Lean Startup Challenge Kickoff: Introducing Grafpad

For the last year or so I’ve been working on a hobby project of mine called Grafpad. Grafpad is a web app that runs completely in a browser and lets the user draw legible diagrams, wireframes, logos, and other vector graphics by hand. The app is essentially a piece of paper with brains, it uses image recognition to beautify the sketch as you’re drawing it. You can draw your concept as easily as you would on a white board, with the added benefit of not having to recreate your image in PowerPoint, InkScape or Visio when adding it into a presentation or a document.

Until recently, I tried to work on Grafpad and my startup called Pyjeon in stealth mode but learned that it’s one of the easiest ways for a startup to fail. Most startups today don’t fail because of technology limitations, but rather from lack of customers (or more specifically customer fit). Having learned about the Lean Startup Competition, I decided to use this 6-week challenge as an opportunity to turn Grafpad development on its head to see how my product can benefit from this.

For those unfamiliar with Lean Startup concept, it’s based on the observation that most learning about customer needs happens after the product is released. So if you shorten your release cycle, you can adjust your product much better to your target customers. Running a startup is essentially a race, where you try to achieve the right customer fit before running out of money and/or time.

The problem with typical projects is that it takes months (or years) to release the product. As a result, very little learning about the customer needs happens until the product becomes hard to modify. You can keep rolling out new versions or service packs, but if there is a fundamental problem with the idea itself, you’ll have to abandon ship eventually and pivot to a different concept. This can be a disaster for someone who spent years working on a concept that has no need

That’s where Lean Startup process comes in. The idea is to shrink down the amount of time needed for each cycle and allow you to iterate through your versions faster. As an added bonus, you can test how much the customers like each feature/tweak individually by comparing the product adoption rate between weeks when those features were added.

To measure that adoption rate, I will be using Dave McClure’s Pirate Metrics (they’re called so because they abbreviate to “AARRR”). Each week I will be running an experiment by tweaking Grafpad product itself or the website to see if it improves either of the 5 metrics. I will be updating my blog every Sunday with a summary of results from the previous week and talk about experiment I plan to run during the upcoming week.

During this competition, I plan to concentrate on activation and retention rate, but will be measuring all 5 of the metrics. As part of the competition, I will be releasing Grafpad app that I’ve been working on to the general public. I will track the metrics as follows:

Acquisition: Unique users visiting the grafpad.com.

Activation: Unique users playing with the Demo and/or registering for a free Grafpad account.

Retention: Users logging into their account more than once and/or creating an image they save using the account.

Referral: Users sharing grafpad.com with their friends using on-page twitter/facebook/etc. buttons or users mentioning another user’s name in the sign up form.

Revenue: Users upgrading their account to a paid version with more features.

I’d appreciate any help from readers, alpha testers, or random visitors during the competition in terms of feedback and/or helping me improve my metrics (although I obviously don’t want people singing up just for the sake of signing up if they don’t like the product). The product can only be as good as the feedback I get, so feel free to challenge my ideas. I’ll be updating you guys with the current status on this blog, as well as my personal twitter account (@ATsepkov) and my startup company’s twitter account (@Pyjeon). I will be tweeting under #LSChallenge and #leanstartup hashtags as part of the contest. The grafpad.com web app will be going live tomorrow, please check it out.

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About Alexander Tsepkov

Founder and CEO of Pyjeon. He started out with C++, but switched to Python as his main programming language due to its clean syntax and productivity. He often uses other languages for his work as well, such as JavaScript, Perl, and RapydScript. His posts tend to cover user experience, design considerations, languages, web development, Linux environment, as well as challenges of running a start-up.

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