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Show HN: My Successful Catastrophe

Mar 10th, 2012 / Hacker News Lean Startups MVP

ThetaBoardI have been working on ThetaBoard for 9 months of nights and weekends. The idea was to create a very simple "project management + item tracking + organization + collaboration tool" that didn't force any existing methodology on the user. I'd make the tool and visitors would use it however they wanted. Use it for agile and XP. Use it for Kanban. Covey Quadrants. To do lists. Track your fantasy draft. The idea was to create, well, Trello. Then someone beat me to it.

I went back and forth and decided that I would complete my minimum viable product and submit it to Hacker News and see what people said. At that point I'd see if there was a market and make a decision.

How Not To Launch Your Product

Last Thursday I put together a Twitter Bootstrap-based landing page, added a newsletter sign up form, a quick screenshot and linked to a 1-click demo of the app. It was nowhere near my grand vision but in the spirit of the lean startup I felt like it was at a point where I could start getting valuable input. I submitted it to Hacker News just before 2:00 pm Dublin time on Friday, mentioned it on the #startups on freenode, sent the link to some friends and watched.

Wow. It went immediatly to the frontpage. #20 #14 #9. I checked the new real-time feature in Google Analytics. 60 current users. 70 current users. 75. 80. 100. 105. I IM'd a friend "Wow #6 on Hacker News. 105 current users in 10 minutes and growing." 110 users. 115. Uh, 80. 70. 50. 20. 10. 0.

What. The. F&$k.

I ssh'd into my server. Unresponsive.

The night before I used LoadImpact.com to stress test the small (256mb) instance I was on and it actually performed pretty well. I decided I would resize it to a larger instance just to be safe but the resize failed and I decided to leave it til the morning and then completely forgot about it.

With a dead server and a post hovering around #10th on HN, I logged into Rackspace to resize the server and get the site going again. Unfortunately, my testing and failed resize the night before had left the instance in a sort of cloud limbo state. It was stuck in a resize queue but wouldn't complete the resize for some reason.

#10th on the page. #11th. #13th. #15th. #20th. Ugh.

It took a few different Rackspace support agents nearly 2 hours to finally restore my poor little 256mb instance and resize it to something that could handle the load. My "Show HN" post was at the bottom of the first page. It stayed there an hour or so before it was gone. I had 'bottled it'.

A Resounding Success

Looking back I realized that tho I might not have gotten close to 5K visitors, I got enough. My goal was to show ThetaBoard.com to potential customers, see if there is a market, and determine where to go from here.

Hourly TrafficThe website got 1074 unique visitors over the weekend. Of those 1074, over 600 tried the demo, and over 40 registerd for a free account.

There was a decent amount of feedback in the comments. Everything from:

"...exactly what Trello is already doing"

To:

"very nice, intuitive and simple"

So dispite the hiccups, I had achieved what I set out to achieve. Over 1000 people visited my landing page (most of them in the hour or so that the post clung onto the bottom of the front page). I'd have loved for more people to have seen it but what I needed was a sample size large enough to validate or invalidate my idea. 1K or 10K--I don't think it really mattered.

The post got to the frontpage and people clicked on the link ("Show HN: My Project Management and (eventual) Collaboration Tool"). And more importantly--over half of the visitors took the time to try the demo. Even if ThetaBoard sucks, atleast I know that Project Management is still a problem and people are still looking for the solution.

What Now?

Well, based on the feedback I got--I don't think ThetaBoard sucks. Enough people said they liked it and would use it to make my decision easy. Conversations generated by my post gave me a clear roadmap for the next two weeks and I'm convinced that there is a viable business behind ThetaBoard. At the top of the current development list (well, my own ThetaBoard) are the following stories:

  • Make it easier to drag and drop stories.
  • Allow users to create multiple boards.
  • Add keyboard shortcuts.
  • Add the "collaboration" part! The ability to share and worth together on boards.

Those were the things that people wanted the most. I have dozens of more features coming afterwards.

From a business development stand point, I know I need to try and get more people who trying the demo to sign up for a free account (just click "Save This Board" at the top of the page!). Also, my landing page (tho' fairly effective) could use some polish.

All in all, I was pretty satisfied with the beta launch. So satisfied that I took the weekend off, went to the pub, watched some rugby, and relaxed for the first time in while. The experience was exhilaring and stressful but I'm recharged and ready to make a real run at what I think will be my first successful startup.

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