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Making a Side Project

Recently, I’ve been inspired by the Indie Hackers community, Pieter Levels and Mubashar Iqbal.

I was enjoying Pieter’s book MAKE and Mubashar’s Medium series Make Side Project when I realized it’s time to get off my ass and start building.

Even though I’ve worked as a web developer for 4 years now, I still haven’t developed the skill of creating and shipping products. In addition, there are tons of subsequent skills–design, marketing, talking to customers, etc–that matter when launching products that I’ve never had to learn.

I thought it would be a fun and challenging exercise to build in the open, so the Making a Side Project series was born. This series will showcase the challenges, lessons, and mistakes I make in real-time. I hope by making my first, real side project in the open, you might learn something too.

My attitude is that it doesn’t matter right now to build something great. I just want to strengthen the muscle of shipping product.

Let’s go!

(FYI: I’ll be updating this blog post as I go.)

Ideation

Part 1 (May 20): Coming up with ideas

Part 2 (May 29): Narrowing down ideas

Making a Side Project, Part 3: Validating the Idea

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Have you read Part 2 of the Making a Side Project series?

In the previous post we discussed the ideas on the table, but tbh I can’t stop thinking about this FIRE Community idea. In this post, I’m going to break down my process to validate it.

The Idea: FIRE Community

The idea is to create an online community for people who want to retire early (FIRE means Financial Independence Retire Early).

This website will people who have achieved early retirement, and will provide a community for those beginning their journey. In creating this community, I hope people can achieve their financial goals.

Though my biggest reason, albeit a little foolish, is because I really want this to exist. I’m frustrated that outside of Reddit’s /r/financialindependence, there’s no other viable online community. I’m frustrated feeling lost about my finances when I so desperately want to control them so I can achieve my ideal lifestyle.

Validating the idea

Even though I’m bullish on this, it’s important to validate your idea. Any experiment is an investment of time and money, so how can we know if this will work before we invest more heavily?

The Lean way

The Lean Startup Methodology would have us gather feedback at this preliminary stage. We would use a method to test whether this idea is worthwhile to pursue.

Common idea validation methods are user interviews, surveys, and “fake door” landing pages. These tests are designed to help you decide if the problem is real and what the right solution is for the problem.

Going against the grain

But I have two concerns about following that advice at this stage.

  1. I’m concerned that it will be time-consuming/challenging to seek out feedback before we have an MVP to show.
  2. It’s easy to get stuck before starting because you never leave the “gathering feedback” stage. I’m concerned that if I don’t start, I’ll lose motivation and never pick this up again.

I think at this preliminary stage our goal is to build a basic MVP (or MUP, minimum usable product, as Mubs calls them), then aggressively gather feedback to iterate.

However, it’s worthwhile to repeat that I’m inexperienced and I don’t know what I’m doing. In a future blog post, I can address whether I think this was a good idea in hindsight.

Is it worthwhile to even build an MVP?

Even though we’re not gathering feedback at this stage, we can still think critically about the idea so we don’t waste time building an MVP. Following similar questions that Mub’s asked himself in his Making a Side Project series, we can crystallize our idea.

Would I use this? Hell yes! I want more guidance to reach my FIRE goal.

Do I know people who would use this? Tons of millennials I know want to retire early. They’re even willing to work hard for it, but they want to adopt a system that works. They need a network to provide mentorship and a clear path to success.

Do I know where people who would use this hangout? Yes, /r/financialindependence and many big FIRE and retirement blogs.

Does something like this exist? Yes, but they’re mostly unmaintained forums and blogs.

Is it viable? We’ve seen Product Hunt, Nomad List, and Indie Hackers use this template to build real businesses on top of communities. In addition, we know this is a viable community hungry for more because of the traffic of the top bloggers in the space. Ironically, many bloggers receive so much traffic that they achieve financial independence by blogging about their FIRE journey.

How long will this take to build and launch it? What are the costs? I want to aim for 2 months of work. Outside of time, the only real cost will be domain and hosting which is close to $4-16/month.

How much time/money would this take to maintain? Same as the previous answer.

How will this make money? For my first project, I’m not concerned about making money. But there are plenty ways to do so if we can successfully build a community like:

  • Premium offering of joining the community chat
  • Advertising
  • Partnerships

We’re looking good, guys! FIRE Community is checking our boxes. In the next blog post, we’re going to outline our MUP.

