Projects Worth Validating
Chapter 1 was about methodically coming up with a bunch of business ideas. I reviewed them all, slept on it a bit, and did some other stuff on it a bit.
Now I’ve narrowed down the list of ideas that I want to invest my time in. All of the following are sites that I’m going to build landing pages for. Rather than building out the actual software behind these sites, though, I’ll attempt to validate them first. I want to make sure that I’m spending my time developing something that people care about.
I’ll end up fully building at least one of these sites. Maybe more, maybe not. It depends on how the validation goes, but that’s for a different chapter.
Now, the ideas. Note that I did a LOT more writing than this for each idea. That’s how I think through things. I purposely didn’t include all of that writing here because it wouldn‘t be helpful to anyone except to show the absurd amount of time and thought and back-and-forths I had with myself. So this is me noting that the below ideas did not just come out of my brain like this.
That said, I’ve tried to keep a bit of my internal back-and-forth to show my general thought process.
Just Show Up
Just Show Up is (or at least could one day be) an accountability tool to
help force bloggers to blog consistently. The blogger inputs her URL, selects a frequency that she promises to post (daily, weekly, custom), and then pledges a certain amount of money. Then if she ever fails to publish a post on time (with a little wiggle room) her credit card is automatically charged however much she pledged.
There will be a private community for all members who accomplish their goal. To remain in the community, though, you must keep posting.
That community will include a Slack channel. It will also include a profit share. 90% of all of the money from the people who fail will be divided amongst the people who succeeded.
Scratch that. Scratch all but the simplest part of it. I talk and talk and talk about MVPs and failing fast and what not, and here I am dreaming up all these secondary features.
What’s the simplest possible way to do this? Okay, cool. I’m going to do that.
No customization. A flat risk amount of $249. My buddy Brian Ball recommended that figure, and I like it. Why? It’s high enough that the average blogger will think twice about letting it slip away, but not so high that that same blogger will crush himself trying to get it back if it really doesn’t make sense to do so.
I want to help people that like blogging become consistent bloggers. If the stake is too high then everyone will succeed (which also means no money for me), a lot of them solely for the money, and they’ll end up resenting blogging because of it.
PayPal (I can’t use Stripe for reasons that would make me mad to explain) allows refunds for 180 days. That’s a touch under 26 weeks. I want some wiggle room on either side of that. Time before so I can start the things in waves if I want to, and time after so I can ask people if they want a refund or if they want to extend their challenge, and maybe even if they want to forego a part of their refund to thank me for my accountability services.
21 weeks it is. It’s a cool number, and is enough less than 26. Sold.
How about verification method? Before too long I’d like to have an RSS reader do all of this for me. But that’s not very MVP. So to start, especially because I really want to build up a personal rapport with the early adopters so I can know how to fine-tune this for the future, I’ll send out a weekly email and have people reply to it with their latest blog post. Old school? Yes. MVP school? Yes.
So that’s it. Pay me $249 via PayPal. Publish at least one post per week for 21 weeks straight and email me the link each time. Miss a week and I keep your money. Hit all 21 weeks and I give you a full refund.
After several hours of deliberating I bought JustFreakingPublish.com to house this, because that’s the kind of domain that I’d sign up to, and this service is for competitive assholes like me.
Scratch that. Upon further consideration I’ve decided to use BlogEveryWeek.com instead, so I just bought that. That’s a way more clear offering, and has the side benefit of not alienating anybody who doesn’t like pseudo potty language.
Scratch that. I feel like this is one of those instances where personality trumps clarity, so I’m switching back to JustFreakingPublish.com.
Scratch that. JustShowUp.co is the clear winner, right? For now, anyway, yes.
Fanship is a SaaS (software as a service) that turns website visitors into fans and fans into customers. It covers the whole lifecycle with a single tool. Not only does that mean less headache for website owners, but it also means lower expenses (fewer tools to buy) and more effectiveness (the tools can all talk to each other and share data).
It combines email opt-in, email marketing, analytics, and commenting in a single, streamlined service. Essentially it’s the best parts of Sumo, MailChimp, Intercom, and Disqus all rolled into one. But it’s better than all of those individual things put together because of how they’ll be so seamless.
Scratch that. Fanship was originally supposed to be a list-building tool, a commenting tool, an analytics tool, and an email marketing tool all rolled into one. Combining all of those things into a single tool made sense to me. And it still does.
The problem is that even I - the most biased person this site could ever know - get lost when looking at the landing page containing all of those different tools and making all of those different promises. I want the headline to sell you on this tool’s awesomeness, but that’s tough to do when I’m trying to convey the benefit of three different tools in one short sentence.
And even if I could adequately convey the benefit of all of the features, I’m still at a disadvantage compared to pitching a single feature. Why? Because there’s a good chance that you don’t want all of the features. Someone who’s in love with ConvertKit or Drip might kill to get their hands on a commenting tool or a list-building tool, but they have no use for an email marketing tool and thus this product is not for them. That sucks.
