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!

 

 

 

Spec work: Wayve

I’ve been spending a lot of time on the /r/startups subreddit and seeing a lot of cool startups.  Wayve, a sports app, was asking for an opinion on their landing page.  I decided to do a mock one that I thought was better.  What do you think?

Original:

wayve original

 

 

My version:


wayve-landing-page-mockup

 

Which one do you like better?

 

How I did customer development while getting a coffee

Customer development while getting a coffee

I’m currently working on validating a SMS staff scheduling webapp called Shift SMS that lets managers push their calendars via SMS but also allow their staff to coordinate any changes on their own.  Shameless plug, please sign up for the e-mail list for the latest updates!

Today, I went to a local coffee spot called Manic Coffee when it was quiet and actually walked into their manager talking to their staff about their schedule.  What are the odds!  I immediately introduced myself and asked about their process when it comes to creating a staff schedule.  Here’s what I found:

What I already knew

  • They used paper
  • Their staff calendar was pretty consistent (a norm for places with less than 5 or 6 staff members)
  • Price sensitivity was high – they mentioned another app that cost $20 dollars with relative disgust
  • They knew of other apps which implies they might have tried to look for a solution in the past (great!) or they were pitched before (not that great)

What surprised me

  • They didn’t think that paper or excel was the best solution (great!)
  • They just didn’t think this was a problem that needed to be solved, even though staff changes were frequent enough to be a pain.
  • They asked if I worked in the service industry before I explained why I was asking (which makes this seem like a common pain point)

Overall, pretty interesting takeaways to go with my coffee.

 

“Only a handful of people in the world that can tell the difference between you and me”

Here are 2 websites:

Website 1

Website 2

If we went and asked 100 random people which site they liked more, what do you think would be the “like” ratio between website 1 and website 2?

50/50? 60/40? 70/30?

Now, what if I told you that website 1 was developed by what I’m sure is a fantastic digital agency for approximately $25,000 and website 2 is a generic Themeforest theme that costs $13.

How would you feel?

Just like the clip from Good Will Hunting, one the greatest movies ever, there’s only a handful of people in the world that will really know the difference between the two sites.  Seriously.  But more importantly, if you’re not in the tech world, why would you even need to know?

Much like how IKEA dominates the furniture market with stuff that’s “good enough”, will cheap web development dominate  the future?  With sites like Themeforest and Odesk, you can get extremely low cost development done depending on how technically savvy you are, and how technically advanced your product is.

What value will the digital agencies of the future have to bring in order to stay alive when a pretty-damn-reasonable website theme costs less than a 20 piece McNugget meal from McDonalds?

 

 

 

My first paid gig

As inspired by the latest post by the always amazing Jason Fried from the Signal Vs Noise blog, I’ve decided to dig up my very first commercial gig that I’ve ever done.

A little back story.  To this day, I think the most profitable class I’ve ever taken at Simon Fraser was the one that taught me how to use Adobe InDesign (the course number somehow escapes me at this moment).  Without that course, I wouldn’t have gotten my internship at Blo, which turned into my job at Blo, which without that opportunity, I would be no where near where I am now.

Anyways, during my last year in university my friend Pooya had introduced me to a guy who needed a logo and business card designed for his new company.   It was supposed to be a very minimalist and “cool” logo for a door company.  After a couple of days of sketching and messing around in Adobe Illustrator (which to this day I still have no idea how to really use), I ended up with this:

modoorn

 

Total cost: 40 dollars. (Ca ching!)

 

 

The Death of the Company Blog

Imagine if you will, standing in the center of Penn Station (or your preferred hub of transportation) in the middle of the busiest time of the year.   A blur of people are zooming by, every single one rushing to get home to the comfort of their own home, to see their loved ones, or just relax from another long day at the office.  And for a split second, a face in the sea of hundreds from across the room catches your eye.  Just a flicker of light in your retina was all that needed to capture your attention, and it feels so familiar, even if you’ve only seen it for the first time.

Now imagine that was a blog headline (Ha! Gotcha!)

