by @mcknco

When Your Product Idea is Not Very Good

TL;DR: Learn from mistakes. Forgive yourself and try again.

Being authentic on the internet is tough. It’s all fine and dandy when things are going your way, but when they’re not, it’s an incredible burden trying to put digital pen to paper. I’m reluctant to write this post, but I know it’s the full-disclosure aspect that might make this text meaningful. Particularly when you’re way down in the dumps.

Vincent and Theo

Think of Van Gogh. I often ask myself whether he’d be the artist we know today if it wasn’t for his sister-in-law compiling his letters a few decades after his death. They’re like a series of blog posts, but better. They’re intimate and candid. They’re an attempt to connect.

There’s no landing page. No sales pitch. No limited time offer. It’s him reaching out to his brother in a remarkably earnest way, trying to communicate the disconnect and disillusionment in his life. It’s precisely this context that gives his paintings an incredible urgency.

I’d go so far as to argue that it’s his paintings in combination with his letters that brought him to the forefront of post-impressionism.

“Dear Theo — send money for painting and prostitutes. Food I can do without. Ever yours, Vincent.”

But who knows, maybe I’m wrong. That was Van Gogh. This is me. We’re both gingers. And that’s where the similarities end!

Now let’s get on with it…

When in Doubt, Feedback Helps

A few weeks ago, I opened up about my Janurary project, which I’d lovingly entitled Rejecty. I was struggling with the product for an indiscernible reason, so it was great to engage a few people on Twitter and see what they thought. Eventually I grew comfortable showing my prototype to strangers, so I went all-in and posted both mockups to Indie Hackers. It was absolutely terrific!

See the voluminous conversation my work generated. Why people would bother to engage strangers on their work is still a bit of a mystery to me, but I’m infinitely grateful to them for pitching in.

What did I learn? Perhaps not much.

But having others echo what you feel inside about a project is an affirmative experience. Just to remind you that your ideas are not absurd, wrong, irrelevant, or whatever you convince yourself while you’re hacking away alone in your mom’s spare bedroom.

A fresh pair of eyes is awesome, but in actuality it’s often really about conserving, maintaining, or even building the emotional momentum you’ll need to see a project through to the launch and preferably much longer. Not the ideas or their quality, per se.

For some reason I was reluctant, doing pretty much anything to avoid work on Rejecty. Let’s delve into possibly why this was.

Idea Gestation

While I can’t speak for others, my project ideas require a period of gestation. It’s a few days or weeks when the idea occupies my mind 24 / 7 and I’m waiting for all the pieces to drop and things to solidify.

I’m busy building mockups, thinking about names, branding and features in the hope that I can pull it all together. It’s basically a period during which an idea shows promise, but I’m not sure if I can make it fly. It’s me evaluating weather things can align and this is going to be a win-win project. I’m thinking about —

Those are the kinds of questions I’m trying to answer in a relatively satisfactory way. If I can’t, I think it’s probably best to cut my loss asap and move on. That’s the fate I’ve decided on for Rejecty.

Birthing Rejecty

Rejecty started as an overreaction to getting rejected for the umpteenth time for a pretty sweet job. Sort of like a rebound relationship, there was some weird emotional investment clouding my rationality. It seduced me into spending too much time here.

What are the main challenges?

By far the greatest difficulty for Rejecty would be getting companies to participate. I’d have to coax them with marketing emails, upvotes and cupcakes. Or I’d have to internet shame and bully them. Just do whatever’s necessary to get them to participate. It’d be rough.

The Indie Hackers also agree on this issue, it’d be an uphill battle. Which is fine, if it wasn’t for the fact that I simply can’t be bothered. I’m very confident that it’s winnable. It can be done. I’d encourage anyone that feels passionately about the subject to go for it.

Are the technical demands achievable?

Resoundingly yes. To the extent that it’s hardly a product, and more an exercise in marketing. Rejecty — essentially nothing but a few input forms — is exceedingly dull from a technical standpoint. And with nothing to learn here, it dampens my enthusiasm even more.

Do I utilize previous lessons learned?

No. I was plain dumb here. Levelsmap is great because it has a social component and users can engage, interact and contribute to the site. But it’s functionality is limited to the extent that there’s not much added value in coming back to it. With Parial Press I tried to fix that flaw: the dynamic nature of news means there’s an implicit reason to come back. It’s getting updates literally every 5 minutes.

With Rejecty, I threw those lessons out of the window. It’s as if I’d literally learned nothing! Bad, bad, bad. Think harder, Alex!

Fall Down, Stand Up

So I mucked it up. It’s not the end of the world. It’s hardly wasted, since it’s given me the material for this beautiful post. Slowed me down? Sure. I’d been harboring secret fantasies of doing the 12 startups in 12 months jive, and I’ve put a real dent in my schedule.

A month into the new year and nothing to show for! The horror!

Dear diary — mowed down zombies in every which way on a pirated copy of DOOM. Month well spent.

Yet it’s also freeing and liberating. Ideas should have the latitude to gestate according to their own schedule. Some fast, some slow. As long as we’re moving forward, we’ll make it to the end eventually.

That I was playing video games, going out of my way to avoid work on what should be an interesting project is a new lesson and one I’ll be taking forward with me onto the next, surely more fruitful pursuit.

Also, don’t buy a domain name until you’re ready to launch!

As a consolation, I’ve decided to keep the two mockups of Rejectiy on my blog as a reminder of my month playing DOOM. Here is the gleeful, filled with enthusiasm first version of the site, and here’s the soured, miserable, “help get me out of this” second version.

Willing Your Way Through

To summarize, the main reason I’m stopping work on Rejecty is because I don’t have the will to see it through. I believe there’s no reason a motivated entrepreneur couldn’t succeed with the idea, and similarly that there’s no way that I myself could be that person.

More generally, I think sheer willpower is really important here. Do you like your project? Are you having fun? Do you work with ease?

One reason I’m so curious about @levelsio is because I don’t like Nomad List. Not at all. I think it’s dumb, the info is useless, the site is slow AF, the emojis are way over the top and after all these years, he still can’t get his CSS aligned correctly. But I’m not oblivious to his results. My opinion is irrelevant because whatever he’s doing, it’s good. Very good. And one of the things he’s great at is willing his project to success through the enveloping gravity of his charisma.

He’s thrown himself behind Nomad List 100%. He’s become a spokesman for nomads. He’s lived and breathed nomadism for years, and the beauty of his dedication and transparency is deeply infectious to just about everyone that crosses his path.

Striking a topic around which you can build your entire identity is like striking oil. It’s very rare, but perhaps his success leaves clues.

I’ll continue my detective work and let you know what I find.

Special thanks to @ktrxs for her curiosity, inadvertently nudging me to put the pen on paper.

January 26, 2018, @mcknco

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