26 Feb

The first 8 weeks of The Web App Challenge

Wow, the last eight weeks have gone quickly. On December 31st I announced my goal of going from no idea what to build to having a profitable web application making $5000/month at the end of six months. You can read that post here.


Meet my developer

Since about week three I’ve been working with an awesome Rails developer. I just realized I forgot to introduce you to him. So, dear reader, I’d like you to meet Sam Baumgarten. He’s awesome.

I chose Sam because he was the most eager to work on the project, and he’s an excellent developer. Weeks later  I am thrilled to be working with him. In fact, I am the bottleneck on development progress on ConvertKit. If I were faster at getting designs and markup completed we would be even further along!

Sam has also been writing some blog posts about the process on his blog, which you can read over here: Sam Baumgarten.


Development progress

ConvertKit is currently in alpha, meaning that I am running it on my site (in a few places) and a few other people are testing it out. Once we have the kinks worked out we will be inviting all the people who preordered to start using it. That should be within the next two weeks.

After that, I’m not sure what the rollout plan to the general public will be. We may just open it up or do an invite-only system for a while. Either way, preordering now is the best way to get in first.



The Web App Challenge started with a budget of $5,000. This is the money I personally invested. I knew this alone wouldn’t be enough to reach my goals, but investing such a small amount of money forced me to collect money from customers as early as possible. I’m happy to say it’s been working great!

Here is the current financial status:

  • + $5,000 (Starting Budget)
  • – $2,246.50 (Development)
  • – $125.86 (Hosting)
  • – $17.30 (Domain & Certificate)
  • + $3,028 (Preorders)

Cash on hand: $5,638.34.

Yes, you read that right: After building an MVP of ConvertKit, I have more money on hand than when I started. Preorders have been such a success that it has entirely covered what I’ve spent on development. It is important to note, though, that those preorders will cover the first four months of service for those customers, meaning I won’t collect any more money from them for quite some time. That will need to be accounted for in my cashflow planning.

The number I really care about is monthly revenue. Not how much I’ve collected already, but how much my current customers will be paying each month (not including churn, since I don’t have any data for that yet). With the 19 preorders I have now, ConvertKit will make $1009/month, meaning that my goal of $5,000/month by July 1st is 20% complete.

Tracking Time

I’ve come to the conclusion that I hate tracking my hours. For the first few weeks of the challenge I included updates with how much time I spent on each task. My idea was that it would be cool if I could total up the number of hours spent on design or marketing at the end of the six months.

Turns out, tracking time is annoying. I just want to work on my company without having to remember to write down what I worked on. If I wanted to track time I would do client work.

So, the time breakdown is no more.


All the posts

Here are all the blog posts from the beginning:

  1. Starting The Web App Challenge: From Zero to $5,000/month In 6 Months
  2. Finding Ideas For Your Next Project
  3. Finding a Developer
  4. Don’t throw away your competitive advantage
  5. Helping People Who Help Themselves
  6. The Best Marketing Method I Know
  7. Naming your product
  8. Step-By-Step Landing Page Copywriting
  9. A sneak peek of ConvertKit
  10. Can software-as-a-service preorders work?


Other Web App Challenges

Since I announced my project, a few other brave individuals have started their own. Here is a list of a few people who told me about their own Web App Challenges. I don’t have any affiliations with these people other than I like that they are building products in the open:

Property Management App

Project URL: http://www.changedirection.itza.uk.com/category/web-app-challenge

Project Summary: To create a SaaS application using Rails for the real estate industry in the UK. Yes, there are current solutions, but as Amy Hoy said, “Saturation shows that a market exists.”

Deadline: July 2013
Financial Goal: £3000 GBP/month (roughly $4700)


Project URL:  http://xander.io
Project summary: The best conversion-optimization platform the world has ever seen. Developer and designer friendly.
Deadline: July 2013
Financial Goal: 10 paying customers.

