How I built the legal tech document automation startup TripliQ
It has never been easier to start a business than now. Create a free presentation with Google Slides, spin up a small server on AWS or create a cool infographic with Canva. With the many resources and tools out there, it can be overwhelming to find a straight path to creating a startup quickly at the lowest cost possible.
As a startup founder, you have to wear many hats at the beginning of the journey. For me, that is actually one of the most compelling reasons to be a founder. I have a chance to expand my knowledge in many areas. While everyone has a different profile, background and skills, I am excited to share my journey on how I built TripliQ, a new document automation startup, in less than a month.
Step 1: Ideation with the Business Model Canvas
In business school, I hated writing business plans. Do not do it; it is a waste of time as you are probably pivoting and changing your idea quite often anyways. Instead, use the Business Model Canvas framework to quickly think about the most important aspects of your business.
Step 2: Knowledge, Company Updates and Deals from YC Startup School
Sign up for YC Start-Up School, the best place to learn how to start a company, with help from the world’s top startup accelerator. If you are completely new to the startup world, pick the best videos from the curriculum(they also have those as podcasts available) to expand your knowledge. Their videos are super practical and to the point, giving you the best advice in the shortest amount of time.
Log in every week to provide company updates. The way they structured these company updates is truly phenomenal. Every question serves a specific purpose:
Are you launched?
Do not build the perfect product that no one wants. This question pushes you to launch as quickly as possible to get feedback from customers.
To how many users did you talk and what did you learn from them?
Not speaking to customers is the second biggest mistake. This question forces you to talk to at least one person per week to get valuable feedback. If you feel shy, sign up for a group session where you can share and perfect your pitch with other founders! One of the best books I read, when it comes to user research is the Mom Test.
What are your top goals and biggest obstacles?
When building your startup your time is super limited and you can easily lose focus. These questions help you to prioritize your goals.
Once you completed 8 weekly company updates in a row, you have unlocked YC Start Up School deals that you will leverage in the subsequent steps. Just to give you an idea of how good these deals are here are my top 4 deals:
- $5k in AWS credits
- $3k in Google Cloud Platform and Firebase Credits
- Waived Stripe fees for your first $5,000 in processed payments
- $30k of Segment credits + Segment Dealbook
Step 3: Buy a Domain for your business
This seems like a very detailed and trivial step but it’s important to do this right. If you are struggling with a cool company logo or name, try out Namelix, an AI-based company name generator. If cool AI applications are something you find appealing, feel free to also check out my other blogpost about 5 Awesome Interactive AI Apps for you to try.
Next, you will probably buy a domain before checking if social profile names are still available. The easiest way to not make this regretful mistake is using namevine, where you can check the availability of domains and social profiles at the same time.
Step 4: Start with a free domain email to get Google Workspaces
This is one of the hardest steps, where I could find nowhere a working solution. Most of the time when you buy a domain you will not get a free domain email account with it. They try to upsell you to expensive yearly subscription plans. Instead, create free email aliases for your domain name with Improvmx.
With your new domain email address, go to your YC Startup School Profile and update it to your new domain email address. Now you can finally apply for the Google Cloud Startup Deal with your “official company address”. Remember you need to have at least 8 consecutive company updates for this. In the “application” Google Form take note of the email address and instruction on how to also apply for other credits like Google Workspaces. Immediately, after being accepted into the startup program, send a nice email requesting further credits for Google Workspaces Starter Plan (12 months for free). A few days later you will receive another voucher code and now have Google Workspaces (up to 9 licenses) for your team.
This is a first big milestone as you can now use all these email addresses to sign up for the other deals and also create domain branded emails for your other team members. Secondly, I simply love Google Workspaces. Google Hangouts are perfect for scheduling alignment meetings with your co-founders or inviting clients in times of COVID-19. At the same time collaborating and storing files has never been easier with GDrive, GDocs and GSlides. Do not lose time with the Power Point version bingo and jump on to the Google Workspace wagon.
Step 5: Knowledge & Project Management in Notion
Notion is one of my favorite tools that I discovered quite late in 2020. While I only mention it in Step 5, it actually might make sense to set up Notion earlier. If you don’t know Notion, it is the ultimate productivity tool that combines Jira, Confluence, Word/GSheets, GSlides/Power Point and even to some extent CRMs and databases.
While the learning curve can be a bit daunting, you can build great relational databases, organize and document your knowledge in a perfect structure. I might write another blog post about how we set it up, but here’s a screenshot of our Notion at TripliQ to get some inspiration.
