I’ve Got 3 Months to Make My Startup Succeed

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:

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Any significant lessons or results that happen along the way will be shared on IndieHackers.

Have a concrete goal:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. move back to Belgium because the traveling obviously wouldn’t have been a significant enough contribution to my odds of success,
  2. 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),
  3. 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.

Progress report.

I’ll keep updating this section with links to each startup’s article.

A Trip to Bulgaria and Release of the Sublimely Magnificent Node.js RM Webserver Mark III

My trip to Bulgaria has come to an end! I’ve been back in Belgium for a bit, processing the experience of Bulgaria and thinking about what I want to learn from it in the long term. I think there’s a word for precisely this kind of thing, but I can’t seem to remember it. Internalizing, pondering, evaluating, … and everything in between.

It only lasted for one week, but traveling to different countries pushes me as far out of my old comfort zone as I can imagine, so taking time for it is a must. Trying to take steps that are too big can move you backward rather than forward.

One small week with a lot of new and unexpected experiences.

Having only been there for a week, I can’t describe what life in Bulgaria is really like. Even my short time has provided me with plenty of experiences that I’ll take with me to the future, and even those experiences I can’t properly describe. I could approximate them, but rather than mess up the translation of the experience I just challenge you to visit Sofia yourself.

But here are some pictures to share with all of you!

Next up: Nope, not Reykjavík, Iceland! At least not yet. Having been to Bulgaria, and having taken the time to process everything, I’ve come to realize that my next best step is not to travel to the next unknown place yet. Unfamiliar places sound challenging and fun, but now is the time to go somewhere a little bit more familiar and to allow part of my life to settle. A place to keep my sense of home before I travel to the next unfamiliar place. That’s my real step forward.

So next up: Vienna, Austria!

And today marks the devkat release of The Sublimely Magnificent Node.js RM Webserver Mark III.

We’ve finished the last integrations and it’s ready to take over the Flask/werkzeug webserver’s task of serving dynamic data for RocketMap, except a tad more efficiently than Flask/werkzeug.

For those who don’t know, people who support RocketMap development via devkat’s Patreon get early access to our private Gitlab code repositories. Supporters of the rank “Grapefruit” (shh, don’t ask why it’s called that) get direct access to our development repositories, and “Not A Grapefruit” (in short: NAGs) supporters have an early release testing repository. NAGs get access to releases for two weeks to test the new releases; after those two weeks, it gets published to the open source community.

Update 20/11: As of today, the project is open source and released on Github! You can visit the project here. Future updates and reworks still follow the devkat release cycle described above. Big thanks to all of our Patreon supporters who made this possible in the first place.

To summarize, on top of the original version of the Node.js web server, we’ve worked on reworking the web server to be even better:

  • replaced Express.js with restify for an API-focused structure,
  • comes with built-in DTrace support,
  • comes with built-in configurable request throttling (rate limiting, default 5 req./s rate, 10 req./s burst),
  • added logging library for better configurability,
  • added HTTPS support,
  • removed Sequelize ORM in favor of the more “raw” approach with node-mysql, improving query performance by removing overhead and getting more control over SQL queries

Here are our latest benchmarks, straight from a production environment, tested with ApacheBench. Keep in mind that these benchmarks aren’t 1-on-1 implementation translations and they don’t even have the same set of features. This shouldn’t be used as a measure for Flask/werkzeug’s performance, it’s only meant to give realistic expectations for RocketMap hosters.

Flask/werkzeug:
 Time taken for tests: 201.058 seconds
 Complete requests: 10000
 Requests per second: 49.74 [#/sec] (mean)
 Time per request: 20.106 [ms] (mean, across all concurrent requests)
 100% 87801 (longest request)

The Sublimely Magnificent Node.js RM Webserver Mark III:
 Time taken for tests: 2.178 seconds
 Complete requests: 10000
 Requests per second: 4591.51 [#/sec] (mean)
 Time per request: 0.218 [ms] (mean, across all concurrent requests)
 100% 1222 (longest request)

As usual, these benchmarks depend on a lot of variables (e.g. hardware, OS, software versions, settings) so everyone will get different results, but I’m sure you’ll see some great improvements. 😉

Enjoy! ♥

New Releases and This Thing Called a Digital Nomad

Hi everyone 👋

How are you doing?

