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.