This is a followup guest post by Elizabeth Yin on her popular essay, Why you can’t find a technical co-founder. Liz is the CEO and a co-founder of LaunchBit, an ad network for email newsletters. Previously, she worked at startups and Google, and went to MIT for her MBA, and Stanford before that.
Why you can’t find a technical co-founder (part II)
I received a lot of emails about my last post on Andrew’s blog: Why you can’t find a technical co-founder, which discussed:
Deal-breakers for non-technical entrepreneurs who are looking for technical co-founders (for example: location isn’t a deal breaker but idea validation is)
How to get traction on a product idea without a product
3 examples of startups (AngelList, Yipit, and Beat the GMAT) who have become successful today but started without full-fledged products
So, I wanted to dive into this topic more.
Building a minimum viable product with a static website
It can be all too easy to want to build out a full-fledged minimum viable product in code. But, as an entrepreneur, you only have so much runway. One of the best ways to cut down on the time required to get to product/market fit is to skip the coding process entirely. It’s more time-consuming to program in one direction only to realize that you need to build something in a completely different direction. Not to mention, morale takes a hit when you have to scrap all your work.
So, one of the best ways to speed up time-to-market is to build a minimum viable product with a static website. Disclaimer: this isn’t possible for every product, but a lot of web business ideas can be built initially with simple static websites.
Here are two case studies of companies that first used simple websites to test their respective business ideas before building out full-fledged dynamic sites. It was these static websites that helped them find product-market fit very quickly, which enabled them to scale sooner.
Fandeavor is a company that offers game-day experiences. Founders Tom Ellingson and Dean Curtis previously worked at Zappos, a company that would often sponsor sporting events. Tom and a handful of Zappos employees would often get red carpet treatment at these sporting events, but these special experiences were limited only to high-end sponsors. “But what if general consumers could purchase the same awesome sporting experiences too?” they wondered. So before they left their full-time jobs, they decided to test whether this idea had any legs.
Tom called up a contact at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) who ran sports tournaments. Tom convinced him that the Fandeavor team could help him sell special sporting experiences around the upcoming tournaments. These gameday packages would include things like signed basketballs, box suites, special sports gear, and even the opportunity to present the game ball at mid court. In parallel, Dean set up a basic website that would provide information about these gameday experiences.
Fandeavor’s initial website
Through a cross-promotional partnership with UNLV, who promoted these experiences through their Facebook fanpage, these first experiences quickly sold-out. It was from testing these first experiences that the Fandeavor team realized that doing cross-promotions with other organizations to promote their gameday packages helped them build their audience and also made their sales successful.
The duo continued testing their business idea by offering more experiences on their website. They even created sections of their site that were empty but helped track demand of what teams and sports people were most interested in. Just simply by tracking clicks on their relatively simple site, they could figure out what types of experiences to offer next.
Tom and Dean left their day jobs at Zappos to work on Fandeavor full-time. But soon, they realized that the kind of experiences people were interested in were not necessarily box suites. A lot of consumers wanted even simpler things — help with travel, hotels, and other logistics in building a great trip experience around tournaments and games. These were experiences that the team could build with virtually no special business development deals. So, they started curating these experiences themselves manually. Eventually, they were able to develop a process around doing this efficiently.
From doing quick tests using a simple website, Fandeavor was able to figure out the mechanics behind how to get their supply (the right curatable gameday experiences) and the demand (promoting through cross-promotional partnerships).
Fandeavor’s website today
Once they established the processes for scaling both sides up, they were able to later build a much more sophisticated backend to curate all their experiences and build their team to repeat these processes. Today, Fandeavor has raised $525k and is growing 50% month over month.
Moveline is a company that aggregates moving quotes from moving companies. Founders Kelly Eidson and Fred Cook realized that the moving process was difficult for people for a whole variety of reasons and wanted to help make this process better.
Fred and Kelly collected leads on a simple website to start working with qualified consumers. And soon, they started going into homes of people who were moving to talk with them about moving issues.
Moveline’s initial website
Kelly and Fred quickly learned that it was a headache for people to document every little thing they had to move and then submit all those items to different moving companies to get quotes. Kelly and Fred realized that the crux to making the moving process better was to develop a better way of itemizing objects.
At first, the Moveline team was not really sure how to do this better. They initially went into people’s homes and manually categorized items into spreadsheets. They repeated this with dozens of people who were moving. The breakthrough in building a process around this came when someone in a different city contacted them requesting their itemization-help. Not able to physically go to that person’s home, Fred and Kelly asked to do the itemization over Facetime. It turned out they were able to accurately and quickly itemize over the video conferencing software, which later became a part of Moveline’s core product. It turned out that using video conferencing software gave them an edge — they could itemize just about any move from anywhere without requiring local on-the-ground teams.
It was from these initial conversations with dozens of consumers that Moveline was able to tease out a very specific problem to solve in moving. And, once they were able to manually figure out how to use technology to solve this problem, they were ready for scale. It was because they used a simple website that fed them leads, but still required the team to “be the product,” they were able to really understand and solve this particular problem in moving.
Moveline’s website today
Only once they had a clear idea of what needed to be built into the product, Fred started hiring a team of engineers and product people to build the first version of Moveline’s software. Today, Moveline is an 18 person company, has raised $3 million in funding, and since launching nationally in March has added over 200 moving companies to its network. They now serve customers in over 100 cities in the U.S. and internationally.
Both Moveline and Fandeavor primarily used static websites to collect leads and kickoff interactions with potential customers. Although static sites don’t seem very sophisticated, through the use of simple input fields and forms, you can collect information to vet potential leads, and you can use them to collect customer insights. Static websites are a great way to quickly test your product and get to product/market fit.
For more examples of companies who built minimum viable products without coding, see these awesome posts written by Ryan Hoover and Vin Vacanti:
P.S. If you want to learn how to build your first web prototype without coding, attend this workshop I’m hosting on Building a Mobile-friendly Websites Without Code on October 3. Get 25% off with this discount code: “andrew-hustler”.
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