ZachHolman

Facelette: On TechCrunch in Three Hours and $0

October 21, 2010

Yesterday, Apple announced FaceTime for Mac. A couple hours later, I launched Facelette, which is basically like Chat Roulette for FaceTime. Post your FaceTime ID, we'll hook you up with a stranger, and you eagerly FaceTime with them.

Response has been great. I'm writing this about half a day after launch, and my original tweet has been retweeted 125 times, I made TechCrunch in three hours post-launch, and there's been about a tweet a minute about Facelette this morning. All of this for about an hour of work, and $0 invested.

Basically, I lucked out. This is the dumbest experiment I've done, and I happened to come upon a novel idea that I figured people would really want to talk about as soon as they heard it. It's probably not easily repeatable, but I'd thought I'd share some of my thoughts on the journey itself.

Technical

I'm not sure things could get more basic on a technical level. There's a time and a place to experiment with new technology and new platforms... this was not one of them. I just wanted to get something out the door as fast as possible. (In my mind, literally hundreds of developers were all working on the same idea! What if I weren't first? It would ruin everything!)

The app itself is 34 lines of application logic in Rails 3.0. Add a stylesheet, add some HTML, about an hour of time, and you have Facelette.

I'm currently spending zero dollars on the project. It's all hosted on a free Heroku instance. I host the code through GitHub. The domain itself, facelette.com, was somewhere around $20, but my domain registrar refunded the money. I use iWantMyName, which is the cleanest, craftiest registrar I've seen- they have one-click installs for things like Heroku, GitHub Pages, and Google Apps. Totally awesome, and it's a credit to them that they're supporting customers who recently dip into some good buzz.

Usage

The best part of this all was that the damn thing worked. I mean, that's to be expected since there's not much there in the first place, but this project was special to me just because I could talk to my users in real-time. That was the entire point of the site. It was a total blast. Within a few hours, I had talked with Oklahoma, Florida, Brazil, Russia, Spain, and even my arch-nemesis from BitBucket, Jesper, in Greece. The entire thing is such a trip, I love it.

Last night, concurrent FaceTime users were hovering around 3-6; this morning has been more towards 10-12.

Monetization

I've seen the post-mortems on Hacker News. I know what I'm supposed to do. I'm supposed to show you graphs of traffic received from Hacker News vs. TechCrunch vs. Twitter vs. Whatever else. I've had people ask to run ads on Facelette, I've had recruiters tell me I'm a great fit for their Stealth Startup that's written in PHP and other languages I no longer remember, and everyone is convinced their service would make Facelette a real smash hit.

The Startup World is great because of this. So many people with so much ambition, trying to squeeze out The Next Big Thing at every turn. Someone puts together a weekend project and Hacker News descends on them, suggesting Facebook integration! And real-time chat! And SEO! And node.js! And tips on their first hire!

I've also come to loathe this mentality, at times. It's the same mentality where someone whips up a two-page website and asks people to "review their startup!" I think startup is a phrase that's been abused. You've made a project, or a mashup, or a hack, not a startup.

And that's cool! Embrace that. More people need to do stupid shit. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Don't do it to make money. Don't even do it to learn hip new technology X. Do it for the sake of doing something stupid. We're in the most ridiculous industry on earth. You can whip something up in a few hours and before you know it, people around the world will be using it. That is insane. An architect or a fireman or a lawyer or anyone else can't say that for their profession or their hobby.

when you don't create things, you become defined by your tastes rather than ability. your tastes only narrow & exclude people. so create.

_why the lucky stiff

Don't be afraid to build things for the sake of building them. Since Facelette launched, you know what's put the biggest smile on my face? It definitely wasn't being TechCrunch'd; it was two tweets and a comment that said Facelette put a smile on their faces.

Here's an internet social media button to impress your friends: