How We Created and Launched Stylepill in Less Than 12 Hours and Got to #1 on Product Hunt
Who are we?
We're Rosita and Sergio, an ordinary couple. We met 10 years ago, studying Systems Engineering at a relatively non-prestigious University.
We don't have a huge list of contacts. We have very few friends because we aren't a conventional couple — we’re hippies who love to travel.
Rosita worked for a long time managing servers for a very prestigious bank in Colombia, and Sergio worked as a developer for more than seven years for orthodox, boring companies. Eight months ago we gave up our financial security (total income $26,000) that our jobs offered us, in exchange for following our dreams instead of continuing to build other people’s dreams.
After several “failures” and pivots, we created Stylepill in less than 12 hours and reached first place on Product Hunt. Here’s our entrepreneurial journey and what we learned from it.
The Beginning of Our Entrepreneurial Journey
A First Valuable ‘Failure’: Waysily
Our first startup attempt was called Waysily, a platform that helps bring together student travelers, teachers, and language schools. The idea looked good on paper and had a great market niche (who doesn’t want to learn a language?). However, we never got in touch with our future users, so we couldn’t make a product that they really needed. We ended up making a directory of boring and lifeless information, which nobody wanted to use.
We made all the mistakes that exist in the world of entrepreneurship. We made a big product and holed ourselves in a 'cave' for four or five months developing the product without any contact with the outside world, fearing that if we told someone our idea, they were going to steal it.
A New Direction
We decided to stop being so eager to build things in order to earn money as soon as possible. We calculated our savings and figured out that we could live modestly for one or two years without worrying.
So we put aside the crazy and excessive idea of monetizing. We decided to invest in ourselves, dedicating more time to reading and learning, instead of building and optimizing.
We dusted off our Twitter account and looked for entrepreneurial trends: product design, indie hackers, makers, etc. We realized that we were light-years removed from the trends — we had stayed in the famous Lean Startup book age while everyone else had evolved to Growth Hacking, Bootstrapping, Hooked, and other terms we had never heard of.
Finding New Inspiration and Mentors
We started following the most influential people in this field and spent many hours researching who the pioneers were. We bumped into characters like Ryan Hoover, Pieter Levels, Courtland Allen, among others, which made us feel like people are the same: we all want to create things from scratch, without much economic support, but with great motivation.
We spent a few weeks letting go of the coding, the good practices in development and design, and moved on to a world that attracted us more and more.
We translated dozens of articles from English to Spanish. We speak English (though it’s not the best...), but we knew that we weren’t going to absorb 100% of the knowledge from those articles if they weren’t in our native language. We also translated them to share with other non-English speakers, so they too could take advantage of (and be inspired by) these resources.
After getting up to date with the current world of "digital creators," we decided to use this knowledge by applying everything we learned to avoid making the same mistakes we had made with Waysily.
Our goals had become:
Launch a product with the least possible effort (less effort coding and optimizing, much effort thinking and working).
Launch a product in the shortest possible time. (We set a goal to launch one product per month.)
Create an audience around everything we make. A product can die tomorrow, but its creators and their journey can remain forever. Our goal was to start making ourselves known. We wanted to show everyone who we are, and prove that a middle-class couple (with average IQs and the same number of friends and contacts as a typical person) could launch a product.
A Second Attempt: Steroidesign
Next, we decided to create Steroidesign. We took a lot of Waysily's HTML and CSS and created themes inspired by well-known startups like Airbnb, Medium, and Heroku. We uploaded them to a repository every week, so people could use them in their own projects as a base structure.
We took about one week to build Steroidesign. We didn’t make a site from scratch — we simply created the repository in GitHub, created a signup form in Mailchimp, and organized the first theme based on Airbnb. Airbnb’s style is very simple and beautiful, so it was a good place to start.)
We decided to launch on Hacker News on July 24 at 10:00 AM COT (based on the date and time that leading makers launch their products at.)
We set a goal to net 200 emails on launch day and get at least 50 to 100 new Twitter followers.
The numbers were not bad for our first “well” designed product. We were #5 on GitHub trending for five days, gaining 650+ stars in less than a week and about 30 new followers during the launch and 70 subscribers for our email list.
The next thing to do was analyze the numbers. We made the decision not to continue with this project because we felt it wasn’t worth the amount of work it took to design a complete weekly theme for such a small group of interested people.
We closed this chapter and decided to continue with the next product — much more motivated by the results obtained. We felt that our new approach of taking advantage of all the knowledge we had acquired was working.
After Waysily and Steroidesign, Stylepill was the outcome of this entrepreneurial journey. The incredible part was that we created and launched it in less than 12 hours — yet it was the most successful thing we’ve built so far.
Getting Started - August 12 (7:00 pm PST)
One night, a few days later, we were checking Twitter and came across an interesting tweet that showed us there were makers creating projects in less than a couple of days — using tools like carrd.co that helped them create a small project without code.
