Have you ever had one of those realization moments that feels simultaneously uplifting and also super embarrassing that it took you so long? Well, after far too many years of riding this rodeo, I think I JUST figured out what "doing things that don't scale" means. :)
I keep having these somewhat unique ideas. For forum software. For virtual coworking rooms. For accountability tools. For (I swear it's not just another) todo lists. For mental health conversations. For event software.
I get excited about these ideas because they're things that I'd be absolutely stoked to use with myself and the 4 people who follow me online. Because they are ME. Because they are filled with my personality and my bubbly spirit and my smile. And they're all ideas that could work together for the 5 of us. And maybe for a couple hundred other people who are just like us.
But then there's this immediate instinctual twitch in my brain - maybe stemming from the need to be important - that thinks about how to tweak the offering to sell it to 4 million people instead.
Twelve minutes later I'm swimming in anxiety about how all the pieces won't work together. Now my 6 unique ideas can no longer be combined, because nobody at scale would possibly want to use all of these things at the same time. So instead of one hyper-tailored project I now separate them into 6 different projects.
Then, aside from being unable to pick one, I ironically get depressed about how these made-for-everybody solutions won't make a big enough impact.
I had a really wonderful call with @jonathanoron the other day in which he passed on this idea (he gave credit to the source, but I forget): If you were to unplug your project, how much would people be bothered, on a scale of 1-4? Don't even talk to people who are 1s and 2s.
That's stuck with me.
I KNOW that I can build something that is THE favorite tool of 1 person. Or 10 people. Or 100 people. An absolute 4 out of 4.
So why the hell do I keep trying to build things for millions of people?
Well, it's because, delusional or not, I really, truly have faith in myself that I CAN make a project that is a 4 for millions of people. And I want to live up to my capabilities and to my expectations of myself.
But building something for 100 people doesn't preclude me from ever being able to build something for a larger audience. And logically, it does quite the opposite.
I always thought "doing things that don't scale" meant deferring the automation of your emails until you have a thousand users.
But I just realized that maybe it also means: "if you want to build software for communities, start by building a community."
tl;dr Trying to give myself the permission to keep thinking big, but start acting small.