Okay, so I should pick one feature and run with that, right? Well... the thing I’ve been struggling with is that all of these tools work together soooooo well. The email marketing uses the analytics for segmenting. Commenting is part of the list-building approach. List-building directly benefits the email marketing.
That’s why I’ve decided that the best solution is to break this up into three smaller projects which are:
- OptInside.co: An email ”paywall” that intelligently limits a reader’s access until he becomes an email subscriber.
- Fansay.co: A flexible website commenting and live chat system that is only for email subscribers. Goodbye spammers and trolls. Hello rapid list growth.
- TailorSent.com: An email marketing and on-site messaging tool that lets you send tailored messages to subscribers based on the pages they view and the actions they take.
(FYI I went through at least 30 different domain names for each of those projects. The three names up there are the winners.)
If only one of these ends up getting built (based on validation testing), that’s totally cool. If multiple get built then I can have them play together nicely so that they all talk to each other, and so that it’s just as easy for someone to install all of the tools on her website as one of the tools.
Opt Inside is an email "paywall" that eventually requires readers to become email subscribers if they want to continue reading.
"Paywall" is in quotes because there’s no monetary payment. Instead of subscribing for $5/mo like you might on some other site, you subscribe with your email address.
It’s for creatives who want more email addresses without doing more work. Plug. Play. Done. Personally I love writing and hate doing all that other crap that comes along with writing, and I imagine that I’m not the only creative who feels this way.
What other crap? In this case spending time trying to lure in new email subscribers. That includes experimenting with copy, creating free downloads, trying new gimmicks, etc.
But people are on your site for your writing. Which means your writing is the most powerful email opt-in you could ever dream of, but NOBODY IS USING IT.
Since when are all bloggers required to give all of their writing away without requiring so much as an email address in return? My contention is that we should RISE UP! Time to respect our writing enough to realize that it’s worth an email address.
If this were to be widely adopted then it’d make readers happy, too. There’d be no need for any popups or welcome mats ever again.
Fansay is a website commenting system that is only for fans (i.e. email subscribers).
How many bloggers do you know that have turned off website commenting because they’re tired of moderating the crappy comments? I guess that depends how many bloggers you know and how well you know them, but anyway...
Or how many bloggers don’t have comments because they’re afraid of the negative social proof that "0 comments" provides.
Fansay solves both of those problems. First, by being fan-only the chance of spam goes wayyyy down versus something like a standard WordPress commenting system. How many spammers are willing to do a double opt-in to leave their gibberish?
Second, you choose what non-fans see. You can have them see all of the comments, or just see the number of comments, or nothing at all. And this can be configured based on how many comments there are. So on active pages you can show off, and on inactive pages you can hide.
Last but not least, this is accidentally a great email list building tool. Show off the juicy comments to a non-fan and let him get sucked in. Just as he tries to submit his reply... BAM! "In order to fight spam and create a sense of community commenting is only for email subscribers. Please enter your email address in order to submit this comment."
Tailor Sent is an email marketing and on-site messaging platform that tracks each pageview of both subscribers and lurkers.
It’s basically Intercom, but tailored toward bloggers talking to fans instead of toward businesses talking to leads.
Scratch that. After speaking with a few people, and then reflecting on it myself, I realize that Tailor Sent is a terrible idea. It’s overly crowded, and the unique selling proposition that I’m bringing to the table isn’t really that unique. On top of that, it’d be a gargantuan task to build and an even bigger task to support. I don’t mind investing the time and energy, but it’s a bloated idea that’s essentially already been done. I’m a lifestyle minimalist, and that applies to my business as well. That means I prefer the simple things in life when possible. And it also means I don’t like the idea of reinventing the wheel. So Tailor Sent is going bye bye.
A Tool With No Name
I was talking with a friend recently (sorry, friend, I don’t remember which one 🙁) and he mentioned RightMessage.com. I hadn’t heard of it, so I looked into it and thought two things:
- This looks well done, appears to be growing nicely (based on creeping on various Twitter feeds), and is something that I could easily see myself buying as soon as I get enough traffic for it to make sense.
That got me thinking. Instead of thinking of an itch of mine that I’d like to scratch, why not look back at all of my itches that I’ve already scratched? Perhaps those are the itches that needed scratching the most.
The two most notable "hacks" I’ve done recently are:
- Requiring an email address in order to view some of my articles. This is Opt Inside in a nutshell.
- Auto-syncing my writing app with my website’s database such that my writing app is effectively my CMS.
That second "hack" (I refuse to not put that word in quotes) has saved me so much time and makes me so happy that it’s gotta be worth pursuing. So, if I decide I want to add a fourth project to the mix, this is it.
Since it’s not a definite I’m not going to spend a bunch of time nailing down the details. It’d be a desktop app, probably Mac OS first and then eventually that other OS (but not Linux) if I felt like it.
It’d probably start off as just a Menu Bar App, then, if popular enough, could one day morph into a standalone writing app. But these are thoughts for a future day.
Want to feel better about yourself? Go back and count how many times I said "scratch that" in this post. And those are just the ones that made the final edit.
This was not a pretty process. I changed my mind a few hundred times. Oh well.