How I’m hustling a $9 startup idea validation.

Building an early-user mob for Skim while being cheap! 

Some Background

I’ve always been a man with many hats. Hacker, Hipster, Hustler — I’ve done it all. The following is the story of how I’m trying to validate an exciting idea I came up with my partner in crime — Pritesh. It’s called ‘Skim’.

Caution — Shameless plug ahead! ☺

Skim is a content browser for adventures in your city. We curate activities for our users every weekend, so they can meet more often. Think of Skim as

“A Flipboard for Adventures”

So while Pritesh and I are hacking up our Minimum Loveable Product, I thought it’s about time we cultivate a mob of Skim enthusiasts.

Now, if you’re a newbie growth hacker or just an idea-preneur sitting on the fence, I hope this blog helps you take the plunge towards floating your idea out there for validation. The Best Part — It doesn’t take much to do it! Here’s how I’m doing it — while being really cheap!


I can’t stress enough how important it is to get your early access website out there and gather a mob while you’re still hacking up your MVP. The idea is to seek some signs of validation while you’re still building out the real product.

Building my early access website

It took me really not too much time to design and develop a cool signup website — A few days tops! This was partially because I am an Interaction Designer in my day job and have done Web-dev back in my college days.

Side-note — For those of you who have never touched code yet, you could either learn to code HTML websites from scratch OR use products like Unbounce, Launchrock etc. Though I’d really like all of you hustlers out there to give coding a try, but hey I’m not judging if you don’t!

Onwards.

So now that I had build my website, I needed some real photos to explain my idea. This is really important to gain trust with people visiting your ‘idea’ website by looking like a legit product.


Stock Photos

One look at the price tag on iStockPhotos and I was scampering away from there like Bilbo Baggins from Smaug in The Hobbit!

How did I manage to be cheap here? Glad you ask.

Creative Commons

Here is a great resource by Dustin Senos on ‘Stock Photos that don’t suck’ for free photos. You can also find some great photos by just searching keywords on the CreativeCommons.org website.

Now that I had completed my shiny new HTML website it was time I found a reliable place I could host it for free.

Enter Parse.


Parse Hosting

Parse is by far the greatest backend service for all kinds of apps. Also, they have a really liberal ‘Free’ tier in their pricing plans. A million API requests a month!!? Talk about Freemium.

So since we were already using Parse in our app’s MLP, I decided to give hosting our website on Parse a try. To my surprise, it worked like a charm. All I needed were a few terminal commands and I was already at

$ parse deploy

Here is the official tutorial you could follow to deploy your own website. It’s dead simple. Trust me.

But there was a problem (Yes, like always) — unless I paid for the pro account at $200 a month, my url would look like…

http://skim.parseapp.com

Bummer!

I couldn’t possibly go live with a URL, which screamed of my free loading on Parse! And, I could never afford to pay for a service that expensive! How would I get that cool custom domain then?
Turns out, I had the answer glaring right in front of me — GoDaddy.


Domain Masking

Since I needed a domain name anyways I went over to GoDaddy, to grab mine. .CO domains are in vogue now (and I was dead sure I’d never get a .COM), so I tried skim.co. Taken. Hmph!

So finally our website was christened — getSkim.co and I shelled out $9 for it!

But I still needed to hook up this domain name to my Parse website. And get rid of that ugly parseapp.com domain hanging on Skim’s tail for dear life!

Here’s how I did it, and did it for free!

There is a simple option that every domain registration service would provide with each domain they sell you. It’s called “Domain forwarding”. But, there is also another tiny option which people rarely use, “Domain forwarding with Masking”. Essentially, it just forwards every ping to this domain name to a specified website and masks the domain name on the browser address bar. All I had to do was set the forward url to http://skim.parseapp.com and flip the masking on. And Voila!

getskim.co

This trick is really simple and straightforward, and It comes with it’s own drawbacks.

Drawback #1: Static pages like mine would work fine and feel exactly the same, but I would not recommend this for a site with many pages and dynamic content. Remember, all your site pages would be masked to one url.

Drawback #2: Another tiny problem is that the favicon at the top in browser tabs gets broken. Maybe this is just my OCD designer brain at work but this is really frustrating!

Drawback #3: It increases the loading time because of the domain forward.

But these are drawbacks I can easily live with… for now.


Collecting emails and Engaging users

Now all Skim needed was an email engagement tool for my shiny red Call-to-Action button on the website. MailChimp fit the bill perfectly! Plus, they had a really good free tier of up to 2000 subscribers and 12k emails per month. Enough for creating my little mob of Skim enthusiasts!

All I had to do was create an honest and personal copy for my emails, redesign some html on MailChimp’s design tool and setup a simple forwarding email to Skim’s Gmail account on GoDaddy. The one you get for free with each domain.

hello@getskim.co.

Done.


The Grand Total — $9 USD!

Followup

I’m also growth-hacking my early user mob registrations. I’ve realised how simple gamification techniques can be really powerful for signup conversions. More on this in the next one.

Till then find me on twitter for an active dialogue on Skim!