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Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer's Guide to Launching a Startup

Rob Walling, Mike Taber · 21 HN comments
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Start Small, Stay Small is a step-by-step guide to launching a self-funded startup. If you're a desktop, mobile or web developer, this book is your blueprint to getting your startup off the ground with no outside investment.This book intentionally avoids topics restricted to venture-backed startups such as: honing your investment pitch, securing funding, and figuring out how to use the piles of cash investors keep placing in your lap.This book assumes: You don't have $6M of investor funds sitting in your bank account You're not going to relocate to the handful of startup hubs in the world You're not going to work 70 hour weeks for low pay with the hope of someday making millions from stock options There's nothing wrong with pursuing venture funding and attempting to grow fast like Amazon, Google, Twitter, and Facebook. It just so happened that most people are not in a place to do this.Start Small, Stay Small also focuses on the single most important element of a startup that most developers avoid: marketing. There are many great resources for learning how to write code, organize source control, or connect to a database. This book does not cover the technical aspects developers already know or can learn elsewhere. It focuses on finding your idea, testing it before you build, and getting it into the hands of your customers.
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Others mentioned MicroConf. The organizer of MicroConf, Rob Walling, wrote a book where he gives very similar advice: https://www.amazon.com/Start-Small-Stay-Developers-Launching..., both around starting with a market and focusing less on technology and more on sales. He is writing for a particular niche of smaller, non-VC-backed startups, but the general approach still seems similar.
Congrats on making it 'there'!

Aside from obvious advises (which i'm sure will come) on grow, VC, investment, outsourcing, scaling et cetera.

Please consider this approach: https://sivers.org/book/StartSmallStaySmall

Start Small, Stay Small - by Rob Walling and Mike Taber https://www.amazon.com/dp/0615373968

Wish you all the best

cgsmith
Thank you very much kind stranger! Definitely a niche offering too.
That's awesome. A couple responses to yesterday's thread regarding bookmarked hn quotes really opened up my eyes regarding building and maintaining side projects. I picked up a book, "Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer's Guide to Launching a Startup" which has been informative (if a little dated). This article is a great supplement to that book, and is inspirational to a 9-5'er like me.

[0]https://www.amazon.com/Start-Small-Stay-Developers-Launching... | https://startupbook.net

tstrimple
Rob & Mike's podcast is great on this topic as well.

https://www.startupsfortherestofus.com

iscrewyou
Can you please refer me to that thread?
rwalling
Author of Start Small, Stay Small here.

>> if a little dated

Argh! I know. I literally opened the Doc this week to start to parse out sections to update. It’s overdue ;-)

simonebrunozzi
This is one of the reasons why I love HN so much.
If you like the post, I recommend you to read Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer's Guide to Launching a Startup[1] by Rob Walling.

> "Start Small, Stay Small also focuses on the single most important element of a startup that most developers avoid: marketing. There are many great resources for learning how to write code, organize source control, or connect to a database. This book does not cover the technical aspects developers already know or can learn elsewhere. It focuses on finding your idea, testing it before you build, and getting it into the hands of your customers."

[1]: https://www.amazon.com/Start-Small-Stay-Developers-Launching...

None
None
I think your parent was making a joke. But I thought the conference was worth it. That said, one of the two conference organizers has a book that is in the same vein. At the very least, read his book:

Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer's Guide to Launching a Startup https://www.amazon.com/Start-Small-Stay-Developers-Launching...

6DM
Thanks for pointing that out to me, I think you're right. I didn't pick up on the sarcasm. I actually thought it was about a technique where you take a fictional product that everyone says is great, and try to sell it as if it actually exists. This is supposed to be a way to find out what people really think. Appreciate the feedback and I will be checking out the book :)
I think you should read/watch the following 2 resources if you can:

    'Start Small, Stay Small A Developer’s Guide to Launching a Startup' [0]
    'Creating and selling a digital product' [1]

Your product on codecanyon appears to be doing quite well and has good reviews/sales [2] so you should probably market it more (if you're not doing so already). Also, building an ecosystem of free/paid plugins around it might be something you could explore. Finally, you could look into offering hosted instances for less technical savy users.

Good luck and keep up the good work!

    [0] https://www.amazon.com/Start-Small-Stay-Developers-Launching/dp/0615373968

    [1] https://www.pluralsight.com/courses/creating-selling-digital-product
    
    [2] http://codecanyon.net/item/stock-awesome-inventory-system-and-stock-control/11210315?s_rank=2
Nov 05, 2015 · sausax on Startup Playbook
Rob Walling and Mike Taber have and excellent podcast for solo entrepreneurs http://www.startupsfortherestofus.com/ . Rob Walling also wrote a book on this topic http://www.amazon.com/Start-Small-Stay-Developers-Launching/...
Nov 05, 2015 · drewrv on Startup Playbook
You'd probably like "Start Small Stay Small" by Rob Walling.

http://www.amazon.com/Start-Small-Stay-Developers-Launching/...

shocks
Oohh, thanks for this tip.
May 05, 2015 · davidw on The Single Founder Handbook
Mike's partner in the http://www.startupsfortherestofus.com/ podcast - Rob Walling - has a pretty good book too:

http://www.amazon.com/Start-Small-Stay-Developers-Launching/...

