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The following is a case study. In the study I perform startup activities. I’ll share my thoughts on whether it was successful or not and the take aways.



I can have a max of 80 hours to work on a single project.


I can have a max of $1000.

The funding rules are simple. For an early prototype I can spend a max of $100. The remaining $900 can be accessed after gaining a small customer base.

The Idea

You know how there are roasts of comedians and they are hilarious because they are brutal? What if you could do that online? Instead of roasts. What if people wanted to get immediate feedback? Lets make the feedback simple in the form of either positive or negative on something? It could be feedback on if they feel bad and need a pick me up. If they are going out and want to know if this outfit suits them.

An instagram/snapchat way to receive feedback and then filter based on what you want. So the idea will be an Instagram for feedback.

In 36 hours or less you can determine whether your idea is worth investing your time or not.

1 hour research (total hours: 1)

Instagram. Ever heard of it? Snapchat. Same thing. So know there is a demand for an app like this. The challenge is how different did it need to be? You could argue these companies already provide feedback.

The biggest difference could be the institutionalization of an app that is for critical feedback.

Are there roast apps?

A quick app search found plenty of roast apps with 10-100k downloads. So there seems to be a market for at least a well known Comedy Central-esque approach. It seems the apps have 2 to 3.5 star ratings. The app quality seems to be very low. Looking at the 1 and 2 star ratings show major broken features.

Are there positive feedback apps?

There are several body positive apps and mind focusing apps. A few fashion ‘what to wear’ like apps. Body positive apps have a 180 degree different group. It may be user mayhem allowing these two groups to be on the app. This niche also may be more active, persistent and less novelty seeking. Meaning it may be harder to grab but hopefully they’ll stay longer. The apps are in the same spirit but not vein. There are apps for eating disorders. Others for body issues.

1 Hour Feature Benefit Dump (total hours: 2)

With any new idea I like to take some time to do a feature dump. This is where you list out all possible features for a fully-functional app. I like to use post-it notes and a timer for 10 minutes. I write until I run out of ideas.

Then I attempt to weed out excessive features. Features that may complicate the app development process. Features that do not seem key to any one group.

Parsimony is key to successful startups as feature creep kills.

The easiest way to create features is through the use of user stories. The range and detail you want to use is up to you. You can make the user stories as bland, broad or detailed as you want. An example of a user story is “A user can register using their phone number”.

This is a pretty simple and crude user feature story but it gets the point across. It’s no where near as technical as you need to be if you were working with a massive team. I wouldn’t worry right now how ‘best practice’ your user stories are. The point is to get them on paper.

You can also break down user stories by specific user segments. For the app I’m interested in building I have a few users. So for example:

Roast_Users will want to know the photo is the actual person and not someone else. Key to a roast is the consent to honoring someone by being a jerk.

While for the other segment:
Toast_users will want to be able to filter out roast comments

After all that listing start removing features that are not critical. There should be a lot of pruning. As a rule of thumb try to cut in half your features. Then do it again. Then one more time. This may seem harsh. You may feel they are all needed. That’s great but let’s start somewhere incredibly small and easy. By putting the majority of features on hold you can get to the core of your value proposition. Said otherwise what is the thing you are doing that others will want to pay you for? It’s not a list of features bloating their screen. It’s normally one very specific statement.

Features left after the culling

So for the idea I’m rolling with. These are the features that are left after a healthy 10 minutes of slashing.

  • Login and Register
  • Take a photo
  • Roast a photo
  • Toast a photo

8 hours Product & Customer Discovery (total hours: 10)

The natural inclination of many new entrepreneurs is to come up with an idea. Then think about it for a long time. Then attempt to perfect it in secret out of fear that someone will reject it because it’s too ‘early’.

We should all be going out and chatting with the users of the product. The sooner you can get an idea of how excited they are about it the better. It’s a great mind ease. After talking with a dozen or so potential users you’ll know if it’s a good idea to move forward. Think of all the hours and potential money you saved by letting your users get involved earlier than later.

