What I learned building (and selling?) a company in 30 days: Days 1-15

#BuildSell30 is a competition where a team has 30 days to build a tech company, reach £100/month in recurring revenue, and sell it on MicroAcquire.com to someone who would like to grow your product over the long term. It’s a great way to practice entrepreneurship, team building, and to “date” other founders before “getting married” by taking outside investment in a more meaningful project. This article will talk you through how we’ve done it so far — and the challenges along the way.

What I learned building (and selling?) a company in 30 days: Days 1-15

#BuildSell30 is a competition where a team has 30 days to build a tech company, reach £100/month in recurring revenue, and sell it on MicroAcquire.com to someone who would like to grow your product over the long term.

It’s a great way to practice entrepreneurship, team building, and to “date” other founders before “getting married” by taking outside investment in a more meaningful project.

This article will talk you through how we’ve done it so far — and the challenges along the way.


What’s the idea?
Two weeks ago our budding team met over zoom. Two ex-consultants Tim and Joel, one experienced product founder Oyvind, and me: an ex-founder and experienced web developer.

From their consulting days, Tim and Joel knew that status reporting can be an absolute nightmare. Chasing collaborators, creating multiple versions, getting input from people on email, chat, and having to go back and forth…

We pictured building a collaborative mashup of Powerpoint (attractive A4 reporting) + Excel (easy to use grid layouts) + mobile-ready collaboration workflows that Excel and Powerpoint lacked. And thus, Statusflow was born!

For me, working around a separate full-time job, I became the sole developer. No pressure then!

Flow? More like Rapids…

The 5 Main Challenges And What I’ve Learned.
Challenge 1: What even is the product?
The most expensive feature to build is the one you didn’t actually need.

The rest of the team has done 12 customer discovery calls to date, helping us decide what to build.

But customer discovery only gets you halfway.

Great product decisions take intuition too.

In a past life, I used to take my products into the street, stop people on their lunch break and force them to beta-test. Now I can smell a bad UX or UI decision from a mile away.

At StatusFlow, one of those key decisions early on was: “do WE tell users what the reports look like (easy to build but inflexible and in my opinion, not likely to displace Excel), or do we let them design their own reports? (hard to build but valuable)”.

I had a bad gut feeling about the predefined report templates, and so I put in about 30 hours of work over a weekend and build a working prototype of the report designer.

It still wasn’t perfect. But we went for it.

Now, many whiteboards and cups of coffee into the process, we’ve settled on a workable list of features for the first version that I’m truly proud of.

Learning: Speak to many customers. Pick out common themes. Do the hard thinking needed to design a simple solution.

And one caveat: product conversations are dangerously fun, so don’t let them distract the team from boring (but necessary) pre-launch marketing work. Decide on the pre-launch funnel and get to work!

Challenge 2: Really good incumbent products
Even building a “good enough” alternative to excel requires layers and layers of UX.

After we got the basic Excel “grid” working (and it was performant, persistent to the database, relatively bug-free, and was editing is seamless), the list of needed features only got longer.

For example, we found that simply making a row of cells grey was a pain in the ass. You had to click them one by one. …So we added drag selecting cells.

The drag select feature

And the features needed goes on. What if the text is too long for a cell? We’re adding merging cells. … And how does drag selecting over half of a merged cell work?

You get the idea.

Common startup dogma suggests we ignore these extra features. Limit the scope. Deliver a crappy first product to get feedback.

…What a load of bull. The first version should be better than the existing products they’re using. End of story.

If it’s not delivering more than their existing product, why are you asking people to fork over their hard-earned cash for it?

Learning: be real about whether your product is good enough, and put in the work to get it there.


Challenge 3: Selling to a market that you have relationships in

One of our greatest assets is our pre-existing relationships with potential customers.

One of our greatest challenges is our pre-existing relationships with potential customers.

The problem is, Tim and Joel need to maintain those relationships for the long term, so we can’t afford to burn a single bridge with a bad product.

But this dynamic has a knock-on effect — creating a great product isn’t just about better sales conversion. It’s also about the psychology of selling. As anyone who’s tried it will tell you, it’s impossible to sell a product you don’t believe in.

So as a developer, building a good product is as much about giving the team confidence as it is about generating revenue.

To paraphrase Richard Branson: “Look after your team and they’ll look after your customers”.

I boiled this down into two questions:

1. Are we proud of the website? (Design ok? Not overpromising?)
2. Are we proud of the demo? (Delivers actual value? Usable by grandma?)

If we get these two right, then Tim and Joel (who are on sales) will feel excited to share this product with their network.

Learning: Focus on the needs of your team and the sales process, not just “building a cool product”. The “Assign Collaborators” and “Checklist of Assignments” features

The "Assign collaborators" and "Checklist of assignments" features

Challenge 4: Team building
Is our team greater than the sum of its parts?

Turning four strangers into a high functioning team takes deliberate effort and a bucketload of trust from all involved.

What’s great about our team is everyone is willing to step up and support the wider team as needed. Let’s give some concrete examples:

- Can you sense when one of the team are anxious about something? Who’s going to step up and have the quick call needed to solve it? If you’re saying “you”, you’re ready to be a founder.

- Or let’s say the quality of someone else’s work isn’t there. Do you leave it because it’s early work? Send a DM? Quick call? Or add feedback to the group chat room message to keep the energy going, and encourage a culture of transparency? (Don’t do that.) Detailed feedback or high level? Or offer to do it yourself? (BUZZER NOISE: Wrong.)

To build a great team you need a bias towards engaging with the team as these issues crop up, not shying away from them.

But again, it also takes intuition to judge what to engage with and what to let be.

The hardest thing for me as a founder is balancing the desire for quality output & accountability, versus. what Netflix’ Founder Marc Randolph calls “keeping the magic alive”.

Learning: You don’t get a great team “out of the box”, no matter how accomplished the individual members are. It takes work.
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Quick sidebar: If you’re a developer like me, I know what you’re thinking.

“Ughhh —people! Gross. It’s enough to make me want to just stick to working solo”

Solo-entrepreneurship is over-rated and success rarer than you think due to survivorship bias. Your ability to build a great team along with your great product is the essential skill for going from senior developer to founder.

And it’s not all bad. On the other side of all those tough conversations — if you do them well — is a sense of camaraderie that you don’t get anywhere else in life. It’s worth it.
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Challenge 5: Stupid amounts to do
I should probably get back to work.
Watch this space!

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