Fumbling to success: How I'm approaching new projects

As I declared in my reflection of 2018-2021, 2022 will start as a year of exploration. I've a clear goal in mind, so clear that I didn't do a 2021 year in review nor goal setting exercise.

My goal remains to make a sustainable life without subsidy. That is, make enough money to support my family and friends without being limited in what I work on.

That started out as making my first internet dollar. It took longer than hoped, but we're here now with Timo at £25 MRR, having reached that initial goal. The next goal must be to make it self-sustaining. Where we no longer have to subsidise it with personal cash flow. That goal is actually reasonably trivial, at a meek £90 MRR. Beyond that, we're talking ramen profitability. A figure more like £5k/month, at least.

The key part here is that I'm happy for Timo to not be the critical piece of the puzzle. Rather, I hope it will be a member of a community of businesses or products that I create to reach ramen profitability.

To get there, first I need to prove my ideas. Enter a new period of my life, the genesis of chaos.

Anarachy of genesis (a.k.a fucking around, a.k.a, fumbling my way through)

Graph depicting the different stages of a project. First the anarchy of gensisis, then the democracy of substance, finished with the dictatorship of shipping.
Found via @visakanv

Reading an aptly timed tweet, I found this graph which summed up where I'm at perfectly. In the anarchy of genesis. I have no concrete plan as to where I'm going, or how I'm going to get there. Only that I'm going to try and enjoy myself in the process.

I summed it up as a moment of fumbling:

“Move clumsily in various directions using the hands to find one's way”

A perfect metaphor.

The various directions being the many ideas I might have. To move in those directions is to give them the time of day, explore them and flesh them out into something more than an errant thought in my brain, or a note in my journal. The hands, they're conversations, discussions and brainstorming sessions to prove and validate that the problems exist in the places I believe they do.

It's an approach I'm lifting straight out of Arvid's playbook: starting with an audience. It's why I'm organising as many calls with as many people as possible in spaces that I'm interested in. To get to know the people who are already in the industry, who might be potential customers and so I can understand their problems and build relationships from the outset.

I'll approach it somewhat like investigative journalism. Taking a leaf out of Tribe of Mentors, I'll create a set of questions for folks in these industries in an attempt to garner insight into the problems that exist that I can solve. To prove or disprove my hypotheses. Perhaps then, I can shape my ideas into something useful, or generate entirely new ones.

A tangent: Async vs sync

Having all these conversations seems somewhat ironic. One of my biggest issues with full time employment was the sheer number of video calls I was taking in a given day (most of my time was dominated by them, a virtue of being in a management position). Yet now, with time available, I find myself organising video calls again.

It begs the question of how far can asynchronous work go. Could all of these video calls be meetings or DMs? Possibly, but you would lose some of the magic of making new connections and collaborating on a problem for a short period.

I'm considering this an act of something that won't scale. Which is becoming a mantra for me at this point. Paul Graham's Do things that don't scale is the go-to on this topic, and it's been beaten to death already. That's for good reason too.

Scalability after all, only matters when you are in fact scaling. Right now I'm at the very start of the journey, for both Timo and other ventures. And a handful of Timo customers plus some refreshing conversations on topics I'm excited about needn't be scalable.

Manifesto-driven development: From fumbling to validating

Another lesson I'm learning is to share more, both in detail and in frequency. It's the reason I'm writing this now. As a sort of guide for myself on how to approach the coming days and weeks, but also to get feedback on my approach.

I know my framing of problems has been quite unique in the past, e.g., the idea of killing your idea as quickly as possible through the act of dispelling hypotheses. It's important to address this head on. Being controversial is no bad thing mind you. Being non-consensus and right is far more beneficial than finding consensus and being wrong. But good feedback does not always lead to consensus. What's important is getting large amounts of feedback from the right audience as quickly as possible. Provoking feedback is the key, rather than receiving good feedback.

Inspired by PaperTerm and hey.com, I'll create a manifesto for each idea I think is worthwhile. It's a play on the classic "throw a landing page with a sign up to my mailing list" tactic. And allows me to go that little bit deeper into the problems, the ideas and potential solutions before building anything. It'll give me a big opportunity to provoke discussion and feedback on the ideas, much like the Web³ white paper explains and proves an idea before it's created.

When I've validated an idea will I turn the manifesto into reality via a minimal lovable product.

Minimum lovable products

A slightly better formed version of an MVP, minimum lovable products don't throw the premise of quality out of the window just because of the word "minimum". Minimum does not give you an excuse to execute poorly. Only ground breaking ideas can afford to be executed poorly.

I also don't want to confuse "MLP" with the idea of building for long periods without further validation of the idea. Any product will be built in public. It will be the outcome of continuous feedback. The hope being that the earlier conversations provide a foundation for continued feedback.

An MLP also won't mean building a lot. I've learnt the lesson from two solid years of building without marketing. Timo, while not the most complex app, demonstrates a disconnect between our early hypothesis and our proof. We should have aimed to prove it a lot earlier than we did. To say it again, I will build light and I will build quickly. An MLP being the smallest thing that can solve a problem well, without a janky and horrible experience.

Get on with it!

Perhaps my biggest learning, and one which I'm still figuring out how to apply properly, is that action is far more powerful than words.

Action means having as many of those conversations now. Action means getting to a point where I publish my first manifesto ASAP. Action means building that first MLP and it's feedback loop. Action means shipping.

If you’re keen to be part of my early learning, let me know! Catch me on Twitter or via email, or feel free to schedule some time straight into my calendar:

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