Part One: Let’s get you up-to-date.

If you’ve been following our activity on our Discord server you’ll know life has been busy.

Last week, we released RocketMap 4.1.0 (click here for full changelog), which included 4 policy updates, 2 breaking changes, 4 new features, 13 enhancements, 6 bugfixes and 3 documentation updates. It was a smooth release and brought some good stuff to RocketMap (especially –dump, which auto-uploads environment information to hastebin.com, for the heroes in our #help chat). We’re happy that all of you were happy!

Our activity is going great, even more than a year later.

RocketMap Visitors 26/09 - 09/10

We also had some fun with a fan art contest for our resident cow member of the community (“BishCow”, the bish cow). Everyone could submit their own fan art with “BishCow” as primary subject for a chance to win a copy of the Humble THQ Nordic PlayStation Bundle. One of our regulars, “Kartul”, won the contest with the following entry, hand-made by adding hundreds of Miltank (Pokémon) images on Google Maps.

A gallery of all entries is available right here!

Kartully wins!

Things aren’t always super happy and positive, this time as we decided to disclose that GoMan, a paid service that was being used by some of our users was intentionally breaking their customers’ security and privacy by downgrading HTTPS requests to HTTP to read/modify their clients’ requests.

GoMan proxies announcement

There was some backlash against the disclosure by some of the service’s users, but the positive support was overwhelming. We’d do it again in a heartbeat, it was the right decision. No ragrets.

Part Two: New & future release.

Since we’re not just a community of BishCow fan artists 😏, we did get more work done! Ha! A moment of complete surprise, I bet you’re staring at your computer screen in unreserved amazement.

🥁 … drum rolls … 🥁

(New) Release One: The Sublimely Magnificent Node.js RM Webserver Mark III.

I’ll admit, the name doesn’t really get across how awesome it is, but I couldn’t come up with a better one.

As with the Sublimely Magnificent Jecht Shot Mark III, there is no revision two, sorry!

The new version is immediately available on the private Gitlab for all “Grapefruit”-rank users on the devkat Patreon.

Compared with the previous version, which was based on Express.js + Sequelize, the new one:

  • uses restify instead of Express.js for a REST API-focused structure
  • comes with more advanced/configurable logging
  • supports HTTPS (yay security!)
  • has built-in dtrace support
  • now has built-in request throttling (default 5 req./s rate, 10 req./s burst)
  • removed Sequelize ORM in favor of the more “raw” approach with node-mysql, improving query performance by removing overhead

The Sublimely Magnificent Node.js RM Webserver Mark III is more efficient than its previous version and has a much better load profile and scaling thanks to the combination of old implementations (e.g. load limiter) with the new (request throttling).

If you’re not sure what the difference between those two is: a load limiter rejects requests when the overall server load is too high: accepting new requests queues more work while server load goes over its limit, leading to permanently delayed responses until the server crashes. Request throttling is a hard limit on the number of requests per second per IP which limits the maximum effect on server load per visitor.

Five Point Plant

source: http://ivanwlam.com

(Future) Release Two: RaidAPI.

We’ve been wanting to do something more for the Pokémon Go community as a whole rather than only improving the technical aspects of devkat and RocketMap, so we’ve decided to work on a RaidAPI.

In short, the RaidAPI is a plug-and-play community raid organization tool.

Similar to Google Analytics (or jQuery), you plug our JavaScript library into your website and you get access to all of its features. Sign up to join a raid at a specific time, sign out of a raid, get information about raid signups, …

After including the library, every website can call the internal methods directly via JavaScript, even websites that aren’t hosting RocketMap’s front-end. We wanted to be as inclusive as possible.

