Startup Day #2

As mentioned yesterday, I had a few things to do, and the first step was finding out if my idea is viable. I sampled the list of Virtual Assistants, crowdsourcers, freelancers and classifieds maintained here.

Finding a Virtual Assistant

I went through the list quite quickly to find a handful of providers who would give me an indication of their level of service for free. If I’m still not happy after this, I’ll start paying the one-off charges to find better alternatives. (DISCLAIMER: The “NOs” below is not an indication of bad service; they just don’t satisfy my initial “do it for free initially” criteria.)

The NOs

Get Friday aka “Your man in India” has a nice ring to it and research was one of the services they offered, but they charge a once-off EUR 7.50 fee for subsequent PAYG services. I don’t want to spend any money just yet.

Elance has a once-off $10 activation fee.

American Express Platinum Card Concierge is akin to having a personal butler and not suited to my purposes (yet ;-)

Do My Stuff mentioned that contractors pay to bid for your task and since it wasn’t made clear that they’ll be refunded if you change your mind, I marked this a no.

Amazon’s Mechanical Turk will come in handy as a crowdsourcing tool to answer my survey, so I leave this one for later.

Ask Sunday has a free trial and when I clicked on the promotion, a chat window popped up. I humoured myself with this for a while to see if they make a good first impression. A friendly salesperson called Rajesh informed me (in perfect English) that I can participate in the week trial and make three requests during this period. However, the first registration page popped up a disconcerting message (“There was a problem retrieving the data:”), so I decided not to trust them with my credit card information.

The yesses

ODesk enabled me to quickly navigate to a market research and surveys section. On first glance, I could see market researchers from India charging between $2.78 and $6.67 for an hour’s work. Since ODesk allowed me to post a job and interview contractors for free, I marked this one as a yes.

Craigslist is easy to use, free and everyone knows it. I posted a short ad.

I figured this was enough to get me started.

How it worked out

I posted a job on ODesk offering a once-off payment of $8, asking the potential contractor to compile a viability survey from the idea I propose. According to ODesk, about 14 people fitted my requirements (based on skill level, pay rate, and so forth).

The contractor I targeted rejected me, but a contractor called ‘K’ took the bait. I invited ‘K’ for an interview because he/she had some mobile development experience and I thought it a bonus to involve someone who understands this market.

However, after a few email to-and-fros, it turns out that ‘K’ is just interested in developing a mobile application for me. I revised everything: $8 is sufficient for what should not take more than 10 minutes to do; my job wording was clear; my requirements weren’t too steep (e.g. 4 out of 5-star rating and basic English required). Have a look for yourself:

Result of posting a job on ODesk

I also posted a task on Craigslist‘s UK site. I worded it the same as before, and the fixed price is £5. No replies thus far.

I am a sweatshop boss

At this point, I still lacked a survey. With a day already behind me, I quickly whipped up one by myself and put two versions of it (one for the USA and one for the UK – a fair representation of my target markets) on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. The possible total cost is $17.60 (i.e. 17.60 divided by 200 HITs is 0.088 cents per HIT, and you only pay for work completed).

Admittedly, it’s quite exciting seeing the results trickling in :-) I did feel like a sweatshop boss when I realised my effective rate is $1.43 per hour, though. I find solace in the idea that surveyor #3, a 28-year-old female from the USA, was clicking idly through Mechanical Turk while speaking to her mum on the phone.

The end-user

With my invisible human bots churning away at my survey, I have to start thinking what I’ll do with the results once I have it. The results will give me a good idea of who my end-user will be. My customers. My market.

As a geek who has been programming computers since ’92 and hacking at electronics even earlier, I have never had the business inkling. Bill Hicks makes taking sides even easier:

(Original video was deleted. If all else fails, search YouTube for "Bill Hicks Marketing")

Marketing is all new ground to me. I put “marketing” and “marketing 101″ into Google and scanned the first few sites. I read the reviews for 5 or so top hits on Amazon. I learnt about the 4 Ps (product, promotion, price, placement). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs popped up once or twice. A lot of information. Mastering marketing will be an ongoing journey, but for now, I’ll do the following two things:

  • be the customer. We all have years of experience of being the customer. Use it. Imagine you are surveyor #3 and cater the product accordingly. As I learn more about marketing, I’ll mirror the concepts onto my perceptions of the 4 Ps (the products I love, the promotions I partake in, the price I'm willing to pay, and where I’ve seen my product).
  • Google Adwords. It’s widely used and understood. There are alternatives, but time is short. I’ve just created an account and will scan the help section, tips and forums. Google already highlights some of the key concepts of marketing in their documentation, so I can already combine theory with application.

TODO

Right. My Turk is working. Once I have my results I’ll need to start testing the market. I’ll have to start thinking about creating 1-page websites with well-defined keywords, click counters, mailers and so forth. That will be a good indicator if the Turk lied or not, or if I bodged my placement and keywords.

I have lunch with my business friend tomorrow to pick his brain, and an SEO mate of mine said she’ll chat to me later this week.

Here goes:

  • wait for the Turk to finish filling out my survey
  • start on some rough one pager websites and get a designer/creative involved. Branding comes to mind.
  • start Chapter 2 of Rob’s book

I’ll probably catch up with you guys again next week. Tomorrow night is Booka Shade, Saturday is Muse, and on Sunday I’m seeing a man about a horse.