It’s been 6 weeks since I finished my 100 day project to start a charity, and I thought I’d write a post sharing what I learned. It's a long one, but I hope it's useful for some Indiehackers out there!
Honestly, a 100 day project won’t be for everyone, it’s fairly brutal, but I definitely enjoyed the challenge and learned a some valuable lessons. Before I get to what I learned, it’s probably worth providing a little background information for anyone reading this who didn’t stumble across the project on Indiehackers whilst it was live.
So, I’m a Product Design Manager (tech savvy, but not an engineer) at a health tech startup in the Netherlands, and a few months ago I decided to start a side project. The goal was simple: launch a charity in 100 days that could help friends and family (or anyone else!) pool resources and ideas to help fight the climate crisis.
In that respect it’s perhaps a little different to some Indiehacker projects, there was no dream of quitting the day job, or game changing idea, just a personal challenge that felt meaningful.
The time-boxed format was important, I’ve tried a few projects in the last couple of years and constantly struggled to commit the right amount of time alongside my day job and family life. I actually co-opted a hashtag I’d seen artists using on Instagram called #The100DayProject. The idea is that all the participants make a bit of art each day for 100 days, it wasn’t meant for starting a charity, but it seemed like an interesting way to stay accountable to a small audience.
I posted progress to Instagram like the artists do, but I also decided I’d share on Indiehackers as I’d already been part of the community for a little while and I knew I’d get some great input from people here as well!
Okay, that’s the little introduction complete. If you’re interested to try out #The100DayProject for yourself, or any similar format, this is what I learned (and some reflections) along the way - this is in no particular order, sorry(!):
🏝Plan a break! Okay, that might seem like an odd way to start a 100 day project, but I’m being deadly serious. I realised about 21 days in that it was much more grueling than I’d anticipated. There was no way I was going to quit, but I realised that unlike artists who may only have to do a small sketch to fulfil their quota, I was building a charity. In the end, I scheduled a 5 day break for just after the halfway point, and it was one of the best decisions I madd. I came back refreshed and super excited to throw myself into the final stretch, and the nice thing about a break after the half way mark is that you know there’s less project time ahead of you than behind.
☎️Pick up the phone if you want results. This was a huge lesson for me, I’m not a phone call kind of a guy, especially when it’s something business or work related. The thing is, when you’re on a tight schedule you literally can’t wait around for people and businesses to reply to your emails, it never occurred to me how inefficient that was until the clock was ticking. A nice example of this was when I was trying to get the charity legally registered/structured. I had been emailing various notaries and solicitors trying to get quotes and arrange appointments, get advice on what steps I should be taking, but it was taking days and days! Seriously, like I was getting wound up, thinking ‘do you literally not want my money, reply to your emails already!’ - So I was somewhat forced to started calling the places I was interested in, and staying on the phone until I got actionable advice or feedback, or else I was just wasting way to much time. And hey, it worked! In a matter of hours I’d gotten appointments scheduled, useful info on what I should be doing/preparing myself, and not long afterwards I had the charity legally established! If you’ve ever had a boss who had a phone hanging off the side of their head all day long, I’d guess they probably discovered this secret too.
🗓Plan ahead. You absolutely have to have a goal in mind, and keep it narrow. Often if you’re starting a project or business you’ll be brainstorming ideas, validating them with friends or strangers, defining what your routes to MVP and market might be, revenue streams etc - with a 100 day project you simply can’t do that. I already knew before starting what my goal was, and who the audience were, and that there was a tangible group of people in my life/network that might benefit from or engage with the projects expected outcome. Having my goal written down from day 0 was invaluable when fighting feature/scope creep.
