Hackerpreneurialism === Coding + Distribution;
At AirPair, our Mantra is “Happiness is a positive cash flow”. Closing deals and making customer happy is more important than everything else… including funding.
This was a funny outcome in a meeting with an famous VC last week. Luckily Hunter Walk is awesome and he gets it. Another VC could have easily been offended and decided that was the end of our relationship.
TechCrunch is cool… But the Australian Financial Review reaches an audience far wider than tech enthusiasts, hopefully including future AirPair customers. Here’s an online version of the piece featuring AirPair yesterday. This all came through after a 10 minute phone call following a warm introduction from one of AirPair’s Advisors Bardia Houseman.
This is the jist of a 4 minute talk I’m giving about AirPair at SFNewTech tomorrow.
To be honest, I claim my blog is about user acquisition, but don’t write about it enough because we’re still busy staying way ahead of our competitors. But I think the time has come and I’m comfortable sharing the story of how we kickstarted things. Tomorrow night will be the first time I speak publicly about it.
My Dad is kind of an old-school, wise and successful guy. He’s got a mantra, that maybe is a bit of a lost art here in the bay area, that he frequently reminds me of:
"Jonathon. Happiness is a positive cash flow"
For whatever reasons, over the first 9 years of my startup career, the message didn’t quite sink in. I built products that didn’t get used and products that got so much traction, they grew into global communities where people met and even got married … But no matter how popular or useful people found my ideas - Bootstrapping lesson 1, is they were un-sustainable because they had no positive cash flow. If you want to bootstrap, you need to know and prove you can make money from the beginning.
When I started AirPair, I was so painfully aware of my past. I knew AirPair had to have a business model baked in from day 1… and it did.
So, what’s AirPair? Well, this is one view of AirPair
Here you can see hundreds of entrepreneurs connecting with expert code mentors for help staying un-stuck, learning new frameworks, and getting guidance on making sound technical decisions.
But AirPair didn’t look that sexy on day 1. On day 1 there was no website, or even a landing page. But my gut told me, people would pay to connect over video for 1-2 hours of software help.
The first successful MVP consisted of:
Here’s the original session :) - I wish I’d had a shave, LOL.
Bootstrapping Lesson #2 comes from years of coding features that never got used, and is one that has served us incredibly well as AirPair has grown at each step of our evolution: ”Always do something manually before building custom software to increase efficiencies”. There is just no point improving the efficiency of something that does not sell, no matter how good a solution you implement, your ROI is still 0.
Coding 24/7 might be OK if you are venture backed, but if you are bootstrapping you need inbound leads and converting customers. Every minute you’re coding is one you’re not hustling.
Armed with the initial success, but still stuck in a full time day job, I had to figure out if we could build a real business around connecting tech folks. So, I came up with the second iteration. A static HTML page, 2 Google forms and a press release from TechCrunch.
I suppose I’ve already shown you what the product is from the customer’s perspective, but a bird’s eye view of the “idea” is more clearly represented in this screenshot of the original static HTML landing page:
AirPair is simply a really nicely branded two-sided marketplace, where entrepreneurs and companies can get instant access to top quality engineering expertise. I still have the original customer Google form and the expert Google form, where we collected 71 requests for help, 120 developers wanting to be experts. From these leads, I processed 15 paying customers before writing a single line of code. That’s when I decided it was time to quit my job and build the first version of our site in node.
There are definitely great stories and lessons learned between April and now that will be worth sharing in the coming months. Our product is a little bit more developed than that second MVP, but you’d be surprised how similar it still feels. We still have not taken any angel or VC money. We’ve now had 5 straight months of 40+% month on month growth. We’re a team of 4, just covering our rent and eating instant noodles. This past week were also accepted into YC.
This October, I had the pleasure of showing off San Francisco to my parents, who were visiting all the way from my hometown Sydney, Australia. October (and September) are special months in San Francisco. The rest of the year SF is guaranteed to be foggy at least a few times a week. We were lucky to have 7 days straight of soul soothing sunny skies.
