Which Problem Should I Solve?

Hi, My Name is Mel…

Until Dec 2007, I ran a web design company called Volcanic Marketing. Mid-2007, I had a few life changing epiphanies, one of which got me going down the road to med school. I changed a lot of things in Volcanic, including cutting out design services (I am wrapping up my last website on Tuesday) and building partner/reseller relationships with companies that created marketing software that I liked & used (which is all I offer my clients today.)

So what’s the deal with this 48-hour launch?

While studying for my upcoming chemistry final, I had an idea for an experiment. I want to see if I can create and launch a marketing software (offered as a service) in 48 hours or less. 12 days x 4-hr sessions = 48 hrs. Why 48 hours? To force myself to solve only a small problem with a simple solution. Another reason is because I will be taking summer classes (Biology & Physics) so I don’t have much time. And according to David Heinemeier Hansson, this is a good thing.

In watching a lot of the videos from the StartUp School, one thing that I heard over and over was to focus on a problem. And this brings me to the first main decision I need to make about my 48-hr experiment:

What problem should I solve… can I solve in 48 hours?

I’ve got three problems that I’ve been thinking about.

  • Constant Contact Report + History – CC is great at delivering emails into the inbox but their reports suck and I find it very frustrating that I loose all information about my campaigns after 90-days. Storage is cheap! WTF Constant Contact!?!?

Solution: CC allows it’s users to download a CSV (data) file of each campaign, so I could build an app that proccessed these data files a spit out useful reports… and it could save the data forever so I could look-up Joe Smith and see all the emails I’ve sent them in the last 5-yrs.

  • Chemistry in Bite-Size Chunks in my RSS – Some days I waste too much time in my RSS reader. Yesterday was one of those days. It’s like the 7-11 slogan: “Too much good stuff!” After 30-minutes of browsing through stuff I won’t need in the near future, I thought “I wish my chemistry book/course was delivered to me in tiny-bites, every day in this RSS reader.” And then I remembered reading a statistic that 80-90% of people who buy books, don’t read past chapter 2. I see a problem with that. Also, I remembered that when was learning Ruby on Rails, I noticed that a remarkable amount of information was available online but they were all over the place with no structure for learning it. I didn’t even know where to start.

Solution: A app that allows people to create small lessons that are delivered over time (daily, weekly, etc) via RSS, email or a website could solve this problem.

I could see people charging others for a “Learn Ruby on Rails in 60-Days” or “Learn Chem 1A Concepts in 90-Days” course. Other courses could be free, created using stuff already available online.

It would also be good for retaining info. Last semester, I took an Anatomy & Physiology class. A lot of material was covered and I could probably remember most of it back if I refreshed my memory. What if I could subscribe to a course that did just that. It kept my memory fresh on the concepts of Anatomy & Physiology.

  • Marketing Planner – Over 90% of companies I’ve met use either Word or Excel + a Calendar to plan out their marketing activities. This is a particularly unproductive way planning out marketing. What usually happens is that once the document is created, it becomes a reference guide instead of something that people interactive with. It’s usually not updated or changed.

Solution: BaseCamp is a great way to manage projects. If there was a app BaseCamp-like app, focused on marketing planning … so it came preloaded with templates for common marketing activities, it would make my life and my clients life much easier. This could be very useful for marketing consultants.

All three problems have the following in common:

  • They are all my problems.
  • All can be monetized by having a subscription-plan.
  • All can have a free version that offers some features and encourages people to upgrade for a few extra killer features.

So I have to decide on which ONE of these I want to do during my “48-hr launch” experiment. Here’s how I see the pro’s & con’s of each problem:

