Bootstrapped Lean College Startup: UpOut

By Martin Shen,
UX Guy and Cofounder of UpOut

UpOut helps you discover hip hop karaoke, flying trapeze classes, underground restaurants and other awesome things to do. It has extensive filters, customizable profiles and much more, but it started as just a side project between college and our web design firm. However, it’s that busy schedule which forced us to launch quick/often and enabled us to bootstrap our startup. This is a quick story of our experience.

After our first startup failed, my roommate and I started a small web design firm. Around the time we got the idea for UpOut, the web design firm was finally taking off and schoolwork was piling on. We decided that in February, we’d take a week off of client work and school and build a prototype for UpOut to demo at a student entrepreneurship conference in NYC.

Fueled on energy drinks and seaweed snacks, we pulled a few 72-hour sprints to push a minimum viable product. We focused on building a simple user interface consulting our friends every step of the way.

Demoing Prototype 1: Day 3 of No Sleep

People loved the prototype. From the few hundred people who saw the glimpse of UpOut, we took their feedback and planned the real product. This time, we pushed back some client work to give us a more relaxed 12-day window in early April to work on the next version. We ended up spending a little over two weeks but redesigned the entire site to post up on HackerNews.

Screenshot of UpOut

We got a several thousand hits alone from HackerNews encouraging us to go at it full time. We quickly decided to close up the web design firm using the proceeds from the last jobs to give us a 5 or 6 month window. In May, we closed up the vast majority of the client projects, I graduated and we packed up our things to move to San Francisco.

Now we’re in SF. We’ve picked up interested users every step of the way. We earned enough through web design consulting to give us a runway to really try doing a startup. We’ve learned the importance of constant user testing which is helping us improve the product every day. We’re now testing the latest build for UpOut and would love to get some feedback and suggestions. Feel free to reach out to me at or even drop by our loft in SoMa.


UpOut helps you discover events, places and activities worth doing. Find amazing parties, hidden bars and other things to do in your city. You can also follow users and tags to get a customized stream of the best things to do. Check it out at or follow @up_out.

Note: Martin is Cofounder of and is now based in San Francisco. If you’d like to share your lessons learned, domain knowledge or relevant product (translated out of Marketize), how about doing a guest post for 47 Hats? Email me.

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Bootstrapped Lean College Startup: UpOut

Something to fear or embrace this weekend…

Ben Pieratt

Ben Pieratt

From Varsity Bookmarking, the tumblelog of Ben Pieratt:

“The internet, at this time in history, is the greatest client assignment of all time. The Western world is porting itself over to the web in mind and deed and is looking to make itself comfortable and productive. It’s every person in the world, connected to every other person in the world, and no one fully understands how to make best use of this new reality because no one has seen anything like it before. The internet wants to hire you to build stuff for it because its trying to figure out what it can do. It’s offering you a blank check and asking you to come up with something fascinating and useful that it can embrace en masse, to the benefit of everyone. […]

“The internet kills all middlemen.”

What if he is literally, precisely, right?

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Something to fear or embrace this weekend…

Outsourcing 101 for Startup Founders

By Aymeric Gaurat-Apelli
Founder, Task Army

Many people are attracted by the idea of outsourcing but starting outsourcing can be quite daunting. Where to find the right people? How to make sure they will produce the results you expect? How much to pay?

I will try to answer these questions in this (lengthy) post.

I. Where to go to find a remote contractor?

There are different approaches you can take, all with pros and cons.

I.1 Local forums
You can post your job to local forums. For example, if you are looking for someone in the Philippines, you could go to local Filipino job forums.

Pros: cheaper, there is no middle man.

Cons: it is riskier because you have no way to access previous customers feedback and ensure the provider will be good. You will have to spend more time making sure the provider is qualified.

Example of websites:

I.2 Placement services
You can use placement services that will find a the right service provider for you.

Pros: Quality is usually higher.

Cons: Expensive because of the overhead of finding the providers for you.

