Perspective

Lazy Excitement: This is The Early Excitement Before The Actual Effort

It is fairly easy to dream big. It is pretty tough to do big.

I found myself daydreaming and unable to sleep after I thought of a side project last night.

Having read Julie Zhou’s article on the importance of side projects, I cooked up an idea, called up a friend to help me build it, and after he agreed I couldn’t sleep anymore.

I was thinking of the countless possibilities, and the countless things that I would be able to do and learn while doing this project. And I hadn’t even started.

I dreamt myself becoming a millionaire after I sell this product, and then give a commencement speech in my alma mater reiterating the importance of doing a side project just for fun.

I finally slept after I got tired of dreaming.

When I recounted this incident the next day I realised this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. In fact, this isn’t even the second or third time. Whenever I think of some project, the same thing happens.

The same thing happened when I was starting a class project 3 years back. Something similar happened when a friend told me about her side project, and again…the same thing happened whenever I had got a startup idea.

Before I had started (and eventually shut down) my startup, something like this happened every night. I had to wait till early in the morning to sleep. This went on for months.

There is a fundamental flaw in this behaviour. In the startup world it’s called playing house. When you start a startup you get a good office, give a grand launch party, have a lot of fun and do everything else but build a product. If what is driving you is the idea of having a startup, then this becomes a problem when the real shit hits.

Things are perfect in our head, and we dream of having these awesome experiences, but reality usually has a bleak and different picture. In my fantasies, and my daydreams everything is perfect, and things are just waiting to happen. I just have to sit down to do some work. It is almost like pressing a button, and voila!

There is this cinematic montage that goes on in the head. It is fun, while it lasts. Then the real pain starts.

They say don’t focus on the results, focus on the efforts. I always thought they were talking about the final result when the project is done, or the company is built, or when success is achieved.

Those are long-term successes, but there are the short-term achievements too. Writing awesome code, nailing that bug, going out for drinks after a hard days work, launching that feature and wait with excitement how people would find it — even these are fantasies.

All these fantasies give a hell lot of dopamine rush in the head. Dopamine is large quantities is addictive, and doesn’t really help us much, at least not while you are building a startup.

I’m not suggesting that we should focus on the pain instead of the excitement, but we should not get carried away either.

In my last startup I had build that elaborate fantasy in my head that people would go crazy after looking at the product and come in hoards to use it.

I was so much obsessed with that vision that I didn’t launch the product until I felt that it will be viral. I never took feedback, I never got any learning either. I just went on iterating, and adding/removing/rearranging features to match my fantasy.

Unlike the movies, startups aren’t built to satisfy any fantasy, and usually it doesn’t become a huge hit. The only way to build a startup is to build, launch, measure, learn, and then launch again. The shorter this cycle the better. Rather than a successful grand launch, several launches will make the product better. After that may come the grand launch, if you are so keen about it. Not before that I guess.

5 key learnings from this bad habit:

1. Fantasising about product features doesn’t make you a good product person.

Building a product and launching it before you think it is ready might make you one.

A good product person’s job is not just to dream up features that would work. A good product person also read the trenches, prioritise what would go into the development cycle, and decide what would be the apt step at that moment of the company.

Usually, that won’t be the ideal solution, but a practical one nonetheless. In a startup, practical and inefficient solution which you can apply now will always trump an ideal one.

2. Thinking about your product all the time is not a validation that you are very passionate about your startup.

You don’t have a startup yet, it’s just an idea, and they come cheap. You are fooling nobody by daydreaming. If you really want to build a company, then build the minuscule set of features that gives you a product, and then launch, get real users, and grow.

You can’t grow when you dream. You can only grow by building, launching and acquiring users. It’s pretty hard, and not at all fancy.

3. Don’t think of building a multitude of features that will change the world.

Sure you want to change the world, but you don’t have a silver bullet for it. Hence, you gotta do it bit by bit, not in one single blow. I’m not talking just about MVP. Build something that addresses the problem you are trying to solve. This fundamental can be applied everywhere.

If you are starting a blog, then write something, and share. Don’t wait to write the grandest post ever. That one will com after a 1000 average posts. Focus on quantity and speed.

Take only a handful of features and polish them. Don’t move into a new one unless it is polished, and you have acquired all the learnings.

4. Share your product with lead users who might give you feedback.

You are not the user (even if you are). Real users will give you real feedback and there you’ll know what to prioritise. Ruthlessly prioritise! Choose the one necessary, not the one feature you think is necessary.

You don’t have that luxury yet to build the product of your dreams. You need to surrender to user feedback in the beginning. After you’ve acquired them, made them loyal to your product and brand, then only do you have the luxury to build what you wan to build.

A startup’s needle is primarily moved by its users more than its founders.

5. Tech is more important in the beginning.

It is easy to jump in on that icon design to start with, or polish the logo to begin with. But it is not going to serve its purpose right away.

If the functionalities are set, then only will an icon support the product. Polish the tech, make it usable. Once the tech is set, even if it looks bad, show it to people. Focus on raw usability of the product.

If people are even 10% positive about your product when it is this crappy, they are going to love it when it becomes beautiful. In the beginning don’t try to seduce your users by a polished designs.

Show them the tech, and satisfy their basic needs of handling a usable product. Polish the design later.

What are some of your fuckups? Share them in the comments. If you comment, I will surely reply. Maybe we can exchange some ideas, and who knows, we’ll probably learn something new.

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