The RaidAPI library also includes pre-built user interfaces for all actions (sign up to a raid, see a raid’s status or signups, …), served via automatically sized modals to easily support all platforms and devices, even for non-RocketMap websites.

Best of all: this is entirely optional. All internal methods are publicly accessible and can be plugged into any website or user interface.

The RaidAPI will be fully implemented in all RocketMap websites, with an opt-in option. To put everyone’s mind at easy, rest assured we don’t store any of your server’s data (e.g. gyms or raids): we only store the required data to match a user to his/her signup.

Oh, and the data isn’t limited per website!

The RaidAPI is built to work across websites: to share data, and make raid participation global, bringing a more accessible real life community to everyone around the world, on all websites in near real-time.

It’s also entirely free, for everyone!

We’re working on some experiments such as a small banner advertisement at the bottom of our own interface which makes the whole platform self-sustainable so the platform can stay free for everyone, regardless of the amount of visitors. This is still in a very early testing phase, so all options are open.

Online Communities

source: https://xkcd.com/256/

Last Part: This Thing Called a Digital Nomad.

This part is something I haven’t told a lot of people yet.

Starting next Wednesday (two days from now), I’m starting my journey and leaving my home country (Belgium) permanently.

Yup, it’s finally happening.

There are a lot of things that led me to this point, and even more things that fuel me today, but in order not to bore you to death with a wall of text, I’ll keep it short.

Let’s compare it to what the internet calls “a digital nomad”.

The idea that someone travels from country to country, staying for an undetermined amount of time to learn and live the local culture and finding exactly those things/experiences that you can’t predict beforehand.

Previously, I’ve met some great friends who I’ve learned a whole lot from, and who are still supporting me. I’ve learned from those experiences and today, I want to be open-minded enough to meet peoples from all across the world. I hope to rely on the support they give me to take steps towards a new and exciting future.

I want to learn about the things that I can’t see from my (safe) comfort zone behind my computer at home. To see what I haven’t seen and to be who I haven’t been. To experience who I can be when I let myself.

Regardless of what happens or what I learn, I know that I’ll be happy to be able to look back on everything and say I did my best.

Calvin and Hobbes: Big Sunny Field

source: Calvin & Hobbes

The past months I’ve done a lot of preparation work to make this possible, especially in my freelancing work and by working on my own projects.

I don’t want this to sound too much like a “goodbye” article, so let’s look at the future. When possible, I’m going to share those future moments with you. Whether you’ve been here for a long time or you’re new, I’ll really hope you’ll stick around.

By doing my best, I hope to encourage some of you to take important (yet hard) steps in your own life that might be holding you back. And if you have your own stories to tell, I hope you’ll share them with me as well via the comments on this article, via email or even via Twitter (@SebVercammen).

The first stops are: Sofia, Bulgaria (next Wednesday, 18/10), followed by Reykjavík, Iceland, and Vienna, Austria. These places will take up the next few months, and we’ll decide on new areas as time goes on – I want to be able to stay long enough to have experienced the local life.

I don’t know what the future will bring, but I’m excited.

As always, devkat and RocketMap will continue to be maintained and updated.

source: GIF Keyboard

Charity Fundraising: The Ocean Cleanup

Current charity donations: € 1553

End date: June 30th. Donate here.

I want to talk about something important to me.

Before I can get to my main point, I would like to share some background with you.

For too many years, my life was focused (almost exclusively) on technology. Learning to code, spending hours upon hours online each day. Exploring, learning, feeding the never-ending hunger for more information because of my excitement when I first discovered some people in an online chat who happened to be writing code. They had the ability to think of something and then actually build it. I thought it was amazing, and it absorbed me.

Problem: when you do something too much, it’s too much.

And for a long time, I forgot how to do everything else. I forgot how to human.

Computer Problems

source: https://xkcd.com/722/

Until recently.

As you might know, I freelance as a full stack developer (and software engineering), I build my own projects (startups) and I try to learn new technologies as often as I can. I try not to stand still. You would think that these things are relevant, or that they would somehow explain why/how things changed for me, but the truth is they’re not – and they don’t. But as I’ve come to notice, the most significant changes in my life have been due to the most absurd or unimaginable things possible.