When brainstorming there was a handful of user groups that make sense.
  1. College kids who just want feedback:
    The college kids have the perfect amount of I have spare time, I’m still socially worried about myself and I like apps.
  2. Bodybuilders:
    A subgroup that may want to get feedback on their form, skill or looks. Bodybuilders tend to pride themselves on their body so any fitness workout buff would fall into this group.
  3. Body positive bloggers:
    A group that is hell bent on making their body their own message. The modern marketing narrative has been that you are imperfect but to be perfect buy this. As Americans we are well trained and successful consumers to that narrative. It seemed like a no brainer that body positive groups may have interest in an app like this.
Interviewing College Students (100)

During a hackathon I tackled this with a team and we went into a campus and asked several questions they are paraphrased below.

  1. When was the last time you asked for feedback?
  2. Who do you ask feed back from?
  3. What are some of your most common things you ask for feedback on (like clothes, places to eat, movies)
  4. What do you think of an app where you could reach out to feedback to strangers and friends?
  5. If we get enough interest we will launch it, are you interested in knowing when you could download the app? (where we offered a piece of paper for first name and email)

During a multicultural event I went back with a simple landing page and some graphics. I asked 20 something college students to look over the site. Then respond to some questions.

Age was a pretty solid indicator of who would download it. The older students (30+) were not willing to download it. Which makes sense. But 77% overall said they were interested in an app that gave brutal feedback. It seemed oddly high.

The top categories for phototaking was clothing (43%), Food (62%) and funny ‘stuff’ (64%). My second visit revealed most students (60%) use Instagram or snapchat (during meals or activities).

Emailing Fitness Buffs

I emailed about a 100 fitness buffs using twitter, instagram and google to find them. I didn’t hear back from a single one. So skip that group.

Emailing Body Positive Bloggers

The exact same thing happened with bloggers. Perplexed with the above group ignoring me. I only emailed 20 body positive bloggers and received the same treatment. Either I wasn’t doing a good job describing the project. Or they are not early adopters.

When to quit and when to move forward

After the initial interviews and surveys you have to ask yourself. Should I keep going or not?

This is a difficult decision point. You have to take a look at the data. Look at your competitors, the environment and your potential users. This case study gives us a strong sense that we should move forward. There was an overwhelming positive response in one of the three demographics. Building out the MVP seems to make sense right?

Of course you should also consider other forces such as app download rate is dropping. The marketplace is flooded with cheap, poorly done and nonsensical apps. Double sided markets are impossible tasks without a heavy marketing team. The ticket for admission is flawless app design. Two sided markets need a healthy digital community (how, if you should even, stop pornographic like photos from coming aboard or intellectual property not owned by your company?).

If you’re not willing to be wrong then you’ll rarely be right either.

This may seem like a lot to take in but it’s not. You’re starting in a place of extreme uncertainty. Doing a 10 hour exploration of an apps worthiness seems small. It is. It’s way easier to talk to your potential customers as it is to hole yourself away. By talking with your customers you can feel whether they are interested or not.

By talking to people you go outside of your thinking bubble. You expose yourself to the real market you will have to face. If you came up with the idea to solve a pain point then listen to these people. Especially when you’re hearing something different than what you thought.

This can be scary for first time entrepreneurs. They’ve fantasized about their idea. They’ve dreamed of it over and over and they want to be ‘ready’ for the first time they face a user.

They want it perfect and crisp and clear and amazing. You’re not building a rocketship with an app, service or early stage product. You’re building a way for people to do something better than they would have normally. Talking to people about their experiences is critical to gaining understanding. Even better if you can do it without exposing your solution.

If you’re not willing to be wrong then you will rarely be right either. Startups work in the dark. Being in the dark means you do not have all the facts or feelings. You will have to make a decision that will ultimately be right or wrong.

Not comforting. I know. The goal of nascent startups are to fact find. Focus. Experiment and keep iterating. The sooner you can realize you were wrong and change the better. You do that through decisions. You do that by acknowledging that each of these decisions could be wrong for better or worse.

Continuing forward regardless.

Sometimes everything and everyone will tell you that you are wrong. It’s ultimately up to you whether you should move forward or not.

Never tell me the odds

Through vision and tenacity it seems some founders were willing to move forward and succeed. Remember for every founder that succeeded there are no doubt hundreds to thousands unknown that did not. This isn’t to be discouraging. It’s letting you understand that you can’t be right if you’re not willing to be wrong. If you believe in something no matter the statistical odds then you should try it.