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.

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

My Trello Workflow for Generating Blog and Product Ideas

I use this Trello workflow to generate more ideas for blog posts and new products than ever did with lists. As I’m now pumping out ideas every day, publishing a weekly blog post, and thinking of side hustles, this workflow has been critical to maintaining my velocity.

And it’s incredibly simple. Originally, I heard about this workflow on the IndieHackers podcast. When the interviewee discussed it, a lightbulb went off in my head. Even though I have always admired Atlassian, Trello never stuck as one of my tools until now.

Here’s how it goes:

  1. Create a board, “Blog Post Ideas”.

  2. Then create lists to separate the stage of the idea. Here they are from left-to-right:

  • Rough Ideas
  • Promising Ideas
  • Finished
  • Published

Image 2018-03-10 at 4.39.48 PM

Note: For my product ideas board, the lists are different because a product’s work isn’t done after the V1 is completed.

  • Rough Ideas
  • Promising Ideas
  • Work in Progress
  • Completed
  • Failed
  • Successful

Finally, regardless of your workflow, you can try these tips and tactics to generate more ideas.

  • Add your idea the moment you think of it. If you use Trello for iPhone, they have a wonderful offline mode and sync.

  • Please don’t judge your ideas right away. Ideas are vulnerable babies that should be allowed to grow.

  • Jot down as many relevant notes as possible. Since we don’t usually start and finish executing an idea in one sitting, it’s important to write as much as you need to recontextualize later.

  • Use short, staccato thoughts with bullet points to get everything out on paper. I found if I tried to make my thoughts too eloquent, I would spend precious attention making it sound nice, which is ultimately less important than writing the relevant details. Write the idea down while it lasts.

Age of Distraction

This a reminder for myself and fellow millennials.

We live in the Age of Distraction. In the age of push notifications, social media platforms, Netflix, and unlimited access to everything in our pockets, there are infinite ways to use our attention. In addition, companies are getting better at making habit-forming, or addictive, products to command our attention more.

But your time and attention are limited resources. Mind your habits. Beware distractions and desire. Be clear about your goals and care enough to be disciplined.

If we can only be effective on a few things a day, what are you choosing to spend your time on? If you on Facebook or Instagram multiples times every day, how does that affect the happiness and success of your day? How much time do you spend avoiding what you need to do? Are you pushing yourself?

Leverage Skills

Oftentimes learning a new skillset can help provide a perspective or unblock you to reach a higher level.

I’ve begun to call these leverage skills.

Leverage skills are skills when combined with an in-demand skill, make you more effective and provide leverage in your work. They can be used to improve job security, salary, creative ability, and more. They enable you to reach a higher echelon in your world. Especially in technology and creative fields, improving in one of these skills can have a massive impact on your professional life.

Combining multiple leverage skills develops a unique perspective and skillset that is hard to replace. You begin to contribute different types of value and develop an advantage over your competition.

This is where the leverage part comes in. The more unique value you add, the harder you are to replace. The harder you are to replace, the more leverage you have in your business, your job, and in your own skills.

I’m constantly trying to improve mastery in my own trade, but learning to write, lead, and be a great teammate has allowed me to become an invaluable member of any team. I’ve developed an advantage over someone else who isn’t as cross-disciplined.

Some skills that I’ve come across are:

  • Leadership
  • Design
  • Writing
  • Negotiating
  • Sales
  • Programming
  • Networking
  • Brand thinking and building
  • Product thinking and building
  • Be a great teammate

And, of course, as you learn new skills and improve in self-learning, you become more adept at picking up other skills more quickly and efficiently.

Keep an eye out for a future blog post where I talk about how learning to program has given me the freedom to travel while working and provided a great salary to boot. In addition, it will outline how programming (and other leverage skills) can change your life too!