The Niche Finder

Project URL: http://devcomsystems.com.au/2013/02/the-big-idea/

Project Summary: A tool that scans eBay recording product metrics such as how many of each product the seller has sold each month. The products are then displayed in a bestseller list so users can find popular products at a glance.
Deadline: July 2013
Financial Goal: $5001/month


Project URL: http://www.thankbee.com
Project summary: With ThankBee, Android app developers can:
  • Invite buyers to friend them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, or to join their mailing list.
  • Invite users to give them valuable comments and feedback (possibly solving issues that would normally end up as negative reviews).
  • Promote their other apps and services.
  • Offer special discounts or trial codes to users who cancelled their purchase.
Deadline: July 2013
Financial goal: $1000/month

Procedure Office

Project URL: http://www.procedureoffice.com
Project Summary: Virtual Assistant Management Software
  • Manage any number of Virtual Assistants easily, all from one simple-to-use dashboard
  • Create Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for quick reference to common repeatable tasks
  • Custom Tasks & SOPs have colour-coded Priority Levels
  • Set SOPs to reoccur on the VA’s to-do list
  • Business Owners receive notifications if scheduled SOPs are not completed on time
  • Statistics on task completion timing and scheduled SOP completion percentages
  • VA’s can have multiple clients, making the managing of daily workload much simpler, as everything is in one location.
Deadline: July 2013
Financial Goal: Originally $250/month, now $500/month



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4 Responses to “The first 8 weeks of The Web App Challenge”

  1. You are rocking it man!!! This is so inspiring. I am following along and working on my first web app in the process. I am basically starting from ground zero with minimal programming experience, but I have been a Front End Developer for a while. I am both designing and developing and doing many other things in the process.

    Read Execute (
    Read Designing Web Applications (your book :)
    Consume Treehouse
    Watch Build Podcast
    Thinking of app name,
    Designing the app & marketing page (thanks to your book)
    Becoming advanced at Javascript (thanks to this post – (http://javascriptissexy.com/how-to-learn-javascript-properly/)
    Learning Meteor.js

    You are an inspiration. One of my 2013 goals was to build my first web app and then I came across your blog and things started falling into place. I am married with a toddler and I am determined to generate passive income via SaaS. Thanks for opening your process to the world.

    I may write about it on my blog. – http://middle8media.github.com/


  2. Remco says:

    Hi Nathan,

    I’m enjoying following you along since the beginning. Thank you for the very inspiring posts so far!

    Some feedback I would like to give:

    I particularly enjoyed the transcripts of your conversations with Amy Hoy. This kind of openness is really inspiring and educational.

    I myself am very hesitant to pay for any subscription based service, so I’m really surprised people are willing to commit even before seeing anything working.

    I’d love to read some more about your collaboration with your developer: process, how you work together, problems you encounter in communication. But also the technical part stays pretty much in the dark so far. As a designer and front-end developer myself, I am curious about the development of the back-end side of things and your experience with hiring a developer (although it’s probably uncomfortable giving your honest views with him reading along).

    Sorry to see you stopped tracking your time. One of the inspiring and exciting aspects of the challenge you set yourself is the constraints and the goals. It’s easy to get lost in such a project and work day and night. One of your self-imposed constraints was 20 hours a week max, which for a lot of people with client work or normal jobs is already a lot. Also, timeboxing yourself can lead to other decisions and results.
    I was hoping to see some sort of conclusion at the end of time spent designing, developing, marketing, communicating, testing, etc. Including the time spent by your developer.
    I know time tracking is really, really annoying. But it also can be very enlightening to yourself and your audience to know which activities cost a lot of time, which things you underestimated etc.
    Now we’ll never know…I hope you can pick it up again.

    Keep up the good work!


  3. Great to see! Congrats on the progress so far. Awesome that you’ve had a good amount of pre-orders too.

  4. I just happened to come across your blog posts and was delighted to see ConvertKit solution that you are developing. I am actively trying to come up with a manageable landing page system for my customers to include on web sites I am building for them. I am working with a Joomla CMS so I plan on having a separate template and a few layouts, then I need to figure out how to keep those pages separate (so they can be easily found and edited), and then I need a link tracking method as multiple links could lead to the same page. I see the link management as the biggest issue because of the complexities involved and I am worried that it might be a bit hard for the customers to maintain on their own. I look forward to seeing if your solution might just be a simpler, better way of handling this.
    I can see this type of a solution being very useful for B2B companies. But, most of them have a CRM (SalesForce, SalesLogix, etc.) in use and want to have their form data integrated (submitted to) their CRM every time a landing page conversion occurs. I would highly recommend building in bridges to these applications. That will definitely increase your potential customer base.
    Are you planning on having any type of analytics with ConvertKit? Or a way to view and sort through the data? Also, an ability to export data CSV or similar file would be great.
    A notification system would also be useful. An administrator email generated with each conversion for example.
    From the design standpoint, I am guessing you will allow custom CSS so the templates can be customized. Also, allowing HTML into the content would be a must so custom CSS styles could be added inline where needed.
    You could also consider an “agency” level account where an agency could create and manage landing pages for multiple customers.
    I plan on keeping up with ConvertKit and hope to become one of your customers as well. Keep up the good work.

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