The 7(ish) Day Startup: Day 2 (MVP)

This is Day 2 of my experiment of following along with (or completely corrupting and mangling) the 7 Day Startup book by Dan Norris (founder of successful startup WP Curve) in which I attempt to launch a startup in 7(ish) days.

You can browse my thoughts on each day (plus any detours) as I publish them, via the links below:


So here’s my Day 2 task:

Day 2 Task Write down exactly what you will launch on Day 7(ish). What will your customers get, what is included, what is excluded? If necessary, write down what is automated and what will be done manually in the short term.

If you’ve been following along you’ll see that on Day 1.5 I had a mini flip-flop / Moment of Total Fear about which idea I wanted to launch first, after favouring two ideas almost equally on Day 1.

As it stands I plan to launch both, ThemeValet first, followed by WP Owner, as long as I can do it without one detrimentally affecting the other.

Why both? Because:

You don’t learn until you launch.

  • Dan Norris, author of The 7 Day Startup

And I want to learn as fast as possible, while hopefully providing something awesome to my customers along the way. It’ll be hard work I’m sure but life is short (etc) and I believe I can do it.

I also believe they are complementary ideas.

MVP?

My challenge for today then is to define the MVP (minimum viable product) I will have on launch of each startup. If you’re familiar with startup lingo (and I don’t blame you if you’re not), Dan Norris defines an MVP as:

Rather than spending six months creating a product or service, do[ing] only the small amount of work required to truly [my emphasis] test it.

This doesn’t mean creating a crappy or unappealing version of the product. Rather it means creating a product that is as close as possible to your vision of what the startup should be (based on your vision for it today) in the leanest way possible.

For example, rather than spend time coding or hiring a developer to create a lot of automated systems before you have a single customer, just do everything manually behind the scenes to start with.

The point is that the experience of the customer is as optimal as possible, if it’s inefficient behind the scenes right now that doesn’t matter.

What matters is at the point where I ask someone to part with their money for my idea the “yes” / “no” and feedback they give me is based on their judgement and experience of my actual business idea. Not some theoretical ‘coming soon’ product or a crappy version of my ultimate idea.

Equally there is no way of truly knowing beforehand if people will like the idea (or if it’s a viable idea at all) so the goal is to get to the point of showing people that version of your product in the least amount of time or effort.

Not because you are lazy (strategically lazy, maybe) but because until you launch the idea you could be wasting a huge amount of time and money on features that you think are important but actually are of no interest to your customers.

So while I’m in MVP writing mode for ThemeValet, I figured I’d tackle the same for WP Owner too.

ThemeValet MVP

(Recap: ThemeValet will be a service which sets up WordPress themes (‘off the shelf’ website design) for business owners).

Part of the reason I ended up favouring launching ThemeValet before WP Owner is because I believe I can build a solid MVP much faster / more easily.

Not because I’m lazy and just want an easy life (OK, perhaps) but because I believe by launching faster I will learn faster too.

In fact, I’m cheating here slightly because I already have a basic website for ThemeValet live from back when I had the original idea last year (but did very little with it).

However I want to make sure the MVP for launch goes through the 7 Day Startup process properly so I’m going to re-examine it all. Here goes:

Write down exactly what you will launch on Day 7(ish).

A website (ThemeValet.com), with homepage content explaining to business owners exactly what ThemeValet is and the benefits of paying someone else (ThemeValet) to set up their WordPress theme instead of trying to do everything themselves.

What will your customers get, what is included, what is excluded?

They will get a WordPress expert (me, to start with) logging in to their WordPress website and setting up the WordPress theme of their choice to either:

  1. match the demo version of the theme they bought (suggested price $99), or
  2. match the layout of the demo version of theme, but with their content added instead (suggested price $249)

Both options will include, as standard, friendly and prompt customer service.

Also included in Option 2 is up to 10 pages of content added to the website on the customer’s behalf (copy and images supplied by the customer) plus the addition of their logo (if the theme allows space for one).

In terms of turnaround, my aim is for around 24 – 48 hours from receiving all logins, content etc for the theme.

