By John Sonmez March 6, 2014

Craziest Entrepreneur Challenge: Can 3 Devs Make $100 Each In 24 Hours? (3 of 3)

This is the third in a series of three blog posts that are going to detail the events of the 24 hour, $100 challenge that two members of my mastermind group and I embarked on, from each of our perspectives.

  • In the first post, Josh Earl, Derick Bailey and myself talked about what we thought about prior to the contest, how we felt and prepared mentally, and what we planned to do.
  • In the second post, we each talked about what actually happened when the clock ticked midnight on Dec 17th, 2013. And how we survived the 24 hour ordeal.
  • Finally, in this last post, you'll hear the final outcome of the competition as we each discuss our results, break down what exactly we think we did right and what we did wrong, and how we would have done things differently.

My Results

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Well, you may have guessed it already, but I ended up doing pretty good in the $100 challenge. I ended the day with a total of $525 that came from 7 sales of the package. Gumroad charges about 5% per transaction and I spent about $30 on the Leadpages subscription for my landing page, so I ended up netting about $470 total for the day–not bad for a day's worth of work.

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I was definitely happy with the results, but part of me was a little disappointed that I didn't break that $1000 mark. I felt like if I had figured out a way to up my conversion rate just a little bit and to get a little more traffic that I could have easily passed $1k.

The best part though, was that I now had a product that had already passed market validation–All I had to do was create the rest of the product and ship it. I actually even received another 6 preorders the very next day without any additional advertising.

What I did right

I think the biggest thing I did right was to sell a high enough priced item and to sell it as a package deal. If I would have sold a simple eBook for $10, I would have had to sell quite a few more copies and it wouldn't have made it any easier to get traffic. By selling a high priced item and preselling it, I was able to leverage time–both in the limited time I had in a single day to market the product and in my future time to actually produce something worth $75 or more.

As I mentioned before, I also had quite a bit of market validation before I put a large amount of work into a product. By preselling the product, I didn't end up doing any real work on it, until I had orders. If I didn't end up getting enough orders to show that there would be real interest for the product, I could have just refunded the orders I had already received and aborted the project early without wasting anymore time on it. It is a real tragedy when someone spends months or even years of their life creating a product only to find there is not a market for it. Within the first two hours of putting the product up for sale, I had market validation that told me I was going in the right direction.

Finally, I'd say that using the power of leverage to market the product was one of the biggest factors in my success. Instead of doing lots of little marketing tactics that might get a few visitors to the site, I created a blog post that was already giving people value and was likely to be shared and spread. If I had just tried to get people to come to my sales page or just marketed the sales page directly, I would have probably had dismal results and wouldn't have had any leverage. But, by creating some free content that I could get a wide distribution on, I was able to achieve enough traffic to generate sales.

What I did wrong

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I didn't really have enough marketing ideas. Most of my results hinged on the success of the first blog post I had written which had gained some traction early on in the day. Without that post being successful, I would have much fewer sales–if any.

I really needed to be able to be busy all day marketing the product to maximize my results. If I had known ahead of time what forums to reach and would have spent a little more time planning the marketing side of the launch, I probably could have come up with more ideas. I also wasted quite a bit of time fiddling with trying to get a list of email addresses, which probably would have had a very low conversion rate anyway.

The other major mistake I made was writing the book during the contest. If I wanted to fully leverage my time, I should have spent the entire 24 hours doing nothing but putting the sales page up and marketing it. Sure, it was nice to have that book done by the end of the day–or at least the first draft of it–but, I had bought myself 24 extra hours to do it, so any time I spent writing the book was time that I could have spent marketing the product.

What I would have done differently

I have to say that I learned quite a bit from this whole experience. I found some serious weaknesses in my ability to market a product and found some significant areas that I could improve on. This whole process was like a compacting a full product life-cycle into a span of 24 hours.

If I had to do this all over again, I'd make sure I had adequate knowledge about how to use pay-per-click advertising. With a product that had this high of a price, I probably could have found a way to make money by buying ads. I don't know enough about how to effectively use that advertising medium, so I rely on organic traffic and other marketing techniques, but I do feel that by not knowing about this marketing tactic I am leaving money on the table.

