In this Inspiring Entrepreneurs Interview I spoke with Dan Shipper, the founder of DomainPolish. As a programmer for 10 years and a Freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, this young entrepreneur is making a big impact in the online technology scene.
Diesel Laws: Hi Dan, it's great to be able to chat with you. For those who aren't familiar with DomainPolish.com please explain what it is.
Dan Shipper: Hey Diesel, thanks it's great to be here! So DomainPolish.com is a really simple way for anyone to get instant feedback on their website from average end users. Basically it's like an on-demand focus group for your site. It's a really simple way for you to know whether people understand what your value proposition is, what your branding is, and find out how they feel about the service you're offering e.g. Whether they would use it, if they would recommend it to their friends etc.
DL: Great! I first noticed DomainPolish through HackerNews. How did HackerNews help in getting Domain Polish off the ground?
DS: I've been something of a Hacker News addict for a really long time now, so the process that I went through in developing DomainPolish was heavily influenced by everything that's written there in terms of the lean startup model and the customer development process. I literally conceived of, built and released the first version in less than a week. But beyond that, Hacker News has been an integral part of the DomainPolish user base from launch. When I first finished the project I posted it to HN and got a good amount of feedback but no sales. Then after about two days where no one had bought anything I got two sales back to back. The second person who bought it, Iain McQueen, decided to write a blog post that became very popular on HN, and the sales started rolling in. From there I've written a few blog posts which the community has found interesting, and I've gotten a lot of great feedback, and met a lot of people over the last week or so from there.
DL: I have been following along and watching you literally document the progress through HackerNews/Blog Posts - it's a very impressive and honest marketing campaign - did you plan that from the outset?
DS: No not at all. It's been a habit for me to submit projects that I've completed to HN for a while. I've also done a few other blog posts in the past documenting other experiences I've had with successful projects that the community has seemed to like. But after Iain's post became popular and I started seeing some success I realized that I probably had a story that people would be interested in and could learn from. So I wrote a few posts about it and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. It's been a clear decision for me to just be open and transparent about the whole process because a. I think it's really interesting and I wish there were more people doing it and b. I have nothing to lose by doing it, in fact I think it's been a huge help to my business both from a marketing perspective and just because I get to talk to a lot of really smart people who give great feedback.
DL: It's incredibly inspiring to learn from someone being right in the trenches. And you're quite young too, do you find it hard to juggle between college and business?
DS: Striking a balance is definitely something that I've had to think about in the past. I've been coding for about 10 years, and have done a number of software businesses starting in high school so I've been pretty good at managing it in the past. It definitely got a little tougher over the past few months as I started seeing more success, especially last semester interviewing at Y Combinator. But I think overall it's been very doable.
DL: Yes, the entrepreneurial mind never switches off! When did you know you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
DS: I get that question a lot and to be honest, I don't remember. It was very early on which is why I started programming. Knowing how to code is the only way that a 10-year-old programmer can produce something people want in a scalable way for free.
DL: Do you think a good education is important for entrepreneurs?
DS: Well I think in order to answer that question you would have to define what a good education is. Certainly you don't need a college degree to be a good entrepreneur - a good education as it applies to entrepreneurship can easily just consist of practical experience. Beyond just practical experience though, if you want to define a good education as coming from college, I think college provides a lot of room for an entrepreneur to meet new people, explore new fields of interest and invest time in learning about things that have nothing to do with business. I think it's really important to be well-rounded and well-educated. But the question is, at what cost? For some people, the college experience may not be worth the debt it incurs. So is it a necessary requirement? Absolutely not. Do I feel like I'm getting a lot out of school as an entrepreneur, but more importantly, as a person? Absolutely yes.
DL: Very true. You do have to work out what is right for you as an individual. What do you have planned next for DomainPolish?
DS: Well I have a new release which was supposed to come out tonight, but I've been getting bogged down taking it from 95% done to ready-to-ship. There's just a lot of little things that need to be taken care of. The new release has a ton of new features, including complete start-to-finish order automation, awesome visualizations of the feedback you get, and the ability to send the usability surveys out to friends and family so you can get quantifiable feedback from people you know in addition to feedback from the cloud.
DL: It is definitely worth taking the time to get it just right. Once the new version comes out where do you think you'll take it?
DS: Yes, I'm sort of taking this one step at a time, so if this release is well received I'll look into continuing to expand the brand and turning it into a real company. I know there's a need out there for something like this. It really depends on whether or not I can cost-effectively target the sales channels that reach the target customer for this service. Its biggest problem is that many people look at the feedback as a one and done type of thing. So I'll either have to continually find new users which is extraordinarily difficult and expensive to do, or figure out a way to provide enough value and change consumer mindset enough to make it into a subscription model.
DL: That's an incredible insight into where you are taking DomainPolish. I really look forward to following your progress with it. What's your one tip for entrepreneurs just starting out?
DL: Thanks so much for taking some time out of your hectic schedule to chat with me Dan. I'm really keen to see where DomainPolish takes you.
DS: Hey, no problem! It was a pleasure talking to you. Thanks for thinking of me for the interview.