December 8, 2011

Startup Cheat Codes

Throughout the life of Ecquire, I’ve made lots of mistakes spending much more money and time than I really needed to get something done.

Every time I figured out a solution in retrospect, I felt pretty dumb that I had missed it. Why had no one told me about these earlier?? I rationalized by calling it a cheat code – although in startup, there’s no reason to do things the hard way. (There’s enough things that cost real time and money.)

So, in the grand tradition of post cheat codes online – I make these available to you and to any of your friends thinking about starting a company.

Logos/Branding/Domain names

Pick a ready made brand with Stylate – comes with domain name and logo. Amazing value proposition.

Combine keywords automatically with BustAName, check availability really fast. (Similar tools listed here: domain finding tools)

Your First Marketing Website

Do NOT pay a designer four figures for this! You can get fantastic work for the price of a beer – definitely for under $20.

Doing a landing page? Use UnBounce. It’s a click and drag interface and you can just use the great templates they provide. You’ll be able to measure performance to your heart’s content.

Doing a coming-soon-sign-up-for-our-beta page? LaunchRock.

Want to do something more unique? Head over to ThemeForest for beautiful HTML designs that won’t cost you more than $10 on average.

Need help writing text? Don’t muck around guessing and trying to be Ernest Hemingway. Read Copy Hackers – a fantastic, super-pragmatic explanation of how to write great headlines, great button text, and great landing pages. More valuable than any writing seminar I was forced to take in college.

Your First Product Video

For screen capture on windows – camstudio is open source and free.

I use a mac – and the $30 I spent on iShowU HD has paid out time and again for making demos, tutorials, and landing page intros.

For text slides, use PowerPoint or Keynote and simply export your slides as images.

After filming the footage, head over to iMovie or Windows Movie Maker – the features included in these are more than I’ve ever needed (trim a clip, fade transition, add music or narration)

(The real challenge in a product video shouldn’t be the production – it should be in articulating your message – use mommy-grade software to allow you to save money and time to write a smart script)

Um, I need a product

No you don’t. Not just yet.

Let’s talk about mockups. You don’t need photoshop. Again we’re back to mommy-grade software: PowerPoint and Keynote

Keynotopia provides anything from Web 2.0 website elements, to iPhone and iPad, and even Facebook app templates.

For iPhone apps, the specialist in this field is MockApp.

If you have any PowerPoint skills at all, people will not be able to tell the difference between real screenshots and your mockup

(If you have any HTML/CSS chops, but not much more, you can seriously fake a great product by just riding off of Bootstrap and creating a simple, static, html page. Load it in a browser for even further realism and interactivity.)

These tools allow you to build mockups and prototypes in a matter of hours so you can start doing videos, interviewing customers, pitching, and testing assumptions without writing a single line of code.

Doesn’t matter if you’re technical or non-technical – you will save time either way.

Actually Building Your Software Product

I believe in outsourcing. Not offshoring.

Your goal as an entrepreneur is to get the benefits of having a large team without the costs. More importantly – your goal is to work on as little as you can outside of your core value. That means anything that can be passed off reliably with minimal management should be.

For starters, I know HTML/CSS pretty well, but it’s time consuming. So I pass it off to HTMLBoutique which is one of many PSD-to-HTML firms on the web. They’re somewhere in eastern Europe. That’s less important than the fact that they come back consistently with compliant, compatible, pixel-perfect HTML/CSS that I always learn something new from.

When it comes to real code, if I can find a part of the project that has very clear inputs and outputs (say, an API library I need for my language of choice, or UI functionality, ) I will try to find a contractor for this as well. I have used TinyProj (founded by the guy who made Forrst) with great success – it’s a very efficient way to reach a ton of contractors at one time and pick and choose.

Bootstrapping a startup isn’t narrowly about saving money – it’s about saving your time. hopefully these cheat codes will help increase what your limited funds can accomplish – as well as your limited time.

One Comment on “Startup Cheat Codes

Lea Cullen Boyer
January 17, 2015 at 3:10 pm

Thanks Paul! Amazing insight. We’re helping small green businesses get their web presence up in open source platforms. Nothing irks me more than having a potential client tell me that their paying $500 a month for a proprietary site that looks like a turn of the century business card. Ouch. So many brilliant people out here being brave and soloprenuring! Love that you are rewarding them with great information, helping us all make a right livelihood.


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