I also didn't attempt to set up some kind of affiliate program. I could have probably extended my leverage even further and been a bit more bold in asking for help to promote my product if I had a carrot to dangle. This is another area that I am weak in. I don't know much about how to create an affiliate program and how to get people to enroll in it. I'm not sure if it is something that could be done in a day, but if I did this kind of a competition again, I'd make sure I knew enough about affiliate marketing to have it as an option.

As I said before, I'd try and leverage my time a bit better by not creating the product during the 24 hour window I have to promote it. I'd instead try and make sure that I have enough advertising activities to fill an entire day.

I should have also setup some A/B testing on the landing page so that I could be tweaking the copy throughout the day to increase the conversion rate. I pretty much put up my page and left it for the rest of the day without having an idea if small changes to the copy could have resulted in big changes to the conversion rate.

Overall though, I am very happy with the experience. It was one of the most scary things I had to do as an entrepreneur, but I feel like the experience caused me to experience some rapid growth. I still have a lot to learn about successfully bringing a product to market, but now at least it is not as scary as it was before this little experiment.

Derick’s Results

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I got a lot done during that 1 day challenge. I survived, in spite of all my stomach churning stress and anguish over the day and the process. Yet in spite of everything I accomplished, I failed the challenge entirely. I earned exactly $0 that day. It wasn't until shortly after the midnight deadline that I earned any money from that eBook. But I consider the day a success on other fronts. If for no other reason, it taught me a lot about what I am good at and what I am not good at.

Lesson Re-Affirmed: I Can Build Things

I believe this is one of my strengths. I can take on an idea and turn it to some valuable in fairly short order. I went from an idea of a book, to having this book out there and advertised in a few places, quickly. My history of software development, delivering early and often, fixing mistakes as they happen and getting things done spills over in to a lot of what I do. I wrote the chapters, I worked on making them better. I released the book. I continued to improve it. I execute well on the building of things. But not so much on other aspects.

Lesson Learned: I Know Nothing About MarketingYoung male clueless

This is probably the single most important thing that I learned, from this day. I've known that I'm terrible at marketing for a long time now. I've been lucky in that I've never really needed to do any significant marketing in the past. But I'm no longer that lucky. I now have a direct need to market well because I'm attempting to sell a service, screencasts, books and my consulting services.

When it came time to put together a marketing plan, I was DOA. The only thing I knew was twitter and blogging. I didn't know how to deliberately build an audience, get myself in front of other people's eyes or create value in the eyes of others so that they would throw money at me. I floundered for ideas, pulled out the few tricks that I could gleam from conversations with our Mastermind group, and ultimately fell short on every front.

Lesson Learned: Thinking Outside The Box, Requires Knowing How To Think Inside The Box First

My lack of ability to understand marketing turned in to a large pile of fail for me, as I couldn't “think outside the box” or think on my feet. I have no survival instincts when it comes to marketing, because I don't know enough about marketing to begin with.

Follow-up conversations with Josh and John revealed some extremely creative ways of building an audience quickly. I was taken aback and surprised, to say the least, at how successful they were at building an audience under such dire circumstances. They really knew how to twist marketing potential in to new ideas and find ways of getting people to their site. They know how think outside the proverbial box. But turns out to be a farce if you don't actually know how to think inside the box, first.

Lesson Learned: Outsource It

Following some basic rules and guidance for the most simple of marketing ideas is an absolute must, when you're growing and learning. I had no foundation on which to stand, and could only flounder my way through the basics. But like most things in life, I learned how to take my weakness and build something better. Rather than trying to take on the task of learning and becoming an expert in marketing, I've taken a better direction. I'm outsourcing that aspect of my work. I've since connected with a number of people that are helping me do amazing things. Yes, it still requires work on my part. I have to put in the effort to teach these marketing professionals what I am doing and why. Once I get them to understand, though, they can quickly and efficiently help me make my potential audience understand.

I'm already reaping the benefits of having built a network of people to whom I can outsource these things. My network continues to grow, as well, and I will soon be a force to recon with… not on my own strength, but on the strength of the group that I have aligned.

In The End …

I'm glad I followed through, as much as I did. It taught me a lot about myself, my strengths and how I need to work with the strength of others to really build and do something great. This 1 day was important to me and my career. Being thrown in to the woods with nothing more than a knife will teach you to reach down deep and find what few survival instincts you have. Being able to come out of the woods, reflect on your experience, and plan for the future with this new found experience… that is priceless.

