- Jason Cohen
- How to Lose Time and Money
- Micropreneur Academy
- algXchange Trading and Predicting API
[00:00] Rob Walling: This is Startups For the Rest of Us: Episode 17.
[00:13] Rob: Welcome to “Start-Ups for the Rest of Us.” A podcast for that helps developers be awesome at launching software products, whether you’ve built your first product or are just thinking about it. I’m Rob.
[00:22] Mike: And I’m Mike.
[00:23] Rob: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s been going on, Mike?
[00:29] Mike: I’ve been traveling quite a bit lately. I spent the last couple of weeks in Germany. That was a lot of fun. I met with a couple of Micropreneur Academy members over there, had dinner with them, and just generally talked about what they’re doing, business in general, and what it’s like to live in Germany, because I had a little trouble with it because I don’t speak German, and I learned probably a grand total of five words while I was over there. One of them was “beer.” [laughs]
[00:52] Rob: Yes, of course, something you learn early on. So, I kept commenting on how you would drink warm beer when you went there. Did you drink any warm beer, or was it all served cold?
[00:59] Mike: I did not. It was all cold beer, but I did learn something. There’s a beer over there that I tried, and it was called, “Banana Weiss,” which I believe, and I haven’t looked this up, but I believe it loosely translates to, “I stuffed a banana in your beer. Can you taste it?”
[01:14] Rob: Nice.
[01:15] Mike: [laughs] Not the greatest of beers that I’ve ever tried, but I did try it at least, so, I figured I’d just go off the beaten path while I was there and try a lot of different things. How about you?
[01:26] Rob: Well, to give the listeners some context, it’s been three or four weeks since we’ve recorded, because you were over in Germany, and then my wife and I had our second child, so I’ve kind of been waylaid. I’ve been off work for a couple weeks. So, that’s been the big event in my life.
[01:40] My son was finally born a little over a week late, and he’s a big guy. He’s 10 pounds. He’s doing great. I mean he’s sleeping quite a bit at night. He wakes up maybe two, three times a night. The second time around I’m finding it much easier. I think like with anything, you just know more what to expect, so it hasn’t been the challenge.
[01:59] Truthfully, the challenge has been everything that comes with having the second child. Like, I’ve been off work for two and a half weeks now, and that’s kind of getting challenging for me just to not think about work all the time and to see my emails stacking up slowly. I know that I’m going to have to hit those up in the next week or so and then clear up my inbox.
[02:16] And then family’s been in town for a couple of weeks, which is fun, but it does kind of wreak havoc on my schedule, and that’s one of the reasons you and I haven’t been able to record in a while, and why I almost missed recording today, or why I was a little late to it.
[02:28] Mike: It’s funny you mentioned that, because my wife even commented about you not being able to make a podcast, and her comment was, “I don’t understand why he can’t make it. It’s not like he’s the one having the baby.”
[02:38] Rob: This is true.
[02:39] Mike: [laughs]
[02:40] Rob: The funny part is, I totally could have made it, but my wife would have had my head, man. That would have been the end for me if I’d said, “Honey, I’m going to record a podcast.” Yeah, because wasn’t it the day the baby was born or something? Oh, no, it was like two days before. It was when my wife started labor. We were re-scheduled, so we had to skip it.
[02:54] And then, in other news, my book is finally out. It came out a few weeks ago, actually. Well, jeez, almost a month ago now, I think. So, that’s out. It’s selling well. I’m very pleased with it. I’ve been surprised at how many names I’ve recognized of people who are purchasing it, like, Peldi from Balsamiq and then Jason Cowen bought a copy. That was awesome.
[03:14] So, we’ve been emailing. It’s been a neat way to meet a lot of people, and I’ve actually emailed with a lot of customers or purchasers and communicated with them on Twitter, whether I know their name from a blog or not.
[03:24] And so, that’s been a really neat benefit of it is, I feel like I’m starting to get more familiar with people around the world who are following what we’re doing. So, it’s exciting.
[03:33] Mike: That’s awesome.
[03:34] Rob. Yeah, it’s neat. So, I have this big list. I’ve been keeping a list of what to talk about in this first section, because we haven’t recorded in so long, and I wanted to bring people’s attention to this essay Paul Graham wrote called, “How to Lose Time and Money,” and it totally echoes what we said in…it was 12 and 13, the ones where we talk about how to add hours to your day.
