Startups are all about constraints

You can start a web startup with the money you find between your couch cushions, but good luck trying to start a rocket company that way. Web startups are unique in that they require no upfront investment whatsoever. For all of history you needed to have money to make money. No shortage of corny expressions saying so. But not anymore! The internet is the great equalizer. And the internet is still growing rapidly, which means there is an abundance of opportunity. That’s pretty sweet, too.

However, even web startups face significant constraints. But that’s alright. It just means you have to be a little creative.

Constraint 1: Web Tech

You have to use Javascript and CSS which greatly limits what you can create. Essentially you’re restricted to using a tiny fraction of the computing power on the device and you’re locked into a browser sandbox that is crufty and constantly shifting under your feet. Code you write today might stop working tomorrow or next year, but almost certainly by the next decade. The more you push at the boundaries of what’s possible within the constraints of a browser the more likely your code is to suddenly stop working on one of the major web browsers. Windows and Linux utilities written 20 years ago still run fine on modern machines. On the web everything breaks for no reason. If the web is so bad, then why build a web app at all? Because the web takes care of the distribution problem.

I suppose the silver lining is that many of the web products out there that you’ll end up competing with will be barely functional. The quality bar you have to meet is low on the web, but despite that we still intend to make something that’s rock solid.

Constraint 2: Time

We’re giving ourselves 80 days. That’s not much, when you take into account we also want to document what we do. We risk running out of time if we waste even a couple of weeks going into technical dead ends. We have to ruthlessly cut all non-essential functionality. We have to say no to almost all the thing we want to include. After we cut nearly everything will we be left with something that’s not just a pointless toy? It’s a fine line to walk. If we don’t get the core set of features right nobody will get excited about our product. But if we build too much we’ll have to rush at the expense of quality. Tomorrow we’ll create a rough timeline of how we think we should allocate our 80 days. Err, I mean, 77!

Constraint 3: Audience

Even if you have the technical skills to make something, and the time in which to do it, you still won’t get anywhere if you don’t have a way of reaching your target market. We’re no good at marketing, and we don’t particularly enjoy it. Which means we can only build products that can –at least in part– sell themselves by word of mouth. In addition, we want to make something that we can directly drop people into so they can play with it. The product must largely sell itself, because we’re not going to. This means we’ll have to put a lot of our attention on onboarding. We have to make a great first impression and our app has to feel fresh. When the traffic to your website is only a trickle you have to convert a large percentage of your visitors. We’ll have to compensate for our lack of marketing skills by making a sticky app with good curb appeal. This means we can’t build anything that confuses people or that is too weird.

Constraint 4: Money

I’m adding this constraint for completeness, and because money and time are interchangeable. We could self-fund several years of development before launching anything. That way we could do exploratory programming and we could tackle much more difficult technical challenges. But we’re not giving ourselves a budget here, except for the bare minimum. We’ll need some server space. A MacBook maybe. We won’t spend anything that would put a big dent in your savings. There is no money for ads. We’re not flying to conferences. We’re sticking to the basics.

Our goal with #80daystartup is to show how you can bootstrap from nothing. No money, too little time, no audience. You just have to be very mindful of the constraints you face. Our goals here are intentionally modest, in an effort to show that starting a very simple startup is still totally worthwhile. And if all goes to plan we can show that something that starts as a very modest startup can easily pivot and grow into something far more ambitious. But that’s something for a later update :).

You can follow us on Twitter @jdvhouten and @wcools and look for #80daystartup

Read more

Work/new-life balance
Durable tech
Early user feedback
Spending time to save time
Products want to be platforms
Always be launching
Enjoying the journey
Work-life balance
Recap @ Day 59
Perils of caching
Making sense of contradictions
Trust signals
DIY javascript error logging
Taxes: an automation story
Magical thinking
Start small
High conviction, low conviction
Most deals fail

Post archive