Motivated by Pieters Levels’ “Turning Side Projects into Profitable Startups”, which is supported by his original blog post “I’m Launching 12 Startups in 12 Months” and his book “MAKE: Bootstrapper’s Handbook”, this is my own brain dump and the start of my own challenge.
Unlike Pieter, my background is in full-stack software engineering so technology, architectures and scaling will be the easy part, while marketing, sales and day-to-day business will be the hard part.
I’ve also shipped things before:
- I got 25.5 million visits in 45 days,
- maintained RocketMap for two years (the largest open source Pokémon Go project, official Discord Partner w/ 22.5k+ Discord members),
- crowdfunded development w/ devkat for a few months,
- and just crossed 100 members on my Startups Vienna Meetup.
But “things” are not “a successful startup w/ recurring revenue you can live off”.
My challenge: to build something that I can develop, monetize, grow, and automate (or hire myself out of).
So… why? Because I know I’ll still have the love and respect of those I strongly care about for having tried yet failed, but I would lose my sense of self if I don’t even allow myself to try or don’t give everything I have right now.
How many ideas are you trying?
I’m not following some romanticized idea of launching as many startups as I can to get a false sense of success/fulfillment, so the answer is… we’ll see. However many is necessary. “12 Startups in 12 months” is what best fit into Pieter’s life and circumstances, and my life is different.
I’m also not building 1 startup each month. I will have 3 months to make at least 1 startup succeed.
And each idea will only be given one month to get validation and traction.
Limiting myself in time and number of ideas means I’ll have no choice but to be decisive.
Enemy #1: Familiarity and being too comfortable.
You feel excited about your new idea → you start w/ motivation → you get tired, exhausted, bored, … so productivity drops → you feel bad, but you have a safety net (personal funds, easy access to full-time jobs should you fail because of a stable economy, maybe you’d go back to your parents, …) so there’s no sense of urgency.
Being too comfortable kills your drive. You remove your need to succeed.
To prevent slowing down, we’ll rely on discipline instead of motivation.
Enemy #2: Fear of failure and indecisiveness.
I’m grouping these together because they share the same cause.
Because we’re scared to fail, we ruminate. We don’t want to fail, so we tell ourselves we should be thinking about it more: possible scenarios, what could or couldn’t happen if we do (or don’t do) X, Y or Z, how everyone else is doing so we can “get a better sense of what’s realistic” (100% bullshit that’s just telling you not to try in the first place, and convincing you that you came up with that conclusion).
Overthinking leads to only one thing: paralysis. The paradox of choice. Indecisiveness because of an abundance of choice. Lost potential, never starting, out of fear that we won’t achieve our full potential. You drown in the theoretical while having done nothing in reality.
We’re actually just trying to stay in our own head as long as possible because reality feels scary.
Enemy #3: Not sharing.
You understand your fears, you’ve made sure you’re not too comfortable (to keep your drive going), you’re ready to go… but… oh no. Now we have to share our work with other people.
What if they don’t like it? Or what if we explain it the wrong way?
That’s 100% the biggest problem I’ve had while writing this article. This is as real for me as it will get. If I let myself be critical, I can only think that this title, this article, this challenge, … it’s not new. It’s been done before.
And I don’t want you to read this with a sense of “oh no, another one”.
This is the answer to that problem: Fuck it.
There we go. Solved! 🙌 Fuck it. These words are for me, and they’re exactly what I wanted to say. So what you want to think about it is your own concern. 😊
I’m setting myself up.
There’s only one way to make sure that I push through and can’t avoid continuing or doing the work: By taking away the choice.
I’m trapping myself right now.
To stay accountable:
- All project ideas will be published. No “secrecy”, no bullshit. If I’m making something stupid, you’ll smack me in the face or dump some ice water on me and tell me.
- Every project will have its own article to follow along: The project’s details/goals, what I did, what worked or didn’t, … and it will be updated at least once per week.
- Any significant lessons or results that happen along the way will be shared on IndieHackers.
Have a concrete goal:
- If a project has zero success (no validation, no revenue) within those three months, it will be stopped. The start date of a project will be included at the top of each article.
- This means that if I want to, I can build multiple projects simultaneously. But by doing so I could risk all projects.
- I will maintain a healthy lifestyle. Taking weekends off sometimes, going outside, exercising & eating healthy, being with friends, … We don’t build our own projects to ruin our own lives, so if I can’t maintain a (relatively) healthy lifestyle then I’ll have failed myself. I’ll have to work smarter, not harder.
And failure isn’t an option. If I can’t make any startup succeed in those three months, I will:
- move back to Belgium because the traveling obviously wouldn’t have been a significant enough contribution to my odds of success,
- donate my entire first paycheck I get for freelancing again (after my rent, obviously) to a crowd-voted charity (still have to research which ones are good),
- donate personal/spare time every week to work for charities for at least 3 months instead of working on my own projects.
I’m just a regular guy, and these things are significant to me. I can’t imagine not working on my own projects, so that must be the cost if I fail.
“!@&#*(#@, these aren’t startups!”
Pieter said it well, so I’d like to refer to his words:
A startup doesn’t have to be a world-changing high impact $1B+ company. Many people wait to get that big vision while staying idle. By just doing something you position yourself ahead of most people already, and you’ll probably do the wrong thing. But that’s not the point. You’ll figure out what you need to do by exposing yourself to the world (and its market forces). And especially if you’re not experienced like me, I think it’s better to start small first, and slowly build bigger things. By doing nothing, you figure out exactly nothing. – Pieter Levels
My goal isn’t to build something to accommodate someone else’s personal definition of “a startup”. My plan is to see if I can build, ship and gain traction in one month. If it doesn’t show any signs of being somewhat in demand, I consider it failed.
I’ll keep updating this section with links to each startup’s article.