How We Reached Millions With A $0 Budget - The 24 Hour Startup
A behind the scenes look at the 24 Hour Startup Challenge.
And we did it all with a budget of $0.
Launching this event was both fun and sort of insane, so I wanted to write a post about everything and reflect a bit. I will try to go into as much detail as I can on how this crazy idea came about and how we executed on it.
The event was called the 24 Hour Startup Challenge - a hackathon/challenge where participants from around the world could showcase their skills by launching a product in 24 hours and win cash prizes.
How many people we reached
Before jumping into it, here are some of the numbers from the event - and what may be possible if you’re interested in running a similar event:
Over the span of just a couple days:
- 💻 118k pageviews on the website
- 📈 44k website visitors
- 📺 70k viewers across Twitch streams
- 🐦 5M+ Twitter impressions (only counting tweets with hashtag)
And in terms of impact:
- 😅 168 teams attempted the challenge (started a Twitch stream)
- 💪 96 startups were launched
Yes, 96 startups were launched in one day. You can see all of them here.
Coming up with the idea
Nothing like this had ever been done before, so I want to talk about how the idea even came about. The idea was influenced by a strange string of decisions and mix of influences...
Context: What is a 24 Hour startup?
If you’re not familiar with the concept of a 24 Hour Startup, it’s something I personally accomplished a few months ago.
It all started last September 2018, when I personally proclaimed on Twitter that I would launch a startup in 24 hours and live stream the entire process.
The initiative was a massive success - I launched You Don’t Need WordPress and went #1 on Product Hunt and Hacker News. Thousands of people watched my live stream and followed my journey.
I wrote a post all about that experience if you want to read more about it.
Can other people launch 24-hour startups?
A few days after getting some nice recognition from this internet “stunt”, I thought about the idea of doing an online event where others can do it together.
I wanted other people to try it! Don’t get me wrong, it’s an intense 24 hours, but I knew that others could do this too.
I really wanted to help people conquer their fears of launching. As someone who’s spent 6 months building an MVP, I want to prove others it can (and should) be done faster.
I wrote the idea off.
The idea kept coming back to me - but I kept writing it off - thinking it would be too hard to coordinate or pull off.
About a month later, I couldn’t help myself.
I started pinging people on Telegram about the idea:
The response was decent - about 50/50 people were interested. Many people told me it was a good idea, but they would be too busy to participate.
Then I sent a message to Armin Ulrich. Armin created shipstreams.com - a website he launched around the same time as my original 24 hour startup.
We had talked on and off about streaming as it has become more trendy in the maker community, so I wanted to see if he would get on board.
Wait, but the holidays are coming up!?
Here was one issue, it was getting close to the end of the year, and we were worried that people would be too busy with holidays to participate.
So we had two options:
- Launch it right now - with the event two weeks out
- Wait until 2019
We went with Option 1, and this is why I love working with Armin & Melanie.
Instead of making excuses and putting things off, they were just as excited as I was - and were willing to sacrifice a lot to get this done in two weeks.
We have a date!
We set the date to be November 17th, 2018 - a week before Thanksgiving weekend.
Turning the idea into a landing page
Now that we committed to the date, we had to get a landing page out as soon as possible.
We used a landing page from cruip.com (a great resource btw), slapped a countdown timer on it, and configured it so it could take signups. It was a total hack - but we launched it one day.
We had low expectations
It’s important (and sometimes hard to) to remember that we had very low expectations for the launch.
We originally only opened up the event to 50 people. Certainly, there wouldn’t be more interest than that!
A futuristic look
We wanted the landing page to have a futuristic look and we wanted to show what it might look like when the event was happening - a “9-box view” of all people streaming right on the front page.
We actually just took random screenshots of people on Twitch and made up things they were working on. This is just something Melanie hacked together in Photoshop.
Although it may seem obvious - I think it was important to visualize what the event would look like. Since this was never done before, it would be very hard to explain with just words.
I think the landing page helped build much excitement. It was different and unique.