Making a Side Project, Part 2: Narrowing down ideas

Have you read Part 1 of the Making a Side Project series?

In the previous blog post, I talked about how I come up with ideas. Coming out of a week of ideation, here are the top ideas that I’m leaning toward:

FIRE Community

 

money pink coins pig

Since I heard of Mr. Money Mustache and the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) community from the Tim Ferriss Show I’ve been obsessed with personal finance.

Everyone wants to retire early, but the road to retirement is still unclear and difficult.

There’s tons of financial advice, but it’s still scattered. The online community around early retirement remains concentrated around disparate blogs and Reddit, which buries the best resources in blog posts and books. This creates problem of noise, making it hard to distinguish what is high-quality and targeted advice.

So the idea for this community would be to collect resources so anyone can start their road to retirement. It would invite people around the world to talk about their experiences so that others can learn and replicate their success.

Junior Developer Job Board

working woman technology computer

There’s been a lot of talk recently about how the Junior Developer is dying. The problem is there are too many Junior Developers and not enough companies providing opportunities for mentorship.

This job board would connect companies looking to mentor juniors, so they wouldn’t have to bother with the high frequency hiring channels. There are incumbents already sort-of hitting the mark, but the sites look unmaintained.

Custom Job Board Aggregator

book computer design development

In my recent job hunt, I’ve been grateful yet disappointed by the experience. There are tons of high-quality opportunities for engineers, but sorting through these jobs is still incredibly time consuming and unwieldy.

For example, my process for finding jobs that meet my parameters is to check 15 pinned tabs every day.

Instead of querying over a dozen job boards and aggregators, I’d love to check a single one. What if you could aggregate these job boards into a single, customizable feed? You can turn a job board on and off, or create a custom filter so only jobs with certain parameters show up.

Newsletter Unsubscriber

Newsletters are wonderful and terrible: They are a great way to access deals and amazing content, but more often than not we don’t need them.

It would be great to have an easy way to sort through what you’re subscribed to and easily unsubscribe. Short of using Unroll.me (which sells your email data) and using Google Scripts, another solution would be nice.

Relationship Manager

adult casual collection fashion

I’m bad at relationships, especially business colleagues. In recent years, I’ve begun to keep a list of all the people I meet. Each entry has details like when we met, where I met them, and what I know about them. This has had a profound effect on my life, as I’m able to store important details about people, but I’d like a better way to do this.

This app would store all your contacts, making it easy to never forget anything important about anyone. It can provide reminders to wish your colleagues happy birthday, or to follow up with them once in a while to keep the relationship alive. It would provide a way to keep your relationships healthy and vibrant.


I had a dozen of ideas that I felt were pretty good, but I really like these ones. Each idea seems like a great place to start my first project of the year.

In the next blog post, we’ll decide what to work on and why.

Making a Side Project, Part 1: Coming up with Ideas

This post outlines what I learned from MAKE about coming up with ideas. To see what ideas I came up with, check out the following blog post, Making a Side Project, Part 2: Ideas. See Making a Side Project.

Synthesizing and forming ideas is a skill and a muscle. If you take the time to jot down a few ideas every day, your ability to form new ideas rapidly improves.

I love that Pieter Level’s book MAKE assigns homework. For its initial homework, it asks that you write down 3 ideas every day for a week.

At first, this was downright strenuous. I struggled to come up with a single idea that I felt was compelling, but a few takeaways from Pieter’s book helped me.

Don’t shut down ideas

The likelihood that your first idea will be your first idea is incredibly low. Therefore, if you focus on coming up with many ideas, you have a higher likelihood that some of them will be good.

Naturally then, you should refrain from putting pressure on the process. Focus on outputting a lot of ideas, and some of them are bound to be solid.

Your best ideas will come from your own problems

Because of your familiarity with the problem, you’re more likely to have a deeper insight into the correct solution. Think about your own life and the unique problems that you run into every day.

Focus on the problem, not a solution

In the startup/hacker community, we often use the term “solution in search of a problem”. This means that there isn’t a clear problem that your solution solves, which risks wasting time by building a product that no one cares about.

To avoid this, focus on the problem, not the solution.

For example:

IDEA: A fashion app that gives you ideas for affordable outfits.

Instead, try this:

PROBLEM: It’s often expensive and time-consuming to be fashionable.

The power of the latter approach is you’re no longer locked into thinking of only one solution.

