An honest look at launching a bootstrap startup

I should start by saying this is not a post on the things I did to make a successful startup or the things you should avoid so you don’t fail like me. In fact, my startup AppDoctor just launched this month! This post is a very transparent look at launching a bootstrap startup while maintaining a full-time job. I will talk about the time it took, the amount of money spent and things I wished I had known at the start of this journey. If you are just here for the breakdown, skip to the graphs below!

Let’s build some context

I should probably talk really quick about what AppDoctor is so that you have some context around the time/money required to launch. AppDoctor is a set of API monitoring tools that help users provide proactive support to their software. These tools include automated API testing, automated health checks/status pages, and request/response proxy with an advanced notification rules engine.

My past failures

AppDoctor is not the first startup I have launched. In fact, I had tried launching a startup 2 years ago called spin.social. It was a social jukebox. Imagine Reddit style voting for what song is played next. Well, it turns out launching a startup is way more time-consuming and stressful then I had imagined. Ultimately, this startup failed because I was building something I thought people wanted. I have since changed my perspective to build something that I as a developer would want.

Let’s try this again

After the failure of my first startup, I took some time off of programming outside of my fulltime job. 10 months ago, I decided I was going to give launching a startup a try again. I had a slew of things I wanted to do differently this time. Most importantly, I started building something I already had a customer for. I wish someone had told me how stressful finding your first customer is. The fact that I already had a customer when I started making AppDoctor removed a lot of that stress. I also was solving a problem I needed to be solved in my full-time job. Knowing exactly how the client would benefit from my app enabled me to keep a defined scope of a solution in focus.

Break it down

Time Breakdown

Startups take forever, especially if you have no one keeping your scope in check. I had originally planned on making AppDoctor in 4 months. Because it was just me and no harsh deadlines, I got in my own developer head. The scope expanded 3fold and the time to launch did as well. If I were to go back to square one I would set the scope in concrete and stick to it. The amount of time I spent outside my full-time job on AppDoctor was daunting. Towards the end of wrapping up all features, I was feeling very burnt out. In fact, I skipped a couple weeks of programming near the end as I tried to muster up the motivation to “finish”.

GitHub Commits

Being a developer, I feel I have to include a breakdown of the total commits to launch date. The backend of AppDoctor is much more complex than the front end. I spend the first 6 months of work on getting the backend right, as it was the foundation to the whole startup. I ended up writing all unit tests and documenting the code before moving to the front end. In hindsight, I should have done this after launch as it added another two weeks to launch date. The front end took a month longer than I had originally planned. The reason being I wanted AppDoctor to be perfect on mobile as well. This was originally outside of the scope of the project because most competitors had a very poor mobile experience. I ended up making it a goal because I felt it would be a strong competitive advantage.

Money Breakdown

The money breakdown is not entirely fair. My awesome wife is a graphic designer so I saved a ton of money on the UI design. AppDoctor’s target market is small businesses, so I wanted AppDoctor’s personality and feel to reflect that. For that reason, I sought out an awesome illustrator that perfectly made what I had in mind for AppDoctor. I ended up spending around $600 to this point in server cost. I also spent around $200 on sales and marketing books because it is definitely not my area of expertise.

What I wish I knew

Firstly, I wish I had someone who had kept me on track. I expanded the scope into an awesome product but I also pushed the time to launch back way further than I originally planned. I wish I knew the number of administrative things that would take up programming time. I wanted to build something that felt enterprise but for small business.

That required the following:

  • Automated invoicing and an ability to view/print invoices.
  • Team management with complex team permissions.
  • The ability to work on multiple teams as a single user.
  • The ability to change between subscriptions freely.
  • Support tracking/ticketing system.
  • Documentation for the correct way to do things.

Even better, I wish someone would have told me that all of this was not a requirement for launch. After the fact, I realized that I could have manually handled most of those tasks and added them later. This alone would have saved me 2 months of work.

Summary

It has been a long road to launching AppDoctor but it truly has been worth every minute. I am excited and anxious to get into the sales/marketing mindset. I am excited to gain feedback and hopefully grow as a company going forward. Of the initial users, feedback has been pretty exciting. Who knows, maybe in 6 months you will see me post a success/failure blog post. But for now, I am just happy to have made it to the point of owning a business and trying to make it grow.

You can follow AppDoctor’s journey on Twitter or right here on medium. Even better than that, if you’re a developer you can go make a free account on AppDoctor right now!

Let's make the world of software a better place by offering better application support.

Until next time. ✌️