[03:53] Mike: Ah, yes.
[03:53] Rob: And there was something…I’ve said this a couple times. At all times, my personal thing is that you should either being productive or you should be re-energizing yourself, and you should not…if you’re trying to do both, then you’re kind of half-assing both of them, and you’re not doing them very well.
[04:08] This essay…Paul Graham says it so much better, as with everything. He just says it so well in this essay, and it was just published in the last few weeks. You should check it out. It’s called, “How to Lose Time and Money.” It’s pretty fascinating.
[04:18] Mike: Cool. When I was over talking to the Academy members over in Germany, one of them had actually worked it out…He’s doing consulting, and he’d actually worked it out so that he was only working four days a week instead of five, so it gave him an extra day out of the week to be able to work on his own projects.
[04:35] Rob: Yeah, that’s an awesome way to go. I did that early on as well, and it’s great. Suddenly to have an eight-hour day that you can turn into a twelve-hour day for your own stuff is huge.
[04:44] Mike: Mm-hmm.
[04:48] Rob: So, today we’re talking about 11 ways to make ends meet while you’re starting up. And so basically, we’re going to talk about ways to cut expenses or some ways to find money in places that you wouldn’t typically think of.
[05:01] This whole concept was a discussion in the Micropreneur Academy forums several months ago, and some good ideas came out of that. We’ve used a couple of them here, but we also came up with a few of our own.
[05:10] I think the first step when you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to get to launch is, A, to figure out how many months you have until you get your app off the ground and how many hours that you need to put in during those months. So, if you can estimate your product is 500 hours, and you know you can work 50 hours a month, then obviously it’s going to take you 10 months to get there.
[05:30] Mike, we talked about this in the past, but four to six months is kind of the sweet spot. And as you go past six months, there’s this huge drop off that we see with people not being able to commit into completing a product past that timeframe.
[05:45] Mike: And there’s a lot of reasons for that. There’s partially the motivation factor, but at some point you have to look forward and backwards and figure out whether you actually see the light at the end of the tunnel, and if you don’t see that light, it’s very hard to stay motivated. So, a lot of it’s motivational more than you’re running into technical challenges that you are having trouble solving.
[06:04] Rob: Exactly. And once you have that timeframe in mind…let’s say you do nail it down, and you’re like, “You know what? I’m going to suck it up. It’s going to be 400 hours, and I’m going to try to work 80 hours a month.” So, you can do it in five months. That’s a lot, right? That’s 20 hours a week.
[06:17] Well, once you have that, if you can step back and say, “Well, how much do I need to live on in five months, and is it possible that I can pull some money out of my standard budget and decrease my expenses or increase my income even temporarily?”
[06:32] And that’s what we’re going be talking about today is some kind of temporary ways to get some cash coming in that you can then use to market your product, whether it’s through advertising or buying links or even hiring someone to produce a video, a screencast, or marketing video for you, or to outsource something to a VA that you otherwise would not, or to get design or development help.
[06:54] Anytime you can get a few more dollars coming into your product, you’re likely going to be better off. The first step really is to put together a budget and to figure out,
“What is the minimum amount of money that I can live on for the next five months?” And this is what we call, “your number. This is “your number.” This is what you need to live on, and the trick is…
[07:11] What we’re going to look at today is how to lower that number as much as possible even if only temporarily, and then figure out some creative ways to make you hit that number each month even if they’re not a sustainable approaches, because getting to launch is so important since so many people don’t make it there.
[07:25] Now, one caveat before we start talking. It’s a lot easier to do the things that we’re going to talk about if you’re single and you don’t have kids. It’s still possible to do them, but you know, you’re going to have to convince your wife or your husband, you know, your domestic partner, to go along with some of these. So, while being married you may not have the flexibility, most of these certainly are possible.
[07:44] Mike: Another thing to note is that some of the techniques that we’re going to talk about are not just helpful when you’re trying to start up and when you’re trying to get your application to launch. I mean they’re also helpful at other times. Obviously, the economy currently is kind of on its way back up, but it’s also very helpful to use some of these techniques when the economy is taking that downturn.
[08:04] Anytime your financial well-being is at risk, these are certainly techniques that you can use during those situations as well. I mean if you are married, and your spouse or your domestic partner loses their job, you can use any of these to help you cut back on your expenses.