Our original messaging
Here was our original messaging for the event. We wanted to:
- Motivate people to ship
- Promise them this would give them exposure
- Incentivize them with money
- And make sure it was all just a fun thing… nothing too serious
We personally committed the $250 total to prize money with the hope that we would be able to raise that much. If not, we would have taken the hit.
Launching the 24hrstartup
Personally, I think how we launched the event was key to our success. I learned a lot through this launch and want to walk through what worked for us.
We started by launching on Twitter. Just a personal tweet by me. Here was the original tweet:
The reaction was amazing. Lots of likes, comments, and signups within the first hour.
Asking people to announce via Twitter
Here’s one thing we did that was huge…
After anyone signed up for the challenge, it redirected to a page where we asked them to tweet about their announcement and gave them a pre-filled out tweet.
And tons of people were sharing it with their followers.
50 signup limit - a sense of “scarcity”
We originally capped the limit to 50 people. We had more than 50 signup with the first few hours.
We had always planned to lift that number in the event that there was more interest in the event.
I think the 50 signup limit created a false sense of “scarcity”.
If people thought they might not get a spot, then they might sign up faster and be more inclined to actually participate - which built up more hype for the event.
Product Hunt launch
After the Twitter launch was a success, we quickly turned around and opened 50 more spots and launched on Product Hunt the next day.
Once we did this we started getting even more attention.
We got a Ryan Hoover retweet:
And many other awesome mentions from notable accounts:
At this point, we had over 150 signups.
Realizing we had something “big”
It’s hard to explain with words the rush that I was feeling at that time. You have to remember that all of this was happening in the span of just a couple of days.
I’ve never felt this kind of “traction” before but it was this feeling where I couldn’t even keep up with anything. My Twitter, emails, everything was a giant mess… but in a good way.
I was getting pulled in so many different directions… in a good way.
Go big or go home
We didn’t have any idea what would come out of the event, but we were so excited to have this traction.
At this point, I think Armin, Melanie, and I made a collective decision that we were going to do everything we could to make this event as big as possible.
There was no way we could mess this up - we couldn’t just sit back - it was too big of an opportunity.
Even if we didn’t make any money it would be worth it, we would still put everything into it.
Should we make money on this?
I’m very grateful we all had this same mentality - it wasn’t about the money. We could have made a lot of money off of this if we wanted to.
Internally, we actually had a lot of discussions about how we should make money on this thing. There were certainly other business models where we could take more money instead of giving so much away in cash prizes. We thought a lot about this.
I was asking around for advice from people. Pieter Levels gave us some excellent advice:
Our goal was to just get everyone involved that we could. It was important that we were doing something “wholly” for the community and not just making money - getting everyone involved.
Again, it was not about the money but making our “mark” on the startup community.
Time to execute
We knew that we had to double down, which meant:
- Get sponsors and raise as much money as we could
- Build a great app (remember we hadn’t built anything yet)
- Get as many signups as possible
And we had about 10 days to do all of this…
Divide and conquer
We decided to split our duties.
- Melanie would do all of the mockups, assets, and design-related stuff
- Armin would build the app
- I would do the marketing and sponsor stuff
At first, it made me a bit sad since I love to code, but splitting up duties like this ended up being such a crucial decision.
There would have been no way to build and market this thing as one person.
We all had very specific duties and this allowed us to execute like crazy. Armin is insanely fast (and good) at building and Melanie made our brand look SUPER professional.
Tweets are continuing to go viral
Meanwhile, we continued to tweet about the event, and everything we tweeted seemed to just build more hype for the event.
Some people really started to notice the event too:
We started an accidental community
Since we were getting so many signups, we needed some way for people to communicate with each other. And we also needed a way to communicate with participants about logistics, rules, etc.
We created a Telegram group and had over 200 people join the group in one day. And people just kept pouring in.
Nowadays, the group sits at almost 500 people!
The Telegram group was a great way to foster a community and build hype for the event. And it was a decent way to communicate things to participants. More on that later.
Finding sponsors and monetizing
Although we had many ideas of how to monetize, we still really had no idea what we were doing.
We just set out a goal to get as many companies involved as possible and at least get the ball rolling.
We started with a Google Sheet where we just listed any and every company we could think of that might want to get in front of an audience like ours.
