Behind the Scenes of Building a Product in 1 Day: Emojibombs
Creating things takes a lot of work. But creating things in one day? Well that’s just downright crazy.
Recently I was a Skype call with my buddy Paul when the conversation shifted from whatever topic we were supposed to be focused on over to emojis. (You know, as most Skype conversations naturally transition.)
While joking around, we landed on a silly idea: What if we created fictional origin stories for emojis and asked the Internet to pay to receive one of these stories every day for a year?
We both laughed at the idea and moved on from it. But then the idea pestered us. A few days later I woke up thinking about how fun it would be to read an emoji origin story amidst all the other emails in my inbox. I hopped in the Slack channel Paul and I have (called “Rat People” after this article). I told Paul I couldn’t stop thinking about these emoji stories and that we should make it happen. He said he was also thinking about them.
The longer we chatted in Slack to more decisions we made:
- We’d call the daily emails “Emojibombs”
- We’d build the product of Emojibombs in 1 day
- We’d let the Internet watch us do it and submit their own emoji origin stories
- It would be cheap to buy
- It would be a fun idea, something super silly
Quick aside here: We, as a collective group of makers/creators/entrepreneurs, get very caught up in business. Meaning, we base decisions on outcomes that increase the bottom line and that have concrete ROI. But what about fun? What about doing things just to scratch an itch and to stretch our creativity? Fun was the biggest reason we decided Emojibombs had to be created. Read more about fun and business here. Okay, let’s get back to the journey…
We decided June 1 (a Wednesday) would be a good day to build and launch Emojibombs. At the time we put it on our calendars, it was a relatively quiet week. Unbeknownst to me, it ended being one of the busiest weeks I’ll have in all of 2016 (no joke). Nonetheless, we picked a date and committed to it.
Our plan of attack looked like this:
- We’d set up a kick-off Crowdcast (live video event) for June 1 at 9am* PDT
- Paul would include a mention to the Crowdcast in his May 29 Sunday Dispatches (his weekly newsletter)
- I would include a mention to the Crowdcast in my May 30 Action Army newsletter
- We’d share the link to the Crowdcast on both of our Twitter accounts
- Everything** would be done live on June 1***!
*: Paul and I both wake up fairly early. When I woke up at 6am on June 1, I’d already received a message from Paul saying he wished we’d set the kick-off call for way earlier. We spent the hours of 6am – 9am twiddling our thumbs and being super antsy to get started. We’ll start earlier the next time we do this. Hah.
**: “Everything” meant almost everything. With experience, we knew that registering a domain name and getting all the DNS/SSL stuff done ahead of time would help us avoid any dreaded domain propagation issues. Paul did this stuff a few weeks in advance.
***: Neither of us had done a 1-day project before. We’d created plenty of things in the past, but building anything in one day presents a ton of challenges. I’d say we were both a little nervous, but we were also confident that we could get it done based on the scope of the project.
After our emails went out to our lists, we had 335 people registered for the live event. We pitched it as a “mysterious” and “silly” event.
On the morning of June 1 our Slack was buzzing with ideas for Emojibombs. Especially in the 3+ hours when we were awake waiting for our own Crowdcast to start. It was hard for us not to start doing things, but even harder when people started messaging us in anticipation…
9am PDT FINALLY rolled around, and we were ready to kick things off… or so we thought. Paul and I have used Crowdcast for almost all our projects in the past year. We’ve done at least 10 Crowdcasts together, and I’ve done another 10 on my own (yes, I can do things without Paul!). But on this day, the launch day for Emojibombs, Crowdcast did not want to cooperate.
At first, I couldn’t see Paul’s video. Then I could see him, but I couldn’t hear him. Then he could see me, but he couldn’t hear. It was a terrible game of “who’s on first,” but some of the time you couldn’t hear/see the other person. Luckily one of the founders from Crowdcast was in the chat and quickly jumped in to help us out. I’m not sure if he power-cycled the Crowdcast modem or if he pulled out the cartridge and blew on it Nintendo style, but after a few minutes of panic, things finally started working correctly and we were on our way. Of course I grabbed a screenshot amidst all the technical troubles:
Another quick aside: I share the technical hiccup here, not to criticize Crowdcast. I’m actually a very happy paying customer of Crowdcast (that’s my affiliate link) and think they have a fantastic live video/webinar platform. I share this because things will always go wrong. Something will break. Something will not work properly. Some cartridge will need to be pulled out and blown on (that sounded dirty, but stop it, it’s a Nintendo reference!). Plan for the technical glitches and allow yourself to take a deep breath in the moment and figure out how to overcome the obstacle staring you in the face.