Example of websites:

I.3 Outsourcing marketplaces
On these websites, you post a job and service providers submit their quote in some kind of auction. Quality varies from a marketplace to another. Elance tends to be best to find quality providers but is more expensive. These platforms can be a bit overwhelming because you receive 100s of applications that you have to filter through.

Pros: Many service providers for a wide range of skills. It is good for bigger projects when you want to ensure the quality of the service provider and to make sure the provider has the right skillset.

Cons: Unnecessary and overwhelming hiring process for smaller tasks.

Example of websites:

I.4 Micro-job marketplaces
You can buy services like if you were at the supermarket. The services offered are well defined and small.

Pros: Depending on the size of the task you need done, this is a good compromise between removing the overhead of finding the right provider and yet not adding a huge extra cost.

Cons: Works only for smaller tasks.

Example of websites:

  • Fiverr (be careful with what gigs you buy, you might get penalized by Google)
  • (focuses on tasks that will improve your website and online sales)

Note: goes one step further by manually approving the services and service providers to remove all the crappy services.

I.5 Niche websites
Some websites focus on a specific kind of experts or services.

Pros: They usually make the process much easier or the quality of the providers is much higher.

Cons: If you hire more than one contractor with different skillsets, you will likely have to manage them across different platforms.

For writers

For designers

For developers

  • ODesk is usually the best place.

II. Hiring process

II.1. Favourable criteria
Country of origin: Based on my personal experience, I tend to prefer people from Philippines for general assistance and from Eastern Europe for development: you have a higher chance to get someone reliable and honest.

Responsiveness is essential. If someone takes two days to answer your emails, it will slow the project a lot. Timezones are already challenging, having someone who is not online most of the day is an unnecessary pain.

English skill. Depending on the type of task, you don’t need perfect English (except for writers). You just need to make sure they understand your English, ask them to re-explain what you have given them to work on in their own words.
For a writer, be VERY picky with their English. If they don’t capitalize their “I”‘s (as in “i am” instead of “I am”) for example it is a big red flag. Also, if you can find typos in their conversation with you, it is another red flag. A good writer must be anal when it comes to typos and good grammar.

II.2 Outsourcing the hiring
Hire one or two people from Philippines for $3/h to help you hire someone. Ask them to post your job on the different websites I cited above and to filter the good from the bad based on the criteria you give them.

I found my own Ruby on Rails developer this way and we have been working together two months and I canít be happier. It costed me $20 to get two people look for a developer for me.

II.3 Some more tips on how to hire

  • You can decide to pay the service provider to take a specific test on oDesk. They have a wide range of tests for all disciplines.
  • Verify they have done similar work or that they have the skills required
  • On Odesk, you can look in the history of closed jobs. You can find closed jobs similar to yours and approach people who got a good feedback directly
  • Give a mini project. The mini project should be totally independent to not have to give away too much and yet should be useful to you. It shouldn’t be bigger than a week worth of work though to waste any time if youíd decide not to go ahead
  • Go with your gut: if you feel the provider isn’t responsive or you have a bad feeling, move on, you are probably right.

III. How much should you expect to pay?

I assume here that you outsource offshore:

What How much
General assistance
(link building, customer support, web research, etc…)
$3/h up to $10/h
Developers from $12/h up to $30/h for great developers
Designers Outsourcing design is tricky because usually you want Western web 2.0 style (a la 37Signals) and it is hard to find someone offshore. This is one thing that I would consider doing onshore.
Writers Articles you buy at $5 won’t get you natural links from the readers but will help with organic traffic from Google. To get better quality articles that readers will actually like, it will start at $20 per article up to $120. The higher the cost, the more following the writer should have to help promote your content.

IV. Recommended virtual assistants to start outsourcing now

If you want to try your hand at outsourcing, Iíd recommend starting with small tasks to slowly acquire the outsourcing mindset and make it second nature. Karissa and Joni are two virtual assistants on TaskArmy that I recommend if you want to start outsourcing.