This prompted us to make the decision to create a product that same night and launch it the next morning. We bought beers, pulled out pencil and paper, and started to brainstorm possible ideas that could attract attention and give us a way to collect as many emails as possible. We knew that one night was not enough to discover the product idea that would change our lives, let alone the one million-dollar product. Our goal was to make noise and start creating an audience around Rosita and Sergio.
The idea: Stylepill
We roused into action that night. The idea was to take advantage of the interest that people had shown in Steroidesign. We knew that we could still take advantage of that product, so we took its web design and separated it into small UI components (buttons, text inputs, navbars, etc.). We would send them randomly every week by email to each of our subscribers (for use in their projects, to get inspiration, or to simply discard and wait for the next one).
It fit perfectly with the tools we wanted to use and would make it easier to build the product during the night: we needed a simple website that showed in a short and clear message what we offer, including an eye-catching big button that could pique visitor interest, linked to a signup form on MailChimp that would get their emails.
The only thing missing was a way to show what types of components users would receive on a weekly basis. Because we only had two or three hours to finish the product, we couldn’t afford to create this section from scratch (set up the server, create a template, etc.), so we found a very useful tool called Styledown, which allowed us, with a basic configuration, to dynamically generate CSS style guides and show the components that we were going to send. Finally, we used a GitHub Page to host this section of the project.
We spent some time analyzing the message in depth, since text has the power to achieve two things: engage people to continue or scare them away, never to return.
With everything ready, the next step was where we were going to launch. It was 7 AM and we hadn’t slept, so ideas were scarce at that moment. The first option was to publish it on Hacker News again, because we had gotten the necessary noise there with Steroidesign. However, since we wanted to continue learning and try new ways, we decide to launch it first on Product Hunt. We were a bit fearful because we were not 100% proud of what we had built in one night.
Launching Stylepill on Product Hunt - August 13 (6:00 am PST)
We knew how Product Hunt worked as users, but never as makers. We remembered that a few days ago they had written a post on Medium detailing the process for a successful launch. We read quickly and started storing in Evernote the text and images that we were going to use in our Product Hunt submission: thumbnail images, image gallery, tagline, title, and welcome comments, etc.
When we were proud of the texts we had written and the images we had designed, the next step was to submit it, turn off the computers, and go to sleep.
The Amazing Response from Product Hunt
What happened next was a little crazy — we didn't expect that people would start subscribing, let alone that Stylepill would reach the “popular” section of Product Hunt.
Our numbers were very good. It wasn’t the product of the year, but we felt like rock stars for a day. In less than two hours, more than 100 people had subscribed, we had obtained about 20 followers on Twitter, and we were #2 on Product Hunt with 80 upvotes.
It was very gratifying to see, which prompted us to be even more transparent — we added a section to the website called "Now" where we would show our real numbers (subscribers, sessions, etc.) and the process of building and launching, to motivate more people to create.
It was a long day. We were responding to emails, tweets, and comments everywhere. We documented the process and shared it on Twitter and in the "Now" section. We had to update the "Now" section every 30 minutes, as more and more the subscribers increased the list to about 700 on the same day.
Throughout that week, we were #1 position on Product Hunt with 430+ upvotes and about 800 subscribers.
What’s Next for Us?
Right now we are focused 100% on listening to those 800+ people who trusted us. We created a Google Docs sheet and we’ve been sharing it with the people who signed up. We've been receiving their feedback about the project and what they would like to see in the future.
In the past, we were not active on Twitter, but now we’ve connected with amazing people from there: makers who have become our mentors and an audience who looks forward to knowing what our next step will be.
The "Now" section was one of the best things we could have done. Not only did it boost the numbers, it also helped to show that if we achieved it in less than 24 hours, other makers could do it too.
Therefore, we'll design our personal site, where we'll share our daily progress, our successes, and our failures, to help others avoid making the same mistakes we made.
On the other hand, based on the feedback obtained from our subscribers, we are taking Stylepill to a higher level, making it a personal repository, so that each designer and developer can store their own components, and we can turn it into a community. You’ll hear more and more about Rosita and Sergio.
Launch as soon as possible
Developing your own products from scratch can be a great advantage, but it can also work against you. We’ve always wanted everything to look perfect. In that search for perfection, we never showed our products to others in fear of what people would say and that they wouldn’t want to use it. However, there are always people who want your product so much that they'll use it, even when it’s a crappy version one made by a two-person startup they've never heard of.
Before launching a product (no matter how you choose to do it), always have a plan. In the 12 hours that we spent creating the product, the task that we devoted the most time to was writing quality text — they are your cover letter. Everyone wants to read less, so the text has to have a short and clear message.
Choose your mentors
Always follow the trends and research how the most influential people move in the field you’re working in — they are the ones who are setting the tone and constantly bringing innovative ideas to which you can add your own personal magic.
P.S. We'll continue to improve Stylepill. In the meantime, we'll launch other small products, to learn from, for fun, or simply to earn income. We're now on Twitter if you'd like to follow more of our adventures.
"Dream awake, remember that you have only one life"