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How to flail at doing a startup, May edition

Hey everyone,

Here’s the cheese: in March, I tried to blog after starting work full-time and working on Quickapply, and… I spontaneously combusted.

Explosion

After that experience, I chose to not be Derek Siver’s donkey, and instead focus on Quickapply alone for the near term. I have the rest of my life to write.

So I haven’t updated the blog lately, and I’m sorry for that.

But lucky you, I have carved out some time this Memorial day, to give you some updates on Quickapply :)

Context for new readers: In February, I launched a hardcoded MVP to ~1000 pageviews and ~20 paid conversions. Since then, the big goal has been to build a nonhardcoded V1 for the fall recruiting season, that users will love, as well as start promoting the business.

Here are some updates in no particular order:

On coding a v1 (as opposed to an MVP)

What I’ve realized is that programming a product takes so DAMN long.

Sure, you can take shortcuts for your MVP, and build it in a few weeks. You can validate your idea, etc. But at some point, you need a version 1.0, and I’ve realized that’s where the grind starts.

We’re committed to building a cupcake for our v1.0, and not a wedding cake, with all the bells and whistles. Yet still, development is taking months, not weeks.

In part, this is unique to our product roadmap. From the Superhuman-inspired product market fit survey we ran in February, we know our users care about applying to a large number of companies. And that means, we need to build an engine to scrape and ingest job application forms. (As opposed to hard coding companies into our system.)

We cut all the other features for the v1.0, but that engine is a must.

On the other hand, it’s not unique to our roadmap.

The reality is, coding shit always takes longer than you think.

Like, I spent a whole evening getting a navbar to work in Bootstrap because I ended up using the wrong Bootstrap version. A ten minute copy paste job turns into three hours of work.

If you blow this up to the whole project, you can see there’s just random shit that comes up all the time, that makes coding take forever. And take longer than your estimates.

This makes me antsy, is our concept validated enough to justify all this work? With the paid conversions in February, and our current ~200 waitlist signups, I think so.

I don’t know if people are down to pay in large numbers yet. But I’m confident many people would like to use it for free.

On direct competition

Quickapply has always had indirect competition. In April though, I learned of a direct competitor, that appears to be building the exact same thing as us.

Except…

  • their website is prettier
  • it’s a team not a one man show like myself
  • they have 1000+ waitlist signups
  • they got hella buzz on Linkedin
  • THEIR PRODUCT IS FREE

basically, fuck me. lol

I consider myself a calm person, but in light of this competition, and stress from other parts of my life, I got anxious and irritable for the next week or two.

When I compared my execution to the competition’s execution, I found some of my weaknesses laid bare:

I did little promotion on social media.

I’m not too active on social media, so I didn’t prioritize this is as a strategy. I tried to start with blogging instead, but blogging takes a long time to give returns on your work.

I procrastinated on exploring the B2B business model for my space (selling student resumes to companies). This makes it possible for the product to be free.

I procrastinated on this because so much else to do. But made some strides on it since.

The competition can execute faster because they have a full team.

Yeah…

The business is not defensible => profit margins go to zero.

This one’s interesting.

On the one hand, you don’t need to be a Zero to One style monopoly to build a healthy small business. I could ignore this competitor, and proceed as if this free alternative to my service didn’t exist.

(e.g. Buffer sells a paid solution in a market full of free alternatives, and they do great.)

On the other hand, the reality is that if you’re in a market closer to perfect competition, you can’t charge the prices you want super comfortably.

I wanted to charge $50 for our service, but if when there’s a competitor that offers the same thing for free, just hoping your customers don’t discover the competition is a rly sad business strategy.

In response to this situation, I read parts of the book Blue Ocean Strategy. It was a perfect read for the situation, and if I have time, I’ll post a reading update and talk about this more.

On content marketing

I wrote a piece for Quickapply, titled The Essential Guide to Grabbing More Software Engineering Interviews”.

It’s the best piece of writing I’ve written in my life.

I spent 50+ hours researching and writing the article. I used Julian Shapiro’s writing strategy where I used beta readers to find which paragraphs and ideas were interesting, which was super educational. I also worked with a marvelous editor on Upwork, which exposed some writing ticks I need to fix.

I don’t know if content marketing is in Quickapply’s near term, but we’ll definitely be promoting this post. (not published yet)

On cofounders

After realizing:

  • fak I have direct competition
  • fak coding a product takes forever

I started thinking about getting a cofounder.

The universe is a funny thing, cuz one slid into my DMs the same week:

DM

When Alex first messaged me, I was hesitant.

I’d been working on Quickapply for the better part of six months, and man, it was my baby. I’m not a control freak, but I was hesitant to work with someone I barely knew.

But Alex had some experience building projects, and we ended up agreeing to a trial period. (With a bilateral NDA, lol. I felt so fancy.)

During the trial period, he de-risked my big concern, which was can he be as committed as me - working on Quickapply the bulk of weeknights and weekends.

I still worry that we have the same skillset and also similar personality.

But I’m also certain Quickapply will be more successful as a business with Alex working on it.

He’s already driven 200 waitlist signups! And also working with him is more fun than working alone.

In any case, to have just received a committed cofounder out of the blue, is just dang lucky.

Conclusion

Conclusions are always a pain in the butt.

But I thought I’d end by comparing software (especially SaaS) products with info products (ebooks, online courses, etc.).

SaaS products vs. info products: programmers should srsly consider info products

The holy grail of software businesses is SaaS, because you have consistently recurring revenue (assuming low churn). Your customers have high LTV (again assuming low churn). But the problem is, most of that LTV is in the future. You don’t get most of the benefit off a user in the first month, but rather in the later months and years.

This is something important for someone pursuing bootstrapped SaaS to realize. It’s very normal for SaaS businesses to take 2-3 years to be profitable because of this effect. So, you’ll want to be working full-time or living off savings those first 2-3 years.

On the other hand, you have info products. If it’s an online course especially, you can have huge margins. And all that LTV can come immediately! It’s not so recurring, but it’s less work, and I think it’s a great way to learn user research and marketing, without putting all these hours coding.

So if you haven’t started a business yet, even if you’re a programmer, consider info products seriously.

Anyways, till next time, Rishi

Previous Quickapply updates:

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