A few days ago Lenguajero turned 6 months old. It’s hard to believe how much our little bootstrapped Latin America startup has grown in these last 6 months, but more importantly how our knowledge has grown with it.
As we built the site in Colombia, expanded on it from Costa Rica and Ecuador, and finally launched it and watched it grow from Mexico I feel as though I have learned far more than I ever would in business school. Here are 4 important lessons that I’ve learned during the last 6 months.
1. Launch early and let your users tell you what they want.
This is pretty much straight out of the lean development playbook, which we have followed unwaveringly. In a nutshell this means that we spent very little time developing our initial product. We launched within three months (and we were only working four hours a day at that point).
We got immediate feedback from our early users who all agreed on one thing – they weren’t interested in using the site how we’d originally thought they would. All of our initial assumptions were wrong. We thought that there would be a huge demand for a web space where you could go online, choose a discussion topic from a list, prepare for your conversation before hand, find someone to who wanted to talk about the same thing, and then sit down and have a no frills conversation exchange (in Spanish and English) for 30 minutes. Nope.
Turns out instead that people want to make small talk before they ever move on to bigger and broader topics. However, they do want to practice writing about these topics in the language they are learning, and receive feedback from native speakers. This knowledge helped us quickly build an launch our Writing Club, which has remained one of our most popular features.
The three things that we have focused on are:
- Not worrying about problems until they are problems (i.e don’t fix it if it ain’t broke).
- Doing the minimal amount of work at every stage of the development process, then waiting for user feedback.
- Putting ourselves in a position where we can respond to any issue or idea quickly and efficiently. We did this when the pirates attacked us.
2. Having a product or a service to sell beats the hell out of hoping to make money on advertising.
We recently launched our first product, TOEFL Tips and Strategies eBook. In the last 48 hours we’ve made more money selling the TOEFL eBook than we usually make in two weeks of advertising with Google Adsense.
As David Heinemeier Hansson said on a recent 37signals podcast “Having a price is pretty good for getting profits. You have customers, they pay money for a product or service, and you get profits. That works for us.”
3. “You should think a little more about your SEO and viral strategy rather than depending on your slacker friends.”
We knew next to nothing about SEO when we launched our site, thus prompting the above quote from a friend of ours. Oh, that’s not to say that we didn’t have a plan, because we did. Our plan: Get all of our friends with blogs to link to us with the keywords we wanted, and set the title of our site to match these keywords (in our case ‘Practice Spanish Online’). We figured that would get us on the first page of search results within a couple of weeks of launching.
To anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of SEO strategies the above plan will seem absolutely laughable. We’ve fortunately come a long way since then, and have seen our SEO goals come to fruition as we have moved onto the first page for all of the terms we want to be hitting on, and are in the top three for our primary term (Practice Spanish Online).
We have even started offering SEO consulting services to bloggers who are more interested in writing, and less interested in the technical stuff.
4. Take advantage of living in the future.
“In the age of the all encompassing “Cloud” you no longer need things like your own servers, or an office full of people to get shit done. Instead we looked to the web for solutions to all of the challenges we faced.
One word – outsourcing. Websites like eLance and 99designs connected us with designers and programmers from around the world, and allowed us to outsource the work that we couldn’t do ourselves. At one point in time I was coordinating profile page design with a guy in Taiwan while Natalie was messaging with a team in Romania that was doing the HTML & CSS for our homepage. All this was done while sipping coffee in the comforts of our apartment in Colombia.”
The two paragraphs above are from an article I wrote for Matador five months ago. Not only are we still die hard believers that you don’t need an office we have continued to prove that you can coordinate your project from anywhere in the world. Whether it be outsourcing the development of a Flash voice recorder to Romania, hiring a personal assistant in Pakistan, or connecting with advisors and educators in the United States, France and Argentina, we have been able to connect with the people we need to connect with while sitting in our garden office and feasting on fresh tamales and fruit juice.