Sunday, March 23, 2014

Baby steps... This is the last bus to Winnipesaukee Bob!

I am back from the Startup Weekend Boulder! Well I have been back for a week now. It took me a while to recover from the weekend since I got back at 5 am on Monday morning! I have seemed to be in a creative vacuum ever since. I think it is a combination of the intense creative marathon, some really hard workouts at Crossfit, and of course march madness. Whatever the reason I have been feeling lethargic and unmotivated this week. This brings me to a key concept I learned from the startup weekend and a lesson about getting things done in general. You need to focus on the MVP!

So I went to Startup Weekend knowing nothing about how startups work or the lingo that they use. Everybody was saying that we needed to have an MVP by the end of the weekend but nobody was saying whether or not they were willing to step up and be the MVP. I kept wondering what it took to be the MVP of a nerdy weekend like this. Maybe l33t hacker skills or something like that. About halfway through the weekend I started understand that what they meant by MVP isnt what I understood MVP to mean. I eventually had to ask since I couldn't quite figure it out from context. In the startup world MVP stands for "Minimum Viable Product". It is the simplest form of your product that somebody is willing to buy. There are big props to you if you can sell some of that product before the end of the weekend.

The concept of MVP is so important and I got it right away. You see I have a history of starting projects and working really hard on them for a week and then stopping. The idea of the MVP is: what are you able to make that is worth value today. Once you define that you need to stick to that and only that. My github is filled with the code of good ideas that got too big too soon. Programmers like to think big and while that is good it gets you into trouble because if you cant get people using it you will lose interest. And if an idea is too big you will become overwhelmed with the amount of work that is needed to be done to finish.

If the idea is too big I see two problems. First of all you wont be motivated to start and secondly you will lose interest before you finish.

What is the solution? Baby steps Bob, baby steps. I love this scene from What About Bob. It captures the very essence of what it means to break big tasks into the tiniest of steps. Keeping the steps small is so important. Lets deal with these two issues on their own.

Getting started is probably the biggest battle. It is for me, I know that. 9 times out of 10 I will finish a job if I can just get it started. I put off writing this post all week and now that I am doing it I am really enjoying it. I just had to start. Getting started is so important for big things like starting a business or doing something you don't normally do. You will be tempted to do tons of research before you start to make sure you don't fail (I will talk about the benefits of failure in another post). With the internet we can spend more time researching our tasks than we will actually spend on them.

I strongly disagree with the research heavy approach. You don't know any of the problems you are going to face until you face them so you may waste a lot of time researching something that in the end would not have been an issue for you.  Some research is ok but you have to start at some point. A popular saying is that you can't steer a ship that is not moving. Research should be done while you are in motion trying to do and not too much before you start. Is there something big you have been wanting to do? Take a baby step and just start it.

The second problem is scope. Here is how my ideas often go, "Oh I should write a little program to remind me to water my plants. Oh better yet I could write a program to water my plants. Then I could add a sensor that lets me tell if they have gotten enough enough sunlight. Oh then if they dont it could turn on a grow light and give them more light. I could then package this up and sell it to home gardeners. Wow that would take a long time. Ill just watch another episode of Archer." We all love to dream but when the scope grows too fast it can kill a dream. Keep your ideas super small. Something you could do in an afternoon.

It's ironic that we are told in school to dream big but the best way to be successful is to dream just a little bit bigger than where you are. I could write an app that could be sold to home gardeners that keeps track of their plants but it would start with the first step of just having it remind me and then build from there.

Focus on the MVP and get that done. That can be a launching point to keep going. Baby steps.

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