It's also very much targeted at people doing small-scale stuff.

I'd buy Mike's book in a second if I weren't in the middle of a hairy intercontinental move.

http://www.amazon.com/Start-Small-Stay-Developers-Launching/... - this is still the book for bootstrappers, as far as I'm concerned.
etr71115
Thanks. I'll check it out.
In terms of your bootstrapped business, if you haven't already found some of these resources, have a look:

* http://www.startupsfortherestofus.com/ - great weekly podcast with a transcript.

* Nice, focused, friendly forum: http://discuss.bootstrapped.fm/

* Book by the guys who did the podcast above that I would highly recommend to pretty much anyone: http://www.amazon.com/Start-Small-Stay-Developers-Launching/...

Those should be enough to lead you to other resources.

I'd recommend this book and the bootstrapping community in general:

http://www.amazon.com/Start-Small-Stay-Developers-Launching/...

He could probably do ok with Ruby on Rails, Django, Node.js or something like that.

As a dev ultimately wanting to do bigger things:

Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer's Guide to Launching a Startup by Rob Walling

http://www.amazon.com/Start-Small-Stay-Developers-Launching/...

As a human with a curiosity:

Decoding the Universe: How the New Science of Information Is Explaining Everything in the Cosmos, from Our Brains to Black Holes by Charles Seife

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/067003441X

davidw
I can't recommend that first book enough. It's still the best thing I've read for bootstrappers. Sooner or later, it'll date itself, as it's got lots of practical ideas and numbers and things that don't make for a "timeless classic". But then again, you wanted to start a business rather than have a book to show off on your bookshelf, right?
Places we hang out: - http://discuss.bootstrapped.fm - Micropreneur Academy (http://www.micropreneur.com)

reading material: - The 7 day startup (http://wpcurve.com/the-7-day-startup/) - Start Small, Stay Small (a bit dated, but the concepts are worth the read - http://www.amazon.com/Start-Small-Stay-Developers-Launching/...)

podcasts: - Startups for the Rest of Us (http://www.startupsfortherestofus.com) - Bootstrapped with Kids (http://www.bootstrappedwithkids.com)

In my case, I was very focussed on long term revenue that would pay me whether or not I was working. Within my niche, that took the form of print book sales, e-book sales on my own site and through partners, and affiliate relationships. I'm up to about $4,000 a month from passive sources.

You're in a good spot to have a full time job you enjoy and (presumably) pays well. For me, the hardest part was building capital. I'd recommend saving every penny you can.

As for how to start, try lots of small things. Most of my ideas that worked took, at most, two weeks to test. Many started from writing an email or making a phone call.

There are countless niches now, full of people prepared to pay money. I chose LSAT prep. I'm sure already there's thing you know how to do that people will pay for. Some ways you can monetize that:

  * An e-book guide to something, with free html articles as marketing for organic SEO and links
  * Some useful tool people will link to. Serves as marketing for either ads, a product, or a paid version
  * Videos on a topic. Can be marketing for any of the above, or lead to a paid video product.
"Authority" by Nathan Barry is an excellent book for establishing yourself in a niche. Reading that convinced me to make http://lsathacks.com, which has free html versions of my books and draws many visitors which I've been able to monetize.

"Start small, stay small" by Rob Walling is an excellent guide to bootstrapping a business. Possibly the best. It's aimed at software developers, but I was able to use it as a non-developer for guiding principles and marketing.

The Moz guide to SEO is a very useful intro to how SEO works. Essential reading if you're planning on going the free marketing route.

Lastly, the Four Hour Workweek is what got me started, and it's a great overview of the hacker mindset applied to business. For me, the idea was not "hehehe, how can I be lazy and work only 4 hours". It was "how can I make a business that can keep running even if I choose not to work on it". I do work quite a bit, but I don't HAVE to now.

(Note: This last book rubs many people the wrong way. If a specific situation irks you, ask what principle he was applying, and if it could be applied to a situation that doesn't annoy you)

Authority:

http://www.amazon.com/Authority-Become-Following-Financial-I... http://nathanbarry.com/authority/

Start Small: http://www.amazon.com/Start-Small-Stay-Developers-Launching/...

