April 24, 2019

Don't underestimate constraints

I was talking to an upcoming podcast guest today, and he said the following:

We ship the first version of everything we work on within 12 weeks. Everyone has the ability to ship fast MVPs, but it's really hard. But as consultants, customers are hiring us to do that, so we're being held very accountable. We have to make the hard decisions.

This reminds me a lot of the year I built and launched Indie Hackers. I spent 6 months messing around and breaking every "rule" I'd ever heard about talking to your customers, not coding too much, building MVPs, thinking about growth channels, etc.

When it finally came down to the wire and there wasn't enough money in my bank account to last much longer, I finally buckled down, created a validation checklist, and came up with an idea that scored highly on it. An idea I could build and launch in just 3 weeks.

A lot of being a founder comes down to discipline. Many of us know what we should be doing, but we just aren't doing it. And we probably won't start doing it until we absolutely have to. Don't underestimate the power of constraints to force your hand!

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    Do you think that there was value to those first 6 months? Maybe they were needed so that you'd have the right perspective, prioritize and value the right things, get the time wastage out of your system, etc.

    Curious if you think that time was wasted, or if you needed to take that path to eventually get to where you landed up.

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      No I think it was just time wasted. I didn't learn much. I knew what I should be doing before those 6 months. But instead I just did all the things I wanted to be doing. The only thing that changed before and after was gaining the discipline to prioritize the things should do over the things I wanted to do. It turned out they weren't all that bad once I got started… although I'm in no rush to send hundreds of cold emails again any time soon.

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        Had the same question and glad to see it answered. While @csallen seems to state there was no value and it was waste of time, I'd think otherwise based on what he explained later. He gained discipline. So, that is of immense value IMO.

        The only thing that changed before and after was gaining the discipline to prioritize the things should do over the things I wanted to do.

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          I'd say the discipline came from running out of runway. That pressure forced me to get serious.

          If you have a job, the expectations of your bosses and coworkers will force you to come in on time every day, work on things the organization needs you for (not necessarily the things you want to do), hit deadlines, etc. But when you're working for yourself, it's easy to let all of this discipline slip. So having an externally-imposed constraint, deadline, or accountability system can help keep you straight. For me, that was my dwindling bank account.

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            @csallen - Love the job analogy. The need for discipline sounds so simple like commonsense yet powerful and a problem I know lot of people struggle with. I spawned a new post to learn more @ https://www.indiehackers.com/STARTUPHUBS/post/fa4ee5b6c5

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    created a validation checklist, and came up with an idea that scored highly on it. An idea I could build and launch in just 3 weeks.

    @csallen - Would you please elaborate on how you went about creating a checklist to validate the idea? Did you do this after spending 6 months trying to build IH as you stated earlier? I ask because you said the following initially!!! Thanks.

    spent 6 months messing around

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      @csallen - Would you please elaborate on how you went about creating a checklist to validate the idea?

      My approach was super simple: I just took most of the mistakes I had made in the past as well as some of the best advice, and I put it into a list what not to do and what to do, and I refused to work on any idea that didn't score highly against that list.

      Intuitively, you'd think this would make it harder to come up with an idea, but it actually made it easier for me.

      Did you do this after spending 6 months trying to build IH as you stated earlier?

      I spent 6 months working on other bad ideas first. Then with the help of a validation checklist, I was able to come up with a good idea. Or, more specifically, I came up with dozens of ideas, and I was able to determine which one was the best out of the bunch.

      I've drastically expanded my validation checklist since then, but admittedly I haven't launched any new startups since IH, so I haven't used it. Nevertheless, here it is.

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        I just took most of the mistakes I had made in the past as well as some of the best advice, and I put it into a list what not to do and what to do

        Do you still have this list? Would love to see what the mistakes / best advice were.

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          I don't have the the original, but linked to an updated version in my comment above.

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        Nevertheless, here it is.

        That looks comprehensive and extremely valuable. Thanks much for sharing @csallen.

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    Agree! Discipline is everything for a entrepreneur. I realised this mistake in my past works. I never really plan anything or mind the timelines, which put my all energy to useless stuff's. Good advice @csallen !

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    Couldn't agree more! One thing I love about launching early is that you'll have users who can impose constraints on you.

    I'm rolling out an Android version of my app right now, and I've promised so many individual users that'd it'd be done by May so I need to make sure it happens (after a couple of months of delays). Some have even mentioned that they'd like to help promote it!

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    I think time constraints or deadlines are important to finish projects.

    As a developer, I know that given infinite time I can come up with an infinite amount of cool things to work on.

    One mindset I'm trying to live by is that every second a new feature or initiative isn't used by users means it's not contributing to the compounding growth of your business.

    Because of compound interest, it's always better to put $10 in your retirement accounts every month, rather than $120 at the end of the year.

    Maybe it's better to put $2 a week, or even $1.50 a week worth of features, just to take advantage of the growth effects?

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    Yup, keyword discipline. The most successful people practice self controll a lot.

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    A fascinating dichotomy.

    Sometimes just sitting and playing with the clay, so to speak, is where the best ideas come from... when your imagination is free. Then, the practicality of life cracks you in the teeth and suddenly you realize you need to mold something that will hold water and be re-usable.

    The truth is... I'm not sure which of those is truly more important. After all, if we give up "sitting and playing", have we not given up living?

    "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution." - Albert Einstein

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      If you've resolved to start a business, I can say that "molding something that will hold water and be re-usable" is more important. Maybe not truly important in the grand scheme of things. But in the practical here-and-now, it's crucial. Even just as a means to an end, so you can build yourself a self-sustaining sandbox that you can play around in indefinitely instead of having to go back to the 9 to 5.

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        The closer I get, the harder the headwind blows. It's surreal.

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    Do you remember what was on that initial validation checklist? and what wasn't?

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      @rosiesherry - It is very well documented in the document @csallen shared in an earlier comment of his - https://www.indiehackers.com/csallen/post/d5073c226d?commentId=-LdEq62oNkYfMUXd5z0Y

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    I sometimes wonder startup is opposite to learning. The goal of learning is to increase things what I can do but the startup is not always like it. We have to focus on the decision as much as we can do now.