By Ellen Pack (Co-Founder, AppSmitten) The three of us sat around the table. We were pretty excited, but would we still love our latest startup idea in the morning? Well it turns out we did, this one had legs.
The idea had come to us naturally. We were hanging out with our smartphones, excitedly sharing new app discoveries with each other.
Instead, we relied on each other and our other hip friends to tell us what we needed to know. This was a market where a trusted voice could really make a difference.
- Is there a market? 83 million smartphone users in the U.S. and growing. Almost 1 million apps in the app stores and hundreds of new ones being released each day. Check.
- Is there a pain point? People love hearing about great apps, but searching for them in app stores is overwhelming. Check.
- Could we offer a solution? Handselected app recommendations delivered to inboxes. Not overwhelming and no searching required. Check.
- Did we have the expertise to pull it off? We had worked together before, forging a new market together, and we knew the media business well. Our experience told us that if we could build a loyal audience, the sponsorships and business model would surely follow. Check.
The last time the three of us had worked together was at Women.com in the mid 1990’s, but that was a couple companies ago for each of us. A lot had changed since then. Still, there were a lot of interesting similarities between the work we were doing now and the work we'd done then.
We were targeting a mainstream consumer who was deeply motivated to learn a new digital frontier (in this case apps) but who was overwhelmed by all the options. Our new concept would be all about the brand and the editorial voice. This was the stuff we loved.
We selected our name, registered our domains and worked on positioning appSmitten as a trusted source of app recommendations. We focused on iPhone, Android and iPad apps, featuring bite-sized reviews of the special apps that add value to people’s lives.
The startup environment was radically different, a lot more crowded, and a lot more fast-paced. The good news was that it was easier than ever to launch a web-based business and we could do it for a fraction of the cost.
While Women.com took a couple years and millions of dollars, we launched appSmitten in less than three months and spent less than five figures.
We embraced the ideas behind Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup and focused on creating a working product to validate our idea:
- The Elance economy was a big part of our strategy, so we hired talented professionals who worked remotely. The bulk of our money went to paying professionals including a developer to customize our templates and a graphic designer to help with our look.
- Using Google, we set up our corporate email, calendar, and shared documents. We could also hold 3-way video conference calls, all for fifty dollars a year
- We decided to launch using WordPress for our content management system, it's free! We launched our site on a scalable hosting platform, fifteen dollars a month for HostGator.
- MailChimp enabled us to send out daily and weekly newsletters, manage our mailing list and get some deep analytics about open rates, click rates and more, for free.
- We didn’t print business cards, instead we Bumped.
- We didn’t hire a photographer for headshots, we used Hipstamatic and a kind stranger on the street to snap our photo.
- EasySign and JotNot meant that we didn't need a scanner or fax for all of those incorporation documents.
So for under $10,000 and in about 3 months time we had not only built, but launched, a viable product. We had 500 beta testers, thanks to our friends on Facebook and LinkedIn. We did all of this without buying a server, licensing software, hiring an employee, or renting an office. Or, of course, paying ourselves a dime.
Now it was time to round up some friends and family to invest in our idea so we could add some more back-end functionality and test some marketing to see how the idea scaled. As of the writing of this article we are getting ready to close that round at the end of the month.
Stay tuned for more from us at appSmitten, we hope you'll sign up and help us build, measure, and learn.
Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Ellen Pack is Co-Founder of appSmitten with Sarah Rosenbach and Anna Yen. appSmitten delivers trusted app recommendations for iPhone, Android and iPad consumers directly to inboxes. Most recently, she was VP of Marketing at Elance. In the early 1990’s, Ellen founded Women.com and grew it into the largest Internet destination for women with 20 million unique visitors/month, a successful IPO and a merger with iVillage (acquired by NBC). Follow her on Twitter at @appsmitten.