How I Made $350 In Two Days With Three Pages and Some Payment Code

Hi my name is Dan Shipper and I’m a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. This is the story of how I created DomainPolish a site to get on-demand, inexpensive focus groups to review your website and ended up making $350 with it in two days.

 It all started when we found out we had made it to the TechStars NY Wildcard Round. The way the TechStars Wildcard works is they take 10 teams who they really liked, but whose idea they weren’t fond of, and give them a week to come up with a new idea with the understanding that at least one of the teams will make it into the program. While we were deciding which idea we wanted to pitch to TechStars, my teammate Jesse Beyroutey (fantastic blog here) started using Amazon Mechanical Turk to get feedback about them. He would post a short description of the idea, and then ask the turks (as they’re called) to give us their thoughts. I was surprised at some the high quality comments we got, and I was fascinated by the power of the concept. There are a lot of awesome things you can do with a distributed, on-demand workforce of people gathered over the internet.

Fast forward two months and we didn’t get in to TechStars, but I had started using Mechanical Turk to evaluate my side projects before I released them. At first I was skeptical that a mass of untargeted workers from around the world would give me good feedback about my web designs. But after posting a few surveys, and tweaking them to maximize quality, I was surprised again to find that many of these lowly paid workers gave extremely insightful and actionable feedback about my projects. That’s when I decided , “Hey, if it works for me why wouldn’t it work for everyone else?”

I started out by going on Elance.com and emailing the top ten freelance web designers to ask them if they would use a service where they would get instant feedback about their designs from average end-users. What I found was that freelancers don’t care about what the end-user thinks, they only care what their customers think. So, I thought, I should be targeting the people who hire freelancers. They’re the ones who often don’t know very much about building websites, and would benefit the most from having hard data to back up their decisions.

The next day I designed a landing page for the product. Then I let a week pass. After I got off from working on Artsicle on Thursday I went back home and decided to finish what I had started. In a few hours I had another two pages explaining pricing and talking about the company. By Friday I had integrated payments with Stripe and by Friday night I had posted the project to Hacker News. I didn’t write anything to automate the process of setting up surveys and sending them to Mechanical Turk because before I built a big system I wanted to know that people wanted the product. So the site was literally just three pages with some payment code slapped on them.

Soon the project was on the front page of HN and I waited gleefully for the orders to come pouring in. Nothing happened. Not a single order was made that night, nor did I get any orders on Saturday. I was pretty depressed. Back to the drawing board, I thought. I knew there were a lot of things I needed to fix about the site – SSL (even though all of the payments are secured through Stripe), examples of the product, testimonials. But I thought I would at least get a sale or two.

By Sunday I was plotting my comeback. Then something funny happened. I made a sale! It was a professional plan, meaning I had just made $20! But when I logged in to Stripe it said I had only made $1. My stomach dropped when I realized that I had accidentally forgotten to delete some test code and it really had only charged my customer $1 for something that was going to cost me much more than that to produce. I had successfully ruined my only sale.

Once I fixed the payments bug I made another sale. This time it was a basic plan purchased by someone named Iain for a site called Swiperoo (which all of you should check it out looks awesome.) I set up the survey on MTurk, got the results and emailed them to him. He said that he liked the product and asked me if he could write a blog post about it. At this point I was absolutely ecstatic that someone cared enough to write a blog post about DomainPolish – I said yes immediately.

Then he wrote the post he put it on Hacker News. I read it not expecting much. I was unbelievably elated when I saw:

It turns out their feedback was even more in depth than I expected. The final question of the survey was even specific for our service. I was blown away.

You can find the post here. It didn’t have any upvotes (besides mine) for about 10 minutes. Then it slowly started to climb. And climb. By about 1 am it was at the top of the front page and the orders were pouring in! By 2 am I was scrambling to fill orders. I had a huge TextEdit file open with customer names, site URLs, and email addresses. I sent every email, and set up every survey by hand.

By 6 am I had completed processing every order and went to bed. I got up an hour later forwork at 7 am. In those few precious moments of sleep I had made another $40. By the end of the day on Monday I had made over $330 and the number kept climbing.

So now I’m sitting here writing this blog post with a bunch of orders to fill, features to build, and customers to help. My Stripe account also says that I’ve made $350 to date. All from three pages and some payment code.

