The myth of the overnight success
3 habits of highly effective founders
👋 Welcome to The MVP Sprint! I’m Tim.
I’m sharing my public process of taking HelloHailey from idea to thriving SaaS startup as a bootstrapped solopreneur.
Want to follow along?
🙅♂️ There are no overnight successes
Behind every "overnight success" is years of hard work and preparation. They’re products of consistently doing the right things, day in and day out.
So what are the “right” things?
As an early-stage founder, you should be spending all of your time doing just three things:
Building your product
Talking to users
Growing a single metric
👨💻 Building your product
For anyone building a software product (like yours truly), you’ll spend a lot of time knee-deep in code. But even more important than the code you write are the product decisions you make.
The most important decisions are:
What to build - Hint: talk to your users.
In what order to build it - focus on validating your biggest leaps of faith first, the critical hypotheses that form the foundation of your product vision. For me, this was: Users will consistently engage in conversations started by Hailey.
🗣 Talking to users
Learning is the most valuable currency in an early-stage startup. With small sample sizes, qualitative data (from talking to users) is just as important as quantitative data (metrics).
I try to form personal relationships with all my early users. I want them to know the person behind the product and feel invested in helping it succeed.
1️⃣ Relentlessly focusing on a single KPI (key performance indicator)
Choose the single most important metric for your business. The best KPI is revenue, but you might also consider daily/weekly active users or opportunities in your sales pipeline. This will vary based on the type of business you’re building.
For me, that metric is engaged Slack channels. A channel is “engaged” if 50% of Hailey’s messages instigate one or more messages from users.
Unfortunately, I can’t directly measure that metric today, so I’ve been relying primarily on user feedback. This is a blind spot for me, one that I’ll be solving for with HelloHailey V2 (see below).
🤔 If it’s that simple, why do most startups fail?
Because relentless focus is relentless
Founders need to stay focused, avoid distractions, and, most importantly, manage to stay alive. Doing this for years is hard.
I felt the pain a few weeks ago.
HelloHailey was installed with five or six teams. I hadn’t heard much feedback, and was starting to lose enthusiasm.
But I pushed through.
Soon enough, I heard positive feedback from every qualified team, and more teams signed up (“unqualified” includes two teams I don’t consider part of my target audience).
🔥 Small wins fuel the fire
I can count my teams on two hands. I'm still not making any money. Product development is moving more slowly than I'd like.
There are plenty of reasons why I could hang my head.
Small wins like this one give me the motivation to keep pushing forward:
🏆 Social mini-games - the next evolution of HelloHailey
Today’s Hailey does one thing extremely well. She kickstarts conversations with daily prompts. Prompts include questions, challenges, icebreakers, and more.
My primary goal with my MVP was to learn (a) if users will engage with Hailey at all and (b) what types of content are the most engaging.
I minimized engineering complexity and maximized flexibility to experiment with different types of content.
🥳 More fun, less friction
Several messages have stood out as winners. For HelloHailey V2, I want to double down on those winners by making them more fun, with less friction to participate.
I’ll be achieving this by turning messages into daily, asynchronous mini-games.
Hailey kicks off each game, like she does with messages. “Bones” are awarded for participation and performance. Hailey maintains a running leaderboard, awarding prizes to weekly champions (set up and paid for by team leads).
Here’s what social mini-games might look like:
🌅 Photo contests
Hailey already sends messages that prompt teammates to share their photos - ex. a beautiful sunset, their pet, or their work from home setup. These messages have been extremely popular with beta users.
As a game, users will be able to vote on their favorites via Slack “reactions”. Hailey keeps score, and announces the winner(s) when the game expires (maybe a day or a week later).
Lots of teams I talked with are already doing these contest every week, but the process is time-intensive. Team leads come up with a prompt, keep score, and give out prizes.
Hailey shares a question and an answer. Teammates guess who said it as a multiple-choice-style question.
Each “round” will have five questions and last 24 hours. Users can participate asynchronously whenever they have time.
I’ll be using Slack’s App Home section as a dashboard for users to answer these questions.
🤷♂️ This or That
Teammates see a question, two contrasting answers, and a teammate’s name in the channel. They guess how that teammate answered the question.
Game structure will be identical to Guess Who - five questions per 24-hour round.
🤣 Caption this
Users are shown a photo and come up with funny photo captions. Users vote on their favorites in a structure similar to Photo contests.
Here’s an example:
I’m planning on adding new games every month or so to keep the experience “fresh”.
🚢 Ship early and often
(“Ship” is a common term in software development, referring to the process of launching a new product, feature, or update.)
What I’ve described above is my north star, but I’ll be rolling it out in small pieces. I can’t afford to go heads-down for months without learning from users.
Rather than five games with prizes and a leaderboard, I’ll start with one part of one game, without keeping score. My goal is to launch this piece by the end of February.
🌎 The power of the internet
When the tenth team signed up for HelloHailey, I was struck by the power of the internet; how easy it is for one person with a laptop to get global distribution:
🐶 Join 135 users around the world building happier and more connected remote teams
HelloHailey is still free (for now) - no credit card required. And it only takes two minutes to get her set up!