[08:19] If you aren’t that position, if you are financially in a stable position, you can use these things to just cut down on your expenses so that you can start banking more money. And that will help you in the future if you decide to try and quit your job while your still bringing in money and you want to make a fulltime effort at growing your product afterwards.
[08:37] So, we just want to make this point clear that you’re not…although these are helpful ways to make ends make while you’re starting up, that’s not the sole purpose of it, and there’s a lot of different ways that this information can be useful to you.
[08:48] Rob: Yes, that’s a good point.
[08:50] Mike: One of the other things I want to point out is that, it’s very difficult to “find” money by starting doing consulting for people, because even if you have low maintenance clients, it can easily turn into full-time work.
[09:04] The biggest problem with consulting is that it can very, very quickly snowball, and you end up doing a little bit of consulting on the side, and the money’s great, and it turns into a lot of consulting, and before you know it, you’re doing consulting fulltime.
[09:16] It really distracts from your motivation of building whatever products that you have interested in, because you can sit there and try and spend 10 hours a week building something that realistically probably has a decent shot of making some money. But if you can spend those 10 hours instead doing consulting and make $100 an hour, well, it’s a guaranteed income now versus the potential income later, and it’s a gamble.
[09:39] Most programmers that I know don’t like to go to Vegas because they just don’t like to gamble. They know what the numbers are, and they look at it, and it’s very obvious to see what the returns are. And if you’re dealing with unknowns, it’s very difficult to make those commitments.
[09:52] So, consulting is just a hard way to find additional money. Even if you try to do it on the side in addition to a full-time job, what you end up with is your fulltime job and then your side job of doing consulting, which actually doesn’t help you build a product. So, just be very, very careful about trying to use consulting as a way to make extra money.
[10:11] Now we’re going to talk about the 11 ways we came up with to help make ends meet while you’re starting up and trying to get to your launch. The first way is to change your living situation.
[10:21] By this what we essentially mean is that if you’re living in an apartment, is there a way you can somehow lower your rent? Are there places where you could move that could potentially lower your rent? Even if it’s only by a couple hundred dollars a month, it’s a lot easier to do this, in some cases, than it is to do some of the other things on our list.
[10:42] If you’re living in a place where it costs maybe $1500 a month and you can move to another apartment that’s $1100 or a $1000 a month, it’s certainly worth looking into, because your rent or your mortgage payment is very likely to be your number one expense aside from paying yourself, of course. But that is by far the largest expense that most people have.
[11:02] You may very well consider moving to a cheaper city as well. I live in the Boston area, and it’s notoriously expensive to live here. If I were to move to upstate New York or up in the Adirondack Mountains or something like that, it is dirt, dirt cheap to find places to rent up there.
[11:16] I remember living in Buffalo at one point, and my rent was $285 a month, and that was all inclusive. I mean it was ridiculously cheap. So, there are certainly things out there that you can do, but you also have to remember that this is a very dramatic and drastic approach to cutting expenses.
[11:32] Rob: Number two is to think about selling a car if you have multiple cars. I actually have several friends who have their primary car, and then they have a fun car. You make a lot of money as a developer, and you buy a motorcycle, or you buy a second vehicle. And it’s interesting how much money can be locked up in that asset as well as the amount of insurance and gas and maintenance you have to put into that.
[11:54] Now, when my wife and I moved to Boston from New Haven, Connecticut, we actually sold one of our cars because there was enough mass transit in the Boston area that we only needed one car. All of the expenses on the car added up to between $150 and $200 a month, even though we didn’t have a car payment on the car. I was very surprised.
[12:10] So, depending on where you live, this can be a tough decision. But it’s something that you can seriously decrease your outgoing cash outlay if you think about selling a second car.
[12:20] Mike: Kind of a related point to that is if you can get rid of a car that you’ve got a car payment on and get a…I’ll call it a “lower-end vehicle” that meets your needs, but maybe it’s not the Lexus that you’re driving or whatever car that you’re currently driving. I mean, if you can eliminate your monthly payments on just about anything, that’s also going to help a lot, or however you manage to do that.
[12:40] Number three is to borrow money, and this is not something that we generally recommend, but we mention it here for the sake of completeness. You can certainly run up bills on your credit cards, or get a line of credit on your house or your business, or some existing assets that you already have, but this is an extremely risky maneuver and you really need to be extremely comfortable with doing it, because you can certainly put yourself in a position that moves from bad to worse very, very quickly.