 

You should follow me on Twitter here. Or check out my current startup Firefly. We help people with web-based businesses cut customer support call times with download-free screensharing.

 

 


3 Aug 2011, 1:59am | 37 comments

  • amritpan
  • Ben Atkin
  • Chris Hulbert

    Good on you. Keep shipping!

  • adir1

    Well, the money is not simply for 3 pages – it’s for your manual labour. It doesn’t sound like you can fully automate your business and still produce quality results.But $350 for a couple of days of work is pretty decent still. Hope it keeps up and grows – good luck!

  • Dan Shipper

    Actually there’s a really good MTurl API so it should be fully automated by this weekend. Thanks for commenting though, I really appreciate the feedback!

  • orenjacob
  • orenjacob

    I just checked out the site and Dan was there, live chatting with folks who logged in. Very cool. Nice to meet you Dan. Keep up the good work!

  • Jesse

    Nice! I love the idea.Why not add an area where people can sign-up and make money by reviewing what your survey-seekers upload. You’d probably get a ton of reviewers in no time; survey-seekers will get more (reviews) from what they pay for; and your business gets nearly automated. :D

  • Saathi

    Nice Article. Any tips on how you created survey. Any sample for that?

  • Ed Wilde

    as soon as this can scale it will really be a money-spinner, the results I got were of very high quality!

  • msortijas

    Congratulations, Dan! That’s an awesome story, inspiring me to get moving on my own ideas. Did you do any other marketing besides posting on Hacker News? That would nudge me into joining up.Keep up the great work!

  • alexholehouse

    Great work – I think this has a huge amount of potential, and is could be a very valuable service. It would be interesting to see what kind of data you could pull from the evaluations, such as comparing how different demographs rate different products to generate quantitative info. This could help direct site designers towards a specific target audience, and more helpfully, provide near-realtime feedback on trends, styles etc.For example, things a middle age man wants in terms of site usability may not be the same thing as 14 year old girl.

  • nick

    It’s definitely a good idea!But what’s stopping a potential client just using mechanical turks themselves? Aren’t you effectively just an intemiediary/middle man (without the customer know that)?

  • Dan Shipper

    I didn’t do any marketing besides Hacker News besides emailing a few freelancers :)I definitely think the data is valuable – I’m going to refining the service in the coming days to make it more powerful and easy to use.So anyone could obviously set this up themselves but you pay me to do it for you :) plus soon there will be a web dashboard which I think will be a nice value add.

  • Dan Shipper

    Thanks for all of the comments guys I really appreciate it!

  • Joe

    Nice work. Out of curiosity, how much did you pay for each MTurk task to get done?

  • Dan Shipper

    Usually about 25 cents :) thanks!

  • Toks Ogun

    $5 isn’t bat at all. Although you could set this up yourself, this seems quicker.

  • Florin

    So it wasn’t actually dont in 2 days, you didn’t count the days you spent actually working on the site

  • Dan Shipper

    By two days I meant it took me two days once the site was released to make that money. But all in all coding the entire thing took less than a day (just spread out over two or three coding sessions)

  • campedersen

    $350 isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? $350k.Not hatin’. Just sayin’.

  • Dan Shipper

    Lol agreed

  • hmtechnology
  • hmtechnology
  • hmtechnology

    oops, sorry for double post : (

  • jotbuzz.com

    You are lucky man, 350 is nice number. Congrats!

  • Kevin

    Congrats on your site, and thanks for sharing. Really cool idea, and a really smart way to test the idea before pouring time and money into it.

  • Edward

    Good stuff! Congrats on the 350 bucks. This stuff really inspires me in the way that I should keep my ventures simple and effective!

  • Dan Shipper

    Thanks!! Build, release iterate.

  • Humphrey Flowerdew

    Awesome website!keep this going. Will use it to validate all my future ideas/projects.

  • Barry Maurice
  • anirudhtodi
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  • http://TeamDoList.com Gezim

    Hey Dan,

    Awesome stuff. Can you post or email me the survey, please?!

  • http://TeamDoList.com Gezim

    Hey Dan,

    Can you please post or email me the survey? Thanks.

  • http://TeamDoList.com Gezim

    Oopps. Sorry about the comment spam, I didn’t see the first one.

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