What I learned from launching Reflect, a guided journaling club

Reflect is a guided journaling club that uses weekly prompts and reflections to help you build tangible, positive changes in your life. You journal alongside a community of 30 others, who then share their reflections anonymously at the end of each week. Last week, my Kickstarter campaign for Reflect successfully raised $1244 with 56 backers. I’m so excited (and nervous) to make this fun, new experiment happen. Along the way, I’ve learned more than a few things. Now it’s time to reflect (ha, get it?).

Externalizing your idea with people reveals everything that’s missing.

For me, the hardest part of this project was coming up with an idea. What could I possibly create and put out into the world that’s necessary, meaningful and desired? When I came up with Reflect, it was inspired by a frustration I had about my own life and journaling practice — aka it was completely random and individual to me. How could I scale it out for others? I began with an idea for a physical notebook.

Then the more I talked to people, the more I learned which parts of Reflect I hadn’t nailed down yet, just from hearing out loud the words I stumbled over or the questions I received. Based on conversations, I shed the physical component once I realized what I was really trying to build was a journaling system. One that didn’t need a structured paper notebook, but could instead benefit from a human facilitator (me) and a community of people to connect with. But even then, the system was simply an amorphous concept that lived in my head. I was only able to nail down the purpose, structure and tactics once I had multiple conversations with potential members.

When in doubt, co-create.

Aka invite people to answer your “TBD what should I do here?” questions for you. AKA put the “burden” on the people who support your project. There were many moments when I wondered what types of questions I should use in the prompts, or how I should structure Reflect’s schedule. Why ponder these things on my own when I can just ask potential Reflect members? Externally, this lets people feel a sense of belonging and agency within Reflect, and become stronger advocates of this community they helped build. Internally, this relieves me of coming up with all the answers like a magicians, and creates room for imperfection.

It’s not my product, we’re building this thing together.

This is all research to figure out what people like or dislike, and map out the experience to understand what exactly I am trying to help people achieve. Co-creating with intersested friends, strangers and colleagues was consistently the best way to move the idea forward.

Developing an idea publicly creates early buy-in and promotion.

Off of the last note, talking with tons of people through text, DM, phone or in-person developed a sizable group of people to send surveys to, ask individual qustions and follow up with once the campaign began. When I first came up with Reflect, I pitched the idea on an Instagram Story Series and asked people to DM me if they related to the cause. I was amazed by the number of people who raised their hands to help. All of these people circled back to promote Reflect or support it directly — and maybe most importantly, made me feel like I was not alone during the campaign.

Which leads me to another mini learning: People are super generous when you provide clear and easy call-to-actions. Do the work for them by providing a summary sentence of your project, a graphic or link. Don’t ask for too much at once — one task is just enough to be do-able and almost inexcusable to refuse. One of my early mistakes was reaching out to people with 3–4 requests in one email. It was hard to enforce follow through because I had multiple things to track and request, rather than one simple CTA.

Stay within your target audience (somewhat) to get the appropriate feedback. You don’t need to please everyone.

When I did my research, I talked to almost anyone who was willing. So inevitably, I came across some people who really didn’t get it or didn’t find the value. I walked away from those conversations discouraged. I had this desire for Reflect to inspire excitement in every single person I talked to, and I started to take tepid feedback personally. But I’ve realized that 1) Reflect is not for everyone and 2) my sample size of conversations did not fully represent my target audience of people who deal with anxiety or depression. When I spoke with more people within that demographic, the feedback was instantly positive and generative.

Yeah, this makes sense. I would definitely do this. It would be nice if it… Why don’t you try…

I needed to remember that I was creating an experience for a certain type of person, and these are the people whose opinions truly mattered. If their eyes light up at the idea, then I have struck a chord in the right direction.

The conversations I had also did not represent the rest of the world. It surprised me when people I hadn’t talked to about the project came from all corners of my social network with support and actual membership signups for the community. Even though I had a target audience of people with anxiety or depression, I’ve also realized that 1) journaling is a universal concept and 2) a lot of people like the idea of making more tangible, positive change in their lives. I ended up with a wider audience than expected.

Some practical learnings:

You DO need a Kickstarter reward tier that lets people back the project on the behalf of a stranger or loved ones’ participation.

When my Kickstarter first launched, I reached out to an advisor who had helped me shape the idea. She mentioned that she had struggled to find a reward tier to back. First because my rewards jumped from $5 to $20 without an in-between, and second because there were no higher options that did not require her participation in Reflect. Therein lies the epiphany: people want to give but maybe they don’t want to participate. I had 6 backers gift a Reflect membership to their loved one or stranger.

You DON’T always need a video.

Out of practicality, I also launched my campaign without a video. I had plans to create one over the first weekend to lead up to a bigger public promotion. But the second I launched without it, I had no feeling that something was missing. I had poured my heart and honesty into my Kickstarter page, and the entire story was already there. Plus, how many people really make the time to watch an entire 2 minute video when they can just scroll information?

Mental health is universal

By the sheer volume of friends, strangers and long-lost acquaintances giving support, the project made me realize that mental health issues can have an impact on a lot of people. It really reinvigorated my passion for it and I wonder if this is something I want to continue for my thesis. I’m sure there’s a certain factor of living in NYC, but I have to wonder why there are so many people in the world who are stressed out, sad and lost on how to build happiness.

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