[13:11] If your product doesn’t move, if you’re not able to market it well, if you’re not able to get the customers that you need in order to be able to not only support yourself, but to support the repayment of those bills or those loans that you’ve racked up in trying to get ahead, you could very well end up in bankruptcy or potentially a lot of financial difficulty that is going to seriously affect you for years to come.
[13:34] So, it’s something that you have to be very careful of and not something we generally recommend, but it is something that is possible to do if you can see the light at the end of the tunnel and got everything, all your ducks in a row, and you know exactly what it’s going to take to get to where you need to be, and the path and the return is very, very clear.
[13:53] Rob: Number four is to stop contributing to retirement. Again, this is a temporary thing we’re talking about. I bring this up because I actually did this a couple years ago when I was getting started and when I first stopped consulting. I stopped contributing to retirement for about a year. Since I was contributing out of pocket to two different IRA’s, it was somewhere around 650 bucks a month that I was putting out.
[14:17] I’m 35 years old, and I’ve consistently contributed to retirement for the past 10 years, and so taking one year off at that point was not a catastrophic move for me. And 650 bucks a month added back into our budget was a huge deal. It allowed me to make a move earlier that I would have had to wait several months to do. Again, not something I would recommend doing forever, but it absolutely can work over the short-term.
[14:42] Mike: Number five is to cutback on your landline. Your phone is a very static expense. You end up paying your phone bill every month, and it’s about the same every month, and there are alternatives out there. If you look at the short-term repayment schedule of switching to a new phone provider, it doesn’t look like a whole heck of a lot. But if you start doing the math to see how much you can save over time, you can certainly see how it justifies cutting some of those expenses.
[15:09] So, let me give you an example. If you’re paying, say, $35 a month for your phone service, which is probably about average in the U.S., you can switch over to a VoIP line like either Skype or Vonage, or 8×8. There are a bunch of different services out there that will give you a similar experience, I’ll say, for a lot less money. In the case of Vonage, you’ll save maybe $10 or $20 a month. In the case of Skype, you might pay $30, $40 for the year, and then not pay anything for it.
[15:40] And if you start doing the math on that, you say, “OK, well if it’s 12 months, $35 a month, that’s $425 a year. It doesn’t sound like a whole lot of money every month, 35 bucks. But, if you compare that to the cost of Skype, which is only, let’s call it $50, you can save yourself a good $350, $370 over the course of the year. And that $370 could be the difference between paying for a particular marketing effort for your product and not being able to afford it.
[16:08] So, make sure you look at all your different options. There are tons of VoIP solutions out there. If you have a cell phone, you can certainly look at other options such as a prepaid cell phone. We ended up getting my wife, for example, a prepaid cell phone because she was paying $45 a month for her phone, and I think on several occasions she used maybe one or two minutes a month. So, she was basically paying $45 a minute for her phone calls. It’s just not worth it.
[16:34] So, definitely look at all your options. Any sort of expenses like this you can certainly re-evaluate what’s out there and look at the long-term benefits of those options.
[16:42] Rob: Yes, I think to piggyback on that, I haven’t had a landline in probably six, seven years. Once I got a cell phone where I had over 1,000 minutes, it’s like do you really need a landline anymore? So, that’s really…
[16:52] Mike: Really?
[16:53] Rob: Yes.
[16:55] Mike: I don’t use anywhere near 1,000 minutes. I only have my cell phone at this point, and I have an iPhone, and I just use the 450-minute plan. I didn’t is it very much for the first couple of months, and then after that, all my rollover minutes started racking up. I’ve got a couple thousand [laughs].
[17:09] Rob: Yes, I know. I have 1,100, but my wife and I are both on it, and we were using maybe 600 combined – 600 to 700 combined together. We had 5,000 rollback minutes or….or not rollback, but rollover minutes.
[17:21] Mike: [laughs] Rollover.
[17:22] Rob: Yes, and then we wound up dropping way down. I think we are on a 500 minutes a month, and we’re going over that every month, but we have so many rollover minutes, that we’re fine for the…I think for a year is how long the rollover minutes will stick around. So, then at that year I think we’ll kick it back up.
[17:36] But, it’s surprising how little that saved us. I literally think going from 1,100 down to whatever we’re at, 600 or 700 now, I seriously think it was like 10 bucks a month discount. So, it wasn’t huge, but, yes, we do use our cells for everything.
