Talk about building a startup in hyperspeed. Seattle entrepreneur and WordPress guru Joshua “Red” Russak came up with the idea for Toolz.me on May 15th, and just a few days later was rolling out a new way for people to share the online and real-world tools they use for work and play. It is a pretty simple idea. For example, you can see that Seattle angel investor Andy Sack likes Gmail and Dropbox in the online world, and Maker’s Mark and Powerpoint in the offline world.
Russak, 26, and his co-founder, Nuriel Mizrahi think with all of the clutter on blogs and review sites there’s a need to help people discover useful tools. The co-organizer of the Lean Startup Seattle group talked to GeekWire about the “lean” entrepreneurial approach and what he’s learned so far in the short 16-day life of the company.
Explain what you do so our moms can understand it: With Toolz.me, you create an online profile to share all of your recommended tools. Online? Offline? Gardening? What tools do you recommend?
Inspiration hit us when: I was having a conversation with an Amazon developer who wanted to build a personal Web site and one of the pages would be a “recommended tools/resources” page. I thought it was a great idea and wondered why there weren’t more personal websites that did just that. Finding the right tools for any task is difficult. Considering all the online clutter of resources available, it’s getting increasingly more difficult to find and depend on forums, blogs, dedicated review sites, Q&A Sites, etc. People would rather ask their friends for recommendations, and with Toolz.me, you can do just that.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We’ve applied to TechStars Seattle because it is the perfect environment, with all of available mentors, entrepreneur access, environment, talent and more…. If it weren’t for TechStars, we probably wouldn’t be as far along as we are. They served as motivation to release a truly unique minimum viable product in four days: I came up with this idea on Sunday, May 15th, got an email about applying to TechStars on May 16th, found my co-founder, Nuriel, on the 17th, and spent two more days getting profiles, feedback and finalizing this application.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Our ability to network, matched with endless energy and enthusiasm. I’m good at being memorable and as we’re beginning to realize, so is our product. This is something new and so far, has only been met with good feedback and constructive criticism. My goal is get some of the bigger players to sign up and get profiles. I used to be a recruiter, so picking up the phone and cold-calling comes natural to me. The profiles will attract more users and give the sight some gravity.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Adopting the Lean Startup methodology has really helped. Even before we had a product, we used LaunchRock to help capture leads and get customer feedback on a product that didn’t exist. Based off of that, we were able to continue making changes that helped further define our product.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Pushing our sight live with a sign-up form that wasn’t really real. A few users were annoyed, but once we put in a pop up explaining that we’re still ‘pre-launch’ and are currently handling everything manually, the complaints went away.
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: Bill Gates because he would help attract the more corporate types to climb out of their shells and participate in our startup. Everybody has tools they can recommend to one another, but I feel we’ll end up getting more entrepreneurs rather than CSE’s. My goal in Seattle is to help bridge this gap however possible and this would be a great start. Also, his philanthropic efforts are very inspirational and it’d be nice to find a way to integrate some way to give back to the community via our product.
Our world domination strategy starts when: We sign on the aforementioned individuals (Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg and Bezos). Our product is about referrals and trust, and nothing beats a good referral.
Rivals should fear us because: I have unlimited energy and my co-founder is from Israel/Brazil. You can’t beat that combination!
We are truly unique because: We’re keeping things simple. We live by KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) and invented our own acronym for success: “LICS:” Log In, Customize, Share. In this day and age, users don’t have time and the easier we can make it for them, the more time they can spend thinking about which products they would recommend.
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: Having four days to put together a TechStars worthy application.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Feedback is your friend! Startups should be a mix of great ideas, customer development and criticism. Just remember, whenever you reach out to someone for advice, always remember to pay it forward. The next time someone asks you for help, take the time out of your day to lend a hand as you’ll find these efforts will come back full circle.