“You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
— Rocky Balboa
I’ve started a couple of startups in the past and I probably did everything wrong someone could. But I’ve learned so much from my failures and also from a great community that supported me from day one. People that I haven’t met before. Startups that I haven’t heard of before. They all answered my questions patiently, connected me with the right people and did everything to help me succeed without wanting something in return.
That’s why we — that’s Moritz and me — want to keep Samu as transparent and open as possible. Sharing what worked for us and what did not. Helping people like me to pursue their dreams.
How I came up with the idea
Finding an idea for a startup is never easy, but I would give you the following advice: try solving a problem that you experience yourself and haven’t found any solution for it yet.
For me this problem always has been managing my tasks. I’ve tried out so many different tools over the last 10 years, but none of them just felt right. I’ve nearly always lost my focus — which meant ending up feeling less productive than without a task management tool.
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
When I was thinking on how to solve this problem for me, it struck me. I’ve remembered something I’ve learned back at school: the Eisenhower matrix, a time management technique used by presidents, business leaders and celebrities. I immediately loved the idea. It is simple, it’s in a niche with little competition and it’s widely used across people all over the world.
Validating my assumptions
I’ve spent around one and half years building another startup, and it ultimately failed. I did a lot of mistakes, but assuming to know what people wanted was probably the biggest one. We built an amazing piece of technology, but people just had no need for it.
At the end of that period I was introduced to the Lean Startup approach by Eric Ries. I was fascinated, especially after I found out that Buffer — a startup that I was closely following for 3 years — used the same approach to build their company. Joel, the founder of Buffer, actually invented a very smart approach to validate if people were willing to pay for a service that does not even exist.
“Samu is a way to bring mindfulness into everyday life as well as to get things done.” — Wikipedia
Inspired by Joel’s approach I’ve called the product Samu as I liked its meaning and used samuapp.com as the domain. I needed a homepage explaining the product and a pricing page explaining the subscription plans. If a user tried to sign up, I’ve displayed a dialog asking for his email address.
The complete website was up and running in less than 5 hours.
Finally the time came to test my assumption. I posted Samu in a few Facebook groups and tweeted a couple of times about it. This brought me close to 500 visitors, leading to 93 people trying to sign up. More interesting, 10 people opted to give me their email address although they’ve been told that this service does not exist yet.
This was the validation of my assumption. People are interested in paying for such a service. On a personal level this experiment was a huge success too. Instead of spending time on developing something that people might want, I can now build a product with the people that are willing to pay for this service.
Finding a co-founder
I quickly realized that my coding skills are not enough to build this product. I’ve built a basic prototype, but it wasn’t something that you could sell. And I know that a lot of people say that you should be ashamed of your first version, but I don’t think this is entirely true in 2016. People are used to beautiful designs these days and there’s way more competition than 10 or even 5 years ago.
So I needed a technical co-founder. Someone who has a lot of experience in building products and ideally also experience on a business level. But how do you find such a guy?
I think in the end it’s often luck. Being at the right place at the right time. But it definitely helps to have a large network.
I’ve met Moritz while I was still working for Die Socialisten. He was the best friend of my former CTO and helped us as a freelancer with one of our projects last summer. From the beginning I was not only amazed by his skills, but also by his desire to ship great products.
I told him about my idea and how I validated it. I showed him the designs and the prototype I’ve built. Although he liked it from the beginning, it was his girlfriend who finally convinced him by telling him that she uses the Eisenhower Matrix at work (without any tool).
Building a MVP & first paying customer
One of the core principles of the Lean Startup method is to work smarter, not harder. So instead of spending months on building a product packed with features, we opted to build a minimum viable product that can be released in less than 30 days.
Additionally validating our assumption had a great positive side effect: we were able to get customer feedback while still developing the MVP. This was extremely valuable and it made sure that we built a product for the needs of our users. Furthermore it helped us to release an extremely stable product as our users were amazingly fast in finding bugs.
After exactly 24 days we’ve released Samu to the public. It felt amazing. Even better, we were able to welcome our first paying customer only two days afterwards.
Samu is easiest way to manage your tasks. It’s based on the Eisenhower Matrix, a time management technique used by presidents, business leaders and celebrities. Try it out at samuapp.com