[17:49] Mike: Mm-hmm. Cool.
[17:51] Rob: Number six is to take on a roommate. And this one may sound like it’s for single people only, but my wife and I actually had a roommate when we lived in LA when we first moved down there, and we were a little younger, and we didn’t have any kids. We rented out a room, and it really helped. It’s crazy how much it helped add to the bottom line to get 500 bucks, 600 bucks a month for a room.
[18:13] Or, we had a back house at the next house that we rented out for $1,100 a month. And that’s insane when you think about, depending on what your mortgage is, that can cover more than half of a lot of people’s mortgages.
[18:22] I know other friends who rent out their basement, and they do a short lease, like a 6-month or 12-month lease. And, again, not something you have to do forever, but it’s a decent way to raise some cash on an on-going basis.
[18:35] Mike: Number seven is very much related to number five is to cut back on your cell phone plan. I suppose I jumped the gun a little bit and already gave my example of my wife going from a standard monthly contract for a cell phone down to a prepaid cellular plan, but there are other ways that you can cut down on your cell phone expenses as well.
[18:52] I mean, if you simplify your plan or you roll multiple phones into a family plan or something along those lines, if it can save you 20, 25 bucks a month, it’s certainly worth looking at, especially because it’s a long-term expense. If you do things like this, you’ll definitely notice it after a couple of months.
[19:08] Rob: To piggyback on that, my wife and I used to not be on a family plan. It wasn’t with AT&T, but it was with Sprint probably seven or eight years ago, and combining into a family plan did save us 20 or 30 bucks a month. So, it’s definitely something to look at.
[19:21] Number eight is to find a new daycare or private school. I realize this is a big jump for a lot of people, and it’s tough to change daycares. But when my wife and I lived in Boston, we seriously evaluated moving my son to a lower cost daycare. As everyone knows, daycare is crazy expensive, and we found a nice daycare that was going to save us about $700 a month off of the daycare we were at.
[19:45] If you don’t have kids, that probably sounds insane that we were going to save $700 a month on daycare. We actually spoke with the owner of the daycare we were at, and we mentioned that due to changes with my work, we were going to have to make some cutbacks, and we were considering moving him. And she actually offered to reduce our rate, and she essentially met us in the middle and said, “I’ll reduce your rate by 400 bucks a month.”
[2 I totally…I was shocked. We were not there to make a deal or to negotiate or try to talk her down. We were going to leave and save the money, because I was moving from consulting into only running the products, and in essence I was taking a pay cut. But it worked out really well. At the price she offered, it was more than worth it just to stick around and not disrupt his schedule.
[20:24] But, for a lot of people, daycare or private school can be your number two expense after your mortgage, so it’s something to seriously look at and consider.
[20:33] Mike: My wife and I looked at switching daycares at one point, and the one thing you have to be careful of is…and it really depends on who your daycare provider is, but if it’s more of an establishment/institution, and by that I mean like a full-fledged business, as opposed to somebody running a daycare out of their home, you may have signed a contract that says you’re going to stick around.
[20:52] Depending on your reasons for switching, they may or may not be terribly flexible with you, so that is something to be careful of. But, Rob’s absolutely right. I mean, that is a huge, huge expense for people who have kids and are trying to look at ways to cut money.
[21:06] The ninth way that you can help cut expenses is through your cable bill. If you can cut down on the level of service you have, or if you can get rid of your cable service entirely, you can easily save $60, $70 a month. I mean, there are a lot of people who pay more than a $100 a month for cable, and I’ll be perfectly honest. I’m one of them.
[21:24] But, lumped into my cable bill is also the Verizon FiOS service that I get 25 meg up and download speed, so I’m not about to cut that out. I kind of need that at this point [laughs]. I don’t see myself living without that level of internet access.
[21:38] But again, we’re talking about strictly cable here, and if there are ways that you can cut out cable…I mean the fact of the matter is, should you be watching TV? Should you be spending your time watching TV when you could be spending it on your product? The answer is probably not, and if you really need a little bit of entertainment, there are other options out there, especially if you have cut down on your cable bill in favor of your internet access speeds.
[22:02] You can certainly get Netflix. A cheap subscription to Netflix for maybe 15 bucks, that will get you the ability to stream movies down to your machine. There’s Hulu as an option. There are all these other options out there that are much, much cheaper than cable. And if you can get them, you’ll find that you’ll save a lot of money over just paying for your cable bill.