Anyhoodle, we Crowdcasted. Over 100 people were watching us live as we finally told the world what this “mysterious” and “silly” emoji-related project would be. I remember a few things happened right as we explained what Emojibombs would become:
- About 30-40 people immediately left the Crowdcast (to be expected, some people hate emojis – weird, I know!)
- About 10-20 people had no clue what we were talking about
- A handful of people wanted to pay us money right then and there
- A handful of people had lots of idea for how we should do things, what we should charge, and other feedback that would derail us
It’s an interesting thing to announce a project to a group of people and then say you’re going to go build it in 1 day. While we appreciated the advice and thoughts of the people on the live call, we also knew we’d never get Emojibombs created and launched if we tried to make everyone happy. We had an initial plan (an idea for an MVP, if you will) and were going to stick to that plan.
It was also interesting to watch people leave a live event, essentially saying “I don’t like this idea.” But, as Paul and I have both learned over the years, seeing those people leave is a good thing. They weren’t interested in Emojibombs and we’d rather not spend time trying to convince them otherwise. There were also plenty of other people who were watching and excited about it. I had to avoid worrying about people not liking the idea to focus on the larger number of people who were ready to support us.
As we wrapped up the Crowdcast, we wrote down a list of the immediate next steps:
- Paul would install his Nada WordPress theme on Emojibombs so we could start writing updates on a 1-page blog for people to read.
- Paul would put an email capture somewhere on Emojibombs so folks could get updates emailed to them throughout the day.
- Paul would work on the branding and logo.
- Paul would create the initial automation sequences and subscriber groups in Mailchimp.
- I would setup the Stripe account so we could accept money from people who thought Emojibombs would be fun to get each day. (We decided on a price point of $11.)
- I would start organizing all the screenshots and conversations we were having so we could share updates throughout the day.
- I would try to keep us on some semblance of a schedule (11am for the next email, 1pm for launch. Both deadlines we failed to make… haha).
Paul and I have worked on a bunch of projects together now. We’re both acutely aware of our strengths. Paul handles most of the technical and design aspects. I handle the administrative and organizational aspects. If this was our first project together, it would probably have been a complete disaster. But, because we’ve worked together so many times before, we knew exactly what the other person would be doing and we trusted each other. Plus, (and this is one of the most important parts of creating a project in 1 day) we have a dedicated Slack channel where we over-communicate with each other. I can’t imagine trying to do this project, or any other project we work on together, without Slack.
Within the first hour, we were off to the races…
Mailchimp had been setup. Stripe had been activated. People were sitting on the website refreshing incessantly.
— Zach Holloway (@zgholloway) June 1, 2016
We even started to do some marketing. Which, for us, just meant sharing sarcastic updates on social media and other places we already have attention (like other Slack channels).
I remember taking a moment to realize my brain was zooming around a mile-a-minute, and I thought I should take a look at my heart rate on my Fitbit to see if my heart rate matched my mind rate. It did:
Note: Paul would have shared his Fitbit heart rate too, but his wife Lisa had taken his phone with her to go run some errands. He said his heart rate was in the 60s, but I didn’t believe him (and since he couldn’t send me a photo of proof, we’ll never know…).
Paul had just finished creating an initial logo and we hopped on Skype to check in with one another and record a short video. Here is that video:
Almost immediately after we finished filming that video we hit our first bump in the road. And by bump, I mean flipped over semi-truck that was carrying 20,000 tons of glue and covered the entire build-a-project-in-1-day highway we were driving down.
< Insert Project Drama >
Mailchimp had flagged our brand new account for compliance issues…
Now, why is this such a big deal? Well, if I haven’t cleared explained it, Emojibombs is completely driven by email. It’s a daily emoji origin story sent to someone’s inbox. Mailchimp is the company that would be handling that sending for us. If Mailchimp flagged our account for something and we couldn’t get the compliance issue resolved quickly, it would be almost impossible to launch this project in 1 day.
Paul reached out to Mailchimp through their support form and explained what we were doing and that we didn’t understand why we were being flagged for compliance. We did have a few thoughts as to why it might have happened:
- The speed at which he created an account, made a list, made groups, created an automation, designed an email template, and imported our 350+ Crowdcast attendees emails could look robotic (because speed = robots).
- We were using the word “bombs.” (Paul didn’t think this was actually a problem and while I agreed with him, a small part of me was skeptical).
Before I share whether we got out of Mailchimp Jail or not, I’ll pause to take a moment to share what it feels like when you have a vision for your idea and something out of your control yanks the rug out from under your ideating feet.