SEO: http://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo

4HWW: http://www.amazon.com/The-4-Hour-Workweek-Anywhere-Expanded/...

philangist
Thanks for the response, very in depth and comprehensive. And yeah I know of Tim Ferris's work, I've heard him on the Joe Rogan Experience, although I haven't read any of his books. Will check the 4 hour work week (and the other links) out.
graeme
Cool. If you want to ask more once you go through some of it, feel free to send me an email.
Apr 16, 2014 · davidw on The Worst Part of YC
Just as the ever-increasing low cost accessibility of technology has made YC possible in that you can give someone just a little bit of money to build something, self-funded startups are also becoming possible for more and more things. Here are some resources:

http://discuss.bootstrapped.fm/

https://twitter.com/search?src=typd&q=%23microconf - lots of information on the recently concluded MicroConf with patio11 and many others from HN.

http://www.startupsfortherestofus.com/

And Rob's book, which is a great starting point: http://www.amazon.com/Start-Small-Stay-Developers-Launching/...

Granted, bootstrapping is not viable for some things, but for many others, it's a good path.

Are you a fan of rob Walling? If not, you should look him up:

http://www.amazon.com/Start-Small-Stay-Developers-Launching/...

mgbmtl
Very cool. This is exactly the type of book I was looking for ideas on how to better describe my current situation and for ideas on where to go next.
graeme
Awesome. Just noticed you're in Montreal too. My email's in my profile if you want to talk. I'm not a developer but find most of the advice still applies.
Largely the message of Start Small Stay Small, http://www.amazon.com/dp/0615373968.

I've played around with it a bit, though haven't followed through heavily on any of my PoCs so far, but the market first idea seems to be quite useful for a lot of areas. Enjoyed the book quite a bit, was not a fan of their startup academy at all.

programminggeek
I liked Start Small Stay Small, but haven't tried the academy. I just try things in my own business, school of hard knocks as it were. How much is the academy?
dpeck
It was a year ago, so not sure I remember, but I think it was $50/month and more if you wanted content faster. I think it was a lot more paying for forum access/feedback than for material, but I felt it wasn't worth it for me and cancelled after a month.
Yes. Also, I don't know if you would agree, but I think any hacker bootstrapping a startup should instead read this book: http://www.amazon.com/Start-Small-Stay-Developers-Launching/... It's written by a developer (a real one, who can actually code, not just talk about startups) who has really done it on his own - filled with valuable advices and thoughts. Every time I see someone talks about some startup book written by a marketing guru, I can't help but recommend this one instead.

As a side note, I'd like to point out that a lot of scam books appeared on amazon in the marketing and startup sections lately. The worst thing, they all got fake 5 star reviews, so it's not always clear right away this is a scam.

nibo
snitko, eh eh. Hacker News is home of very smart people and I don't expect The Bootstrapper Bible to be their only book.

Btw, the fact that you suggested that book made me understand how much the current way Amazon suggest you books doesn't really take in consideration your goals or background.

It should actually ask you "Why are you buying this book?" Me "Because I want to make a startup" AMZ "Oh cool, what's you background?" Me "I am hacker" AMZ "Oh ok then with Seth Godin you are going a little bit too businessy. Try Start Small, Stay Small"

Sorry guys, early morning thoughts.

May 14, 2011 · urza on Start Small, Stay Small
Description from amazon:

Start Small, Stay Small is a step-by-step guide to launching a self-funded startup. If you're a desktop, mobile or web developer, this book is your blueprint to getting your startup off the ground with no outside investment. This book intentionally avoids topics restricted to venture-backed startups such as: honing your investment pitch, securing funding, and figuring out how to use the piles of cash investors keep placing in your lap. This book assumes: * You don't have $6M of investor funds sitting in your bank account * You're not going to relocate to the handful of startup hubs in the world * You're not going to work 70 hour weeks for low pay with the hope of someday making millions from stock options There's nothing wrong with pursuing venture funding and attempting to grow fast like Amazon, Google, Twitter, and Facebook. It just so happened that most people are not in a place to do this.

http://www.amazon.com/Start-Small-Stay-Developers-Launching/...

That was a pretty good post, csomar, but I'm going to critique it anyway. (If it was a crummy post, I wouldn't even bother.)

What I like about it: You're focused on building something that supplies an actual demand. Good!

What concerns me about it: You're still too focused on yourself. Every one of your bullets was about what you want your business to look like.

I think you're focusing too much inward when you need to be focusing on your prospective customer and how they will benefit from the value you provide them.

Examples are everywhere, just a few off the top of my head:

  - salons that wants to optimize their scheduling
  - retailers that want to improve one on one communication
  - actors/artists that need better portfolios
  - shopkeepers who want to capture more POS info
  - teachers who want to play bingo in class (never mind)
Get out of your office and find people like this first. Ask them, not us, what they want. Then figure out how to provide them with what they crave. (Once you find one niche and get going, you'll be surprised how much fun it is and how well it works out.)