Any questions?
I will be following the comments so please don’t hesitate to ask me any questions in the comments.
Aymeric is an French entrepreneur based in Sydney (Australia) who has founded in 2009 to make outsourcing online easier. If you’d like to share your lessons learned, domain knowledge or relevant product (translated out of Marketize), how about doing a guest post for 47 Hats? Email me.

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Outsourcing 101 for Startup Founders

The end is near…


Sale ends Monday at Noon (PST)

…at least for the MicroConsult with Bob Walsh sale. MicroConsults will be returning to their normal highly competitive prices Monday at noon (San Francisco time).

So who went for the sale? Well, for starters…

  • A New Yorker who wanted to become more productive (bought the 3 for 2, came back for 6 for 4),
  • Another New Yorker who after a bit of brainstorming found their “secret sauce” to turn their side project into a real, fundable, startup.
  • A Russian CS/math whiz looking for ways to productize some amazing algorithms and make the right Silicon Valley connections.
  • 2 founders building a disruptive market creation startup,
  • A Southern Californian blogger back for another session on making the WordPress pain go away,
  • A New Jerseyite who’s made more progress in the week after their first MicroConsult than in the preceding 2 months,
  • and 5 other startup founders, microISVs or productivity-challenged people who needed someone to get behind them and push.


    How about you? :)

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    The end is near…

    Productivity isn’t one problem; it’s three

    I don’t know if this is profound or just a case of me finally understanding last month what everyone else gets: Productivity is not one problem, it’s three.

    For the past decade I’ve been trying to solve how to be productive as if that problem begins and ends in Getting Things Done (David Allen’s productivity methodology). GTD is a great solution for problem #2 – how to effectively warehouse and inventory tasks somewhere other than between your ears.

    The first problem domain is Personal Information Management – everything from (too many) passwords to notes to relevant information to finding information again without searching for it again to shoveling email (got a new trick for this – more on that tomorrow). It’s all the info I need to create, store, pull together and break apart so I can get work done.

    The third problem is actually doing the work. How, when drowning in distractions, do I produce good work? In fact, how do I work well even when I’m unmotivated, tired, distracted, and/or brain fatigued? Having the longest task list, the best GTD system doesn’t get you a prize or put money in the bank. Accomplishing, completing, creating, executing, does. Enumerating the work is not the same as doing the work, let alone doing the work well so that other people will pay you for it.

    Three implications:

    • Information Management comes first. You’ve got to handle that problem otherwise you will be constantly stymied as you try to deal with problems two and three.
    • There’s a point of diminishing returns solving the Task management problem with GTD. GTD is not about the first problem, and tangentially about the third problem. Especially if burn all of your disposable time trying to fix problems #1 and #3.
    • There are thousands of programs out there for managing some part of your information load, and thousands of GTD-centric programs. But there’s only a few – a tiny few – that focus on developing better focus: Minimal writing environments like Byword and exercising your focus like various Pomodoro Apps. Handful of apps + huge unmet need = startup opportunity.

    Also, it’s is a lot easier concentrating on and solving some part of each of these problems than trying to find either software or methodology which will magically solve all three.

    So what do you think?

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    Productivity isn’t one problem; it’s three

    Launching Next!: Experience of a first-time app developer

    By Jenny Wager
    Founder, LefTurn Labs

    I am thrilled that there is interest in hearing how Next! was launched. So let’s start at the beginning- the idea for Next! was born from my obsession with productivity and desire for a solution that worked how I worked. There is a certain efficiency that technology can bring to personal productivity, but everything I tried merely replicated paper-based system.