I’ve lived in San Francisco for almost 3 years now. I ride my bike most places and this has allowed me to travel at least 50% of the streets north of Caesar Chavez. I know the 7 mile x 7 mile geography of the city intimately. One can ride from one end to the other in around 30 minutes. So I set about collecting all my experiences and crafting a list of 10 things to do (and eat) that would be fun for me (30yo) and them (70yos), plus cover as much geography of the city as possible.
It was a magical week. In order, here’s what we covered (you can also click on the map and browse around):
A) Twin Peaks - If your guests arrive on a rare day when no fog is covering the West half of the city (a very common phenomenon), quickly drag them up the hill to the highest point in the city for a birds eye welcome view.
B) Golden Gate Park + Japanese Tea Garden
One of the sanctuaries I keep coming back to in the middle of the city is a little section of Golden Gate park in between the DeYoung Museum and Academy of Science. Funny I’ve never been into either, but many many times I’ve sat in the grounds between, to find peace and relax. Just on the north west tip of this area is The Japanese Tea Gardens. It was actually my first time there. I would totally recommend it as a place to catch up when you have a lot to say with a friend.
C) Swan Oyster Depot
Possibly my favorite place to eat in the city. Fresh shucked Oysters, Clams and even Sea Urchins right out of the shell. But for me, the best thing to order here is the Scallop Carpaccio. If you want to wait in line for less than an hour, you need to be at Swan by 10am.
D) Samovar @ Yerba Beuna
San Francisco is notorious for bums, crack heads and some strange stuff between the Tenderloin and SOMA. SOMA is a large borough full of industrial and dirty landscape. But there is one green park oasis, The Yerba Beuna Gardens between 3rd & 4th. At the tip of the Park is Samovar. The tea is over priced and fairly average - but on a sunny day I love sitting here, enjoying the company of friends or taking business meetings.
I’m still looking for my favorite place dinner in SF. I’ve had some amazing meals. But I’m yet to find a consistent experience that knocks my socks off time after time. Incanto is famous for it’s offel, in-house prepared cold cuts and whole pig. The meal was good - but missing the magic from my first visit there.
G) Cliff House + (H) Lands End Trail
The food at Cliff House is average at best. However walking around and observing The Sutra Baths and Ocean Beach totally makes it worth the visit. The restaurant has awesome puffy bread (which is all I ate) and if you can get an ocean facing window seat, it’s nice enough that the ambience makes up for the food.
Another reason to drag visitors to Cliff House is it’s at the beginning of the Lands End trail. Walking from Cliff House back towards Richmond is by far one of my favorite aspects of the Golden Gate Bridge.
I) Palace of Fine Arts
Perhaps the most magical nook and a place I could see myself getting married in (or at least part of the photo shoot) is the Palace of fine Arts. Every time I visit I feel awed and ask myself the question, why did society become cheap and stop investing in architecture and infrastructure? Thanks to those in the generations before that had the insight for the remarkable structure.
J) Golden Gate Harbor Cruise
Leaving Pier 39 near Fisherman’s Wharf, I highly suggest taking a 90 minute cruise passing right next to Alcatraz and traveling all the way under the Golden Gate Bridge before returning back to the city and taking in all it’s steep hills. We got amazingly lucky with one of the most magic nights of the year. I love this photo of my mum holding onto my dad. They don’t always look like this … but I was thrilled I got to see and capture it.
K) Sotto Mare
Ciopinnio is a famous tomato and garlic based seafood soup that was invented right hear in San Francisco. So I always bring visitors to Sotto Mare so they can leave saying the got to taste a San Franciscan speciality. Sadly my phone ran out of battery and I need to chase my mum up for her photo of my parent’s in bibs :)
L) Tonga Room
An old treasure buried deep inside the Fairmont hotel is the Tonga room. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it rain indoors before! This place is kitchy, silly awesomeness. Grab a hulu hut and pile on the cocktails while listening to live music and watching a storm roll in every hour :).
San Francisco has it’s rough edges. But having had the opportunity to spend a condensed week of unbelievable weather playing tour guide around the city visit one favorite place after another, I was gifted a stark reminder of how much this tiny little plot of land has to offer.
Next time maybe I’ll get a chance to report on the un-censored non-parents top 10 tour.