[22:22] Rob: Yes, I’ve talked about it before, but we cancelled cable several years ago and haven’t had it since, and really never looked back on that one. Like, I have never regretted it. We have Netflix. We pay 16 bucks a month, I think, and we have three DVD’s that come to us, and then we get unlimited stream. And we paid $79 bucks for Roku.com.
[22:41] It’s this little box that plugs into your TV, and it has a wireless network card in it, and you can just stream Netflix right to your TV. The HD model is like 110 or something, but we have the standard definition. And so we can stream all the Netflix streaming stuff to our TV. And we rent movies on Amazon Unbox, so you pay between two and four bucks for a standard definition movie, and you can get some newer releases then on the Netflix streaming.
[23:05] So, those are our main movie avenues, and then we also watch a lot on Hulu, and we watch ABC.com, NBC.com, and even networks like AMC since we watch the show, “Mad Men.” Even those guys put their TV shows up online now, so it’s really easy to follow a handful of shows, which is probably what we should be doing, anyway, right?
[23:23] The danger of cable that I always had is when I just kind of wanted to zone out, I would go and just turn on the TV and flip and just watch crap. You get more commercials than TV, and you just flip through the channels. And I haven’t done that now in years. And so, I think this is not only a way to save money, but a way to save a good amount of time.
[23:41] Mike: The other thing with Netflix is, if you have an Xbox, you can stream movies for Netflix down directly to your Xbox and watch them on your TV. And then if you have a PS3 or a Nintendo Wii, there are these special disks that you can get that you just plug those in, and then you can stream the movies through Netflix.
[24:00] Because there’s some licensing agreement that Netflix has with Microsoft where they couldn’t install software on competitive devices, and the way they got around it was by supplying a disk so that nothing actually gets installed, which was I thought was pretty interesting. And I don’t know if that’s completely true or not, or how accurate that is, but that’s what I’ve heard.
[24:18] Rob: Nice loophole there. Number 10 is to sell stuff on eBay. A colleague of ours actually made almost $10,000 with this approach, and I made about 500 bucks a month for three or four months back-to-back when I first stopped consulting. I sold old books. I had computers. I had a laptop. I had a monitor. I had two old digital cameras. I had unopened boxes of software, a mountain bike, a guitar. Surfboards, I had two surfboards, two wetsuits.
[24:46] Now, this approach does take some time, but in the situation I was in, I was stopping fulltime consulting and focusing on products, and so all of a sudden I had tons…I had a lot of free time. And so to sit down and make 500 bucks a month just posting some stuff on eBay or on Craigslist really was well worth it at the time just so I could hit my number each month.
[25:06] And I remember selling 400 or 500 bucks worth of stuff and then I’d stop doing it when I’d focus on work, and then the next month would kick around, and I’d say, “All right, I’ve got to make my number this month,” and I’d go out in the garage and in the bookshelf and look for other stuff that we hadn’t used. It was…it’s not true profit, right? You are not actually making profit, but it’s a short-term realization of some income, and that’s precisely the point of this episode.
[25:30] Mike: And the eleventh way that we’ve come up with is to cut down on your food bill. If you go to any supermarket, there’s a world of difference between buying name-brand food versus buying the store brand stuff. So, whether you’re looking at cereal…and cereal’s a huge place where you can save money.
[25:48] But, there’s also, in the meat section, for example, if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan, there are huge, huge differences between the top steaks that they’re selling and the lower end ones, and if you’re going to look at food as a place where you can cut down on the amount of money that you’re spending, that’s a great place to start. Whether you’re looking at seafood, or you’re looking at the difference between steak and hamburger, you can save tons and tons of money just by buying things either in bulk, or buying the lower end products.
[26:18] And this isn’t something you have to do forever. There are people out there who love to have, for example, organic foods. And personally, my preference is to buy organic when I can and buy local and everything else. But you know what? You have to pick and choose your battles, and if going after monetary savings is something that you’re interested in, you have to decide what’s more important. And this may very well be a good place to start cutting some of your expenses.
[26:42] Another place where you can cut, very much related to food, is on alcohol. I mean if you buy a case a beer a month, if you just don’t buy that, you can save 15, 20 bucks a month depending on what your, I guess, level [laughs] of consumption is, I’ll call it, and what types of alcohol you’re interested in.