    I am not a software developer, marketer, or designer…all things critically important to launching an app. So the first thing I needed was a team- I was lucky enough to partner with my neighbor and brilliant developer Grant Wood, friend and marketing wiz Sean Irwin, and awesome designer Jay Runquist. Together we turned my idea and shoestring budget into a fully integrated and beautiful productivity app used in over 80 countries around the world. We are learning something new every day, but here are the things that I have found to be most important in the launch of Next!:

    Design with intention. Like Bob said, beauty is not optional. The app store is all about first impressions so from the design of the app itself, to the app icon and website everything should be designed with intention. This was very important to the development and launch of Next!. Even with our small budget we took special consideration to develop custom components instead of using Apple’s and to create an elegant design. Don’t take shortcuts and don’t launch ugly.

    Differentiate. There are thousands of productivity apps out there and more released everyday. Understandably it is extremely difficult to stand out from the crowd. There are too many apps in the market to simply create another ‘me too’ app. If you don’t have an idea that is different in user experience, design, or functionality from what is already out there you are going to have a difficult time competing in the app market. The unique features, design and user experience of Next! has helped us gain recognition.

    Be persistent. I didn’t expect to launch Next! and then just sit back and watch it climb the charts. With the amount of apps out there it is critically important to keep your app relevant in the market. Thankfully, there are an amazing amount of app review sites, bloggers and other sources that can help promote your app. It has taken me a great deal of hard work and persistence to contact and follow up with outlets who can spread the word about Next!.

    Work for your customers. There are going to be people who don’t understand and/or don’t like your app, but that doesn’t make it any easier to see 1 and 2 star ratings or receive harsh criticism. I’ve learned to focus on the emails thanking me for this product and the difference it has made in their lives; from the couple who is using it to plan their dream wedding to the business professional who is now more confident to take on the next big project at work. That doesn’t mean that you should ignore feedback and criticism. It is important to understand all the ways to make your app better and more usable, but I remind myself every day that I am serving my customers- not everybody.

    Next! for the iPad

    Launching Next! has been a wonderful and unpredictable journey which has afforded me the opportunity to participate in this exciting market and to impact individuals around the world. Next! has a long way to go before reaching its potential and we would love to hear your experiences and suggestions.

    About LefTurn Labs

    We founded LefTurn Labs with a mission to create the most complete and engaging software app for getting organized, improving productivity, and taking control of your life and your career. To discover the power and confidence that comes from being in control of your life, please visit or follow the company on Twitter @lefturnlabs.

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    Launching Next!: Experience of a first-time app developer

    Time to get your startup unstuck.


    On another note…

    I wanted my readers here know about a sale starting today: Buy one MicroConsult for $99 instead of $147 (30% off). Or buy two MicroConsults for $198 and I’ll add a third MicroConsult, free (50+% off!).

    You can schedule your MicroConsult(s) today or later. And as always, each MicroConsult comes with a money back, there and then, guarantee.

    (So far no one has taken me up on this particular guarantee. :))

    If you’re feeling stuck, if you’re not sure how to explain your startup on your site, if you need a big dose of productivity to get to the next level, please, give one of my MicroConsults a try. I think you will be glad you did.

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    Time to get your startup unstuck.

    Putting StartupToDo to sleep; lessons learned.

    September 29, 2009 – June 29, 2011

    Well, that sucked.

    I disconnected this afternoon. It was time – past time. If you’ve ever had to put a member of your family who happens to be a cat or dog to sleep, you have a good sense of how I feel right about now. Not that bad, but still.

    I emailed the few remaining subscribers, made arrangements for the remains (data) to be interred on another server, and let them in on my new project. Then I sat down to write this post.

    The rest of this post is a catharsis of sorts; these are three lessons I paid a very high price for. Heed them.

