The 40-hour Experiment (part 2 – results)

This is a follow-on post from the original 40-hour experiment post. The problem: is there a market for what you’re building? Is there a product-market fit, and more importantly how long should you continue to try before giving up? Too many start-ups spend more than a year building a product that no one really wants. The 40-hour experiment was about spending 40 hours in a focused way on marketing a new product, and dumping the product at the end of 40 hours if nothing came of it. I kept track of the hours I spent on a little whiteboard, slowly counting them down.

Each hour must be spent totally focused on marketing or customer acquisition. No Facebook, Youtube, random calls or meetings allowed. Stay “In the Zone.” Time measured down to the minute. Logging 45 minutes does not count as an hour of work. Food, water & other breaks, managing team, answering emails etc not included.

Here’s what happened…

40 Hours
New product. Sell premium templates for CMS platforms online through affiliates and SEO.

35 Hours
Pinged nearly 200 affiliates. Basic SEO changes started.

30 Hours
Pinged another 300 affiliates. Reached out to ~150 hosting companies to partner with. Realized that I was only able to really spend 3 – 4 high-quality hours per day. Can’t physically force myself to focus and perform at the highest level for more time than that. Rest of the day spent answering emails, calls, managing team, random bullshit…

25 Hours
Lots of follow-up questions, calls and meetings. 2 companies ready to pay about $15k upfront in annual license fees to buy our product. Good response rate from affiliates. Several big ones ready to promote product. Learning lots about unit economics in this business.

20 Hours
Bookings for about $20k received. Based on partner engagement, feel like this can be scaled to $50k/mo in 6-12 months. Also realized that this was going to be a hard business to scale beyond $2m/year. Fragmented market, will take a long time to get seriously big. The big players have taken years to get to scale.

Result – 0 Hours
At this point, Murti and I decided that this would make an interesting cash machine, but we wanted to focus on something bigger. The last company I built did $15m/yr in revenue. Didn’t make sense to spend 1-2 years building a company that would likely top out at ~$2m/year.

So yes, the experiment was a success. It took about half the number of hours (~20). I found a business that worked, got orders, learned customer acquisition in that industry, and then made a conscious decision that this wasn’t what I wanted to do right now.

Interesting things I noticed:

– Hard to spend more than 3 – 4 hours / day functioning at your optimal level. Leads me to believe that most people waste most of their workdays. The idea of working 80 hours a week means you’re doing something really inefficiently, or you’re just warming your ass at the office on Facebook, Twitter or Youtube.

– When you do work in a timed, focused manner, it really shows you how inefficiently you were spending your workday before.

– Self-accountability. I was constantly looking at the whiteboard and my timer and asking if I was using the time efficiently.

– Focus, focus, focus. By zero-ing in on the most critical areas, you get to a result faster. You turn months into hours.

I’d highly recommend anyone doing a new tech start-up to try this approach. It’s a great way to get a result – Yes or No – in a matter of weeks rather than months. I’ve lost count of the number of start-ups that spend 12 – 15 months trying to build and market something that no one wants. Don’t be the start-up that failed b/c they spent 12 months on product development only to realize that: (a) they don’t know how to acquire customers for their product profitably, or worse (b) nobody wants the product.



7 thoughts on “The 40-hour Experiment (part 2 – results)

  1. Super interesting – really glad that you posted the results. I completely agree with you that it is incredibly difficult to do more then 4 or so high quality hours per day – the primary difference being that you are actually on tracking those hours which is awesome.

    So what happens to the approximately 20k in bookings that you had obtained? Do you follow through and deliver those or do you just gracefully bail?

  2. Pingback: The Inevitability of Mathematics in Start-ups | Ali on Start-ups & Entrepreneurship

  3. Ali, love the post. Can you go into a bit more detail on how you did sales function here? From my understanding, you didn’t have a product to sell yet. I’m amazed how you get $20k bookings without spending any time on product. You must have the gift of gab 🙂

  4. Pingback: The Inevitability of Mathematics in Startups - AlleyWatch

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