[27:01] That doesn’t go for just alcohol. Obviously, there are other foods. My personal favorite is Swedish fish. I love buying Swedish fish all the time and Everlasting Gobstoppers, and I could reasonably cut out several dollars out of our monthly food bill every month just by cutting out those little treats. Chocolate is another one that tends to be fairly expensive if you buy a fair amount of it. If you just look at your food bill, every single time that you go to the grocery you look at it and say, “Well, I didn’t need to buy that, or I didn’t need to buy that.”
[27:29] One of the things that if you look at the “Why Combinate Our Lifestyle?”, I’ll call it, when they’re encouraging their startups to spend as little money as possible, I distinctly remember seeing one of Paul Grahams posts where he commented that they actually encourage people to eat a lot of Ramen noodles, and they have a dish…I forget exactly what it was, but it was something along the lines of rice and beans for dinner.
[27:52] That’s very, very cheap. I mean you can get a huge bag of rice for a couple of dollars. You can get lots of beans for a couple of dollars, and you can make a fairly healthy meal out of all that very, very cheap. Food is definitely another place where you can cut expenses.
[28:06] Rob: Yeah, I think Paul actually published a recipe for chili. It was like vegetarian chili, and then it had rice with it too, so you could kind of spice it up and not just do basic rice and beans all the time.
[28:17] But I think you’ve touched on a good point a couple times during that, and it’s that you have to figure out what this is worth to you. You have to figure out which of these 11 you can live with, which of these 11 sacrifices you can live with.
[28:30] And for some, maybe food and a glass of wine, that is what you live for, and you just absolutely are not going to do that, and that’s fine. But pick another few items from this list. There has to be something in here that you don’t hold so dear to your hear that you’re just going to cry yourself to sleep at night if you don’t have it.
[28:45] And if you can’t find anything on this list to cut back on, then maybe launching a project is not worth the sacrifice. Maybe it’s not worth it to you, or maybe you’re just more willing to spend 10 months and stand a real chance of not launching.
[28:59] So, I think that while we certainly don’t think that anyone’s going to do all 11 of these things, it’s kind of like looking at yourself and your family situation– which of these things are going to work best for you?
[29:10] Mike: That’s a great point. I mean I think it’s unrealistic to think that you can do all of these, but if you find that you can’t do even one of them, then something’s got to give someplace. If that’s the case, then what’s going to end up giving is your commitment to launching your product.
[29:25] So, to recap a little bit, the 11 ways that you can use to help make ends meet while you’re starting up are, number one, change your living situation. Either move to a cheaper city or find cheaper housing.
[29:38] Number two is to sell a car if you have multiple cars or multiple vehicles, or downgrade your car. You can also borrow money. Again, not something we recommend, but if you have a light at the end of the tunnel, and you’re almost there, and you absolutely need to do it, if you’re not too risk averse, it’s certainly something you an look into.
[29:54] Number four is to stop contributing to retirement temporarily. Again, this is just a temporary thing that you want to do. You don’t want to do this for too long, but if you’re in a good financial situation, you can certainly afford to stop contributing to retirement for a little while.
[30:08] Number five is to cut back on your landline. If you can get rid of it, great. If not, there are other options in terms of cutting down on the amount of money that you pay every month by going to a VoIP solution.
[30:18] Number six is to take on a roommate. If your house has the capacity to support having a roommate, you can usually cut down on the amount that either your mortgage or your rent is by a significant margin.
[30:30] Rob: Number seven is to cut down on your cell phone plan. Number eight is to find a new daycare or private school. Number nine is to cut back on your cable bill or cancel it all together. Number 10 is to sell your stuff on eBay or Craigslist. And number eleven is to cut back on your food and alcohol expenses.
[30:49] Mike: I like number 10 the most. I think I’m going to sell your stuff on eBay.
[30:52] Rob: My stuff on eBay?
[30:55] Rob: Nice, that is a good one.
[30:59] Mike: So, we have a listener question for the week, and this one if from Mike Currie from Toronto, Ontario. And he writes in to us:
[31:06] “I’m finishing up a virtual stock trading platform and prediction API,” and he gives an URL for this: www.algxchange.com, “and I’m kind of stuck. I have the functionality that I want. I have set up my analytics as well as constantly tweak things. However, my lack of design and my budget is very low. How can I spiff up my site so that I can launch? I would appreciate your valuable feedback on my site.”
