In order to know if fitwow can be an actual useful product, we have to figure out ways to get it in front of users. This process of doing is execution. Sometime, an idea for good execution could come by accident.
Take this past weekend as an example. I walked into a gym out of curiosity but ended up talking to the assistant general manager for more than 1 hour. Gyms are hungry to sign up new members and keep the existing ones. I get it. But the conversation went beyond him selling me the membership. There is undeniable value that gyms provide and I sense potential partnership between fitwow’s in video feedback tool and gyms. For example, we could setup a weekly “free video form check corner” inside a gym, accepting those members who would like to have their videos shot, writing down their email, notifying them when we first publish their workout on fitwow. We can then get a few solid trainers to provide valuable feedback to their exercise videos. Doing this will get our name in front of gym members. It could be a good execution plan.
Meanwhile, I started reading reddit/r/fitness community guide since it’s considered the “best resource” for learning fitness. One thing led to another, I ended up glancing through a book by Clint Cornelius “Brainoverbrawn.com”: a smart solution to regain and maintain strength, health and youth. It advocates the self-learning and throws significant doubts on the legitimacy of “fitness pros”. But the sites that I built are based on the assumption that a good trainer is valuable, I seem to forget one should NOT rely entirely on other’s being their resource. Trainer can only show you so much. The correct thing for an entrepreneur to do is to create a platform lowering the bar of learning fitness (or whatever fields people choose).
It’s been a journey filled with ups and downs. I do start to question more: what a great inventor would do? S/he would create solution to solve problems that worth solving, which then could lead to successful products, not the other way around.
At this point, I should stop doing whats superficial: such as creating a platform helping trainers find more clients. Instead, I should go deeper, look for answer for root problems: how an individual can gain health and fitness. This may cast more doubts on trainerPlz model, but it gives me motivation to really understand what fitness is about, how exercises and nutrition shape one’s overall fitness. I think that knowledge will give me more clarity on the direction fitwow should go.
I am gonna eat my own dog food, even it may taste funny. But I created it. I am going to eat it, and see how other dogs like it too.
This obviously is a metaphor.
You don’t have to be expert on your startup subject, as proven by many super successful entrepreneurs, such as Daniel Ek (spotify founder) and his early startup called “stardoll”.
My irony is that my startup is about helping people improve fitness, but I am not really into gym. I prefer to exercise outdoor and play sports, instead of lifting. So, why do I do fitness startup? With my language skills I can do a rosetta stone school easily, or simply find a job as a programmer while learning it.
A couple years ago I took a job at TRX as web marketing/product guy, over another web startup because I thought it would be fun to grow with a new sports brand. And it was.
I chose startup in the fitness field because the market is huge, and I have good connections and understanding of it. And my cofounder is a solid tech guy, and we both play sports regularly (basketball for him, soccer, running, surfing for me).
But neither of us lift weights, does yoga, run marathon etc.
I recall airbnb founders did everything to get close to their users, they give up apartments, live on airbnb hosts’ places for years. How can I get to know our potential users? It’s not enough to send a few email invites, post exercise videos.
By eating my own dog food, I am talking about doing what I don’t usually do: going to gym, starting rigorous training to understand fundamental movements, ask others to shoot videos of me doing all possible exercises I know; uses fitness apps to record what I do. In the process of doing it, other people will come to know there is cool site that I’ve built.
So, part of my marketing plan is: set aside
1. Find a gym membership/package on groupon that I can afford to go for three months.
2. Start using two (free) self tracking apps: runkeeper, fitbit etc.
3. Start learning nutrition and use myfitnessPal to track nutrition
4. Learn all major exercise and be able to do them correctly.
5. Try to get to know Tim Ferries and his 4 hour body framework.
6. Set up a goal for a major race such as tough mudder and place top 10.
7. Put my exercise on fitwow.com for others to critique, and hire a trainer through trainerPlz.com
I will do it for 6 months, which should be a decent time to bootstrap my startup and see decent userbase growth, as the meantime, reach my fitness goals.
Two initiatives to grow our user base and expert base:
I called upon my friend Aaron and cold called a local fitness center to discuss a cross promotional opportunity, offering our future users base discounted gym membership. We will see how it goes.
I emailed a training expert/social media manager Mike Simon at Mens health to propose our new cross training tool fitwow and trainerPlz.com, will see how he responses. I think it’s a win win situation where we can offer Mens Health community timed exercise assessment.
On top of that, approached an ex coworker at TRX who is big racer, got a tip on where are the popular racing events, since I think we can add value for the training community.
There are lots of things to do and I am pumped up, nervous, tired. Time management is key. I have not done any coding fo 3 days, I miss that!
I honestly had a hollow feeling inside out, after not seeing any people posting on fitwow. But sometime in the afternoon today, we got our first user posting at http://fitwow.com/weights/32. This is really nothing to write home about, but it felt great. I sent out an email to a dozen friends telling them about it, felt a lot more positive and even updated linkedin and facebook profile. I really don’t know whats going to happen, but I have a weird sense that it will work.
Yesterday I went to visit a pretty savvy kid Eric who dropped out of Peking University and came back to SF working on his own thing: he seems to be a fan for fitwow idea and had some incredible product and marketing ideas. Check out his San Francisco local map project on kickstarter. Aside from the obviously brilliant idea of his map thing, the way he got the words out was a creative hustle process. He suggested what worked the best for him. We almost ended up shooting an exercise video for his squat, which inspired me to take that idea further to the streets of San Francisco.
We shall see.
Daniel gave a pretty interesting talk/conversation to stanford students recently, focusing on a to do/not to do for entrepreneurs:
1. He said he is not a product/technical genius at all, and he said no to an idea called skype before. He said he doesn’t know everything, in fact, he doesn’t have answer for lots of things. In fact, no one has answer for someone else’s startups. Only you yourself could know through executing.
2. Albit started his first web building business at 14 yrs old, and still under 30, he didn’t consider himself an “entrepreneur”, rather, he is a guy who sees a problem and stand up to find a solution to it.
3. He is a bit of technically trained but he admits he is a pretty scrappy programmer noadays.
4. He said his most valuable asset is that he doesn’t give up, never give up
5. He said startup is hard, it’s 95% execution. EXECUTE, EXECUTE, EXECUTE!
6. He also founded stardoll.com, a doll fashion and dress up games community for girls, even he didn’t understand his audience and he doesn’t understand doll.
7. He talked a bit about music as well, and his hobby is buying insanely expensive Guitar.
Unlike founders at airbnb, joyride, zimride who all had their own interesting starting stories, Today, my cofounder and I made our two baby websites ready with one goal: helping people improve their fitness, story free. (we don’t call it launch yet)
Story free is much worse than drama free (hint: We want stories, and we don’t want drama).
Let’s cut to chase: will they (users) come or will they not when you build it?
They will if you have founders of product genius like gumRoad’s 19 year old Suhi or/and marketing genius like appSumo guys.
Unfortunately, neither of us two founders are, even we consider ourselves smart.
Our two sites are fitwow.com and trainerPlz.com. Both sites offer something new and interesting.
Fitwow.com is in its idea validating phase where we only build a MVP, a timed commentating tool for people’s exercise videos. It’s so bear minimum that there is not even a “how it works”, or a user profile page. However, exercise critique and form check request are pretty popular among fitness oriented forums. The existing forum system and youtube comments do a pretty poor job on handling precise assessment. When I showed fitwow to people before, the feedbacks we got were pretty positive. I was especially motivated after reading fitocracy founder’s early blog post on how real buzz was generated on fitocracy through reddit/r/fitness community. I thought it would be that easy, as long as we follow the similar steps as below:
1. Write a post and stick it to reddit.com/r/fitness
2. Write another post and stick it to fitocracy’s forum.
At least people will check us out and started using our video commentating tool right away.
It did not happen! I wrote two posts about 10 hours ago on both places, which were read only two dozen times, no one posted any video, on top of that, I don’t want to admit but our revised video format does not play on iPhone, which is ok for now, but not ideal.
Fitocracy guys mentioned their post on reddit one month after their site was live generated “phenomenal” responses (“The post ended up being the most discussed topic for 24 hours. It received over 100 replies”).
Are there something else fitocracy didn’t mention that helped with that kind of response?
Fitwow is no twitter like utility, but once you give it a chance, you will find it’s incredibly useful to have a more targeted, timed, and organized assessments for your exercise. The potential outcome has to be better than just a few dozen lousy visits with no usage?!
I know I am way too early to draw a conclusion. After all, the site was just live, I only wrote two posts, we have not sent out any invitation to friends/families.
On the other hand, I have not “spam” any places on Internet yet or real world about what magic trainerPlz.com can do, although it’s much more of a validated product than fitwow, as we did help connecting trainers to clients in our first private launch a few months back.
I remain anxious about the next steps needed to make things happen. I will keep a diary like blog writing down what we do to grow user base, although quite frankly, I am not sure about what is going to happen down the road. I think we are building something really useful to people. But why don’t they come?
Passion is often said to be obsession for certain objects, tangible or not. Often times it leads to the mention of hobby. If you love video games, certain sports, certain technologies etc., to the point that you can’t stop thinking and dealing with them, you are lucky having found your passion. Better, if you could even turn that into a profession that you can make a living of off.
I recall SV venture’s David Lee once wrote on his blog saying something like “having found passion is a luxury, it’s ok to just have interest” (full quote see below).
I used to tell them to “follow their passion.” I now think that’s not the best advice. Or at least, not the most practical. I think it’s too stressful. There are very few people who are lucky enough to “follow their passion.” If I followed my passion, I’d be a either a homeless professional golfer or a homeless television watcher.
Today I came across business prodigy Gurbaksh Chahal’s interview with Oprah, he has built and sold ton of extremely successful businesses before turning 20, in the video he kept saying about his passion and obsession with not working for anyone else, just living completely on his own terms…
It really was like a light bulb moment for me: he did not mention any specific Internet companies he did, and he was NOT technical so his business is not exactly his following his passion of doing any specific thing, rather, he is passionate about doing WHATEVER it takes to be his own boss.
That is my kind of passion: the determination to be your own boss.
What is your passion? or Determination?
After reading an article on Techcrunch on “why I declined to an offer to work at Instagram”, I kept thinking how crazy difficult it is for any small technology startups to hire talented engineers, and how entrepreneur can improve their odds of hiring capable engineers.
For a good engineer who is looking for career change, the decision process is like gambling as well. Even when you get in a top startup like Quora, you still could do much better. The problem is, how do you know?
The engineer in that article missed out on square and instagram while he is having a piece of Quora.
The truth is, you never know for sure. There is a good saying on stock trading strategy:”you are not making money if you are not leaving money on the table”. What it means is you have to take profit, and potentially let go the bigger gain, which is associated with higher risk, which in turn could wipe out your earlier gain if you don’t take profit and leave more “potential” profit on the table.
That Quora engineer is at peace with his decision, good for him.
On the other hand, what are the odds for an entrepreneur to strike it like square and Instagram did? Imagine if startups founded by twitter and facebook cofounderer can’t “have” a solid engineer, what are the odds of some no name startups founded by no name entrepreneur?
It does sound a bit dismal.
Through more trials and fails, engineering candidates are getting better on “guessing” which startups may have better future and hence, better payout to them. In fact, the rule of thumb is still pretty straightforward:
go with still-early-stage startups building useful products that people really want in a huge market.
With this criteria, it’s getting a bit less dismal and more promising for us no name entrepreneur building some no name startup: all startups are held up to that one golden standard. Heck, even Instagram’s founders were some no name entrepreneurs 2 years ago. If we entrepreneur can increase our odds of success by deliberately designing for success, instead of plain gut feeling or catching hot trend, we have better odds of having great engineer talents join us.
Following is just a few examples of ‘deliberately building for success” in the consumer web market:
1. Build something making the world prettier. example: Instagram
2. Build something making learning more fun and creating results for users. example: codecademy.com
3. Build something making travel more fun and facilitate social interactions: zimride, airbnb
4. Build something making social meeting suck less:doodle.com
5. Build something making average Joe an expert “anything”: storify.com makes us a compelling story telling “journalist”; airtime makes us host our own show.