The Startup Saloon and other stories of PHP Fog from Lucas Carlson

[Editor: Another day, another guest post. Matt Riopelle from Corvallis-ish Fixel was recently in town to attend a Continuous Web Portland Meetup featuring Lucas Carlson of PHP Fog. Matt was kind enough to capture some of his observations and insights to share with Silicon Florist readers like you. I know right? Great way to start a Thursday.]

Always one step away

Before hitting on a success, Lucas Carlson told the Continuous Web Portland Meetup group (sponsored by Cloudability) gathered last week at Puppet Labs he had many a side project notch on his belt. Not to mention all the ideas that he was sure his wife, who was at the meeting with their new baby, was sick of hearing. But he always felt that any one of them was within a step of big, without knowing quite what it was.

Then an idea came that begged the question “Why hasn’t anyone done this yet?” and things changed. He went hastily from idea to landing page with a signup form and a lo-fi graphic for a logo and posted it to HackerNews in the wee hours of the morning. Then he went to bed. That afternoon he had 800 signups. Hello, PHP Fog.

The Wild West

It’s hard to imagine a better start to a product. But two weeks later he had nothing, a result, Lucas said, of trying to write perfect code. When he realized that was getting him nowhere, he turned to building the UI. Lucas likened it to the Wild West. Then, to capitalize on a boom, saloons threw up facades, first, and filled in the back afterwards. Lucas’ saloon was a promising product with a minimal set of the features. He focused on always building just enough that was needed so that he never built something that users didn’t need.

Three months later, the UI (after an early $2,000 design job) was virtually unchanged from it’s beginnings. Lucas and his team filled in the details, continuously improving on the minimal viable product. Doing this over and over, Lucas grew the interest to over 13,000 users, validating that approach.

This speaks to a prevailing theme of Lucas’ approach to the business: Throw the ball farther than you should, then run to the ball. In other words, put yourself out there far enough that you have to deliver on a promise that scares you. He ignored innumberable fears of it not being good enough. He launched out of beta even though he wished there were more features completed. And he started looking for investors with only a few hundred users on the system.

Those of us hoping that our often many side projects will someday turn into a mega project can take inspiration from Lucas and PHP Fog. But Lucas cautioned that without passion and dedication your projects will perpetually be on the side. And “… get on TechCrunch.”

That helps too. Or did he say Silicon Florist. You decide.

  1. Matt, thanks for posting the summary, and thanks again to Lucas for the fantastic presentation. The high level summary sounds so easy: He posted a landing page, went to bed, and woke up with 800 signups. A year later he has $1.3million in funding. The thing I loved about Lucas’s presentation was – it was never easy! It was hard and scary every day!

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