⏱Be realistic about the time you have. 100 days is quite a while, but probably not around the rest of your life. I calculated that I managed to squeeze in 5 working weeks (if we’re talking 9-5, mon-fri) over the course of 100 days. To be honest, that’s fucking miraculous, and there’s a good chance you won’t achieve that. Not to be discouraging, but I really burned a lot of midnight oil and even took 4 days holiday from work to dedicate to the project towards the end, which definitely bumped up my quota! It’s going to be much more rewarding to achieve 100% of something manageable than drive yourself loopy trying to change the world in 100 days.
🤝Don't underestimate the importance of reaching out to strangers - grow your network! Making awesome new connections was probably the best thing to come of the project for me. I’ve made contacts via my posts on indiehackers, instagram and some slack groups, but I’ve also sent cold emails to some of my favourite authors, environmentalists and scientists - amazingly, they almost all replied! Some evolved into ongoing correspondence, others became valuable sources of feedback on the project, some are now collaborators on new ideas! If people don’t reply it doesn’t really matter, but when they do it will at least brighten up your day, and at best it could supercharge your project.
🎯It’s not all about achieving your goal. It’s going to be hard at times, but if you’re only in it for some kind of ‘success’, then you’ll end up bitterly disappointed - as we all know ‘most startups fail’. For me it was the challenge itself that was rewarding, but also learning and connecting with people and being proactive about an issue I care about deeply. Know where you're taking your happiness from e.g. the challenge, the cause, the 'doing'...but don't hang your satisfaction on success alone. If you fall short, fail, or give up, it can still be rewarding if you have the right frame of mind and expectations.
🏎Momentum is invaluable, so be consistent and go to comical lengths to try not to miss days. Some days I achieved hardly anything, and others I was on fire, but doing something (anything!) each day really adds up. Even 30 days in I wondered if I’d been running around like a headless chicken, but an Indiehacker had pointed out to me in week 1 that if I just kept at it the momentum would yield results. About 75 days in, when the finish line was in sight, I could just feel that the project was somewhat unstoppable - it was happening, I would finish it and achieve my goal, even if some days all I’d done was send an email.
📬Don’t cross-post. I posted on Indiehackers and on Instagram (because that was where the hashtag originated) but that was a mistake. Firstly, most projects on Indiehackers are not inherently a visual affair, so a platform like Instagram makes little sense. But more importantly, it was a massive time sink. The first month I probably wasted 20 hours curating posts before realising how ludicrous it was becoming. After that I cut right down, and probably only spent 15 hours on posts over the remaining 70 days. That is still a lot, but ultimately valuable connections and thinking/reflecting went into the posts, and I’d argue it’s an essential part of the 100 day project philosophy. Just choose one platform and a simple, repeatable posting methodology (harder than it sounds).
📝Prepare for what comes next. This could be interpreted in a number of ways, but really just think a little bit about what success might look like, what failure might feel like, and how you might feel emotionally regardless. Here’s a couple of examples of things I probably could have foreseen and prepared for if I hadn’t been so caught up in the here and now of it all:
- I didn’t anticipate how drained I would be, like it honestly took me a month to fully recover my energy post-launch and get back into the project again!
And there you have it, the 9 most important things I learned or experienced by doing a little bit of work on a project for 100 days!
#The100DayProject was exhausting, challenging, and rewarding. I’d recommend it to any Indiehacker wanting to find a way to stay motivated and get things done alongside life’s other commitments. On July 17th 2019 Target 2030 (target2030.org) went fully live for the first time and I already had donors by the first day 😍 The community is small, but it is growing, and it’s already helping people and accumulating money to plant trees in Autumn 2020. Even if the whole thing crumbles, though something tells me it won’t, #The100DayProject was invaluable and I’m a more effective Indiehacker because of it.
If you have any questions don’t hesitate to get in touch, and if you’re thinking of doing your own #The100DayProject then let me know. At the moment if you click on that hashtag it’s just me, so you can take a look through the whole project from start to finish (though I warn you, it’s pretty boring in places).
Oh yeah, and if you care about the climate crisis and want to learn how you can help, then consider becoming a donor, or at very least read my open letter.