  • CC Reports & History:
    • Pro: user base is already established
    • Pro: Community website for reaching user base is relatively active
    • Pro: CSV files are easily downloadable by users so training won’t be a pain in the ass
    • Con: An update from CC could render my app obsolete.
    • Con: Users could be happy with CC just the way it is. Maybe they don’t care about reports that can help you figure out when the right time to send your email is… or they don’t care that the history is lost after 90 days.
    • Con: I don’t know how to process CSV files in Ruby on Rails just yet. This means I could spent the entire 48 hrs learning how to do this and end up with no application.
    • Con: There is at least one email marketing software that offers usable reports much better than Constant Contact (even though their deliver rate is not as good.)
  • Mini Lessons
    • Pro: Big potential.
    • Pro: I know how to do most of it. I’ll just need to refresh my knowledge of Ruby on Rails.
    • Pro: Rails allows me to deliver content in RSS, email & other formats with little extra work. Which means development time of delivering to new formats (ie. iGoogle widget, MyYahoo, etc) won’t take a lot of time.
    • Pro: It could help content authors make money… which means they’ll be willing to pay money.
    • Con: Might not be accepted by content authors.
  • Marketing Planner
    • Pro: I can create the project templates using my knowledge as well as many other marketing experts I know.
    • Pro: Co-branded versions can be created in the future focused on specific marketing methodologies… such as Guerilla Marketing.
    • Con: Feels like a big app and might not get completed in 48 hrs.
    • Con: Might be considered a copy of BaseCamp… which would be a legitimate accusation. This software is definitely inspired by BaseCamp to an extend.

I have to make a decision by Tuesday afternoon on which road I am going down (since that is when all my finals will be wrapped up) so let me ask you:

Which problem should I solve?

PS: I will be actively blogging my progress. Come back often (or add me to your RSS reader) to keep track of what’s happening.


19 responses to “Which Problem Should I Solve?

  1. Hey Mel,

    I am currently trying to solve problem #2 with ezlearnz.com (which is incidentally written in RoR). What do you think about teaming up?

  2. Hi Andrew! I browsed through your site and it looks interesting. Let’s chat on Gtalk and take things from there.

  3. Reading a CSV file in Ruby is very easy, just send me an email if you need some help. 🙂

    Or have a look at FasterCSV.

  4. Hi Michele,

    Thanks for the offer to help with CSV & Rails. I might take you up on it if I go down that road.

    PS: I checked out your 16bugs.com site. It looks very valuable for developers. Good job on that.

  5. I vote the marketing planner but do me a favor: make sure you solve the one problem BaseCamp doesn’t: allow us to have milestone templates. Do that – focus on that one niche. (marketing planner) and do it right and no one ill complain.

    That’s my vote 🙂

    Good luck!

  6. Anders Kaas Petersen


    I’m not sure which of your 3 projects will be the best, but my vote goes to #2, Mini lessons.


  7. I would go with the Mini-Lessons.

    Your Pro’s seem to be the best there, and the Con’s are not really a force to be worred about.

    Your other two seem to reflect that they “might” be the next killer app for their platform, problem is there is no longer any such thing as a Killer App, only a improvement on an already existing idea. Trust me, I have been using computers and was in the IT business from 1977 through 2004, the LAST killer app that came out was Netscape.

    You seem to have a good idea as to the customer base, how to do it, and why its needed. I would tackle that one first and then look at the other two later when you have the time to spend on them.

    Iroquois Bay

  8. I would do the Constant Contact report upgrade. You have a clear need, an identified market that’s easy to reach, and a likely exit in that Constant Contact would want to acquire it (or a competitor who wanted to gain mindshare with current CC users).

  9. Because of the time constraint and the fact that it would be huge with the college crowd, i vote for the mini lessons. It’s really a simple idea that adresses a need in a way that requires modifying existing technology. I see it as being a site like youtube where one could go, search for content and then subscribe to the “educational feed” of choice. Emerging authors could gauge potential interest in their projects, students could get those little reminders regarding course information, someone could learn words in a new language. There’s a lot of potential there, and based on the ability to segment the subscribers, it would capture the attention of advertisers which = revenue generator.

    Whats up Mel! You have my number!

  10. Could you figure out number 1. I suspect if you don’t, I will be asked by my boss to figure it out. Hehehe.

    Thanks, Tripp

  11. Mel,

    This is a great idea and very inspiring. I’m taking on the 48 hour challenge myself; I’ll be watching your progress!


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  14. Hey Mel, just in case you aren’t aware, your idea # 2 has already been taken by Dailylit (http://www.dailylit.com/). And it shoudn’t take them much to deliver educational content via email/RSS. ALL the best for the other ideas though!

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  17. A fantastic Idea, I will watch with interest.

  18. My company, Mimecast, are missing from the email side – strange as we are the World’s largest on-line archiver of email! We do complete end-to-end email lifecycle management – hygiene, data leak prevention, continuity, retention and discovery.

    Good luck with everything.

  19. Whoops, mistype – meant as a comment for another post 😉

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