Sunday, December 30, 2012

The $0 Startup

I haven't posted in a couple months because I've been busy tinkering with something. And no, it's not another crappy startup that can't raise any more money. (BTW, have you read that article? I think it's fabulous. Seriously, go read it. I'll wait.)

It started with a hackday courtesy of CoderFaire. The night before, I was thinking how great it would be to to build something I would actually use and somehow involve FoxyCart and Twilio in the process. I woke up at 5am that morning with an idea and couldn't get back to sleep.

The idea is pretty simple. We all have things we want to change in our lives, and most agree creating new habits (or breaking old ones) is the best way to do it. There are plenty of reminder apps out there, but we're too busy (or too lazy) to set up spreadsheets and track our progress as a form of accountability.

So how about a system that sends you a text message, asks you a simple question you define, and then graphs your replies?

That's the basic idea behind Track and Remind Me:

It's not pretty. Heck, I don't even have a logo yet. But here's the important part:

It cost me nothing to launch this site.

I literally spent $0 getting this hobby site off the ground (and yes, it's a hobby right now, not a startup). Here are the tools I used:
  • FoxyCart (free during development)
  • Twilio (also free during development)
  • PHP (free)
  • MySQL (free)
  • AppFog (first 2 gigs of application memory are free)
  • GoDaddy domain ($10, but I didn't really need this, as AppFog provides a nice, small domain for testing)
  • phpMyAdmin (free)
  • DNS (went with a free solution at
  • Google Apps (free, used for setting up email accounts, though they may be charging $5 a user now)
  • Bitbucket (a free provider of git)
  • Eclipse (a free integrated development environment)
  • Highcharts (I haven't made any money yet, so I still consider this testing a personal project. I'll buy a license and/or use something else when appropriate.)
Of course, nothing is truly "free" when you include the man hours (and I've put in a lot for this). Still, this is a fully functional "idea" that didn't require a penny of funding. As you may know, I've spent the last 5 and half years of my life bootstrapping FoxyCart. There is a place for funding (though I have no personal experience with it), but I also believe many of the "web" ideas floating out there right now should stay as hobbies. There's little point in raising a bunch of money, hiring a bunch of people, and spending 18 months or so to see if anyone cares.

You have nights and weekends just like everyone else. Try putting in some time first to see if your idea sucks. If you're worried someone can copy you and "beat you to the market," then you're probably not solving a very original (or difficult) problem in the first place.

Here's my advice for someone with a web-based idea:
  • Be the guy who can actually work on it (i.e. a developer). Don't expect someone to work on your idea for free unless that someone is you.
  • Solve a real problem you personally need solved (I need a reminder to run at least twice a week).
  • Think long term. If the problem you're solving won't be around in the future, is it really worth solving? If you're willing to go slow and steady, making many small improvements over time, you're on the right track.
  • Don't call it a "startup." You have a hobby. Until you see profit, you still have a hobby.
While we're on the topic, what do you think of my idea?

If you like it, hit, set up some questions, and give me some feedback. For a limited time, I've got it adding a 2013 New Year's resolutions coupon to make the whole system free. Check it out! I still have some bugs to fix, but that's all part of the process.