However, I can describe the things that I do, the things that I focus on, and hope that it helps to explain who I was (or am) as a person when these things happen(ed). It’s the best I can do.

I can’t remember where I’ve first read this quote, but life is what happens while you are busy making other plans(According to Wikipedia, it was Allen Saunders.)

And so I was confronted with how to human.

I met some people who are nothing like me.

I’m going to try to explain who they are – or at least the effect they’ve had on me – as best as I can, but written text isn’t the best at conveying emotion, so for the next part I hope you try to imagine it as if it would be happening to you. I hope you can open up.

They aren’t involved as much in technology, they aren’t focused on building commercial projects, we don’t work in the same fields and we’re not even from the same country. They just happen to be exchange students and they’re working to get their Master’s degree in human ecology. And I somehow just happened to meet them.

Even though I was an absolute stranger to them, they chose not to be a stranger to me. They chose to be the most honest, open, selfless and supportive people I’ve ever met or seen, more than I’ve ever seen anyone even try to be. If you would ask me, I would not be able to come up with any reason for why I would have “deserved” it or for why it ultimately happened. It just did.

Change, especially significant personal change, can be scary and overwhelming… and it was. It was so overwhelming that it hit me like a truck. It was so much, so fast.

But they didn’t mind, and they always stayed themselves.

I thought I was doing pretty well, taking care of myself. But meeting them made it clear to me that I was forgetting something important. I wasn’t standing still to seriously think about everything and everyone else. I was (unintentionally) selfish because of my inaction.

Everything

source: https://xkcd.com/968/

They taught me a lot. In so little time, they changed me.

One of the things they reminded me of, is that we should remember to care for each other more. We shouldn’t just close our eyes and act as if we don’t notice. We shouldn’t say we don’t care, just because it’s not happening to us personally. We shouldn’t distract ourselves with trivial things so we don’t have to look at the hard stuff.

Today I want to give back to them. They are the reason I’m sharing all this with you, and I’m hoping that we can make something greater together.

I want to show them that their efforts are worth something, and that everyone can change the world in their own way if they truly want to.

The birthday of one of them happens to be next Monday the 12th and I want to give this as a gift. The gift of letting them know they’re making real change, that they’re bringing positive change to a lot of lives. The gift of significant change and real impact.

And I need your help to do it.

I’m hosting a charity fundraiser for The Ocean Cleanup.

I want to give something back that helps people improve our world, to help build a better future.

In short, The Ocean Cleanup develops advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. There are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic currently littering the ocean. Ocean currents concentrate plastic in five areas in the world: the subtropical gyres, also known as the world’s “ocean garbage patches”. Once in these patches, the plastic will not go away by itself.

Ocean garbage patches

source: https://www.theoceancleanup.com/

Since 2013, The Ocean Cleanup has improved its original design and plans and has gathered over 31.5 million USD in donations.

Some past milestones (read more here):

On May 11th, they unveiled the results of two years of work: an improvement to their design that will enable them to start extracting plastic within the next 12 months. With the first deployment in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the first half of 2018, they will start cleaning up two years ahead of schedule.

The Ocean Cleanup solves an important problem on a massive scale by intelligently using their technology. It’s a solution to a real problem that can be used in a matter of months.

From today on, we’re hosting a public fundraiser to gather as many donations as we can within this month (until the 30th).

To help The Ocean Cleanup, you can donate via this link: fundraiser has ended.

(We chose to use Paypal because other payment processors, including GoFundMe, take 4%+ of all donations.)

To start, I’ve donated € 350 myself and I’m adding more in a few days. This month, I will also give away 100% of contributions that I usually receive via Patreon.

Every day, I’ll update the total amount of raised donations at the top of this article.

I just hope that you’ll consider joining us in donating. Together, we can do more than when we are alone.

Please consider sharing the article (at the top of this article are some buttons!).

 

To anyone who has helped, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. ♥