"Where should I take my 11 year old son on a surf trip?"
That question turned into a startup (Can I call it a startup? Sure. I'm calling it that. 🙂) in 7 days.
Here's how the final product, Surf Trip List, works.
And here's the story of how I built it.
For months I've been working on a financial independence website called, The Hidden Green.
I put in 12 months of work last year and didn't get the traffic nor the course/coaching students I needed to have growing business.
So, to say the least, I started 2018 frustrated.
And that's when I got a text from my girlfriend's aunt.
She wanted to take her son on a surf trip.
There were SOOO many places she could go so I started asking her questions to narrow it down.
Things like, "What month? Warm water? International OK?"
As I started giving her surf destinations, she gave me more tips on what she was looking for and I responded with a few more locations till we found something she liked.
This wasn't some "Ah-ha" moment like you hear about in a TEDTalk.
This was me walking through a grocery store frustrated I was that guy texting in the potato chip aisle.
But it became the impetus of what I shipped.
Here's how it all pieced together from there.
For the last two month's I've fallen in love with Pieter Levels.
Yup, he's great.
I particularly became stoked by his story of creating NomadList.
In it he talks about how he started his journey by spending 12 months building a YouTube analytics software that fell flat, and how after he felt exhausted and depressed that it didn't work out.
(I can relate to that... more than I want to.)
As he continues he tells a story of his dad telling him, "If you ever get depressed go get a big pile of dirt and shovel it from one side of the yard to the other. You'll feel better."
I loved that.
While I was diving down the Pieter Levels rabbit hole, I was feeling super stagnant with my work with The Hidden Green.
I couldn't stand working on my 12 month-long project any longer and I was DYING to just build something new again.
Last week, after sitting with that stagnant feeling for like 7 weeks, I decided to put my 12 month project on the shelf and instead go shovel dirt from one side of my yard to the other. ;)
I decided to start fresh and ship something new.
I made one goal for myself — ship a working product in 7 days.
I had no idea what it would be, but I knew I needed to put some fire under my ass and have some fun along the way.
Here's how it went.
I spent the first morning writing a plan for streamlined version of my financial independence site — helping people get on the path to F– You Money in one week.
But around noon I was so frustrated with how it was coming that I shut my computer and went for a walk.
On that walk I listened to this Indie Hackers podcast with Courtland Allen and Pieter Levels.
One thing hit me hard.
It was when Courtland said that...
Everything online (including their businesses) is simply a collection existing information that's repurposed in way useful for a specific niche.
As I walked home I meditated on that — "What information could I collect and repurpose in a super useful way?"
Once home I looked online to see what existed.
There were a few sites that help you find surf spots by wave quality, temperature, region... but none gave me places based on things like "good for families," "experiencing culture," "fun nightlife," "good for couples," etc.
So I decided to build it.
I opened a Google Sheet and started listing out all the filters I could think of. I used NomadList to help with idea.
The first iteration took about two hours. Here's what it looked like:
I stepped away from my computer for a bit. And when I came back I simplified the sheet as one list of filters and one list of surf spots.
That's where I finished on Day 1.
The next day I added a list of ~15 surf spots and typed in the specifications for each destination.
I posted the spreadsheet on my Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and a few relevant forums to see if there was any interest.
There were 2-3 people looking at the spreadsheet for most of the day. And 3 friends tagged their friends in my Facebook post (27 likes).
That’s pretty small.
But my goal wasn’t traffic. It was just to ship something in 7 days. So I kept going.
I mapped out the goals of the site. They were to allow people to:
- Find the surf trip best for them.
- Book flights.
- Book accommodations.
I then mapped out what tools I’d need to accomplish my goal. I don’t (yet) code, so I had to figure out how to do this with tools available online.
I came up with:
I was 80% certain I could pull off the filtering function the site needed with those platforms.
After deciding on that, I went back to finish up the spreadsheet. I added about 20 more highly traveled surf spots and called it a day.
The next few days is where I stumbled.
The morning of the third day I opened up a free Squarespace account and built a homepage with draft copy and placeholder images.
I did the same thing for what the surf spot page would look like.
But I got stuck.
I started wanting to add too many features to the page and it paralyzed me.
That night I talked with a housemate about it and came up with the wireframe on the bottom right of this note.
I was pretty bummed at the end of that night. I needed to ship faster and felt I had wasted a day lost in unnecessary complexities.
Day 4 - 7
The next day (day 4) I built that wireframe for the spot page, and then duplicated it for all spot pages.
I then found that to make everything function I was going to need to buy a domain, hosting, etc.
- GoDaddy domain ($12) (www.surftriplist.com)
- Squarespace ($16/mo)
- Right Message ($50/mo) (I am an existing user)
- Typeform ($30/mo)
I connected everything and started to test out how I could get the filtering to work. Here's the (ultra shortened version) of how I could the gears to turn.
I put the questions in a Typeform.
I used the answers to set query parameters in a URL using Typeform’s variable function.
And then I used the query parameters to tell Right Message which surf spots to show or hide.
So if you click the link below, Surf Trip List will show you only the destinations that are: Good for couples, nearby parks and have intermediate level warm water waves in Apr, May and June.
The process above took ~8 hours dispersed over 3 days to completely dial in.
I kept getting stuck because Right Message’s bottom most filter would override any previous selections.
If you want an advanced wave in warm water, a beginner wave would show up because it was the last category always wins (warm water).
I drew up crazy decision trees trying to figure out how to make it work.
But the most crazy thing was that through all that frustration I knew the solution.
I knew the whole time that I could ship the filtering functionality by making someone’s selection of filters a 1-to-1 representation of Right Message's show/hide functions on the page.
Though I couldn't get myself to just do it because “it wouldn’t scale” and “there had to be an easier way to save time.”
After reaching out for help via Facebook, email, Twitter and not getting an answer for two days I sucked it up and took the long, unscalable way.
It ended up being shorter and easier than I thought.
It took me only ~2.5 hours to implement after I took about 4 hours to trying to figure out a better way.
Lightly said, there was a lot of frustration making the filtering work… I could have saved myself a lot of time committing to the longer, unscalable road earlier on.
Noted for next time.
While I wasn’t working on that I was inputting the specifics into each surf destination pages.
This was the most tedious task of the project.
But because I had built the page’s framework previously I was able to plug and chug the information into each spot page fairly quickly.
Finishing the spot pages probably took ~10 hours.
The final acts I took was just using the product myself.
I clicked on a ton of links, did a bunch of different filters and caught a number of silly mistakes. (There’s probably more too! But that’s okay.)
Feel free to click around yourself if you'd like to check it out.
Here's what I finished with:
A Simple Home Page
Filtered Home Page That Works
Surf Spot Page (Flights, Accommodations, Surf Info, Destination Info)
All in all I took the project from idea on Sunday to a 100% working product in 7 days without any code.
My next step is to do ~7 days of promotion to see if there's any interest.
I imagine that's going to consist of finding places where interested people (surfers, travelers, etc.) may be clicking around on the internet (fishing holes) and authentically weaving Surf Trip List into their content.
If it doesn’t get traction at the end of those 7 days that’s 100% okay.
Ok, realistically it's 90% okay... 10% of me will be bummed.
But that's okay.
I’ll go through the process again and ship something (hopefully) better till I find that stickiness.
My goal with this was one thing — ship a product in 7 days.
The only way I could fail was only not shipping.
And I shipped. So I feel this was a mini-success.
I hope this was helpful to everyone here. Please feel free to offer any feedback and advice on next steps. And good luck!