Step 6: Landing Page
Creating a decent landing page was another big research effort, where I spent quite some time reviewing websites, YouTube videos and Product Hunt to find the best solution. While I think that Instapages, Unbounce etc., could be first great options, I do not like the vendor lock-in and all the upselling strategies. Similarly, with a bit more effort, you can set up WordPress quite cheaply on Amazon Lightsail, but then again getting a proper looking theme, brings you back to the same annoying expensive themes that try to upsell you all the time.
After some looking around, I found on Product Hunt Shuffle.dev, the Visual Website Builder as a Service. While everyone has different needs and aspirations here are my main reasons why I chose it:
- With a monthly price of $15 dollars it was a very affordable solution with no permanent vendor lock-in
- Even better they still allow you to upgrade to a life time license within the month of purchase
- Even with no design skills the components allow you to quickly build a decent looking website, that you can then connect to your backend (Node.JS, Flask, Django etc.)
- You still have a lot of flexibility and can create good looking websites with popular frameworks, such as Bootstrap, Bulma or Tailwind.
Step 7: Creative Tools to Make your Website Shine
Having a framework can get you only so far. Therefore, I will quickly introduce my four favorite “creative” tools that make your website even prettier.
On UnDraw you can find open-source illustrations for any idea you can imagine and create. With a search box, you can find the right image easily and a color picker allows you to adjust the illustration to your brand design.
Canva is a kind of easy Photoshop to quickly create designs. I used it mostly to adjust photos quickly, make nice cover photos for posts like these or get inspired. Another secret, if you are a student, sign up for the Github Student Developer Pack where you’ll get a free 12-month subscription of Canva’s Pro tier.
Finally, generate free and high-quality device mockups from simple screenshots, to showcase products on your website.
Nothing more than a coherent and professional team picture rounds off your website. Use this free service to make awesome profile pictures with your brand colors.
Step 8: Spin up Servers on AWS
With $5k in AWS credits, you have not the opportunity to now easily deploy your services with AWS. For TripliQ, I coded our landing page with the Python Django Framework, using the famous Cookiecutter Django Template. The template with the many options to choose from can be quite overwhelming. However, in the end, you can leverage a very sophisticated project structure that is somewhat future proof and easily deployable if you chose the docker option. Similarly, for our main document automation app, we leverage docassemble that also comes in an easily deployable docker container.
Finally, while being very confused in the beginning about all the traffic networking mechanics, I use Route53 to link my domain to mail services, servers and other services.
Step 9: Building the Data Stack on GCP
I am currently building out our data stack on GCP. While I am not sure at this point, whether it was a good decision to run servers on AWS and all data related things on GCP, I had credits for both and wanted to get also more familiar with both cloud platforms.
The Modern data stacks talk during the Project A Knowledge Conference was definitely quite helpful and impacted some of these decisions in this and the subsequent step. Furthermore, I believe that BigQuery as a data warehouse got a lot of appraisal and having worked with redshift and other tools on AWS during my Udacity Data Engineering nanodegree had just been awful and confusing. Since we also use Google Analytics for event tracking and Google Workspaces as office suites, there are two more good reasons to onboard GCP as data flows easily.
Step 10: Data as the centerpiece of our Company DNA
Finally, I want to continue and go a bit deeper into the data stack and my plans on further building the data stack in the upcoming weeks. I mainly put so much effort and thought into this since I am not only very passionate about this topic but I also realized that the legal industry is leveraging almost no data.
During my interviews with legal industry experts, almost none was using data to their advantage. I am not talking about AI, but actually about basic dashboards to drive strategy or making informed decisions. Working as a Business Intelligence Analyst at N26, I saw first hand how data helps to make the right decisions with more certainty every single day.
Following the lean startup cycle, you keep on building a product, measure and learn from data to further iterate on the product. Again data becomes a key piece to understanding whether you are on the right path. Similarly both for B2B and B2C scraping data or automating some of your marketing activities, is something few of our competitors are doing of or thinking about at this point in time.
Most often startups postpone this important step and do not measure properly their continuous experiments. You will soon regret all the missed data and might also lack motivation if you cannot understand whether you are coming closer to solving an actual problem.
Since this blog post is already getting quite long and I still haven’t implemented the last details yet, let me quickly share my plans. We will use Prefect to orchestrate and manage all ETL pipelines and automation scripts, DBT to build and maintain data models and Metabase as a free Business Intelligence tool to draw insights. If you want to learn more about these tools check out my recent blog post, where I automated my medium stats.
There you have it, a simple and straightforward guide to quickly build a startup without needing any funding mostly based on open-source tools and free startup credits. I hope this 10 step guide gives you a jumpstart and shortcut to solve the many questions and problems you might face as well. While I know that this is quite opinionated and might not work for every case, I hope that some bits and pieces are still applicable. Another area I have not fully explored yet but which I think is also quite promising are no-code tools, like zapier. If you have any other amazing resources you feel I should add, please get in touch with me.