There and Back Again: How a Seemingly Well-Planned Server Move Crashed, Burned, and Rose from the Ashes


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About 8 months ago I acquired a small startup called HitTail. You can read more about the acquisition here.

When the deal closed, the app was in bad shape. Within 3 weeks I had to move the entire operation, including a large database, to new servers. This required my first all-nighter in a while. Here is an excerpt of an email I sent to a friend the morning of September 16, 2011 at 6:47 am:

Subject: My First All Nighter in Years

Wow, am I tired. Worst part is my kids are going to be up in the next half hour. This is going to hurt :-)

But HitTail is on a new server and it seems to be running really well. Feels great to have it within my control. There are still a couple pieces left on the old server, but they are less important and I’ll have them moved within a week.

I’ll write again in a few hours with the whole story. It’s insane how many things went wrong.

What follows is the tale of that long night…

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Creating Awesome User Documentation, You Suck at Email, and More…

Create Awesome User Documentation – Launched by a Micropreneur Academy member and winner of a local startup competition, GuideKit helps you create better documentation with less effort…whether you’re building API documentation, user guides, or in-depth tutorials.

You Suck at Email – Great slide presentation on how to properly send and manage email. Actionable tips beyond the “inbox zero” stuff you typically hear.

The 100 Blogs You Need In Your Life (if you want to leave your job) - Sweetness…and this very blog made the list (#69).

Startup 101: Look Before You Leap – New article series by Patrick Foley of the Startup Success podcast.

Compare Venture Capital Firms - A new comparison engine from Find the Best.

Are you a PHP, Linux or WordPress Minor Deity? Apply here. - WPEngine is hiring (disclosure: I’m an investor). If I wasn’t so busy with HitTail I would apply, but I’d never make the cut.

Special thanks to Michael at LattePerDay for his new purchase page designs for my book website.

The Inside Story of a Small Startup Acquisition (Part 3)


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This is final installment of a 3-part series covering my acquisition of HitTail. I’d originally planned on a 2 part series, but when parts 1 and 2 went to the top of Hacker News I received so many questions that I decided to add this prologue to answer them.

Every question below has been asked via email, comment or Twitter over the past four weeks.

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The Inside Story of a Small Startup Acquisition (Part 2)


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Why I Bought My Next Startup (Instead of Building It)
This is part 2 in a series covering my acquisition of HitTailpart 1 went to the top of Hacker News last week and I have a slew of questions from that discussion that I will answer next week.

But first I want to address the most common question I hear when I tell someone I acquired a startup:

Why did you buy instead of building?

If you’re a developer you’re probably scratching your head wondering how I could pass up the chance to do the awesome green field development. A new project with no legacy baggage…this is the stuff we live for!

But I did indeed opt to plunk down my hard earned cash instead of hunkering down for 6 months in my dev cave, and what follows are my reasons for doing so.

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The Inside Story of a Small Startup Acquisition (Part 1)


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Based on the title of this post you might be thinking I have mad stacks of money in the bank.

That I’ve had a few “exits” and instead of hunkering down and writing code for 6 months I opted to talk to a few of my buddies at the yacht club and purchase a primed and growing social network for somewhere in the mid-seven figures.

Indeed, I did buy my latest startup, but the deal was done from a spare bedroom of my suburban home in Fresno, California for less than most people pay for a new car. And the funds came from revenue generated by my portfolio of web applications and websites that I’ve built over the past several years.

This acquisition is a long story, but if you have a few minutes let me tell you the best parts.

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Announcing MicroConf 2012: The Conference for Self-Funded Startups and Single Founders

MicroConf 2012

I can’t believe it’s this time of year again. MicroConf is in the air. If you’re starting, or thinking about starting, a self-funded startup this is the place to be in April.

My co-host and I are crafting a line-up of speakers that will be speaking to your specific needs as a bootstrapper, rather than someone with a bazillion dollars of funding in the bank. Honestly, MicroConf is unlike any conference you’ve ever attended.

First things first, here are the things we’ve nailed down so far:

MicroConf 2012: The Conference for Self-Funded Startups and Single Founders

Speakers Include

128 pre-release tickets will be available next week (until we sell out).

Who Should Attend?
Anyone launching a startup with no outside funding who wants to hang out with and learn from 128 of today’s leading founders and entrepreneurs. We are intentionally keeping the conference small based on feedback from last year.

Wait…you didn’t hear about last year’s MicroConf?! You must check out this blog post or this podcast episode. Then sign up for the early bird notification list.

Sounds Awesome, What Should I Do Next?
We’re limiting total attendance to 128 and expect to sell out quickly. If this is up your alley, here are the next two things you’ll want to do:

  1. Sign up to be notified about discounted pre-release tickets here
  2. Tweet it!

It’s going to be a blast! Hope you can make it.

What’s a Better Way to Research a Market: Surveys or Experiments?


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I received the following question from a reader a few weeks back:

I’m considering creating a mobile app and I want to know quick/effective ways to validate some of my assumptions. Is it more effective to put out small experiments that test your assumptions, or are surveys of the possible users a better approach?

My answer: it depends on what you’re trying to test.

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[Video] Conversion Review of My Book’s Marketing Website

Here’s a screencast I recently recorded with Derek Halpern of Social Triggers where he gives me a thorough review of the marketing website for my book Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer’s Guide to Launching a Startup, with specific ideas on improving conversions.

Once you’re too close to a design it’s hard to view it with an objective eye. That’s where external feedback from a knowledgeable source can help you discover potential improvements, as Derek has done in this video.

Please enjoy – it’s just over 15 minutes and it’s filled with insights on building a high-converting marketing website.

Direct link

Can Paid Customer Acquisition Work With Freemium?


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I received the following question from a reader:

I was wondering if you had any thoughts on cost of customer acquisition for freemium businesses. When you calculate it out, it seems that paid marketing efforts like AdWords are almost universally doomed to fail. Our lifetime value of a customer is only around $1 when you factor in a high initial churn and all the free users. I imagine companies like Evernote are in a very similar position since they have a similar pricing model.

We are obviously hitting social media, PR, etc. quite hard, but I don’t think paid acquisition could possibly work here. Have you seen paid acquisition work for freemium businesses?

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Why ‘Stop Watching TV’ is Bad Time Management Advice

About the author: Robert Graham is a solo founder and maintains a blog about the experience. Robert has been working in software since 2005. He is a Ph.D. dropout who spent time working for Google. Someday he’d like to work for himself.

I don’t know if I have ever read an article about time management that didn’t have a collection of statistics about how much TV the average American watches followed by telling you that those hours are now free for you to use.

That advice isn’t really useful. Giving things up is hard. How do you quit TV? What if you don’t watch much? Isn’t quitting an addictive habit hard? What if you really enjoy watching TV? Read on, my friend.

I’m going to talk you through a few ways to better manage your time in order of efficacy.

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