I had a list of ideas before I started this challenge, but I realized many of them were solutions without a real problem. I went back and rewrote many ideas to reframe them as problems. As a result, I began to see other solutions that I hadn’t originally thought of.

Track your problems

How you track your ideas isn’t important, but I’ve found that a Trello board is a wonderful method. If you want to see how I do it, you can check out this blog post.

Coincidentally after reading MAKE, I realized I picked up this methodology from Pieter from his Indie Hackers interview. He now uses Workflowy to track his ideas.

Post-week Debrief

Forming ideas has become much easier. I’ve begun to frame ideas as problems, for which I can think of many solutions for.

As a side benefit, I think my mind has become a little more flexible too. I feel a little looser when approaching problem-solving and I’m thinking in more original, more creative ways.

I’m excited to come away with +21 ideas. Not all of them are great, but I’m excited about more than a few. In the next blog post, I’ll share my favorites.

3 Principles to Successful Relationships for Millennials

As we celebrate our 3-year anniversary, my partner and I have been reflecting what has made our Tinder relationship successful so far. Both of us have gone through years of dysfunctional relationships and seen so many of our friends’ relationships blow up, and we think we’ve finally begun to learn what works.

Living in an age where casual hookups and new friendships are a message away, it’s easier than ever to date. But despite our hopes, each of us has a relationship that wasn’t fated to last forever. I wonder if all those Disney movies brought poor expectations: We expect love to be easy, to be free from challenges, to be natural.

But relationships are tough, emotionally-challenging work.

We aren’t equipped to be vulnerable and real, and modern society has hooked us on short-term gratification, instead of long-term satisfaction. Love advice splatters the headlines and everyone has a different opinion, so we’re left to follow our hearts (or hormones).

Can we get some simple rules to follow?

So over a few drinks, my partner and I agreed on these principles to create or strengthen a long-term relationship. We think as long as you can incorporate these principles, you can create successful, long-term relationships.

  1. Think long-term
  2. Actively invest in yourself and the relationship
  3. Care deeply

Think long-term

If you want a healthy, long-term, resilient relationship, you need to think long-term first.

If you view people transactionally, expecting the relationship to end, what incentive do you have to work through hard problems? When you view a relationship over the long-term, its problems become obstacles instead of ways out.

In addition, you need to stop starting short-term relationships. Whether a business or romantic relationship, it’s easy to become stuck with someone for years. Eventually, different worldviews, values, or conflicting desires for the relationship become a problem.

We’ve all gone on a date with someone that we didn’t really like or thought we were compatible with. Maybe you were bored. Flash forward two months later, and you’re still dating that person. You’re unhappy, they know you’re unhappy, but you feel stuck now.

We know relationships are a huge part of life. If we’re stuck with the wrong people, it will take a toll even if it doesn’t seem like it now. Why invest our limited time, energy, and money on people who will only stick around for a moment?

Now once you’re thinking long-term, investment becomes worth it.

Invest

Investment in your self and the relationship is important as your relationship matures.

Investing in your self means to improve your life and maintain a lifestyle so you can be the best version of your self.

If each partner can grow independently and seek the best version of their self, both people can stay excited about and interested in the relationship. Complacency doesn’t set in, and a sense that each person is willing and happy to participate in the relationship develops. In addition, in times of hardship, your sense of self isn’t exclusively tied to the relationship. This leads to a healthier perspective on the relationship and its problems.

Additionally, you must also invest time and energy into the relationship.

One of the best investments I’ve ever made was attending couples’ therapy with my partner. Through this, my partner and I gained the vocabulary to talk about our emotions, which has helped us create a deep trust. I used to believe that I knew enough about relationships, but you simply can’t learn to be a great partner by only observing other couples and reading advice.

This investment set us back a little financially, but it provided us the tools to be successful now and in the future. Since then, our relationship has become a safe space to talk. With this trust, we can be vulnerable unlike anywhere else in our life.

Care Deeply

The final and most important principle is to care deeply.

And I mean really give a shit. It’s deceivingly simple, but the truth is most people don’t care enough to look beyond their own suffering or convenience.

Care deeply about your partner’s happiness. Care deeply about your own happiness. Care deeply about becoming a great partner. Care enough to be real. Care enough to take responsibility. Care enough to make sacrifices. Care enough to learn.

Life rewards people who give a shit a little more than the average person.

And that’s all.