It freakin’ sucks. But, any time you work with another provider or service (Mailchimp, Stripe, etc), you are always at their mercy. This is just a known fact that you have to consider and deal with. While we were upset, we also knew this was a possibility and had to come up with other possible solutions if things didn’t work out in our favor (read: escape Mailchimp Jail with only a dull spork, our wits, and a map made from potato skins).
A funny thing happened when we posted that Mailchimp had put us in temporary jail. Someone from the ConvertKit team sent me a tweet:
@jasondoesstuff if only there was another way! ?
— ConvertKit (@ConvertKit) June 1, 2016
If you aren’t familiar with them, ConvertKit is actually the email marketing provider I switched to earlier this year (from Mailchimp). I’m a very happy ConvertKit customer and the only reason we didn’t use them is because Paul is a Mailchimp Wizard (like, Level 12 wizard). While their tweet was funny, it was also a good backup plan if Mailchimp didn’t release us from their compliance clutches.
And then we got an email…
PHEW! Talk about a sigh of relief.
We took a moment to enjoy our victorious escape and immediately got back to work. Truthfully though, we hadn’t just been twiddling our thumbs while we waited anxiously to hear back from Mailchimp. Paul finished the Emojibombs logo and put together a mockup for the homepage. He also finished up the Emojibombs email template:
Paul got Stripe hooked up and we made our first sale! Kind of… I completed a test sale with a live form and my actual credit card. Hey, I’m excited to get these Emojibombs too!
During that time I decided to tackle our user submitted emoji stories. Paul and I had discussed using TypeForm, but then we realized, why not use our own product ofCourseBooks? It could totally work to collect people’s emoji stories, and it’s nice to be able to give another one of our products some exposure while we have people’s attention.
Once the ofCourseBooks emoji workbook was completed (which took a matter of minutes), I wrote a post asking for emoji stories. If you’re interested, we’re still happily accepting submissions. (If your story is chosen, you receive credit and a link in the body of the Emojibomb, so it’s actually not a bad marketing idea…)
At this point in the day, it was about 1pm PDT. Originally we planned to have an email out to our Crowdcast attendees with an update at 11am (whoops!). We also planned to have launched Emojibombs for sale by this time. Two strikes, but we’re not out!
We decided to hop on video and record another quick chat. At the 3-minute mark we talk about missing our initial time goals. But, the entire video is worth a watch if you’re interested in hearing about all the stuff we were working on in that moment.
And another aside: When it comes to any project, it’s important to set milestones and time constraints. You don’t have to go crazy, but we’ve found that if you don’t put limitations on things, they can tend to drag on and on. On the flip side, when you set milestones and don’t hit them, you have to understand that the majority of milestones are completely arbitrary and made up. You don’t want to get down on yourself just because you missed a self-imposed deadline. You just re-configure the deadline, maybe try to understand why you missed it (so you can learn going forward), and you push on.
At around 2pm, we became professional product-jugglers (which is way less dangerous than chainsaw-jugglers). This was the point in the project when a ton of things were being tossed around and worked on at one time:
- Paul was working on the website (design and code)
- I was (finally) writing the first update email to our list of 350ish people
- I was editing our video updates
- We were both tweeting (which doesn’t sound like much, but takes time)
- I was monitoring the emoji story submissions through ofCourseBooks
- I wrote copy for the Emojibombs about page
- I created a Google Doc where we’d keep/organize the actual daily Emojibombs
- We both needed to take a break to eat some food and keep our sanity
- We set a new launch time to 3:30pm
After we returned from our short break (probably 15 minutes), Paul sent me a message and told me he’d “made it rain emojis!” And that, he certainly did:
It was at this moment I did a little happy dance. The idea for Emojibombs didn’t exist in the world a few weeks prior. The actual website was nothing just a few hours before. And yet here we were and Paul had just designed and coded up a super fun homepage, something to really reflect the silliness and side-projectness of Emojibombs.
From there, we had a bunch of loose ends to tie up.
Creating success page redirects on purchases or freebie signups: This gives the user a nice experience after they purchased or signed for a free Emojibomb (instead of just a green check mark in the Stripe modal or short 1-line success message). Plus, we always add “social intent” to our thank you pages. The people who buy your stuff are the most willing to share, you have to make it easy for them!
Adding in the first few emoji origin stories to Mailchimp automations: We knew we only needed one story for the buyers list and one story for the freebie list. Some people may have thought we intended on writing all 365 emoji stories in 24 hours. I don’t think 20 stories would have be possible, let alone those stories plus building the product itself. Getting these first two done was a moral victory.
