The 4-Hour Startup: How I Did It

Loren BurtonFebruary 03, 2011

Despite the title, I am aware that this is not actually a startup. It is just a small project that was completed in a few hours that happened to pick up quite a bit of traction and become profitable, which is notable in and of itself. Perhaps a more fitting title would be "The 4-Hour Profitable Project", but this is more fun =]

Hi. If you haven’t heard, I hacked together a side-project in a few hours, brought it to profitability almost immediately, and made it go viral. Before I jump into explaining how I made that happen, let’s clear one thing up. This isn’t going to be a “look what I did, you can do it too!” blog post, because as much as some bloggers/founders/hackers may want you to believe that’s how things work, life just isn’t that simple. Life is tough. And if you’re looking for the easy path to success, I can’t help you. Just because I made something neat and it was easy for me does not mean that it can be duplicated with a step-by-step guide, even if it only took me a few hours from start to finish. The true fact of the matter is that those few hours of passionate hacking were backed by a lifetime of learning and experience. So, let’s just say this is going to be a “look what I did, maybe if you take notes, put your head down and grind like crazy you can do something amazing too” article. That’s how things really get done. Okay? Here we go.

Forewarning: I’m writing all of this as soon as I can while the whole ordeal is still fresh in my mind. I’ll try to be as clear and thorough as possible, but I haven’t slept in days so I apologize in advance if anything comes across as jumbled or confusing.

Opportunity

Over the past few days, quite a bit of hype has built up revolving around the snowstorm. I’ve seen snow before and didn’t think very much of it, but two Facebook events caught my eye: Snowpocalyse 2011 and Snowpocalyse!!!! Why did they stand out? In a few hours they went from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of attendees, and I had a feeling there would be more. Not only that, the participants were leaving comments and posting photos to the event several times a minute, showing that the little community that was building up around the events was active and interested. Lightbulb!

Around 2am Wednesday morning and I decided to leverage that instant-market. Could it fail? Absolutely. But there was also the slight chance that it could have succeeded (I’ll spare you the suspense: it did), so I went for it. Not knowing whether or not it would work, I pushed past the doubt and started hacking away to get something into the world as soon as possible. The worst case scenario was that I would end up exactly where I started, with a bit of gained experience in social marketing/virality.

Background

As much as it may seem like this just came out of the blue and fell into my lap, it didn’t. Yes, the project was thrown together in a matter of hours, but everything I did was backed with previous experience. I’ve received lots of questions about how I designed the website, how I worked the logistics of printing and shipping the shirts, how I handled the payment gateway, how I advertised, etc. Short answer: I’ve done it all before. I’ve built websites. I’ve developed web apps. I’ve worked with ecommerce platforms. I’ve designed t-shirts and ran a small t-shirt company. I’ve experimented with pricing and user interfaces, and I’ve become extremely efficient at minimizing printing and shipping costs while maintaining quality. Even if some of my past projects may have “failed”, each one added tools to my toolbox that ultimately made this all come together.

To Be Continued...

I could throw some stats and sales figures at you and write a short, fluffy article to make myself seem like a super-hacker, but let’s be honest: that won’t help anybody. Instead, I’ve decided to write a series of mini-articles to cover as much content as possible. The upcoming posts will provide a detailed account of the following:

Building – design, code, user experience decisions

Marketing – leveraging Facebook events and other social networks

Logistics – printing, shipping, and payment gateways

Statistics - hits, visitors, conversion rates, traffic sources/breakdown, etc

Conclusion – takeaways and key points that I picked up along the way

I sincerely hope that these articles can provide knowledge and value to fellow hackers/entrepreneurs. I’ll share as soon as I can - stay tuned!