What is not included:

  • the WordPress theme itself (the customer must purchase)
  • any premium WordPress plugins required for the theme to match the demo version (again, the customer must purchase their own copy)
  • any copyrighted images from the theme demo (copyright free images from the likes of Unsplash.com will be used as placeholders instead)

Also, for what I expect to be a very small minority of orders, I may cancel the order and (promptly) refund the customer’s money rather than take an order where I know from the outset that there is not likely to be a great result for the customer.

For such an scenario, this would likely mean one or more of the following being true:

  • the theme appears to not function correctly in the first place
  • be overly complicated or
  • just not clear how it should be set up

Finally, if I have time, I may setup a recommended themes section of the website and / or a free ‘find me the perfect theme’ service (available via email and / or live chat) for customers that aren’t sure which WordPress theme might best suit their needs.

By solving this problem for some customers, I expect this would ultimately drive more ThemeValet orders and also opens up the possibility of affiliate income for recommending themes.

(Though of course the focus will be on recommending the best theme and winning their business, not recommending themes based on any secondary income should ThemeValet go down this route).

If necessary, write down what is automated and what will be done manually in the short term.

Right now a whole lot of the work will be done manually and I don’t see that changing much in the near future.

The idea of ThemeValet is to get someone to do the often manual task of setting up a WordPress theme you don’t have the time or motivation to do yourself.

However in some cases some or most of the ‘make it match the theme demo’ service can be done by importing some demo content provided by the theme author or installing a plugin that they provide which will do a lot of the work for you.

As this is out of my hands though (i.e. not available for every WordPress theme) it is best to consider each theme setup as a manual job for now. Even with some kind of automatic import, I would still want to check the site is setup correctly in any case.

However as ThemeValet goes along we can probably start to build up our own ‘knowledge base’ of different themes and best practices etc which, while not the same as automation, may reduce a lot of the work / turnaround time.

In the long run we might also be able to code our own plugin which could do imports for a lot of the commonly requested themes that don’t have their own demo import option.

The other big area for improvement would likely be with how we can take orders / get information we need from customers. At launch though the process will be:

  1. The customer places an order via a form on ThemeValet.com, with money for the order taken automatically via Stripe (credit card payment)
  2. The customer receives an automatic reply thanking them for their order
  3. After reviewing the customer’s order quickly (which theme etc) I will send them instructions on how to setup a new (admin) login for me on their WordPress install. Also, if necessary to get the theme setup instructions etc, I will ask them to send me a login to the theme shop they bought it from too.
  4. I will then manually check I can login everywhere I need to and have all the access I need to setup the theme.
  5. I will then go ahead and setup the theme on the customer’s website
  6. When it’s done I will send an email to the customer confirming everything has been setup and asking the customer to confirm he is happy with it
  7. Finally, I’ll send the customer a ‘how was it for you’ email (to get feedback) and, assuming they found ThemeValet useful, asking them to recommend us to other business owners they know.

The great thing about this MVP is I can give people a pretty complete version of my vision for it immediately, while quickly learning about what people like or don’t like about it or what could be improved.

WP Owner MVP

(Recap: WP Owner will be a membership website which provides a comprehensive and frequently updated set of guides, advice and techniques for ‘levelling up’ your WordPress based online business without having to hire a developer).

I believe this is a trickier MVP than ThemeValet because, in short, the core part of the business is researching writing, testing and recording a lot of content for customers.

To do it to the level where I’d probably be really satisfied though, I think would probably take me one to three months.

Clearly that version of the idea is not going to roll in a week (or so).

So what could I do to launch the business quickly but provide a realistic experience of my final vision for the product (without short changing those that bought it)?

I thought about this (a lot) and my idea is this:

Write down exactly what you will launch on Day 7(ish).

A website (WPOwner.com) with an attractive landing page explaining all the benefits of WP Owner and an opportunity to sign-up for a monthly membership (cancellable at any time) via credit card.

What will your customers get, what is included, what is excluded?

The main part of the website will be a member only content area broken into sections like ‘Monetisation’, ‘Marketing’ etc explaining to members (via text and video) how to grow their businesses by ‘levelling up’ their WordPress websites.