    • The single biggest mistake I made was not listening to the criticisms of prospective and actual customers. From the private beta on, way too many people said the same thing – good content, but too complicated. If I had let myself hear the doubt in their voices, taken seriously the “I don’t understand” emails, I would not have coded myself into a corner, stuck with a confusing mess of features. It hurts to listen, it’s easy to rationalize your way around listening, but believe me, they are right, you are wrong, because they choose what to spend their time, money and attention, not you.
    • Speaking of money, have enough money in the bank to get you through. For me “through” meant becoming a profitable microISV; for you it might mean landing your first equity investment. Each their own. But trying to make real your software idea while holding down either a day job or fulltime freelancing is a hellish monkey to have on your back.
    • You have to work on your startup every single day, even if it’s only for a few minutes a day. Let me explain that one. Having written 5 books, the first and the last were the easiest to actually write because near as I could, I wrote at least a page or two every single day. Working on what you are creating every single day has (at least) 4 huge benefits:
      – You can pick up where you left off in less time, with fewer false starts.
      – There’s less opportunity for Resistance in all its guises to make mischief.
      – You get to market faster.
      – You build momentum.

    I made plenty of other mistakes, but those were the big three. I hope you’ll take them heart so you won’t end up having to write you own ‘lessons learned’ post.

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    Putting StartupToDo to sleep; lessons learned.

    Industriously smelling the digital roses

    If you don’t focus, you can’t create. But if you don’t connect, you can’t meaningfully create. Here’s my new approach to the whole “be industrious or be online” quandary.

    A.M. – Set up exactly what I am going to do and unless there’s an earthquake or a gun shot, do it. No interruptions, deviations, distractions, mercy or remorse. Plan the work, work the plan and the touchy-feely stuff gets a quick note but that’s it.

    P.M – I go hippy, and like, browse the web checking out cool stuff, people and ideas, IM friends, check out the cool video of the latest ScobleApp* and oh yeah, get some stuff done.

    Given what I do (write, code, blog and podcast), and that I’m a lark not an owl, I need to create LOC (lines of content/code) and smell the digital roses, network like a crazy, and keep an eye on the future, which tends to show up in the wrong order and unevenly.

    Works for me. How about you?

    *ScobleApp – An app, technology or startup that Robert Scoble digs up and finds. Definitely worth your time.

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    Industriously smelling the digital roses

    Beauty is not optional

    No, I’m not talking about how handsome, beautiful or sexy you are; I’m talking about how beautiful your web, desktop or especially your mobile app had better be.

    We live in a world today that sees 5 new startups, 50 new books, 500 new sites and what feels like 5,000 new apps taking their walk down the runway, vying for our attention each and every day.

    Your software can have super powers and functionalities that any geek would swoon over, but if its looks don’t jump off the screen neither you or it will get to first base.

    “I think beauty is absolutely critical in launching an app today,” says Jenny Wager, CEO and Founder of LeftTurn Labs. “I can speak first and foremost as a user and it is simply unappealing to use an app that has a poorly designed icon and interface. No matter how functional the app, I can’t stand to use it if it is ugly”.

    Jenny should know: her iPad app Next!, a task and project management app, is doing quite well, thank you very much (60,000 sales and counting).

    “When creating Next! the ultimate goal was to improve productivity, but that absolutely should not mean that it have a utilitarian or poor design.  So many apps just focus on the features, but if people don’t like to look at it the features are irrelevant.  For productivity especially it is so important to provide a clean and visually appealing work space – cluttered space=cluttered mind.”


    Not that Next! is all looks: its unique navigational system breaks new ground and provides a new and cool interface for battling those familiar project management demons. But there’s already more GTD-centric apps out for this one platform than you or I can count; how did LeftTurn Labs make this one app stand out of from the crowd?

    “We had two main goals when designing Next!: 1) Make it easy to want to use and look at Next! every day, and 2) Increase users focus on their information,” said Jenny. “If you don’t like to look at your productivity app you certainly aren’t going to be more productive!  It was critically important that we made Next! beautiful so that people would be more inclined to use it all the time.”

    We’ve gone from a world where everyone used the same three bland programs, to a world where which apps we choose to use are a powerful reflection of who we see ourselves as. And nobody wants to see ugly in the mirror.

    (So you know – I bought Next! even though I already own way too many GTD apps because it looked damn good; nor did the current sale price of $0.99 hurt. Then I reached out to Jenny.)

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    Beauty is not optional