Product Development March 2, 2020

Do less, so you can do it better

Courtland Allen @csallen

Founders, this is just a friendly reminder to do fewer things.

When I started Indie Hackers. I was doing one thing and one thing only: interviews. The scope was tiny.

As a result, I could do a really good job, because that's where 100% of my energy went. I had no other distractions or responsibilities. I had all the time in the world to iterate on the design, the questions, the guests, etc. Other interview websites couldn't compete, because their founders were distracted.

Nowadays, the scope of IH has expanded massively. It's harder to keep up. If I'm focusing on the podcast, it means I'm neglecting coding the website, posting on the forum, iterating on the interviews, responding to emails, tweeting, etc. I like to think I do a decent job, but it's impossible to do the best job.

There will always be the temptation to expand your scope. And I don't mean to imply that you never should. Sometimes it's the best option. I'm glad I decided to start the podcast and the forum. I'd do it again, especially knowing I'd eventually find some amazing people to help me out.

But in the earliest of early days, it's almost always the wrong choice.

It's tempting to think you should be on YouTube and Twitter and Facebook and doing SEO and everything else. It's tempting to think you need to add features X, Y, Z, and A, B, and C. You will hear from every book and every corner of the web that you're not doing enough things.

They're usually wrong. You're probably doing too many things already.

The world is already full of billions of videos, books, movies, stores, websites, apps, and product features. That's more than anyone has time to consume, and most of it is mediocre. People aren't craving more mediocre things. What they want is a small number of really great things. Producing great things requires focus. Focus means saying no to good things, because they get in the way of doing great things.

Do less, so you can do it better!

  1. 17

    You should write a book sometime. Someone had to say it, so I did.

    1. 24

      Good example of a tempting thing that I probably shouldn't focus on 😉

      1. 1

        Probably... yet.

      2. 1

        Haha :D

    2. 1

      All important points to remember as the chapter headings.

  2. 10

    People aren't craving more mediocre things. What they want is a small number of really great things. Producing great things requires focus. Focus means saying no to good things, because they get in the way of doing great things.

    I'm going to put that on my wall.

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    Would you take you own advice due?

    It's wonderful all that this has become.
    Personally I use the forums, the podcasts doesn't resonate with me much 🤷.

    I'd say as wonderful as the forums are, they are mostly fed by the people they attracted, the curation, participation etc.
    In my eyes and I think others expressed it a bit as well in a nicer way, it's Inspite of the custom coded slow site it lives on, not because...
    Would you consider just dumping it and moving to some well performing off the shelf open source system with minimal customisation?
    Honestly you probably shouldn't be coding anything for the forums, there is no special secret sauce functionality here that adds value over a competing forum in terms of system. The community work is worth it etc...
    I would also question if the spin offs of other discussion methods spinner out should give you the hint to that, the core system is less than what people are expecting...
    When you would wean of coding, you wouldn't be as attached and would possibly consider connecting complementary systems that would actually add considerable value...

  5. 2

    YES!! 🙌💯

    I've scaled my business down to 4 essential things:

    1. outbound sales (daily)
    2. developing strategic partnerships (daily)
    3. participating on LinkedIn and IH (once a week)
    4. writing articles/blogs (once every 2 months)

    That's it. No inbound marketing. Need to get processes and systems working so they scale. Then I'll add inbound (paid and organic) marketing.

    Since simplifying to this point, things have moved ahead by leaps and bounds. This heavy focus on sales and partnerships is temporary -- to force intense and early growth.

    This setup feels really good. It's removed a lot of pressure and I can clearly see where I'm headed.

    Less is truly more. 👍👍

  6. 1

    Appreciate this reminder, Courtland!

    In my gut, I know this to be true — we should always focus on what we do best, not wasting time on what holds us back from doing so — but in practice, I'm always reminded of the classic, "Do things that don't scale".

    I suppose it's a bit of a yin and yang situation and so important, as a founder, to have the self-awareness to recognize what needs attention?

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      I wouldn't think of "doing things that don't scale" as the opposite of focusing. Personally, I think focusing often looks like doing things that don't scale, especially at the beginning.

      But definitely self-awareness and the ability to prioritize well is crucial. I think we're all destined to get it wrong often, so it's good to re-evaluate often. I think you want to avoid making a decision, then getting stuck in an execution cycle for too long without looking re-examining that decision to make sure it's still better than alternatives.

  7. 1

    This is a convincing argument.

    Have you considered going further and reducing the scope of what you do? Like maybe cutting Twitter or reducing forum commenting frequency to a "pg on HN" level or getting more hosts for the podcast so you could just do one a month?

    Is there one thing you work on that's producing 3/4 or more of the value of all the things you work on?

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      I've been reducing things quite a lot recently. Still lots more to reduce. The podcast is something I want to focus on more, as is forum commenting. I'll probably code less going forward. I'm tweeting less, checking email less, and delegating more.

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    I thought it was a good idea to start my freelance career working in three areas I was really interested in so I could figure which one I preferred. Now I'm overwhelmed and I am sort of ok / mediocre in each area. I know I could be doing so much better if only picked one!

    I am now refusing work and finishing all ongoing projects to then specialised in one tiny activity.

    Thanks for sharing this Allen.

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    Constant reminder

  10. 1

    This is what I exactly needed right now :) thank you @csallen

  11. 1

    Thank you for the great post!

    Just don't get caught in the trap shipping too few features.

    In some cases a great product is defined by a larger number of well implemented features. For example a smartphone, or even the older dumb phones, the more (well implemented) features a phone had, the more popular it was likely to become. To create a great product with a very small number of features usually means creating a disruptive product, innovating in a specific branch of technology, which is pretty hard to do.

    Sometimes great products don't rely on a single specific great feature but are just a combination of well implemented features.

    If you create a product that's supposed to replace something else, or just be better than something else, you probably need as many features as the other product, but implemented in a better way.

    If you create an entirely new product you should just implement the core features at a very high quality and add new features based on the market's reaction.

  12. 1

    Beautifully said, thanks for sharing!

  13. 1

    Thanks for the reminder, it might already be too late for today 😅 , but I'll try to keep this in mind

  14. 1

    Wisdomly reminder to focus on creating greatness. If you can't say «hell yeah!» to tempting projects, than is often a «no».

  15. 1

    @csallen another quote you should add to indiehackers > Do less, so you can do it better!

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    I think everyone can feel this as a timely reminder (including me) as this problem exists all the time - “Focusing the right one instead of the great one” ( copied and adapted ;) )

    Thanks for the reminder. Even I need this badly now :)

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    “ Focus means saying no to good things, because they get in the way of doing great things.” - This made my day :)

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    The world is already full of billions of videos, books, movies, stores, websites, apps, and product features. That's more than anyone has time to consume, and most of it is mediocre. People aren't craving more mediocre things. What they want is a small number of really great things. Producing great things requires focus. Focus means saying no to good things, because they get in the way of doing great things.

    Golden words!

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    You will hear from every book and every corner of the web that you're not doing enough things.

  20. 1

    This so much. I've been building a product for the last 2 months and a key advantage (not the only) I have over my competitors is that my product is polished.

    All my competitors' features/UX are dinosaurs from the past. They have tons of features but not one is "perfect".

  21. 1

    Well said. Do love the podcasts. Are you planning to expand the team so IH.com gets some love ?

  22. 1

    Thank you for that awesome place. I really in love with what you have done for us!

  23. 1

    Thanks! This is exactly what I need right now 🙂

  24. 1

    That's great reminder. Thank you for what you're doing!

  25. 1

    Great reminder. Thanks Courtland.