Validating A Business That Doesn’t Exist Yet Part 1: Design

feetup

As some of you know, one of the pet projects that I’m working on while I’m unemployed is Shift SMS.  Shift SMS is simple staff scheduling software that allows your employees to coordinate shift changes via SMS.

When a staff member can’t make it to a shift, they just text Shift SMS.  Shift SMS will message all available employees to cover that shift.  When an available employee wants to take the shift they can just text Shift SMS back and then the change is automatically made to the staff calendar. Or that’s what I’d like it to be.

The idea for Shift SMS came about in a really odd way.  I had a friend that works at a restaurant who was complaining to me that they had to pick up a shift from one of their coworkers at the very last minute.  At the same time, another friend was spitballing startup ideas with me that I found way too pie-in-the-sky, and in an effort to bring him down to earth I suggested staff scheduling with SMS.

The more I thought about the idea for Shift SMS, the more I started to like it.  During university, I worked in a retail store and I remember seeing my manager standing in front of the computer for hours trying to come up with a staff schedule.  At first, I just thought that my manager wasn’t technical and didn’t have much to do, but I soon realized that organizing people in a schedule is actually a huge pain in the ass.  I did some customer development while getting coffee on the idea of Shift SMS and found out that a lot of businesses actually have this problem.

Originally, I was in contact with someone on Odesk about actually building out the software for a small amount of money.  I’m a big proponent of outsourcing work (in theory) but I’ve never actually gone and done it.  For Shift SMS, this was my thought process:

Pros:

  • It’s cheaper than finding someone locally.
  • The MVP (minimum viable product) could be done quickly and I could go out and try and sell it.
  • It would be a good learning experience.
  • I’ve heard a lot of good things about outsourcing development from people like Tim Ferriss and Pat Flynn
  • Once the software was built, I wouldn’t have an excuse to not go for the startup dream.

Cons:

  • I’d have to pay up front for a product that I’m not sure that anyone would buy.
  • I’ve heard horrible things about outsourcing programming from a lot of other people.
  • The person wanted to program using PHP (using a LAMP stack), but I was really adamant about using Ruby on Rails to build it at the time.
  • Felt like I was using Odesk as an excuse to not find a technical cofounder because I wasn’t confident in selling the idea.

In the end, the cons won out.  It wasn’t entirely about the money, as much as it was about the fear that I wouldn’t do anything with it when it was finished.  So I’ve made the decision to validate the idea before I put any real investment into the development of the software.  This means I’m basically marketing this company as if it was real until I get enough interest (as judged by email signups, mostly) and then I’ll build.

Design

shiftsms landing page

Website:

I am 100% confident that if you went to the Shift SMS website right now, you would think it was a real startup.  Seriously.  It’s all thanks to a CSS framework called Bootstrap.  Simply put, Bootstrap is like a piece of code that makes everything looks decent enough for almost every occasion (A special thanks to Carlos from Blacktie.co for his free Bootstrap theme).  The image of the hand was provided by a design agency that does app mockups, and the screenshot was made with an iOS 7 screenshot generator.  The copy on the landing page took about 2 days to write and edit, and the blog was a WordPress install with a customized version of the Flato theme.

Logo:

logo

When I started my social media profiles (which I’ll talk about in the next post), I realized that I really needed a logo.  I didn’t need it to be groundbreaking, or change the world.  I just needed some sort of graphical representation of the company.  If I got the company up and running, I could always change that later.  So I went with literally the most basic concept and whipped it up in Adobe Illustrator in about 10 minutes.

Here’s how:

  1. Draw a square with rounded edges (through sheer experimentation, I used a 30 px radius on the corners).
  2. Draw a triangle.
  3. Join the shapes.
  4. Write “shift” in the middle using the font “Montserrat” which is all the rage with the kids these days.
  5. Save as transparent PNG.

Done!

Overall, it’s been a lot of fun coming up with the concept and hacking together a site that looks like something that’s legit.  In my next post, I’ll talk about the marketing plan for Shift SMS.

In the mean time, if you could follow @shiftsmsco on Twitter and Like Us on Facebook, that would really help with the experiment!

 

 

 

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