website and spend endless time tweaking every little thing. It required a lot of focus and it meant staying up late and working hard to get this done.

The hardest part was keeping ourselves from doing too much and building too much and just getting it all done in a day.

End Day 4

That pretty much wraps up where we are at for Day 4. We have a website coming soon page and we have a real product page ready to launch in a few days. It’s all happening!

Day 5 - 10 Ways to Market Your Business

The instructions and ideas Dan Norris gives to market a 7 day startup are solid and useful. However, a lot of them aren’t going to drive sales in the first 30 days. To make matters a bit more difficult, we aren’t doing this full time. Retro Mocha is strictly nights and weekends for us.

Not every marketing strategy is going to work well if you’ve only got an hour or two per night to devote to it. Additionally, not every strategy is going to yield customers immediately which is a requirement for us to move forward with the business.

So we have devised a two-pronged approach that we think fits well with this project and will get us customers without delay.

Content Marketing Before Launch

If you are reading this right now… it means that our pre-launch marketing is working! All jokes aside, this daily reporting of our progress is actually part of our plan to launch our 7 day startup, My Shop Heroes. Journaling our thoughts and processes to launch a startup in 7 days is interesting to us and we think it will be interesting to other business owners.

While not everyone who reads this is going to have a Shopify store that needs help, we believe business owners are friends with other business owners and so on and so forth. Ultimately, we hope this journal gets us in front of the right audience or people who are adjacent to the right audience, which does lead to friends or acquaintances who own Shopify stores.

We also as part of this are dropping links on Reddit, Hacker News, private Facebook groups, startup forums, and so on as a way to get in front of people who think this kind of thing is cool. When My Shop Heroes launches in a few days, we’ll do the same thing with the final landing page.

While it would be nice to “go viral,” planning for that is like planning to win the lottery. We just don’t think that is smart to expect. We aren’t pushing to HN or Reddit in hopes that it will be a huge deal for our business as much as just to be in the habit of reaching out and interacting.

We ascribe to the philosophy of “do things, tell people” and the approach of trying or building something, then reaching out to an audience that will be interested.

Sending Cold Emails

The second prong of our marketing strategy is a slog. We are going to track down at least 100 Shopify stores and send cold emails to the appropriate contact of those stores about My Shop Heroes.

We don’t know what the response rate will be, but we aren’t just going to do a mail merge and spam job. This is a manual process where we look at the stores individually and see if we can add value. Our final emails will be based on a template, but modified to make sense for each individual store.

We are trying to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes. We’ve been in business long enough to realize that while we don’t love sending a bunch of cold emails, that doesn’t mean it won’t work. There are a lot of businesses that are built around sending direct mail (aka snail mail) or cold email online. We certainly have no intention of spamming or anything like that. It’s no different than how we might reach out to a blogger, journalist, etc.

We know we need to put enough effort into this approach to see what our response rate might be. It’s not a guaranteed win, but we figure after contacting 100 stores, we’ll have some indication if it works.

The same approach could be done with making phone calls or making in-person connections, but with the limited time we have to devote to this project, we can’t spend the entire day cold calling shop owners.

Other Approaches

We are focused and aren’t trying to get ahead of ourselves. The longer term plan is to do more with SEO, content marketing, PPC, webinars, and media if we can gain traction and keep customers profitably for My Shop Heroes. However, those approaches take more resources than we have available for this experiment, so we’re going to do the best we can with what we have.

End Day 5

That pretty much wraps up where we are for Day 5. Our marketing plan is set and we know what we need to do in the first 30 days after launch. Tomorrow, we set goals.

Day 6 - Set Targets

Save your excitement until you land people you don’t know as customers.

Our target for this business is simple. We want 10 customers in the first 30 days. Customers is our One Metric That Matters (OMTM).

If we don’t get 10 customers in the first 30 days, we don’t believe this will be a viable business and we will shut it down.

At 10 customers, we will have $1,000 a month in revenue. While that doesn’t buy much in terms of labor in the United States, in other parts of the world it's more than enough to get by comfortably.

Geoarbitrage

Like WP Curve, My Shop Heroes is built on a combination of efficient global communication combined with geoarbitrage. If we make $1,000 MRR (monthly recurring revenue), and we can hire for less than $1,000 a month to do the work, we can make a profit.

Even in places like India or the Philippines, it can cost anywhere from $250 to $1,000 a month to hire someone full time (less than that for a part time position obviously). So, part of the goal of getting 10 customers is just being able to cover the cost to have someone else do the work.

Again, we have day jobs, so we can’t drop that completely to do Shopify support. Yes, we will do some of the support at first, but we can’t sustain that beyond a handful of customers.

Growth Trajectory

The other reason we need 10 customers in 30 days is a matter of growth rates. If we figure out how to add 10 customers a month, we can get to around 100 customers a year. At a 50% margin, we would be able to pay down debt or replace some of our day job income. That also would give us the money to invest in other marketing strategies like paid ads, trade shows, and so on.

If we grow at less than 10 customers a month, it will be hard to grow this into a meaningful business even in a few years. If we only add 1 or 2 customers a month, in a year we are at best 24 customers. That’s not going to change our lives dramatically anytime soon.

The other issue is one that Dan talks about in The 7 Day Startup and elsewhere quite a bit. To really grow a business, you need momentum in some form or another. If we can’t get 10 customers quickly, it will be hard to have the momentum we need to get to 100+ customers and have this start looking like a real business.

Without a solid growth trajectory, it’s hard to see a path for it to grow into a significant business and we would be very likely to spin our wheels for months without getting anywhere. We experienced that in some of our previous ventures and it can be very demotivating.

End Day 6

That pretty much wraps up where we are at for Day 6. We need to get 10 customers in 30 days. That's the target. Period. Tomorrow, we launch.

Day 7 - Launch

Today we launch My Shop Heroes.

There is a lot we could say about this, but this is the point that real validation happens. Will people pay us money?

Today and for the next 30 days we will find out. We have a product, plan, and a way for people to pay us.

Now we execute and see what happens.

End Day 7

That pretty much wraps up where we are at for Day 7. We are going to follow up on this and update this page with more information as we see how it goes.

We’d like to thank everyone who has followed along with us thus far.

Finally if you or anyone you know would be interested in unlimited small Shopify jobs for only $100 a month, head on over to My Shop Heroes and sign up.

Postmortem

Here a month or two later, we've had some time to reflect and see what happened.

We did a full podcast episode about this experiment and how it turned out.

Listen to the episode here

The short end of the story is that after emailing about 120 Shopify stores, we got one inquiry back and it wasn't a solid lead. More than that, after going through the process we realized that we didn't want to spend our time managing Shopify stores.

Since we recorded the episode, we've got a couple more inquiries, but we would be nowhere close to the goal of 10 customers after one month.

It's possible that we could have made this more interesting by charging more and hustling more, but it's hard to hustle on something you don't have a passion for.

The 7 Day Startup was fun, and we learned a lot, but My Shop Heroes was not a good fit for us. We really aren't a service company, no matter how appealing the quick money might be.

We are calling this experiment a success because we learned what we didn't want to be, which puts us closer to what we DO want to be. That's a big deal.