Flipping the buy page live (which Paul had to think on, but quickly figured out): There was a funny moment in Slack when Paul said “Hrm… how do I make this live?” I started to type a response, nothing that would have actually been helpful (because I’m not a Level 12 wizard like Paul). And then before I could send my message, he wrote back “I got it!” He had created a private page to build the actual homepage, then he had to set it as the front page in WordPress (which would move the blog off the current homepage). Emojibombs was live!
Hitting SEND on our first sales email to all the folks who subscribed today: I wrote our “sales” email to our entire list (since no one had purchased at this point). 373 people would get our initial sales email saying that you could buy Emojibombs for $11.
Cleaning up the mess we made on our desktops (so many screenshots!): Hahah. Yeah. Building something in 1 day is hard, but sharing all the steps in the process is an undertaking in itself. At one point I counted 72 screenshots on my desktop. I like to keep the amount of screenshots on my desktop under 10 at all times so there was some serious desktop anxiety going on.
We actually tied up these loose ends on video, so we could capture the moment we pushed Emojibombs live and (hopefully) got our first sale (or two). Here’s our final video:
And you may have heard us mention it in the video above, but we wanted to give some extra love to Zach Holloway who was our first Emojibombs buyer (after me, of course). You rock Zach!
And believe it or not, at around 5pm we had completed and launched Emojibombs.
After a solid 8 hours of work, we had a living, breathing, purchasable product that didn’t exist before. I know I can speak for Paul when I say that we were happy, but that our brains also felt a bit like mush. Focusing on anything as intensely as we did for 8 hours will leave you a little brain-fried and ready for a break. We did celebrate our launch with a fun GIF:
Let’s take a look at the numbers since launch day (now about 5 days after)
Total traffic to Emojibombs:
- On June 1, the day we built it: 1,345 visitors
- June 1 – June 5: 3,295 total visitors
- 47% of traffic has come from direct sources (our emails and people typing the domain)
- 28% of traffic has come from social media (85% of that is Twitter)
- 23% of traffic has come from other websites (Product Hunt and Designer News being the highest referrers)
- 1 single person came from Digg.com, which I just find funny and random
Here are our running expenses:
- Fonts $93.10 (classic Paul, spending the majority of our money on fonts!)
- MC4WP plugin $49.00
- MailChimp $9.00 (this will be monthly)
- Hover for the domain $13.83
- Digital Ocean for hosting $50.00 (this will last us 5 months)
- Total: $214.93
And our total sales numbers to date:
- 25 paying customers
- $217.98 revenue (after Stripe fees)
Total profit: $3.05 (we’re profitable!!!)
Now, final thoughts to wrap things up…
Doing a 1-day project is stressful. But truthfully, it’s 100% self-imposed stress, so we had to look at it differently. While we had a few hiccups, things pretty much went to plan. Yes, our brains were a pile of gruel (delicious vegan gruel) at the end of the day, but we had a ton of fun building Emojibombs and sharing the process.
Building Emojibombs showed us how great a 1-day project can be for stretching our creativity, capturing the attention of our audiences, and giving us the opportunity to promote our other projects.
All day on June 1 we were able to captivate the attention of 1,000 of our true fans/subscribers/friends/rat people. That’s extremely powerful. Sure, we’ve only made a measly $3, but this project was not about money. We do plenty of other things to make money. This project was about having fun and including our audiences in the process. There’s no telling what the long-term positive affect might be for our future projects based on what we did with Emojibombs. And that’s very intriguing.
I want to touch on the fact that a 1-day project is a great promotion tool. Not only for the project you’re creating, that’s obvious, but also for all your other projects. Doing this project reminded me of the quote:
“A rising tide lifts all boats.”
And it’s 100% true. Emojibombs was the tide that gave us a platform to promote ourselves, but also our other project (boat) ofCourseBooks. Sure, it’s not promoting to a highly targeted audience for that product, but a percentage of marketing is always un-targeted and like casting a wide net. All the boating metaphors!
Emojibombs is not going to end world hunger. It’s not going to solve a huge problem that creative professionals and freelancers have. But it is a slice of fun sent to people’s inboxes every day. It’s a message of weirdness and hilarity amongst all the to-dos, tasks, and customer service issues that tend to plague our email inboxes. We’re happy to have created something that will bring people joy for $11 for the next 365 days of their life. Sounds like a pretty good deal to us.
I’m not sure what our next 1-day project will be, but we’ll definitely be doing this again. I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing behind all the curtains with Emojibombs. Now excuse me while I go write some silly emoji origin stories.