The rest (your bullets) will take care of itself. The shape of your business will be the byproduct of doing whatever you must to satisfy your customers' needs.

One great resource that will probably help you:

http://www.amazon.com/Start-Small-Stay-Developers-Launching/...

phamilton
You make a great point about the egocentric nature of a developer.

It reminds me of the saying "Working for youself means you don't have a boss. It means you have customers, which are much less forgiving and demanding than a boss would be."

davidw
> What concerns me about it: You're still too focused on yourself. Every one of your bullets was about what you want your business to look like.

You could also look at them as constraints that need to be satisfied for things to function: it needs to look like that if it's going to work for him. I think it's worth filtering things like that if you're aiming for a "lifestyle" business. You're correct that you also have to filter by "what can I do to help people", but you're going to have to run both filters sooner or later.

I agree completely about the Start Small Stay Small book. I think it's one of the better ones I've read in a while. There's nothing earth shattering, but it's full of concrete advice and is aimed at "the rest of us" who don't live in Silicon Valley and aren't aiming to "change the world".

bendtheblock
This reminds of the PG/FW email chain a couple of weeks ago re: AirBnB. No mention of the things we talk about a lot on HN such as scaling, UI etc... just the potential market for the product. Obviously at that level the discussion is very strategic, but it's where we all should really start.
crasshopper
AirBnB solves a real economic problem with the www. Just like Craigslist, a good idea doesn't need to be complex or splendiferous.
oggz
You're still too focused on yourself. Every one of your bullets was about what you want your business to look like.

Indeed. In business, u comes before i.

jtheory
Unfortunately, it's also BS from start to finish (heh heh). People still care about their own lives, even if they realize that it's useful to appear unreservedly dedicated to the customer's needs.

And the niche you choose does make quite a difference in what the resulting business will look like, what demands it makes on your time, what kinds of customers and partners you will be interacting with, etc..

Unfortunately, if you're looking for "a niche, any niche" that happens to meet criteria completely unrelated to what the need actually is, who the people actually are, etc., it seems unlikely to work out well.

I suppose this depends on personality, but... it's hard to build a business. If you find the perfect niche but you actually have no past domain experience, don't have any personal connection to the "pain" you're fixing, etc., what will carry you through? I imagine you'd be much more likely to throw in the towel when things got tough (and I suspect investors would worry about that as well).

sabat
Get out of your office and find people like this first. Ask them, not us, what they want.

You make it sound much easier than it is. Getting out of the office: easy enough. Finding the right people who can tell you the right things at the right time: difficult. Very difficult.

jyu
No one said it'd be easy. But if you listen to customers with money and problems, at least you have a shot at being successful. When you approach people as the potential solution to their biggest problems, it's surprising how easily people will open up to you. And if one person doesn't open up, improve your pitch and go onto the next.
sabat
You're presuming you can actually find the right people to begin with.
crasshopper
edw519, I think your advice is in the right spirit but (as you admit) naïve.

nopassrecover, edw is 100% on target about looking outward. However actors, salons, and teachers are all good examples of people with little money to spend, who would not capture significant extra margins by adding software.

In my estimation, nopassrecover, you would do better to think deeper in the B2B value chain, particularly if you can flex relationships you've made in previous industries you've worked in. Imagine how many more people you could touch writing software that hooks into a shoe factory's shoe machines than making a web store -- and how much less of a customer's attention that would require.

Two consejos that I think are good (but not necessary) for entrepreneurs to follow:

1. Do a part-time job while you work on your own thing.

2. Use knowledge & relationships from businesses you have worked in directly.

And (3) for hackers specifically: spend some time thinking about and researching how the commercial world fits together. Who made the plastic fibres in the salon's brush? How does the aesthetic layout of the salon enable them to charge more? What other construction materials could they have used? What catalogs are thrust in the face of new salon owners and how does that affect the way they see their choices? What's the price history of the real estate they own vis-à-vis the other places they could have set up shop? And more generally: What companies in the world do the most revenue and why? What companies have the most profits?

The salon scheduling example is particularly naïve, because scheduling software would not add much value to either salon owners or customers.

But edw519, I very much agree with you about looking outward (both to meet business minded people and to meet people who don't have iPhones).

dbuxton
> The salon scheduling example is particularly naïve, because scheduling software would not add much value to either salon owners or customers.

Interestingly, someone told me recently that his sister, who runs a salon, spends a ridiculous amount of money on precisely this: scheduling software! He's a hacker and couldn't quite work out why she would pay $thousands (sic) for some crappy semi-customised calendar when Google Calendar works just fine: in the end it came down to, "because all the other beauty salons use this software".

Not that I'm recommending this particular niche, mind you...

crasshopper
As I understand it the dominant salon software is tied to product ordering and upselling; scheduling is of secondary importance (or less).
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