Alexander Beletsky's development blog

My profession is engineering

Side-Project to Startup in One Year

Today is exactly one year as we started Likeastore project. It went through a different stages, from hack to side-project and finally transformed to real startup.

The year, seems to be a huge period of time. It is, but I have to say it’s only few last months (from the middle of December till today), we are fully dedicated to project. It’s been great ride so far, so I wish to share some interesting moments.

What we started with

Let me remind you, Likeastore is a web application that allow users to connect their social accounts and collect all their favorite items from them. We are 2 founders, me and Dima who committed themselves to build product that matters.

As founders we felt that “likes” are kind of new way of bookmarking. Then you favorite something on social network you do 2 things – you send appreciate to author content, as well as marking the content as interesting to you.

The problem that we try to solve. First, there are too many sources of information (social networks) where we spend time and receive content from, so tracking all social likes is extremely difficult. And second, it’s very hard to find exact favorite item since social networks provide poor search functionality.

So, our initial hypothesis for application was – people want to collect their likes in one place and be able to search them.

Where are we now

After successful demonstration on hackathon, we’ve reimplemented application from scratch and did first private beta in May 2013. It was pretty painful, since after 10 minutes of fly my inbox was full of error messages. But, general impression of people we spoken was positive. We’ve crossed the line from hack to side project.

Our public beta released at July 2013. All major issues were solved, the infrastructure established and UI/UX of product were done. We were lucky enough to be featured by Codrops and after by SmashingMagazine twitter, which gave us first 500 beta users.

At the end of 2013 we’ve dropped our full time jobs, joined business accelerator and totally focused on a product. I would say, that was the point then we crossed the next line, from side-project to startup.

We are at the full speed, full time, 2 people dedicated to Likeastore. And since then, we did major step forward. Let me share some of current statistics:

  • 6.370 signups (+ ~4.000 from January till today)
  • 2.700.000 likes collected (+ ~1.500.00 from January till today)
  • ~200 active users (+185 from January till today)
  • ~600 feedback emails received
  • 452 collections created

How does it feel like

First of all, time flows 2x faster compare to anything I was involved before. You put yourself in a very constraint environment: lack of money, lack of time, not clear whats happens tomorrow. Multitasking is second name of startup, you don’t have time to be focused on one task during the day.

Every day you feel ups and downs. The mood is changing constantly. You have growth and receive users feedback – it feels great. You talk to investors or mentors that find weaks and leaks of idea – it feels bad. And it’s all the time like that.

Founders job here is to supporters to each other, motivate for further wins.

What we learned so far

Product / Market Fit – basically all you do in startup is finding a balance between value you can propose and market that meets that value. It doesn’t matter what the initial idea is, more important is to be able to change direction and put maximum efforts to find the fit. The search could be blind or educated, educated search is probably more successful.

You will never know about that fit, before you try. Almost no idea will survive after it hits the customers. Steve Blanks calls that as “getting out of the building”, talk to people and show your product before you even built it and spend a lot of money for it.

The product have to solve real customer pain or need to survive.

Metrics are important – all decisions have to be taken on metrics. Retention, Cohort analysis, Viral coefficients – that was all new words for me and only now I realize how metrics are important.

Startup dashboard that aggregates major metrics and KPI’s is something that founders spend a lot of time with, finding new strategies and forecasting startup future. Measure everything.

Marketing and Growth – current market is already very tight. People are constantly releasing new web and mobile applications, solving different problems, targeting different customer groups. You are a drop of water in the ocean and you have to be noticed to have growth.

I see marketing as car’s engine starter – you built the car, put powerful engine, comfortable chairs and high quality audio system. But without starter, engine won’t start and car won’t move.

At least basic marketing skills are vital for startup. If founders are more technically oriented (as we are) someone either have to learn it, or you have to hire specialist to help.

Smooth pivot

We are growing, average 10% per week. In the same time, we have quite low retention coefficient. People are quite excited about idea of application, but very fast they simply forget about and don’t come back.

To be successful on B2C segment, you have to have hundred thousands of users to be sustainable. Likeastore is very far from sustain state as for now.

In the other hand, startup is great place to change your mind. I change my mind all the time. The change of mind in startup have a fancy word for it – pivot. Pivot is the change of direction that startup does, to find it’s product / market fit.

We are going to pivot Likeastore in a very smooth way. As we previously was “Dropbox of Likes”, just allowing to collect and search.. we now want to try something like “Pinterest of Likes”, allowing people to collect best content into sharable collections, following that collections and collaborating on them.

Ultimate goal

We are putting our bar much higher. Our ultimate goal now is to gather 20.000 users at the end of the May 2014. If it happens, that would mean the idea of Likeastore is alive, otherwise the chances it survives are very low.

Both me and Dima really believe in what we do. We have the vision, will try to turn it to reality and either pivot or try something completely new.