Surprisingly, I don’t see a lot of millennials thinking this way, but I think if you can internalize these principles, you’ll create the foundation to create meaningful, lasting relationships.

Principles to Learn Effectively Online

I applied these self-learning principles to go from being college dropout to self-taught programmer.

With the bulk of human knowledge readily available on the Internet, we can learn anything we want. As we all know, with knowledge comes opportunity.

I’m a case study for this: You can really turn blog posts, video courses, and other online content into a new career or further your current one.

But how do you actually make your effort effective? How do you transform your time reading blog posts and watching MOOCs into truly furthering your career?

We spend so much time looking for resources and poring over information that you can’t use immediately. The process of learning online can be overwhelming and inefficient.

Try these principles and you might save some time:

  • Learn by doing is the most effective way to mastery.
  • When acquiring a new skill, learn only what you need to start. Then, start immediately.
  • As soon as you learn new information, try to apply it immediately. This is why many courses are project-based; the lessons stick when you actually solve problems yourself.
  • Learn how you learn. If you can absorb material simply by reading, then you will save a lot of money. If not, don’t kid yourself. I wasted a lot of time and money trying to learn from books when only code-along video courses have worked for me.
  • Learning is an investment in yourself. View it as so, and applying your time and money will feel justified. Every improvement will feel like an increase in your ROI.
  • If you need the skill, you won’t have to manufacture motivation. If it’s simply a hobby, your motivation will take much more willpower. Include the skill in your goals and you’ll find a way.
  • Reminder: Writing it down is not the same as learning it.

It will take longer than you expect to understand, but shorter than you expect to be effective.

Start now.

Applying to Jobs? Organize The Chaos with Trello

I use this workflow to manage dozens of applications so I can remember where I am in the process, take notes about the interviewer/interview/company, and maximize my candidate potential.

When you’re sending tons of applications and emails, you need a system. Otherwise, something important will slip through the cracks or, worse, you’ll fail to be as effective as you could be. When you’re gunning for a great job, you want every bit of help you can get.

To solve this, I use Trello to manage my job application workflow. It’s not the first time I’ve talked about using Trello to manage my professional life (see My Trello Workflow for Generating Blog and Product Ideas). The product is so versatile and easy-to-use if you can find the right workflow – I’m absolutely smitten with it for these applications.

Here’s a quick explanation of what it is:

Trello’s boards, lists, and cards enable you to organize and prioritize your projects in a fun, flexible and rewarding way.

It’s been essential to stay on top of what jobs I’ve applied for, what stage of the process I’m in, and log and refer to notes about the company. The workflow is dead simple:

  • Create a board, “Jobs”
  • Create the following lists:
    • Want to Apply
    • Applied
    • Interviewing
    • Not a Good Fit
  • Create the following labels:
    • Phone Interview
    • (Any other types of interviews that are common for your job process)

Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 6.29.12 AM.png

Want to Apply

Found a company you’d like to work for? Add a card titled with the company name to this list.

Trello allows you to add notes to cards, so log any information you want. I often link to the application, the hiring manager, company culture notes, etc.

Applied

When you apply to a company, add a card or move an existing card to this list.

I often add cards here directly as I apply from job board websites where I can apply to multiple companies quickly.

At this point, I recommend adding a note with the link to the original job description. This way if you land an interview, you can refer to the description to focus the conversation on what they are looking for.

If you can’t remember what they’re seeking in a candidate, how can you be prepared to be the best candidate for the job?

Interviewing

Congrats, you landed an interview! Move a card over to this list now.

Now, use Trello’s Labels feature to label the stage of the interview process you’re in. This helps for visual scanning to see where you are in the interview process.

As an engineer, there are often stages of interviews: Phone interview, technical interview, then an in-person interview. As I work my way through each interview, I’ll add the corresponding label.

In addition, after each interview, I recommend adding a note comment with how you feel, what went well, and what you could improve in the next interview.

Not a Good Fit

Unfortunately, you weren’t a good fit for the company. It’s OK, it happens! Move the card over to this list, and note any feedback about what you can improve.

Wrap up

As well as providing an organizing principle to a messy and emotional process, this workflow has given me a sense of progress.

It can be demoralizing failing interviews and applying to companies who will never respond to you. I think this feeling of progress keeps my eyes focused on landing the right job, and keeps me motivated.

It’s worked and continues to work for me. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading!