44.25 Hours & Counting

For newbies to this blog, here’s some quick background info: Three weeks back, I decided to do an experiment. I wanted to see if I could launch a SaaS product in 48 hours (12 days x 4 hrs.) I had 3 different ideas for products I could build and decided to run with “Chemistry in Bite-Size Chunks delivered via Email or RSS” app.

View the latest version at www.brainbankhq.com

Over the last few weeks, I’ve put 44.25 hrs (yes, I’ve tracked) into my “48 Hour Launch” experiment. Where do I stand? Will I make the 48 hr deadline? Am I a multi-millionaire yet?

Okay, you probably don’t care about the last one as much as I do but here are answers: i) much further than I thought, ii) possibly iii) nope, not there yet.

Where do I stand?
I’ve given this baby a name. I call it Brain Bank. I love brains (specifically how they are capable of so much) and banks are a place where people storage their valuables, including money, jewelry, etc. I believe hard-earned wisdom & knowledge are a person’s/company’s most prized asset, Brain Bank seem appropriate.

After 44.25 hrs of coding, the application is quiet complete for ‘1.0’ version. Following in the footsteps of ‘half, not half-assed‘, Brain Bank is a simple software. Here is what you’ll be able to do at launch:

  • Browse through courses available ***
  • View information about a course ***
  • Register for an account ***
  • Enroll into a course (which will email you the next lesson every morning, until you’ve received the last lesson.) ****
  • Email automatically goes out every morning for people enrolled in courses ****
  • Un-enrolling from a course *
  • Create a course & add information about it ****
  • Add, edit & remove lessons into courses ****
  • Change the order of lessons ****
  • Add a cover for your course **
  • Edit your “About the author” biography section & showing this info on course page *

* Not started
** Started
*** Almost-done/Layout-design tweaks left
**** Done/Not gonna touch anymore

There are a lot of things that I wanted in version 1.0 that won’t make it in the first version including:

  • Paid accounts
  • Welcome email when someone enrolls into a course
  • Adding pictures into lessons
  • Adding video into lessons
  • AutoSave when creating lessons
  • RSS feeds for enrollments
  • Performance optimizations
  • Customized portal pages for authors
  • “Send Me a Preview Email” when authoring a lesson
  • Ajax interface
  • Single lesson courses
  • Option to “Turn Course into PDF” that automatically creates a classy ebook and makes it available to those enrolled in a course
  • Supplementary Files (for such as PowerPoint/Word/PDF/etc files)
  • Discussion forums

Planning went out the window
In my second post Day 1: Action Plan, I talked about some of my planning process. Five hours into the coding, pretty much all that planning went out the window. First lesson I learned was that multiple lists just don’t work, at least for me.

What did work for me was having one list, which I called 2-week dev plan. As I thought of things that needed to be done, I added it to the list. Tasks were sometimes detailed, such as “Change the width on the columns on the home page to fix the IE6 problem.” Other times they were general such as “Allow uploading of Cover graphic.” My to-do list served as reminder tool instead of a self-micro-management tool, which is how I think I was using it initially. It’s main purpose is to facilitate “flow” between completion of one thing to moving on to the next thing.

No paid plans? WTF!?
Version 1.0 of BrainBank will not have paid plans.

And for this reason, I can’t claim my experiment to a success as the idea was to launch a new company in 48 hours. And a company isn’t a real company if it doesn’t make money… it’s a non-profit.

The reason there will be no paid plans is because it will take time to code it as I’ve never done it before. I could just buy the SasS Kit but I’m not confident it will be money worth spent. Secondly, I’ll need to deal with the bank, set-up a corporation, etc etc. At this point, I feel it’s better to spend the limited time I’ve got in building something useful. But make no mistake about it, paid plans are a top priority and it will probably look something like the table below. This is just early brainstorming so don’t hold me to this:

Feature/Limits Premium
$45/mo
Basics
$25/mo
Starter
Free
Published Courses Unlimited 5 1
Draft-status Courses Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited
Sell Courses
Month Active Students 1000 500 50
Disk Space (for images) 1 GB 500 MB 50 MB
Invite-Only /
Private Courses
Discussion
for lessons

What do you think? I’m very open to ideas.