[31:31] Rob: So, algxchange.com is a virtual trading platform and a stock market prediction API. I have to admit upfront that I don’t really understand this market. And Mike, if you’re planning to market this yourself as a solepreneur or micropreneur, I think you might run into some issues.
[31:48] Unless you have a bead on this market, I can’t imagine there are a lot of searches that you’re going to be able to tap into or any real low cost marketing ways to drive people to this site. So, that’s my take on the market, not that you asked, but I’m just not sure it’s going to be viable as a one-person company if that’s how you’re approaching it.
[32:05] But, to answer your question, which is, “How can I spiff up my site when I have a lack of design skill and my budget is low?” I have two thoughts here. One is you want to spiff up both your sales site and your app section, the application section since you’re a web-based app, but I think that judging by your home page, it’s pretty….it’s reasonable right now, right?
[32:24] And if your app inside looks this reasonable, I mean, you have some nice blue and grays, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. I think that if your app delivers on what you promise and the price point is right, then people will use your app itself if it looks like this.
[32:36] Your sales page, your sales site part, I think that could use some revamping, and I’ve two ideas for that. The first is to use WordPress and to buy premium themes. The premium themes just give you an instantly professionally looking designs. So you can go to Woo Themes, or Theme Forest. There’s a number of…if you go to Google and type in “premium WordPress themes,” you’ll be inundated with a lot of really high-end themes, and they’re very inexpensive and easy to use.
[33:02] The other thing I would recommend is using any of the suggestions we’ve made in this podcast about how to raise just a few hundred dollars quickly. You can find a pretty killer designer on Elance, or Odesk, or a number of other places for a few hundred bucks. Like if your…it looks like your sales website might be four or five pages, I mean, seriously, to get someone to design this and build it out into HTML CSS, you can easily get this done between 600 and a 1000 bucks.
[33:30] And I think we’ve just named a number of ways on how to raise 600 or 1000 bucks in a month or two. So, even if your budget is low, I still think you can get a custom design if you decide you don’t want to go the WordPress Premium Theme route.
[33:42] Mike: Those are great suggestions, Rob. And I think my take on it is, I would agree that the homepage definitely looks reasonable. I don’t think that there’s anything particularly wrong with that. But if you take look over…if people are looking at this…you look at the top right of the homepage, the navigation is really far out of sight, I’ll say. It’s just not brought to the forefront. It’s not particularly obvious that there’s anything other than this front page in this “Getting Started” link.
[34:08] To be perfectly honest, that top navigation bar, it actually blends in with my browser. I didn’t even notice it at first. I went to the site, looked at it for a couple minutes, and it took me a little while before I even saw that there were other links up there. So that might be part of an underlying issue that you might want to look at, just the color scheme for that gray at the top.
[34:26] And then in terms of some of the other pages, for example, the pricing page, I might cut down on what is on the pricing page, maybe have two different pricing pages, one for the stock prediction pricing and one for the virtual API, so that it’s very clear that you’re looking at two different things. Maybe throw some images on here.
[34:44] Images you can get for very low cost through iStock photo or other similar websites. I mean, it will cost you a couple of dollars to get some professional images that you can embed into your site and use them royalty-free.
[34:57] And then, in terms of your sign up page, I would definitely probably cut down on a lot of the information that you’re requesting on here. And I understand that it says flat out, “Fill out as much as you’re comfortable with, and then click sign up,” but I think that just at a glance, that page of information that’s requested is a little bit overwhelming.
[35:15] So, I would probably cut down on a lot of that information that you’re putting in there, maybe just a name, email address, and password. And I think that your conversion rates would probably go up for the people who are visiting your site. So, those are the suggestions that I have off the top of my head.
[35:33] Mike: So, that wraps it up for today’s episode. If you have a question or comment, please call it in to our voicemail number at: 1-888-801-9690, or you can email it in an mp3 or text format to firstname.lastname@example.org.
[35:47] If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider writing a review in iTunes by searching for “startups.” You can subscribe to this podcast in iTunes or via RSS at startupsfortherestofus.com.
[35:57] Our theme music is an excerpt of, “We’re Out of Control,” by MoOt, used under Creative Commons. A full transcript of this podcast is available at our website, StartupsForTheRestOfUs.Com. We’ll see you next time.