Embrace constraints

Though my full time job keeps me busy, I have a million and one ideas for startups, products and services that I will get round to making one day. But as the evenings and weekends endlessly roll by, whilst I chip away at one idea or another, nothing tangible ever seems to come from it. It’s not for want of trying — I read many accounts of others having success with their side projects and in the back of my mind I think if I just do this, do that, apply that rule, learn this library then my dream of having a successful side project would happen too.

I was browsing the web at lunch time yesterday, aimlessly clicking around trying to find something interesting to read, when I came across a link to a service called Gumroad — their service allows creators to sell products directly to their customers. They take care of the payments, hosting and everything in between so the creator can just make and sell. I’d heard of them before, I’ve actually used their service a few times when purchasing digital goods, but their new initiative called Small Product Labs, grabbed me at just the right time. The idea is to challenge participants to create, ship and sell a product in just ten days. I love the thought of actually having something, however small, out in the public in less than two weeks. That’s much more than all the nothing I’ve had for the last few years of trying.

But this isn’t so much about Gumroad specifically, it’s about constraints. For so many, the idea of a side project outside of work is a lovely vast vista of creative ideas and endless potential. There are no limits, only the limits of your imagination. But that vast open vista can sometimes be the very hurdle to getting something shipped. With no constraints on your ideas, it’s hard to grasp at what is actually at it’s core and to just ship the damn thing.

The vista of endless possibilities can be the very thing that’s holding you back.

I’m massively into sound design and music production. I’ve been doing it on and off since I was 12. My older brother got his hands on an Amiga 500, which I was immediately taken with. Amongst all the floppy discs that came with the machine there was a music program called OctaMED. It was a music tracker — it had only four channels and note entry was with the QWERTY keyboard. Looking back on it, it was an amazingly powerful program at the time. Since spending hours with that program, I’ve never looked back and I’ve been making music and weird sounds for over 15 years.

What better side project can there be then making something that relates to my hobby and passion? I only have ten days and I need something sellable by the end of it, that’s what Gumroad is telling me. To put it in their words “Get at least one person to give you one dollar for this product” — it won’t rock the world, but it’s a challenge I’m willing to take on.

So here we are, I’ve decided to make a downloadable pack of sounds for app developers. It’ll be 99 high quality, hand crafted sound effects that developers or designers can use in their apps and I’ll sell the lot for just one dollar. If I can get just one person to buy it, I will consider this a success.

Get to the core of your idea, give yourself a deadline and stick to it.

So let’s see. I’m going to give it my all. The constraints are liberating and it’s made me focus on the core of a product that I’ve day dreamed about for years. So be it following the guidelines of Gumroad and their Small Product Labs initiative or by applying your own constraints to get things moving, all I can say is do it. The feeling so far has been exciting and energising.

Get to the core of your idea, give yourself a deadline and stick to it.

Thanks for reading. Ship it!

Update: You can find the product I created here.

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