How I Went From Idea To Sale In 12 Hours
Mike Chen created a landing page on a Saturday, told 10 friends about his text messaging app, and had 18,000 inbound messages by Monday. He had a 20,000 person waiting list by Tuesday night. That’s the definition of viral, and I wanted a piece.
If you’re an entrepreneurial type, you know what it feels like to have an ‘idea itch.’ A lot of us start to look for solutions to problems, and run through our minds the possible steps required to bring an idea to fruition.
What I’ve found is that the only difference between a wantrepreneur and entrepreneur is that the latter will actually pursue an idea if the opportunity seems too good to pass up. Go for it, and figure out the rest as you go along.
As someone working on four different projects at the time, I actively try to stay away from taking on any additional work, but on Feb 24th, at 2am, I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed when I came across this article.
Mike Chen finally decided to execute on an idea he had for awhile; a service where you text a phone number, ask for whatever you want, and get it. He called it, MAGIC!
I thought the idea was pretty cool, and I wondered why I hadn’t thought of something so simple before. Then I read the article.
Mike Chen setup a landing page, sent it to 10 friends on a Saturday.
Someone posted it to Product Hunt, another person posted it on Hacker News, and Magic topped 18,000 incoming text messages by Monday evening.
Again, pretty cool.
Then I decided to send a text myself to the service just two days later. I was placed on a waiting list. There were 20,000 people in front of me.
I decided right then and there that I was going to take advantage of that waiting list. I went from laying in my bed to sitting upright at my laptop, scoping out domains on Godaddy. I settled on textgenienow.com. I was to name my service ‘Genie,’ and I was going to do the exact same thing as Magic. There were far too many people requesting this service for Mike and his team to handle the overflow, and a competitor needed to exist.
*I want to make an important point here. There are some people that don’t want to start a company because “it’s been done before,” or because “there’s good competition.” Don’t let that phase you. In this case, Magic had a waitlist of 20,000 people and counting FAST, all looking to conveniently request things via text message. There is no patent on something that broad and simple, and there is almost always opportunity to take advantage of.
After the name was decided on, I installed WordPress on the site and went to sleep. No, this was not going to be an all-night binge. Save that for tomorrow.
I woke up early (I work at home, for myself—8am is early) and got to work on getting the site going. I talked to two people about going collabo on this. The second guy was down.
So this is where things start to take shape. My friend and fellow entrepreneur David thought through the logistics of this. Thankfully, this idea was simple. We needed:
- A logo
- A phone number not connected to our mobile phone plans that we could text from, using any device
- A finished landing page that was mobile friendly
- A form to capture credit card information, again, mobile friendly
- A little bit of a marketing strategy
So I got to work putting together a simple logo. I used a browser-based tool called Pixlr, which is a lightweight Photoshop-type app that I’ve been able to toss together quick graphics with, time and time again. I picked a cool font, wrote ‘Genie’ and enclosed it with an empty rectangle with 8 pixel borders (you may have noticed that I did the same thing for the logo of this blog. And on Vicky Virtual. I like this type of logo!)
“Reinventing the wheel is a great way to give yourself the worst chance to succeed.”
Then we did research on what phone service we were going to use. I recently read about a guy on reddit that manages outsourced sales teams. He was using Line2 and had good things to say about it (after using it for this project, I give it a 7/10.) We gave it a shot, invested $10 for the first month and officially had a phone number. (Don’t send us any texts, we no longer own this number, and Genie is shut down.)
I put together the start of the landing page. I wanted to keep it as simple as the Magic concept, because you simply don’t want to fix something that isn’t broken. Reinventing the wheel is a great way to give yourself the worst chance to succeed. After throwing up a quick headline, putting the phone number in there and placing the logo, I had something to work with:
Meanwhile, David got to work on finding the best, cheapest solution for accepting credit cards with Stripe. I refuse to use PayPal with any of my businesses, and I intended on keeping it that way with this project. We settled on Checkout which is directly integrated with stripe, quick to setup, and looks and works well on mobile. Done.
At this point, I was starting to get really antsy, and went into overdrive to get Genie up and running as quickly as possible. People were still sharing that article on Magic, it was a hot, viral thing, and the clock was ticking. I setup a stripe account for Genie, and decided on a $1 charge to get people going. This was not an authorization, but a charge. I decided on this for two reasons.
- Stopped potential trolls from spamming us with fake signups
- Let us know that people who signed up were serious and ready to buy
So we would take the $1 charge and apply it towards the total on the first order. The premise of our offering was similar to Magic. If someone ordered something through us, we would build a small convenience charge into the order, and go from there. For food, it was around 20%. If someone were crazy enough to order a big ticket item, a car for instance, we would charge something like 2% on top for the hassle. This was going to be a volume play, but (at the time) David and I were cool with that.
The site was done, and looked the way it looks now, right then and there. So how were we going to tell people about this?
Fortunately, Magic setup a clever way to spread the word about their service via Twitter.
They offered waitlist users an incentive to spread the word, by moving them up the waitlist a bit. Many services have done this recently, and this was a smart move by Magic. Of course, David and I appreciated this, because now we had direct access to people that were signed up for this service.
So we did the spammy thing. We replied to these tweets with simple statements like “we can help with that” and “looks like your wait is over, check us out” and some people ended up signing up. In fact, our response was pretty great, considering.
We replied to 67 people and got 29 people to sign up, all in the first 2-3 hours.
There’s usually a hiccup when it comes to things like this. David and I threw this thing together as quickly as we could, and we forgot to change our Stripe account from test to live payment mode!
So our first paying customer wanted an order of 12 buffalo wings with blue cheese dressing. Simple enough. He attempts to sign up. He puts in his CC info.
We were still in test mode. He then posts this picture on twitter:
Of course I start freaking out, as this guy has over 1k followers and is literally tweeting every part of his first interaction with us, while @ing Sarah Buhr, a writer for TechCrunch. Beautiful.
We fumbled around and got it figured out, and after giving this guy a $10 discount, we had $20 in revenue, and he was happy overall!
It was around 2pm, and we had gotten our first sale. 12 hours after I found out this concept even existed in a service I was officially competing with. Incredible.
Over the next 48 hours, David and I took turns manning the different Genie requests that came in, while we each attended to our more pressing, important businesses. We quickly realized that this concept, as implemented, was incredibly labor-intensive without a lot of margin to show for it. Most of the time, we spent 10-20 minutes working out a food order for a $5 profit or so, and answering questions for people that were freaking out about this whole deal, just like we were.
By the 3rd day, David and I woke up, hit up each other on Skype, and mutually agreed that neither of us had any interest in pursuing this further. We had fielded DOZENS of requests, ignored just as many, and grew more and more agitated as each request came in.
We threw in the towel.
If there is one thing that can be learned from our experience, it’s that we live in a unique and amazing period of time. Humanity, innovation and technology are colliding in a way that allow a level of fast-paced, high-iteration entrepreneurship that never before existed, or may ever exist again.
There simply isn’t an excuse to ignore an idea. You can launch a business and convert a sale in as little as 12 hours. I did it, and you can too.