I never want to own a company (PS: I started a company!)
It’s easier to refresh Twitter than think about the software launch or even write this Dispatch. But I’ve closed social now (and I have no notifications on any device I own).
I’ve stayed away from building software for two reasons. The first is because my first two tries didn’t even get off the ground after months and months of work. And to be honest, it hurt my ego (because at the time, I was doing well as a designer). I sucked at those two tries as much as I suck at snowboarding.
The second is because I hate the software/bootstrap/growth-hacker industry as a whole.
Because I give zero fucks about growth or managing an actual company. Which probably makes me the worst cofounder ever, but let me explain.
If your goal is to be the biggest company on the planet and scale staff, resources and revenue via rapid customer acquisition, that’s awesome. That takes a skillset I definitely don’t have (nor want).
Instead, I’d rather focus on the people I currently reach and stay a maker instead of a manager. My goal isn’t to become the biggest or obtain the most market share. It’s just to make something awesome that a few people actually get excited about and love to use—all while keeping it manageable. Manageable by the three folks who created it—who have an equal share and responsibilities they can manage themselves. Manageable so it doesn’t take over our lives (since while it’s important, we all have other projects too). Manageable so that I can retain a fairly sparse amount of responsibility in my life.
We don’t need to centuple our customers every month (I had to look that up, that’s 100x’ing—and I hope marketers don’t learn about this term, or else: “CENTUPLE YOUR LIST IN 23 DAYS, ONLY $297!”).
So the reasons I’ve stayed away from software and startups is because I tried and failed a couple of times (a horrible reason to NEVER do something again) and because I didn’t like how they worked. But then I realized the answer to that is one I already know: I can do something totally opposite of everyone else, in a way that works for me, and that’s totally acceptable. And if it doesn’t work out, who cares, because I can try again or move onto something else.
I feel the weight of expectation.
We’ve pre-sold nearly 70 spots to early backers who trusted us enough to buy lifetime access without even having a product to use. Which is awesome. And I feel proud that our reputation’s have fostered that happening. But I also feel the stress of making sure every single one of them is happy with their decision to open their wallets.
Although we’ve thoroughly tested the software and even run a few people through it, there are so many moving parts. And past that, I hope people actually think it scratches the itch that led us to create the software in the first place. The most common gripe I’ve had and have heard other online course teachers have is that workbooks are either too hard to create (InDesign for PDFs) or not super brandable (if you’re using Google Docs).
This reaction is par for the course though. Just before I launch anything, I question everything. And then, I launch it anyway.
The team is Jason Zook (my internet boyfriend) and Zack Gilbert (who’s slowly becoming my internet… husband-brother (like a sister-wife)). Our private Slack channel is mostly silly gifs and jokes as we wait—since everything is ready to go and working.
It’s almost funny to be finished with something you’ve spent so many months working on. Like, it’s hard to imagine not working on it. Even though work will continue after we onboard our first users. And after that when we refine and add features. But for right now, we’ve paused, since everything we’ve built is working correctly.
We’re live broadcasting the launch of our app (which coincides with the final episode of the podcast Jason and I host). Zack joins, as the only guest we’ll ever have on the show. Ever.
During the first few minutes of the broadcast we chat about what we struggled with in making it, why we built it and generally just “HOORAY WE ARE DONE V1!” stuff.
Then, we demo it. Live, on the air. With over 100+ people tuned in. And click through almost every screen we’ve built.
And nothing breaks.
Nothing at all.
(We even had a game plan for it had an error happened to use it as a teaching moment!)
People watching the live demo seem excited (since there are comments in the broadcast we can see). Questions are asked and answered. Features are requested. A lot of founding members are on the call (which makes sense, they gave us money for this!).
Everyone is excited. We’re excited.
It works, exactly how it should. Not because it’s perfect or because we’re finished, but because for a first version, it works.
Features will change, the design will change, everything will eventually change. But to get the first version out the door we had to be insane smart about decisions and expectations.
Because we set a hard launch date (the last episode of season 4 of Invisible Office Hours—April 19), we worked backwards from that.
What is realistic to build in terms of features for launch day?
What is realistic in terms of design that needed to happen?
We couldn’t doddle or spend too much time trying to decide on something, so we came to every fork in the decision road and chose a path instantly (typically within a few minutes).
We also knew, because of the launch date, we had to be specific about what people using the software should expect. In fancy startup terms, it’s called a “Minimum Viable Product” but really it just means, “what can you build that’s quick/small enough to launch that people will gladly pay for?” So we had to punt every extra, non-critical idea we had until the next version. We put everything but the core functionality into a document to talk through and deal with later. That way we could be 100% in “build this mode” instead of “add this mode” (which doesn’t get you far when you’re starting).
This missive isn’t a sales pitch for the software. Hell, it’s not even available to buy right now (since we’re focused on making our founding members happy).
I just wanted to share my raw thoughts and ideas on launching something big. On launching something with other people.
It was a lot of work, but not overly difficult to do. We came up with a plan, ignored everything that wasn’t in that plan and moved forward, using our skills as a whole (instead of 3 people with skills—there’s a difference as wide as the ocean there).
Personally, I wanted to build something I couldn’t make alone. So I found others to help. And they did. We started a company together, even though none of us want to own a company. Especially not one in the industry we’re technically in (Get it? Because it’s a “tech” company?!).
Just because you share a skillset or passion with an industry, doesn’t mean you have to operate the same way it operates. Time and time again history shows that disruptors of industries tend to make the most progress (Uber, AirBnB, Apple, Telsa). I’m not comparing us to those companies, I’m just saying it’s possible to exist outside of a paradigm.
“Business as usual” is boring and rife with slow or zero progress. We know this and yet, it’s so scary to venture from it that sometimes we don’t. And it’s a shame because it keeps some people that the whole industry could benefit from out of the industry.