The 40-hour experiment

Have you ever had this problem of incubating something brand new – a project, a business idea, an experiment – but not knowing how much time and effort you need to put into it exactly before you know, really know if its working?

I run into this issue. All the freakin’ time. This problem gets magnified with new start-up experiments. Let’s say you want to experiment with a start-up selling cupcakes online. You setup your site in a few days, bake some delicious cupcakes, and are ready to roll. Your marketing plan is to email all your friends and have a local newspaper feature your new business. Heck, everyone wants a cupcake right? If a 1000 people hear about it, some will buy, right?

So you email everyone, the local paper writes about you, and you sit back waiting. Nothing happens. A few days go by; still nothing. You now have a crucial choice: keep investing more time in trying to promote your cupcakes OR consider this a bad start-up idea, can it, and move on. When exactly do you decide to pull the plug and walk away? Your time has an obvious opportunity cost, and you can’t pursue a failing idea forever.

Most projects suffer from a hugely lopsided investment into building a product, and not enough into marketing. No start-up fails because they couldn’t build and launch their product. The Deadpool however is brimming with start-ups that couldn’t find paying customers for what they built. Engineers spend 200 hours building a product, only for the marketing folks to give up after spending 20 hours trying to distribute it.

I recently finished building a product for a new start-up experiment (lets call it ProductX). I was worried about this issue – that I was going to spend a few days marketing this new ProductX, hit a wall in about 5 days, and then decide it wasn’t the right idea. So on the way back from the gym, this crazy idea hits me. I’ll measure how many hours I put into seriously marketing this, and I’ll put in a certain minimum number of hours, say 40. But each hour has to be singularly focused on marketing – no email checking, no working on accounting, or product development. No answering the phones (unless ofcourse its a marketing call)

If we don’t get a single paying customer by the time I’m done investing 40 ultra-focused hours into marketing ProductX, we’ll call it off. 

This ensures that no matter how promising or bleak the day is looking for ProductX, I’ll put in enough hours to exhaustively know, without doubt, whether ProductX will work. And how to make it work.

Happy to report that I’m about 10 hours in so far. Each time I put in an hour, the number on the whiteboard gets reduced -1.

Lets see if we get a paying customer by the time I hit “0”.

It’s also surprising how hard it is to put in a couple of hours without doing anything else. #FocusIsEverything


4 thoughts on “The 40-hour experiment

  1. Great post – and so true. Heres a question for you though – is it always 40 hours? Or does the number of hours directly relate to how long it took for you to build out a viable MVP? Just how many hours is good enough before you say “enough!”? Thats is what im struggling with – that and “maybe we just need this additional feature to sell it” syndrome lolz 🙂

    • 40 hours is just a random number I picked up. Could be different for different things. I’m guessing if I can’t get a single paying customer in 40 hours, then 400 hours isn’t going to do too much better.

      I stay away from the extra feature syndrome as much as possible. Takes time away from marketing. My goal is to build a shitty product, launch, and if people still want the bad product *then* you *know* people will really want the good version.

  2. Pingback: The 40-hour Experiment (part 2 – results) | Ali on Start-ups & Entrepreneurship

  3. Pingback: Getting Shit Done – Use this App | Ali on Start-ups & Entrepreneurship

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