Starting The Web App Challenge: From Zero to $5,000/month In 6 Months
The Web App Challenge | December 31st, 2012
My last two projects, both books, have been insanely successful. Selling more than $80,000 worth in just over 3 months. The connections I’ve made, marketing lessons learned, and financial freedom I now have make a huge difference. There is only one problem: those were all one time sales.
Note: Do you design software? Take a look at my latest book, Designing Web Applications.
So I may make $40,000 in a month, like I did in December, but January 1st I start at over zero. I have to continue to drive traffic, write blog posts, and promote the book month after month for the sales to keep coming in. Some sales will keep coming in from the work I’ve already done, but that will probably be less than $3,000 a month. The biggest downside is that the customers who love the product the most only pay for it once.
When planning for 2013 I knew that my next project would involve recurring revenue, where the customers pay a monthly fee to use the service. Software-as-a-service is the best model I’ve seen for doing this, so that’s where The Web App Challenge comes in.
The Web App Challenge
I could just start a new web app and work on it quietly for a year before launching, but where is the fun in that? Writing and launching Designing Web Applications in only three months taught me that if I compress the deadlines I can meet a goal much more quickly. So here is the challenge:
Within six months build a web application to $5,000 in recurring revenue each month. A friend just referred to that timeline as “aggressive” so let’s add some more restrictions to make it more difficult:
- I am starting without an idea. So I don’t know what the application will be, what it will do, or who it is targeted towards.
- I can only spend $5,000 of my own money in this entire process. Meaning all other funds necessary have to come from paying customers. Since I will be hiring out the development, getting paying customers right away is mandatory.
- I cannot spend more than 20 hours a week on this project. If allowed, I waste tons of time on projects. This limit is partially because there are other things that need my time (contract projects, writing, etc) and to help keep me focused.
The best part of this is that I am going to be completely transparent about every step of the process. Follow along on this blog to hear how things are going, what I’m learning, and the mistakes you shouldn’t repeat. The deadline is July 1st, 2013 to have $5,000 a month worth of paying customers. That could be 50 customers paying $100 a month, 10 customers paying $500 a month, or somewhere in the middle (most likely) Think I can do it? Good. Me too.
A little help.
I want to do everything possible to remove risk and make this project successful. So I’ve asked my friend Brennan Dunn to be an official advisor to my web app challenge. It’s not very official really, but he will be there to answer questions, help me choose a developer, and help me work through marketing strategies.
Brennan has been a Rails developer for years and runs his own project management web application called Planscope. Since Brennan did all the design, development, and marketing of Planscope himself, he has already solved many of the problems I will probably face. I expect his advice to be very helpful.
Frequently Asked Questions
Okay, so no one has actually asked these questions, but you might, so here it goes.
Where will you get your idea?
From my customers. Dane Maxwell taught me about the concept of idea extraction. Instead of trying to come up with an idea yourself, you talk to a market, let’s say photographers, and try to find what painful problems they have that could be solved with software. Then when you find a problem you not only have an idea for what to build, but also a first customer.
My most successful software projects have been someone else’s idea, talking to Dane was just the first time someone had explained it so clearly. I’ll write more on this topic in future posts.
Who will your application be for?
I don’t know. What I do know is that it will be a targeted niche. That may be lawyers, web designers, real estate agents, landscapers, insurance agents, marketers, construction companies, programmers, or pretty much anyone else. I’m just going to talk to people until I find a painful problem that can be solved with software.
What language will the application be written in?
It will probably be a Ruby on Rails application. Rails works well for the style of application I am going for and there are a lot of developers with experience writing Rails apps. Personally I don’t have a lot of experience, but there are some great books and tutorials I can pick up to learn.
Will you be doing the development yourself?
No. I’m not a very good developer so I will be hiring someone to work with me on this project. I plan to do all the wireframes, visual design, and HTML/CSS while leaving the real code to someone smarter. Though I do hope that having my own project will help me get a lot better with Ruby and Rails.
In addition to the contract developer I will be hiring, I am working with several talented Ruby developers who will be advisors on the project. Basically just answering a few questions here and there as well as reviewing the code changes every few weeks.
Are you hiring developers?
Yes, but my budget is small. If you are a Rails developer and are interested in working with me then send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I will also be looking for developers on eLance and other related sites.
How much will it cost to build?
I have no idea. I’ve allocated $5,000 of my own money to get things started, but the goal is to get customers to fund the development.
How can you build software that quickly?
By focusing on solving a really specific problem the simplest way possible. I’m not trying to create an all-in-one solution, but rather solve a single, really painful problem and work from there. That means not as many screens to design and not as much code to write.
What if you fail?
I don’t think it is likely that I will fail completely. A more likely failure is that I reach only a couple thousand in revenue, but that’s still a partial success. If it does completely fail, then it will be public. At least I, and everyone reading my posts, will have learned something to apply to future projects.
Why are you starting a day early?
Because I am really eager to get started! Also the extra day head start may make all the difference. ;)
Is it weird to be asking yourself all these questions?
Yes, it is. Maybe that means it is time to end this post. If you have more questions ask them in the comments.
Six months starts now.