08.11.2018 || Hannibal

Why I'm building a startup in 24 hours.

Like many indiehackers, I keep a list of new startup ideas as they arise. Over time, this list only seems to grow and grow. My time, on the otherhand, is heavily constrained - allowing for a single focus. I'm conflicted between the need for focus, and the ever present call of new and alluring sirens.

This month, I'm joining other indiehackers to launch a start-up in 24 hours, on Saturday 17th . This is a perfect chance to release some pent-up creativity, while staying faithful to my main project. Yet, what does it mean to build a start-up in 24 hours and is such a thing even possible? Charting a middle ground between cynicism and naivety: I think that, notwithstanding the tight deadline, that it's possible to define and prototype the absolute core of a value proposition, and to subsequently test potential demand for it over the subsequent few days. Here, I set out my reasons for taking part.

The existential dillemas of an indiehacker.

The biggest problem faced by indiehackers is the constraint of time: a constraint closely related to money. Unless one is independently wealthy: hacking time is limited to a few weekday hours and the weekend, while work consumes the lionshare of energy and attention. Even those fortunate enough to have some runway face the same problem: a limited amount of time to get something started and profitable, before being forced to return to employment. These paired constraints of time and money create two common traps for aspiring indiehackers:

  1. Never getting started - because you can't find the time or because you fritter away unproductively the few hours you do have.
  2. Spending too long on a single project , which you can't make profitable.

Most of the wisdom that has accumulated in the indiehacker community essentially seeks to mitigate these two existential concerns. Good practice has accumulated on how to manage your energy, discipline your attention, and carefully scope and validate projects - to make the most of the limited time we all have.

One ingenious way to overcome these problems, is the 12-month start-up challenge: where taking a gap year or using runway, you aim to launch a new project every month, with the hope that within a year you'll find something which gains initial traction. This approach avoids the oppurtunity cost of spending too long on an unfruitful idea, while allowing just enough time to get something meaningful built and out the door.

I've posted elsewhere about the benefits of this style of challenge and even considered taking it up. Yet, what if you can't commit to a year? The 24-hour startup challenge presents a interesting middle ground. The chance to practice getting small ideas out and into the world, without requiring a lengthy commitment.

The power of 24 hours

The first people to do a 24 hour challenge, to the best of my knowledge, where Nathan Barry and Amy Hoy in late 2014. Both made their focus a product and sold several thousand dollors worth in a single day. Amy produced the classic indiemaker bible "Just f##king ship!" which has grossed over $40,000 to date. While both Nathan and Amy had large social media followings facilitating marketing of their products, the challenge still emphasised the power of constraint to catalyse productivity and our tendency to underestimate what can be accomplished in short windows of time.

Such challenges are always going to be labelled gimmicks by some, and in a sense 24 hours is too short for all but the most basic of MVPs. Yet the exercise has increadible value: assuming a few days promotion before and after, the exercise affords enough time to go quickly iterate through an idea validation cycle. Allowing you to:

  1. Put something out there. (Ship)
  2. Test peoples reaction to it. (Validate)
  3. Decide if the idea is worth more of your time (Evaluate)

More significantly, these challenges provide a powerful catalyst against the intertia that stops people getting started. A clearly defined scope and time schedule provide an easy way to get started. While the presence of other people doing the same thing, and the potential to loose face after a public commitment, are additional powerful motivators.

The elephant in the room.

In contrast to the more modest objective of creating a product in 24-hours, several people have recently attempted to create start-ups in this same timescale or less. They've been able to do this through an exclusive focus on development and banging out code. Unsurprisingly, this has attracted criticism. To quote Russel Keith-Magee , a django hacker who shutdown his start-up, TradeCloud, after 6 years:

A business is an idea that generates revenue. A hobby project maybe fun to work on, it may even be useful to other people, but if you can't sell something, if you can't pay the bills with it: it isn't a business.

The exchange of money is a signifier of value which marks all legitimate commercial activites. Indiehackers who have insisted on charging from day one, have either rapidly validated demand for their product or found out within weeks that their product lack a fruitful market. For this reason, alongside building a crude MVP I'm going to take it upon myself to try and generate revenue from it.

To be sure, my aim is primarily creative. Yet, equally if this is really to be a 'start-up challenge', and not just another hackathon, the aim must be to generate something that you can attach a dollor sign to. I would encourage other hackers taking part in this challenge to do the same.

Over the next couple of days, I'm going to define what it is I hope to build during the challenge, and think hard about how to robustly define the scope of this idea, while creating something valuable enough to charge for. To follow my progress, subscribe below.

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