Why rfave is a lean startup

The folks at AppSumo have issued a challenge they call the Lean Startup Challenge. They want us to tell you why rfave is a lean startup. In return, we might win some awesome prizes that will help us build a better experience for our users. Below are our answers to their questions: 

Demonstrate a way your startup is a “Lean Startup”.

We are a husband-and-wife team. We run our own web development company, building custom apps for clients. We have a one-year-old daughter and a 104-year-old fixer upper.

You’d think we have enough on our plates.

But one of us is an irrepressible entrepreneur, and we’re always coming up with good ideas for web apps. We’ve been building “side projects” since Rails was at 0.9. (You probably haven’t heard of any of them. That’s okay. Edison failed a lot before he built the lightbulb, right?)

When we were young, childless and renting, it didn’t matter that we were staying up until 1 am and taking five months to release version 1.0 of our apps.

But now that we have a kid, a house, and a business to run, we can’t sit around and code our side projects all the time, like we used to. Plus, we don’t want to be coding all the time. There’s just too much else to do. We either want to succeed quickly or move on to the next project.

So with rfave, we have learned to be lean. We iterate quickly. Before we add functionality, we make sure it’s really going to give our users something valuable on the front end. (There are a whole lot of items tagged “optimize” in our Pivotal Tracker, and they are all at the bottom of our icebox.) We are test-driven development freaks, so we don’t waste valuable time manually testing. We can run the test suite, deploy, and go blow bubbles in the front yard, knowing that our app is just fine.

So, even though we’re working nights, weekends and naptimes on our side project, we still have time for each other and for our kid. (The house, not so much. Sorry, neighbors. A lean startup’s gotta have its priorities, and painting the soffit and fascia is pretty low in the backlog.)

Ya think you need some funding?  Tell us why.

Yes. We will answer this question below, under “Are you a shameless self-promoter?”

Show us how you’ve used the Lean Startup Bundle (or one of the companies in it) for your business.

O, PivotalTracker, we love it so. We would be adrift without it. We organize our whole process around it, both for our web dev company and for our own internal projects.

Whenever we have a great idea for new rfave functionality, whether we’re at our desks or at dinner, we can just throw a story in the icebox and forget about it until our weekly planning session. At that point, we evaluate all the stories in the icebox, determine what’s highest priority, and go for it. It helps us evaluate where our energy would be best spent, so we’re delivering maximum value at every iteration.

How viable is your product or business?

A couple of years ago, we realized there was a problem with Yelp, Citysearch, and other city indexes. Every time we visited Yelp for recommendations, we had to wade through dozens of reviews before making a decision. It was time-consuming and it felt like a crapshoot. How can we be sure other reviewers really share our tastes? Do they buy Macs or PCs? Do they like gin and tonics and Modern Family, or do they crack a Bud and watch WWE on the weekends?

We realized that it’d be better if these sites displayed reviews tailored to each user’s tastes, so that different people—for example, a college kid who lists Tool as his favorite band, and a wealthy businessman who prefers Kenny G—will see different recommendations for the best sandwich in town.

We aren’t the only ones who’ve had this idea. There are several competitors who have entered the market, including one from Google.

All of these apps need to determine each user’s tastes. The other guys do it by asking you about your favorite books or movies, or just by comparing the recommendations you’ve already made with ones from other users.

We think rfave is superior because it integrates with Facebook to generate its similarity index. When you first visit rfave, there’s no need to answer a bunch of questions about yourself, because you’ve already provided a wealth of information through your Facebook profile—favorite bands, books, links, etc. Users see personalized content from the get-go, and the algorithm just continues to improve as they make recommendations.

Because other, larger businesses are also building apps in this space, we feel we’ve hit on a really good idea. Those bigger businesses must have number-crunchers who say “Hey, I think there’s money to be made here.” Even before there were big fish in this pool, we thought it was a good pool to be in. But now that there’s competition, we are even more certain. And we think we have the best implementation, too.

Are you a shameless self-promoter? Show us!

No, not really. Self-promotion feels very unnatural, and that’s the hard part. We have a tiny company, we live in Salt Lake City, and we are self-funded. We suffer from the fear that all outsiders hold: because we aren’t part of the group, we are somehow illegitimate or unable to succeed. But just because we are small and live in a flyover state, that doesn’t mean we can’t build as good an app as a big VC-funded startup in Silicon Valley, right?

We’re hustling as much as we can, trying to be marketers instead of engineers, but we know we could probably use some help in this department. That’s where funding comes in—we’d like someone to help us get the word out about rfave, or at least to give us some pointers.

Another way is to completely ignore our suggestions and show us what you got in your own unique way!

We’d would love to, because it sounds fun, but we’re really busy trying to build our startup. Answering this questionnaire is leaner.