Launch A Startup For The Price Of An iPad


By Elizabeth Yin (Co-Founder, LaunchBit)

Lots of people ask us how expensive it is to launch a web business idea. That’s obviously an impossible question to answer. But, getting your first customers to get some validation for your business idea — now, that’s not as far off as you may think. Getting there would probably cost you less than an iPad. So, skip the frenzied line at the Apple Store and buy yourself a web business instead.

This is how I would invest my saved $499 in a web business idea —

Talk With Potential Customers: In-Person, Via Skype, Or Phone

  • Recruit potential interviewees using Craigslist, Google/Yahoo Groups, Ning communities,, vertical-specific forums, alumni lists, malls/cafes where applicable. (Cost: FREE)
  • Vet interviewees using Google Forms, choose 3-5 different personas to interview for 15-30 min each. (Cost: FREE)
  • Pay interviewees $10-$20 for each completed interview. (Cost: ~$120)
  • Paper/scissors to analyze each interview to find patterns with Google Docs. (Cost: Free)

Find First Customers Through A Landing Page

  • Build a landing page without coding using Unbounce, Weebly, or Yola. (Cost: FREE to $25)
  • Buy a domain name for extra credibility. (Cost: $15)
  • Check landing page for clarity using FiveSecondTest to ensure clarity in messaging. (Cost: FREE)
  • Run Google Ads to the landing page, aiming to drive 200+ visitors to your site. We like to bid under $1 per CPC. You can find cheap keywords if you look hard enough… (Cost: $200)
  • Run Facebook or relevant blog ads to the landing page, aiming to drive 100+ visitors to your site. Facebook ads tend to be more expensive and vary a lot more than Google Ads. Blog ads will range in price. (Cost: $100)
  • Drive more online traffic through relevant forums, Q & A sites, etc, aiming to drive 50+ visitors to your site from a combination of these channels. (Cost: FREE)
  • Analyze your marketing channels and landing page tests using Google Analytics. (Cost: FREE)

With 350+ people now coming to your site, you should now have a good handful of people who are eager to be your first customers/users. Combine that with people you spoke with in-person/via Skype, hopefully you now have a good group of users/customers to work with as you start to think about your exact product/service.

Total cost: ~$460 with money to spare. Go buy yourself a cheaper Apple product to celebrate.

For more tips and resources on starting a web business without coding, visit LaunchBit.

About the guest blogger: Elizabeth Yin is an internet marketer and backend programmer. Previously, she ran marketing for startups and also worked as a marketing manager at Google. Prior to Google, Elizabeth wrote backend code for startups during the rise and fall of the dot com era. Elizabeth holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford and an MBA from MIT Sloan. Follow her on Twitter at @launchbit.

  • Marshall Kirkpatrick

    Elizabeth, this is a very cool list! Several things in here that I hadn’t thought of before but will try to remember in the future.

    I’d add:
    * Spend time interacting with relevant bloggers in your field on Twitter and in blog comments (cost:free)
    * Email those bloggers when you’re ready to launch your site and ask them to review it (cost:free!)

  • Elizabeth Yin

    Thanks, Marshall — great tips for getting press! (Be careful what you advise…you might just get a flooded inbox… :) )

  • Mike

    Hi Elizabeth, lots of great advice. What would you say a goal for signups to be to validate the project? Say you get 500 visits and 50 people sign up? Is that good, should the conversion % be higher, lower?, right about 10%?

  • Pamela Hazelton

    It’s a good list, but not very ideal. Very few businesses could launch like this and actually become successful.

    My list would ditch AdWords (useless if the site isn’t shopable) and focus more on organic searching and social media.

    In my experience (I’ve worked with thousands of small biz online stores), getting 350 to hit (and take more than a few seconds) your site is a very difficult task. More than 95% of stores I’ve worked with who used AdWords saw almost zero return, while those who aimed at more organic methods saw the best returns.

    As for Mike… 10% is a very high conversion rate and is most often realized only by those in extremely niche markets. Even then, such a conversion rate is pretty unheard of. The typical selling site sees rates of less than 2%.

    I’d also like to point out that anything that’s “free” is only up for grabs without trading money. Your time is not free and building a business – including integrating relevant posts/ads on blogs, etc. is time consuming. So please be prepared to spend many, many hours building traffic and credibility.

    Food for thought…

  • Elizabeth Yin


    Thanks! There isn’t a hard and fast rule for conversion rates…the approx conversion rate you should shoot should be the one at which you would be profitable after making some assumptions of your lifetime value of each customer and how must it would cost you to acquire each customer. For example, say I’ve got some messaging on my landing page that talks about a new service for the price of $20 per month. And, say I run $100 worth of ads (assume $1 per click and 100 ppl click) to my landing page and 3 people sign up to beta test. If I use sign ups as a purchasing-proxy, I would have made at least $20 x 3ppl = $60 for the first month and more if these 3 people were to continue their subscription. There are still a lot of unknowns at this point — what my average customer’s lifetime value is or whether signups are truly a good proxy to purchasing — I don’t know right now. But, this is a good start. And, “making $60” on a $100 spend right out of the gates is actually is not bad. Google AdWords may not end up being a profitable marketing channel for you in the long-term — in fact, for most businesses it’s not a particularly scalable one. But, it gives you a good sense immediately — within days — whether you have something interesting. On the other hand, if you are orders of magnitude off in your ROI, I would highly recommend re-evaluating either your business proposition or trying to drive traffic from other marketing channels to your landing page.

  • Elizabeth Yin


    While I agree with you that Google AdWords isn’t a scalable marketing channel for most businesses, this article isn’t about growing a business. This article is about just getting started — just getting something out there. There are 2 big obstacles I hear about all the time from first time entrepreneurs that I wanted to address in this article:

    1) Starting a business is absolutely a lot of work and seems quite daunting. But, there are small, actionable steps that first time entrepreneurs can do to test the waters. Running the landing page test that I describe above is one of them. It gets you a few first potential customers you can start working with over the phone or in-person to shape your product/service idea as you start to build out the business. And it gives you a good sense of how much demand there is.

    2) Which leads me to my next point — if there’s no demand, I don’t care how unprofitable this AdWords campaign was, you’ve saved yourself months/years of work and thousands of dollars from building something that no one wants. The ability to build something that people want, at least online, is HARD. Far too often, I see that entrepreneurs start going down the path of a product or service without testing demand very early on. The test I describe above, while not super accurate, will give you a sense of that demand within a week or so to allow you to decide whether to invest months building out your idea. If it doesn’t look promising, you’ve only wasted a few hours of your own effort and week in absolute time. I think it’s a worthwhile investment in contrast to just jumping in and developing an app or a service for months before launching.

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