If this is your first time reading, I recommend you start with my 6-month challenge and table of contents of weekly posts for the past 8 weeks.
tl;dr It’s been two months now since I first started this six-month challenge. Three main lessons this month: focus, building and interacting with users.
It’s crazy to think another month has flown by. Some days I feel like I’ve accomplished nothing at all, and then I look back at the past several weeks (and their accompanying blog posts) and I remember why it’s a good idea to write a weekly recap. I think to myself, did I really do all those things? I surprise myself constantly in generating new material each blog post.
My week #9 post will be coming tomorrow. I apologize for the somewhat erratic posting schedule. I think I will now change to posting every Monday rather than Sunday.
So now onto the three main lessons this month: focus, building and interacting with users.
III. Interacting with users
IV. Top five lessons learned
I like Paul Buchheit’s suggestion of trying to make something that at least someone really loves. As long as you’ve made something that a few users are ecstatic about, you’re on the right track. It will be good for your morale to have even a handful of users who really love you, and startups run on morale. But also it will tell you what to focus on. What is it about you that they love? Can you do more of that? Where can you find more people who love that sort of thing? As long as you have some core of users who love you, all you have to do is expand it. It may take a while, but as long as you keep plugging away, you’ll win in the end.
– Paul Graham, How Not to Die
I mentioned this from the very beginning and it’s probably worth repeating until I sound like a broken record: focus, focus, focus.
It’s one of those things where it’s a lot easier said than done. Extremely difficult, but once you get started — and it can take you awhile to get started — it gets easier each day.
Turn off your social media distractions
I’ve gotten MUCH better at tuning out Twitter, Hacker News, having my Gmail inbox open, etc. and it feels really liberating. That FOMO really isn’t as “serious” as my brain would like it to be, thankfully.
But it took me awhile — days of frustration, lack of productivity, time spent looking at the clock and what-am-I-doing-with-my-life moments.
Don’t get too hung up on who got the latest round of funding on TechCrunch, who just got acquired, etc. You have no idea what it took to get there, how long those teams worked for, their circumstances and lucky breaks, if any — not to mention TC will probably post any lead they get 😉
Or that Yelp just acquired SeatMe to introduce reservations to overtake OpenTable’s monopoly, or that Foursquare just integrated menu items into their directory of 500,000 restaurants… this is even scarier, for me and Cusoy.
Stop comparing yourself to others. Take a deep breath. Focus on yourself. You should expect and even assume competition. Man up.
Again, this is really hard until you actually stop. You’ll know the feeling and what I mean, when you know what I mean.
Know how to manage your energy to increase your performance
Focus also comes from an increasing self-awareness and energy management. As Eric Barker mentions, time management skills are stupid.
But it’s really energy management that correlates to high performance.
For a long time I used to be really embarrassed about myself and how I’m not able to get anything done, how people can constantly be productive while sometimes I just sit all day spinning my wheels.
I’m a type of person who can focus very intensely on several things (with spectacular quality of output) and zoning everything out… for a short period of time.
The vast majority of time, I am very easily distracted and need lots of willpower (or well-established good habits) to keep me going, otherwise I won’t be as productive.
Most days, for whatever reason, it seems like I lack energy to do things. I’m not sure if this is more mental exhaustion, fear of failure, fear of imperfection, etc. But now that I’ve started working out regularly, it seems like my body gets physically ill if I go too long staying up late, eating unhealthily, not sleeping enough and not working out. Go figure.
I’ve somewhat dropped the ball on working out regularly, but am quickly picking it up back again. It is by far almost the single-most productive thing I can do. Richard Branson even agrees – working out is his #1 productivity secret.
Stop trying to be overly ambitious
Another focus tenet: just 3-5 Most Important Things to do everyday.
I feel terrible, since sometimes I’m hypocritical and don’t take my own advice — not because it’s intentional, but it’s out of habit.
My mind starts to panic when I think of all the things I need to do, of what I want to do, and I start squeezing 10 different things every day to do (of varying degrees of difficulty and time spent to completion).
I’m slowly weaning myself off of that.
What are the 3-5 most important things to get accomplished today? What would I be mad that tomorrow I would not have completed today?
Less is more. Simplicity. Your brain will thank you for it.
