Four Startups in Four Weeks Roundup – Startup Three is admittedly a pet project. I really enjoyed and I wanted to make a simpler, easier to maintain site so that I could keep up those connections and provide a valuable service.

Instead of just trying to replicate the parts of startupSQUARE that were successful, I decided to target one specific behavior which seems prevalent both on and off-line:

People need advice

Entrepreneurs are always short on resources and know-how. It’s the rare one man team that knows how to do everything from accounting to javascript. The most successful conversations I saw on startupSQUARE were always people offering useful advice to one another about an aspect of the business. The same interactions exist in on-line forums like the Lean Startup Circle Google Group and in co-working spaces like Dogpatch Labs.

“Hey man, got five minutes? I need a second opinion.”

It’s these small interactions which I find very interesting and more approachable as a problem to solve.

Find me a co-founder” is always a tough sell. Over 60% of the people who ask things like this are expecting to find a technical co-founder to appear out of no where, build a product, and take a tiny fraction of equity. Users, of course, would spontaneously appear. This never works in the same way that 24 hour Vegas weddings don’t work.

You need to start with a kiss.

Too Many Ninjas

The idea of TMN is to encourage small interactions that help build businesses. To that end, there are only two things you can do on the site.

  • Post what you’re looking for: e.g. “I’m looking for advice on marketing in New York.”
  • Post what you can offer: e.g. “I can give advice on marketing in New York.”

TMN just sends a notification from one guy to the other. That’s it. No on-line forum, no following system. Just a notification and then the user can decide whether or not they want to help the poster. The format for posting is highly structured so there’s no ambiguity.

I’ve also included a house rule. If you’re going to join the site, you have to commit to helping your fellow entrepreneurs for at least 30 minutes each week. So the site is operating on instant karma.

Help others and they'll help you. Click To Tweet

Lastly, as an homage to startupSQUARE and since people keep asking for it, I did allow people to post “I’m looking for a co-founder in San Francisco with technical skills.”

Report Card

Did it work? Well…not yet.

I spent much of my month learning Ruby on Rails 3 with the help from Douglas Goldie. It was a hard slog and what would take a real developer 2 days took me about 3 weeks. (Most of my four week allotment of time.)

It’s also missing some key features in that it doesn’t actually send the notifications yet. What I did accomplish was signup with LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook connect, posting your queries, posting skills that you offer, a contact form, recaptcha, Terms of Service, Privacy Policy and some other fundamentals.

So…not bad for a new programmer, but it still needs some work.

Are people using it? Well, despite the fact that it doesn’t work and I haven’t promoted it yet, 36 people signed up. So that’s nice. Unfortunately I forgot to install Google Analytics code, so I have no idea where they came from.

All in all, I’m calling this a win because I got something that some people are interested in, I’m familiar with the space and have a year of customer development interviews to back up my assumptions, and I built just enough to get feedback.

  • Execution: A for effort, C for actual coding efficiency
  • Thinking lean: A (I’m calling this a solid win for thinking lean)
  • Viability: B? (Not enough data to say one way or the other, but worth pursuing to the next step.)
  • Learning: A (A business guy coded a website from scratch? I’ll call that a win.)

Moving forward

I’m going to put another week or so into TMN, get the basic mailing functionality working, and make sure I have a decent invitation system since it is a network effect laden product. Then I’ll do a couple weeks of customer development to see what the feedback is and whether it’s worth pursuing to the next step: Getting enough users for quantitative analysis.

Discussion (5 comments)

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Four Startups in Four Weeks Roundup – Startup Three | --

  2. Richie Cypher says:

    Sounds pretty neat! You should try the google analytics code so that you can know more about your users. I like your “Help others and they’ll help you.” idea.

  3. Christina says:

    Great news! Congrats. Remember to get your marketing information so that you can start aiming those adds where they are most useful. And those 36 will be the people you stare at from your mahogany desk. You should print a list of screen names and frame it:)

  4. Collin says:

    That’s awesome and the fact that “A business guy coded a website from scratch” is motivating – it gives me a kick in the ass to go learn this myself.

    I like the idea of the project and also see some similarities to They’ve created a large network where entrepreneurs can ask questions related to their business. Clearly, it’s an idea that has merit.

    1. Tristan says:

      I’ve found Quora very useful on the QA front, but haven’t used Sprouter much. The character limit perturbs me. But I haven’t looked in a while so thanks for bringing it back to my attention.

      The big thing I’m looking to do with TMN is have real people talk to one another offline. There is a great value there that is not encompassed with electronic exchanges.

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