I am both terrified of, and looking forward to, our next Mastermind Challenge.

Josh’s Results

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Heading into the contest, I knew it would be challenging. But I figured I'd buckle down and get it done when the time came.

When the real difficulty emerged, though, it blindsided me. It turned out that my fiercest competitor wasn't John or Derick—it was myself.

Because I wanted to fail

From the moment I woke up on challenge day, I knew that every step would be uncomfortable. Worse, each little success meant I'd have to do something else even more uncomfortable. There wasn’t a moment in the day when I didn’t want to quit. The only thing that kept me going was wanting to put on a good showing for John and Derick.

I was surprised how hard it was to write the blog post that was the key to my strategy. After all, I'd wanted to write it for months. But the fear of putting myself out there was difficult to overcome.

In my fear, I broke one of my cardinal productivity rules

Focusing too much on an outcome you can't control is the death knell of productivity. It's better to keep your head down and think about the things you have direct control over.

Fear

My strategy was traffic-dependent, but I didn't have direct control over that traffic. I fell into the trap of watching my real time Google Analytics stats instead of reaching out to more people to ask for their help in promoting my post. I should have done a better job working my plan, even though …

My plan was flawed

While my strategy for the challenge worked to some extent, I made several costly mistakes:

  • I should have decided on the product I was going to sell beforehand. I wanted to research tools first, but I ended up burning an hour and choosing tools I was already familiar with. Complete waste of time.
  • The idea of building an email list and converting subscribers to buyers in one day was overly optimistic. For one thing, I hadn't counted on the fact that many people don't confirm their email subscription right away, so it took sign ups a while to trickle in. Even if I had gotten enough people to hit the subscribe button, I wouldn't have been able to reach many of them until the next day.
  • I overestimated how much traffic a Hacker News front page hit would get me. I landed on the front page as planned but only got about 2,000 hits from it. I was thinking I'd get more like 10,000.

But my biggest error of the day was being too timid. I should have promoted my Google Hangout product directly on the post, but I let my fear get the best of me. By the time I switched gears and added it, I was already past the peak of my traffic for the day.

Still, the rewards truly surprised me

My late afternoon order turned out to be my only sale for the day, leaving me with a meager $23.97 earned. Such is the price of cowardice.

Even though I didn't meet my goal of earning $100, my work during the challenge went a long way toward building a valuable asset—I got my new blog on the map.

When the day ended, my blog had received:

  • 2,723 page views
  • 1,887 unique visitors
  • 7 comments
  • 17 new email list subscribers
  • 1 request for a guest post
  • 44 tweets
  • 36 points on Hacker News
  • 2 upvotes on Reddit

I also got the attention of Pat Flynn, who responded personally to my emails and sent out a tweet for me. I never would have reached out to him were it not for this contest.

Weeks later, that post continues to work for me. It generates a steady stream of traffic, and my blog has received more than 7,600 page views since contest day, even though I haven't done any additional promotion since then. My mailing list, jumpstarted during the contest, is up to almost 100 subscribers, and I've received dozens of grateful tweets, emails and blog comments.

Leanpub was so thrilled with my post that they asked if I could turn it into a guest post for their blog. I did, and that version also went for a ride on Hacker News, spending several hours on the front page.

The day after the contest, I got a tweet from Dean Dwyer, who hosts the Make Shift Happen podcast. He's interviewed entrepreneurs like Tim Ferriss and Pat Flynn. Would I be willing to come on his show and talk about my experience writing and marketing my book? he wanted to know. It was a great experience, and the interview will be released in the next couple of weeks.

And that's just the big stuff. I also earned dozens of backlinks to my site that will help my site rank well in Google in the weeks and months to come.

Action is the key to success

Even with my flawed strategy and shaky execution, the rewards from my single day of focused effort continue to roll in more than two months later. None of this would have happened if I hadn't managed to get myself in motion.

This contest reinforced my belief that success is all but inevitable if you can just get out there and do something, even if it's not perfect.

Ninety percent of people never make it that far.

Will you?

Liked this post? We’ve got more coming…

If you’ve liked this series of posts, be sure to sign up here and I’ll make sure to update you with any future posts like these.  We are still planning more challenges like this one for our mastermind group.  Also, if you decide to take the challenge yourself or embark on it with some friends of yours, let us know how it goes.  Post a comment with your results or a link to your write-up below.

About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."