How we launched our startup for $100 with less than a week of work

This isn’t our whiteboard. Ours is tiny, cheap, hung up by a bit of string, and in my living room

Our recently launched startup vidd cost us a mere $100 to set up and involved very little work, around 40 hours each for both myself and my co-founder John Harrison 🎥.ws (spread out over a few weekends). How were we able to achieve that?

Step 1: Buy a domain name ($30, 2 hours)

Since we’re a startup we needed a cool domain name. My co-founder has been in the domain buying and selling business for a while and had many to choose from already, but I’m still going to consider this cost.

Step 2: Build the product (free, 20 hours)

We’ve taken the approach of finding a proven idea and putting a spin on it. For us we settled on a URL shortener that has a targeted audience: anyone interested in cameras! This hopefully means that we can capture that segment of the wider URL shortener market more effectively than more generic offerings.

Because URL shorteners are already popular we set out to find an open source solution that gets us 90% of the way there. We found an excellent product called Polr which fit most of our needs. Polr is GPLv2 licensed which means any changes we want to make must be released as open source, but so far we haven’t had the need, as is it’s a superb project.

The only major feature we needed that Polr didn’t offer was taking payments. I used Stripe which is among the most pleasant pieces of technology I have ever worked with. It costs nothing to set up, although they take a cut from each payment, and their foreign exchange rates are awful. Still, it’s worth the price in the hours saved.

I then created a payment page using something called ‘middleware’, akin to a plugin or extension for Polr. I use Stripe’s pre-built forms instead of building custom ones. They look good and it saved time.

I also created a landing page. We created a video for the landing page and hosted it on Wistia — again for free — and added some picture instructions.

Finally, I added Google Analytics (free again) in order to get some insight in to our traffic. I set up a few goals and funnels because I like looking at pretty graphs.

Step 3: Hosting and HTTPS (free, 10 hours)

We are using AWS for hosting which will allow for easy future expansion and global deployments. For now we’re using the free tier which means we won’t pay a penny until we have enough traffic to demand more resources (or until we decide to activate global deployments).

I set up reproducible deployments using Ansible, a great tool for managing and provisioning servers, and integrated Let’s Encrypt which creates HTTPS certificates for free.

Step 4: Advertise (~$70, 5 hours)

We set up a Facebook Ad campaign for three days with £20 per day budget. This will allow us to work out whether our idea will work, and also to find out what segments of the market we may be popular with. We chose Facebook over other choices to advertise because we couldn’t really imagine people searching for “URL shortener geared towards people who like cameras”. It feels more like a product that we have to show exists because people wouldn’t typically think to look for it.

This involved creating an image for the ad, choosing the interests, careers, and other segmentation categories which for now we have plucked out of thin air since we have no idea, and creating a Facebook page for our company.

John Harrison 🎥.ws has also been working tirelessly to reach out to people directly who have been extremely valuable in getting feedback and also some help.

Step 5: Watch and learn

This step isn’t complete yet, but the above four steps are all it took to go from idea to product to validation.

What comes next? Well that’s up to the users and the data. If we’ve validated the idea can work then we’ll start drilling down with more specific hypothesis, always trying to find the answer through data.

With the whole product being unproven at this point any advice I could give wouldn’t be backed up by evidence. Hence there is no advice in this post, only an explanation of what we’ve done; a demonstration that if you have that itch to start something it can be done with surprisingly little effort and cost.

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