Finding sponsors is hard
Filled with optimism and some decent cold email skills, I was overconfident that I could get sponsors with no issue.
It turned out to be a lot harder than I thought.
If you could see my DMs and inbox, you would realize I had no shame at all.
I sent messages to everyone and anyone I could think of.
I probably cold emailed and DMd over 200 people in an attempt to just get on the radar with as many people as possible.
Getting some interest from “BigCos”
I actually had some really cool companies interested like Twitch, Twilio, Facebook, and many more.
Unfortunately, time was an issue - it’s tough for bigger companies to open up their budget and get approval with such short notice.
Trying not to sound like a crazy person
Explaining the 24 hour startup idea to regular people is harder than you’d expect.
Every time I would explain the event over email, I probably sounded like a madman.
Mass cold emailing
I also tried targeting specific industries, (1) domain hosts and (2) coding bootcamps.
I thought they would the perfect sponsors since hundreds of people would be registering domains and many boot camps would love the exposure for prospective students.
I gathered emails from the top ones I could find and sent out email campaigns. I thought this was totally going to work, but I don’t think I landed one sponsor this way.
It’s all about “the intro”
One thing I learned from this, it’s really all about getting an email intro.
“Anti-corporate me” hates that this is true, but it really is.
Shoutout to Andreas Klinger who was instrumental in getting intros to many of our sponsors. Andreas really loved the idea of the event and did many selfless things to help us. THANK YOUR ANDREAS!
Since we had only about 10 days to lock down all of these sponsors, I became anxious after a couple days when it felt like I wasn’t making any traction.
But I was just being impatient and not having normal expectations. After a couple of days, the sponsorships started to roll in.
(Almost) all our sponsors:
It’s all about the CEO
Another tip for landing sponsorships… Go through the CEO or some other senior decision maker.
If you go through someone in marketing, they typically have to get approval, want to have meetings with you, and things like that.
If you can get buy-in directly from the CEO, it will be a painless process.
Another important thing was for us to involve communities.
Even if they paid less, getting community leaders on board to promote the event would drive their users to the event.
Going above and beyond
Another thing we did - for all of our sponsors, we made custom sponsor assets for them to share.
Once we confirmed their sponsorship, we sent them assets to share, including a pre-written tweet if they wanted.
And also, of course, we asked/begged them to share.
And those tweets only helped grow the event even more, which was our intention.
Having Melanie on board (an amazing designer) made this super easy - we did a lot of stuff like this that made us look much more professional.
How good does that look??
Pitching the press
Massive waste of time.
I got access to an excellent press database and sent out over 100 emails to journalists about the event and what we were doing.
No interest. Not even one response.
Keeping people engaged
One of our key priorities while preparing for the event was to keep participants engaged.
In other words, we needed sure to make everyone had what they needed to stream and launch a startup in 24 hours.
We were worried that people signed up would chicken out or come up with excuses not to partake. It is, of course, a massive personal endeavor to launch a 24 hour startup.
For many people, that meant facing your fears of even just putting their face in a camera on the internet.
So here are a few things we did to prevent that:
- Emailed participants often (with updates)
- Created and managed a Telegram group
- Wrote helpful blog posts for beginners
- Gave out free ideas to work on
- Created free Twitch assets
An example of Twitch assets
Part 2 Coming Soon!
I've written this whole thing, but it's way too damn long for one blog post! I'll be releasing the last half - about the event itself and the aftermath soon!
👇 In the meantime, check out what we're working on next 👇
After the success of the event, we sat down to talk about the future of the 24 Hour Startup.
It was a massive success, but what comes out of it?
We are joining forces and launching Shipstreams - a platform and community where makers ship live.
If you want to get into streaming, come join us!
Why you should join Shipstreams?
- Join a community of entrepreneurs building great stuff in public
- Boost your productivity and get things done
- Build your audience
- Be a part of awesome events like the #24hrstartup
Want to run an event like the #24hrstartup?
We are soon launching our events feature - where you can run an event like this all on your own and reach thousands of programmers, designers, and entrepreneurs.
Send me an email if you’re interested at all.
Thanks for reading!