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Competition?

I haven’t been working on this project daily as I initially suspected but I’m making progress.

In my first post, Kalpesh Khivasara pointed me to DailyLit.com. They let you read books via RSS. And they’ve implemented things really well as far as I can see. And I had to deal with a big issue… what do you do when a competitor has already built something you’re starting to build? At first, I was ready to concede the problem to them. I had two other problems I could be solving. I slept on the decision and thought about the problem I wanted to solve and tried to get more specific with how I wanted to solve it.

The DailyLit approach is to sell/consume books via email & RSS and that is great. I hope more books do eventually become available on DailyLit. It would help more people start using RSS.

My approach is to let people create/consume courses via email & RSS. The difference is that I will allow normal experts to put together courses very quickly and these courses content would not be found in books. The implication of this is that my revenue strategy is very different than DailyLit. My main revenue source will be users who want to create content and either charge for their courses or want special features for their account such as private content. Here are users I’m creating the app for:

  • Companies how have their processes inside word documents, They could use this system as their LSM by creating private content for their employees only. If every task in a company is well documented, the company becomes more valuable to buyers as it won’t require the owners knowledge to make it run.
  • Consultants who want to create a passive income stream or passive lead generation method. They could use the system to sell/give-away useful courses to generate revenue/leads.
  • Students who want to share/sell what they learned in their courses so they can review their knowledge at a latter point in time and help others as well.

I personally fall in all three cases. And all three scenarios are not addressed by DailyLit and represents a focus that is different than DailyLit. With this in mind, I decided to continue on the same path.

My current progress can be seen at www.marketingapp.com and I’ve posted some screenshots of how I see it looking in the near future. I hope to have a usable version by today or tomorrow.

Day 1: Action Plan

The problem I have decided to focus on is Bite-Size Chemistry Lesson in my RSS Reader because it’s the one that I will need to use almost daily for the next 3 to 5 years in my quest to becoming a medical doctor. It also has good commercial applications and was also most recommended in the feedback I’ve received on my blog, friends and business mentors.

Today is Wednesday, day 1 of my 12 day experiment.

Quiet a few successful people preach the “ready, fire, aim” approach… where you jump in asap to get a feel for unknowns quickly. I don’t work that way most of the time. I need to figure out what I’m going to before I do it… at least at a general level. So that is where I started today.

My plan of action

In my BaseCamp account, I created a new project called Mini Lessons, in which I created a few to-do lists:

  • Technical Ingredients for 1.0 – technical know-how that I need to learn such as how to send emails from inside a Ruby on Rails app
  • Learner Feature Set for 1.0 – limited to 2 features right now (subscribing via email or rss to a course)
  • System & Admin Feature Set for 1.0 – the underlying fundementals that need to be in place for a working site, such as subscription billing, user accounts, etc
  • Author Feature Set for 1.0 – Limited to 1 feature (WYSIWIG for entering text & pictures and embedding videos & slides.)
  • Decisions to make for 1.0 – such as App name, whether to pay for SaaS Rails Kit or write code myself, etc
  • Future Features for Authors – list of features I won’t be building right now (to keep myself disciplined and focused)
  • Future Features for Learners – same as above

A Confession…

After I realized that not knowing how to process CSV data files (similar to Excel file but with no formatting) was going to be a limiting factor in my decisions (this one and maybe future decisions), I got an undying itch to conquer this terrain. I spent about 3 hours doing that today and with the help of the awesome Ruby on Rails community, I was able to kick some CSV ass. I’m counting the 3 hrs as play-time and so it won’t count against my 48 hours. 😛

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.