Having less things to “check off” also takes the mental burden out of it and greatly satisfies my brain when I can look back and see I actually completed all 3-5 things one day, rather than get discouraged and demoralized when I only got 4 things out of 10 things done that I had written down to do that day.
Try to focus in spite of being solo
One of the harder things I’ve come to realize is how isolating it is to be working on your own startup, by yourself.
You can’t really spend money on anything without a second thought (granted, to me this is splurging on sushi whenever I want, not jet-setting every weekend or something), you can’t really hang out with people and socialize like you used to, you can’t really have other hobbies… you just can’t get distracted.
Sometimes it just drives me nuts because I feel disconnected from others.
Captain Obvious here: It’s hard to do a startup alone — physically, mentally and emotionally.
Maybe I should go to a coworking space. Or arrange some sort of YC-like Tuesday gathering every week where everyone shows everyone else what they’ve accomplished via their MVP or app.
…Or maybe you should get a cofounder, Melissa. Duh. I know 🙂 I’ve thought about it lots of times.
When the time comes, it’ll happen. I’m sure of it.
Startup School and three things to focus on
A couple days ago I watched this Startup School 2012 video with Jessica Livingston.
I think it was the best talk during Startup School 2012, probably because I could relate to it so much more than the other talks.
#1 founder quality: Determination = Resilience (keeps you from being pushed backwards) + Drive (makes you go forwards)
She mentions that founders should really focus on three things:
- Writing code.
- Talking to users.
Personally, I wouldn’t characterize “exercise” as its own “thing,” but rather, a subset of focus. Exercise is a big part of it, but in my situation anyways, it’s just part of the bigger picture of focus.
And with that, I talk about the two other most important things: building your app and talking to users.
I spent a lot of time this month building out my MVP, as I should. I’m actually now on my third iteration, MVP v3.
It’s funny to look back at the different iterations and see how far each one has come.
I’m also not a software engineer by trade, so it is remarkably frustrating for me to come across bugs and having to fix them. You get a little savvier each time, but I don’t have much patience for things not to work the first time, especially if you do things according to their documentation. This is a constant, ongoing process for me.
Shipping and overcoming my fear of failure and rejection was another aspect.
You can always talk to people about your idea, not only your friends and family, but also potential users and strangers. It’s only when you actually show them something you’ve built — no matter how ugly and dysfunctional it is, that you are making progress and they start to begin taking you seriously.
Funny how that happens, right?
“Yeah, sounds like a cool idea. Good luck!” “Great, let me show you what I have so far!” “Oh wow… you actually built something!”
Personally speaking, I don’t ever want to show people something that looks shitty because it may come off as a reflection of myself and my standards of quality (not true), and who really likes a shitty product?
Your first build is going to suck. I sure hope it still doesn’t look like that a month from now. But it’s something you can work with. MVP’s and building them aren’t the end goal, they’re part of the discovery process to getting to the elusive product-market fit.
As soon as you understand that, it becomes a lot easier for you to keep moving.
I also can’t understate how you also need to be relentlessly resourceful in building an app, especially if you’re non-technical like me.
III. TALKING TO USERS
This is one of the most important things to do as a founder: talking to users.
As Steve Blank famously says: GTFO the building. Don’t spend time writing up extravagant business plans and financial projections. Talk to your users, your customers. They’re the ones who will tell you the truth straight up.
As I mentioned before, user testing and talking to users are probably one of my favorite aspects of product management. Seeing a user’s face light up and get super excited about your app, or seeing their foreheads scrunch up in confusion and frustration — and having them tell you about it is the best. Good or bad, I love it.
Getting feedback tells me that they care.
Nobody will give you feedback, good or bad, unless you ask them and they care enough to voluntarily spend time to tell you and explain.
And they won’t care unless they’re getting something in return — in my case, they want to see me successfully build this app so that they can use it, to solve their problems.
And that is what drives me to build Cusoy.
IV. TOP FIVE LESSONS LEARNED
- Turn off your social media distractions. Know how to manage your energy and thus your performance. Try to focus in spite of being solo.
- Stop trying to be overly ambitious with your roadmap – stick to 3-5 Most Important Things each day.
- Ship as fast as possible and seriously don’t worry about how much it sucks.
- Be relentlessly resourceful.
- Only spend your time on three things: writing code, talking to users and exercising.
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