All dramatics aside, I seriously think that 37 Signals gets me.  Like, as a human being.  I randomly saw this article on their Signal Vs. Noise blog titled “When culture turns into policy” and their graphic hit me like Mike Tyson’s punch to the solar plexus.

1208-Culture-vs-Policy

I’ve been in multiple jobs where writing a blog was part of the description, and I have nothing against the concept of writing for a blog.  But what I do have a problem with is the churning process of “social media content”.  If you want to invest in having a blog, then great! But if a company literally says “hey, you got an hour – write a blog about x,y and z”, then the content is guaranteed to be awful.

It seems senseless to write a blog to make your company seem “cool” instead of actually just doing cool stuff.  Why force your coworkers to an after work gathering instead of just building the type of work environment where friendships would flourish any way?

Let’s just cut the bullshit.

 

#GIJENS is the best piece of marketing material ever

I think the best type of marketing is the type that doesn’t feel like it’s marketing at all.  Especially nowadays when we sort of live in a surreal world where everyone is a professional “brand” consultant.  I myself am guilty of looking at a marketing campaign and trying to tear it apart and critique it using a critical eye instead of just enjoying it.

Long story short, a photographer named Jens Lennartsson went on Alibaba and made a bunch of action figures of himself as promotional items to send off to potential clients to win their business.  The first thing I thought was, holy shit this is the coolest thing ever.  This guy jumped through 50 lazer beams and was able to access the dopamine receptors in my brain and turned them on.  I think it’s especially cool to me, because I’ve been studying a lot of portfolio sites (as research for my new site, which is going to be BAD ASS) and after a while they all became the same.

Breaking through the screen is sometimes the best thing you can do in digital.

 

Diving in face first with LAMP – Part 3: Good is the enemy of great

That time Marge Simpson is in police training and climbs over a wall when there's a door.

After a couple hours of trying to manually install the LAMP stack, I’ve officially decided to give up on the manual install and just use TASKSEL to do it for me. TASKSEL is a command that will automatically do very common tasks, such as setting up servers, installing common programs and, of course, install a LAMP server.

 

 

Here is literally the only line you need to type in order to set up a LAMP server:

 

 

sudo tasksel install lamp-server

 

 

Why did I give up on setting up the LAMP server manually? I’ve decided that the level of headaches from setting up the server manually in Ubuntu was just not worth the amount of time that I was losing from not advancing in learning. Every minute I spent investigating why things weren’t working was making me jaded and contributed to the slowing pace and interest in completing the overall goal of writing my own blog in PHP.

 

I’ve always had an ongoing inner monologue about actually knowing everything about a certain task and knowing enough to be proficent at doing the task. For example, when I first started playing bass guitar in high school, I taught myself how to play specific songs using tabs which taught you where to put your fingers rather than learning musical theory. I got good enough at some songs to the point where I was able to play in front of my high school for a lunch time concert. However, I was overwhelmed with the constant feeling that I was a huge fraud and that I was basically guitar-heroing and not really a valid musician (a massive concern when you’re a kid in high school).

 

I ended up saying “fuck it” and sold my bass guitar on craigslist.

 

Flash foward to a couple years ago when I first started cycling. I was convinced that I wanted to build my own bike from scratch, until I learned that the holy grail of being a bicycle mechanic was the ability to build a wheel. Now, building a wheel is something that requires an insane amount of concentration and precision – but most of all experience.  Almost all tutorials of wheel building will stay that a wheel is properly tensioned when it “feels” right or, I shit you not, it “should be a G [musical note] with plain-gauge spokes and an A [musical note] with butted spokes” when plucked with your finger. Clearly, that is fucking insane.  After a couple of months, I once again was like “fuck it”, but instead of giving it up I just bought a set of wheels on ebay and was able to get on the road. Ever since then, I’ve become an avid cyclist.

 

I learned that you shouldn’t let the egotistical act of being an expert stand in the way of actually doing something. Hopefully, by building a LAMP stack the easy way (with 1 command) will allow me to actually continue to learn more about developing and keep moving foward.