An active membership will also give the customer access to (private) Facebook group where they can talk to other members and me.

If necessary, write down what is automated and what will be done manually in the short term.

The membership part (taking money, automatically creating a member account, subscriptions etc) will be automated from the start, I know enough about WordPress that I can set this up in minutes.

Adding people to the Facebook member group will be manual. I will take the email address they signed up with an add them to the group. This may create a little extra work in some cases because the email address they used to sign up with (e.g. a business email address) might not be associated with their Facebook account, but a little friction on this is not a disaster for now.

I will also be manually writing all the content of course, but as there isn’t time to write all the content I have in mind, how should I handle that?

First of all I will be writing / recording some content. In fact I will be working my butt off to make sure there is some good stuff there, probably around monetisation which is what most website owners I speak to usually want to know about.

But what about the rest of the content? In fact, how to launch a content based business at all when there is not enough time to create all the content before launch?

Having thought about it a lot, my solution / thought process is that while the content is important, what customers are really be buying if they join WP Owner are:

  • answers (‘just tell me how to do it’)
  • reassurance (‘I just want to know I’m not making a massive error’), and
  • saving of time / money (‘I don’t want to spend hours of my own time or thousands of $$$s on something only to find out it’s not right for my business’)

In fact the content is just the way of delivering that, so if I don’t have time to write all the content what I could do is make myself available for live Q & A (whenever I’m not asleep) to give instant answers to members until all the core content is finished.

In terms of knowing which content to write / record next, along with the questions I get from members, I can:

  • track which sections of the website are getting most visits
  • add some kind of ‘vote for me to write this content next’ button
  • add a ‘sorry I’m not around right now but feel free to send me a question’ web form and then get back to them via email

I will then, assuming the idea is not a total flop, spend my time furiously writing / recording content for all the other core content areas as fast as possible.

Hopefully members will feel that they are still getting a huge amount of value (if not more value) via this solution, while at the same time letting me launch quickly and learn quickly as I go.

(In the case any member feels short changed though I will offer a 30 day money back guarantee).

The only danger that I can see in this approach, is potentially ending up launching and testing a different business idea (live Q & A answers, rather than a reference library of content) than my original business vision.

One idea I did have though is that if people really love the Q & A in this temporary phase, is to maybe offer two tiers of membership in future (once all the core content is completed and I no longer have to ‘fill in the blanks’ with my Q & A).

Perhaps something like:

  • a basic membership, for $25 / month, which gives access to core content and the Facebook member group
  • a ‘pro’ membership, for $49 ($99?) / month, which gives the same benefits as a basic membership, plus some additional content and access to a live Q & A chat (initially with me, but later with someone or some people that I hire for this purpose).

I think this is getting ahead of things slightly though. The main point is that I have an MVP for WP Owner which I believe is workable, provides a pretty decent experience of the actual vision of the product and gives plenty of opportunities to learn along the way.


So that’s it, my MVPs are pretty clearly spelled out and ready to roll. Tomorrow I’ll be tackling the issue of choosing a business name or, in my case, reviewing the business names I already have in mind for each startup.

PS If you’re enjoying this series, you can subscribe to my email list and discover the unique joy of receiving regular emails from me on this and other topics of interest.

PPS I’d love to know in the comments below what you think of my MVP ideas for each business, particularly if you see yourself as potential customer or know someone else who would benefit.

2 responses to “The 7(ish) Day Startup: Day 2 (MVP)”

  1. Nicola Cairncross avatar

    Potential customer, hate setting up themes for myself. Why use a Facebook group though, I had one and they are horrible for finding stuff again. Better to go with BBPress and Wishlist or even Gumroad and ProductPress and BBPress. That way you are building up a searchable library of content. There’s also Xenforo / Nanacast but it’s expensive if you are not techie. Looking forward to Day 3! Cheers, Nicola

  2. Nick avatar

    Thanks Nicola, yeah I’m open minded on the Facebook Group. On the pro FB side I’ve seen others have success with hem and also it’s one less login for people to remember but I take your points too. Another thought is a Slack group, what would you think of that as an alternative?

    Great to hear that you’re a potential customer, if you have any other questions or suggestions just let me know.

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