Finding focus

May 15th 2014.
3 weeks and 3 days spent on the one-man startup, since starting 3 months ago.


In the last four weeks or so I have continued to spend an average of ¼ of my time on the startup project. Most of my time has gone into Ruby programming. I like Ruby. It has a syntax and a toolset that invites you to play and try things out. Perfect for a children’s book.


In between coding, I have thought a lot about my focus:

  • Why am I starting on this journey?
  • What do I want to achieve?
  • How can I validate my assumptions as swiftly as possible?

Some answers

The most feel-good big-dreams reason for doing this is, I want people to be able to go home every day feeling they have achieved everything they needed to do that day. But how do I measure such a goal? How do I measure whether the users have a good feeling every day? Maybe I could ask the users every morning “did you feel good finishing your work yesterday?”

This brings me to the second and more concrete answer: I want to make money with this project. It looks a bit silly written down like that. It’s obvious and somehow presumptuous at the same time. But I do think income is often one of the best metrics for success. Making money is a clear indication that I have made something that has value. If people are willing to pay for the app, it must greatly help them to be more productive. So, focus on building a great product with a great user experience, and measure your success by your income. (Don’t take this advice if you are working on an idea that requires you to scale before monetizing.)

Besides (and before) looking at the income, a startup has to look at the burn rate. I’m fond of the term startup runway. I think it perfectly captures what building a startup can be like: you accelerate as much as you can, and when the runway ends (i.e. you have spent all your money), either your idea flies or you crash into the woods.

There are two ways to make sure the runway is long enough:

  1. Get more money to build a longer runway, or
  2. Takeoff successfully with a smaller plane, that can be built faster.

Conversely, there’s a tempting way to fail that many a startup has tried:

  • Try to take a maiden voyage in the biggest plane that has ever flown. Complete the failure by adding more wings, landing gear, control instruments, windows, lights, and whatever more or less unnecessary widgets you can think of. Spoiler alert: It won’t fly.

As I cannot afford to build a longer runway, I came up with a question for myself: What features would be the absolute minimum for TidyPlan to replace my current task management app The Hit List in daily use?

I let this thought simmer, and in just a few days it became the milestone my efforts were focused on and gave me indispensable clarity: from now on all work would concentrate on replacing The Hit List in my daily use. Having a strong guiding statement is actually a great help in making any project succeed. With a clear target decision-making becomes much easier, and that in turn makes all the other work much easier.

Later on this would actually morph into a “release management system” I keep in Trello, but more on that in a future post.


Photo courtesy of the Historic Wings. And for the facts oriented, technically the Spruce Goose pictured in the photo did fly. One mile. Once. But you get the point.

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