by @mcknco

The Startup Rollercoaster

TL;DR: During ups, during downs. Carry on, Sergeant.

It’s been roughly a six weeks since I opened up my solopreneur shop to the public, and I’ve learned that being on a public path to shame and disappointment isn’t all glorious all of the time.

Right now I’m cooped up, toiling away on my new project, Rejecty. There’s not a lot of status updates to report and my life revolves around a large quantity of a few things: VSCode, Safari, lurking on wip.chat (can’t afford to join). When I can’t be bothered to work, I watch Woody Allen movies. I’ve seen them all. At least twice.

The Post-Launch Blues

I’d imagine many more makers have experienced what I’ve been fighting during the first days of this year. December was new, exciting and fraught with possibilities. I launched my first project and immediately dreamed-up, built and launched my second site by year’s end. Being the proud owner of two Product Hunt medals (second place and fifth place), it’s now time for some reflection.

What have I achieved?

I’m not asking in the existential, Woody Allen, meaning-of-life sense. I’m asking purely in a practical sense.

First, my goals —

And included within those two motivations is the implied objective of doing so without freelancing or a full-time (remote) job, because I don’t know how to easily achieve either of those things either.

In short, it’s all about hustling money.

No point trying to sugar-coat it. I’m not looking for fame, followers, hits, media, none of that. That’s not the point of this blog. In fact, I’d rather do without any attention at all. Rather, I’m trying to earn a buck. If getting attention is a necessary but not sufficient condition in order to earn money as a solopreneur, then so be it.

But let’s not confuse why I’m here.

December Stats

Achieved during my first month in action —

Just think about that for one second. Last month at least 3000 people landed on something I produced with my own blood, sweat, tears and most importantly, my brain. As an abstract — as an internet traffic statistic — perhaps that’s not all too impressive.

But as a collection of unique and beautiful snowflakes, individuals, to me that’s absolutely monstrous. That’s a very big, very crowded auditorium. My work entered the collective minds of thousands around the world and for those brief seconds they were with me, I could’ve tried to sell them something.

I didn’t, but I could have.

In short, we’re headed in the right direction but now it’s time I put my eye on the prize. I can get some attention if I want, now lets try to convert some of that into good old-fashioned moolah.

Product Maker: Level One, Two, or Three?

Alex Kluge recently defined the three levels of beginning product makers. To paraphrase, they’re characterized as —

  1. Making and shipping a product / app / tool.
  2. Level 1 + it actually solves a real-world problem.
  3. Level 2 + you’re getting paid for your efforts.

In my world, level 2 — solving a real-world problem — implies some amount of recurring internet traffic. If there’s no organic traffic, then it probably wasn’t a real problem. Levelsmap is a level 1 project, while Partial Press is a failing attempt at a level 2 project.

These categories aren’t set in stone. Projects can transition from one level to the next. Or you could say that levels 1 + 2 simply denote the degree to which a level 3 project has failed, since personally I’m always secretly hoping my MVP will go viral and change my life forever, regardless of how stupid and trivial it is.

By my standards, levels 2 + 3 are much closer together than 1 + 2. Because if you’re solving a problem that’s receiving a steady amount of users, it’s not hard to put a price tag on that solution.

A Shift in Mindset

What Kluge’s level system truly represents is a shift in a maker’s mindset. What each level really represents to me is more like — 

  1. I win.
  2. You win.
  3. Win-win.

In level 1, I’m building whatever I want because I’m in it to have fun and to learn and although I hope others will like it too, generally they won’t care at all. This level is akin to product-maker masturbation.

In level 2, it’s the opposite: I’m going to build something to maximize it’s value amongst people with an honest pain-point, regardless if it’s personally meaningful to me. The difficulty here is that — like sex — if you’re constantly giving value without getting some in return, eventually you’re going to get mighty frustrated.

And for that reason, level 3 exists. You give a little, you take a little. Everyone ends up happy. You’re providing a beautiful service that meaningfully impacts the life of your customers and in return you ask a lovely renumeration. Obviously, this balance has the most constraints and is thus the most difficult to achieve. It’s the final stage of a beginning entrepreneur’s path to enlightenment.

What stands in our way of a level 3 project?

The Scarcity Mindset

People are small. People are petty, jealous, they’re selfish. You know, bad qualities. I’m talking about people in general, and naturally that applies to me too.

Yet those who avoid cowering to the smallness of man, by sharing their knowledge and resources, by helping others — particularly those below them on the food-chain — they’re rewarded. Great entrepreneurs and great companies always give you the sense that they give you more than they take in monetary payment. They leave you blessed and thankful. Not bitter and regretful.

The Build-in-Public / Scarcity Dichotomy

While building Partial Press, I don’t think I announced or explained my project to anyone until the “official” launch on Product Hunt. Aside from a few mysterious tweets, nobody knew what I was up to.

I was afraid of giving away my “game plan”.

On my current project, the desire for secrecy is even more intense. Because I’ve got my eye on trying to build something with monetization potential, I feel an even greater pull to “hide” my so-called brilliant, once-in-a-lifetime idea. The scarcity mindset is strong, sucking me into a secrecy to the detriment of my product.

People need to know about a product before they can buy it.

This is especially difficult for us beginners, because we’re so desperate to make something work financially. We think to ourselves “Pieter built Hoodmaps in public — that’s easy for him to do — he’s rich / internet famous / whatever. But I can’t do that, the internet bots and trolls will steal it and I’ll be left with nothing”.

Yup. Scarcity mindset.

In reality, Pieter was building in public before it was fashionable. If we want to emulate (not copy, emulate) his success, we should do what he did. It should come as no surprise that I’m modeling a lot of my public-builder persona on his work. This will continue until I’m comfortable in my own skin and can start to improvise and infuse more of my own personality into my pursuits, straying from his tried and true path to solopreneur greatness.

In the meantime, lets break the veil of secrecy.

Let’s talk Rejecty

After being bitterly rejected from my final job application after 7 (seven… SEVEN!!) interviews all the way up to the CEO, I was feeling pretty self-pitiful. How much longer will I be driving a fork-lift to make end’s meat? Apparently a little while longer, it seems.

In essence, I’m thoroughly annoyed at how job boards like remoteok.io are so outrageously stacked in the favor of job employers. On the one hand it’s logical, since they’re the board’s customer. But sometimes I like to dream of a world in which a more humane and well-spirited recruitment process exists.

I’m not totally alone on this. A few people, notably @lynnetye, maker of Key Values, shares this dream also.

The inspiration for my new project was thus born out of my frustration with recruitment funnels and generic rejection emails. Thanks to fear of litigation, charges of sexism, racism, political incorrectness, whatever; no company will tell you why — even after seven interviews(!) — they decide to pass. What a waste of time.

Rejecty is my attempt to improve on this inefficiency. I’m going to act as a middle-man through which employers can submit feedback to candidates after an unsuccessful job interview. Rejecty will then anonymously forward that information onto the applicant.

That’s it. I’m going to provide a feedback form for companies to provide honest, constructive criticisms of their applicants so they don’t have to cluelessly wonder what went wrong and repeat their dumb mistakes ad nauseam.

I’ve never seen this idea implemented before. Either it means that it doesn’t work (likely) or that I’m an evil genius (less-likely). Let’s try.

Do you think it’s stupid? Send me a message.

January 13, 2018, @mcknco

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