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How to Launch a Project in 3 Hours

I’m a huge fan of Ruby on Rails because of how fast it enables techies to get a new project out the door and into the hands of users. For non-programmers Ruby on Rails is a development framework brought to you by 37Signals that powers some of your favorite sites, like Basecamp, Twitter, LinkedIn and Hulu.

Combine Ruby on Rails with some free CSS frameworks and APIs, and those in the programming know can develop version 1 applications far faster than ever possible.

Last Friday I was feeling unmotivated and a bit creative so I started thinking about how to scratch that itch. My business partner in a few ventures has done a brilliant job authoring a simple personality test for fun and we had just finished a very lengthy validation study to ensure its results were indeed sound.

I decided it was time dust off my programming fingers and put it online. The goal was to collect data, score the data and produce a report that compared people’s personality to everyone else in our database. I wanted to get it done as quickly as possible to see how people reacted to it and whether or not it was worth putting much energy into long-term.

Three Iterations + Three Hours of Coding = Version 1

Hour 1, Friday: Data collection page that collects and saves data

Innate Data Collection v1

Hour 2, Saturday: I finished the v1 report graph and registered our domain name, innateindex.com.

Innate Report v1

Hour 3, Sunday: Another hour on Sunday gave way to v1 report pushing live some tweaks to help text.

innate v2 report

We’ve since had a few hundred people check it out with minimal efforts on marketing and have made a few tweaks based on their feedback. You can take the Innate Index for yourself at innateindex.com.

What I used to get it done:

1) Ruby on Rails – The programming framework that controls the system

2) Blueprint – A CSS framework that allows non-designers like me to create layouts that are good enough. I’m not a designer, but I do have a good idea on what makes a good layout. Blueprint is great for people like me to get something released for others to kick around.

3) Google Charts API – A free and dead simple charting API that produces the graphs. I send it all the data as part of the image tag, it returns an image matching exactly what I asked for. No need for purchasing anything

What’s the Point? What does this have to do with Business and Productivity?

There’s a hidden point here that is much bigger than “modern programming is awesome.” As a programmer or techie entrepreneur, it’s never been easier to get a project up and running. If you have an idea that you think you can make money one day, just get going with it. Get something out there and get it out early. It doesn’t need to be perfect, start something and see how people react to the idea.

In our case, the out of pocket costs here were $11 for a domain and a few hours of time. If I didn’t program myself, we could have found someone to help on oDesk and our costs would probably have been $100-$400 to get here. If things take off, we’ll hire a designer to make it prettier. We’ll add in more functionality to make it easy to share. We’ll give people more reasons to want to share.

We know there are a bunch of ways to make money off of a validated personality test, all of which are predicated on being able to show we have a lot of data and statistics that show the data supports the results we give to people so that’s what we focus on for now.

What’s the outcome?

It’s been one week we’ve had about 150 complete the Innate Index so far with minimal “marketing.” What we have now is far from perfect, but we’ll get it there if it proves to be worth the effort. We are having fun seeing how people react and how it spreads.

I recognize this isn’t world-changing success. First versions of anything we produce rarely are. What it has done for my partner and me is make us both pretty motivated to keep the development going.

Prior to pushing the Innate Index live for others to take it, we had the ready-to-do-something validated questionnaire for about a month or two. 150 may not seem like a lot but its 150 more than we had when we were sitting on our thumbs thinking we needed the whole grand scheme mapped out before we could do anything. These 150 give us something pretty valuable: the motivation to continue to take action.

Now it’s your turn.

Think about the projects, ideas or initiatives you’ve been sitting on that might benefit you, your family or your business. What can you do in a few hours to get them going and see if they’re worth the space they occupy in your mind or on your lists?

Oh yeah, and take the Innate Index. :)

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