I believe it’s critical to know what you like working on. What can, ultimately, provide long-term satisfaction for yourself? In the context of side projects, the perk of knowing it loud and clear is that it creates a mental filter to weed out bad ideas. All my projects, so far, have had the same trajectory: get excited about the idea, ship it, enjoy some attention, and soon enough, get bored with it. After the peak, the loss of excitement is so much that I find it painful to work on it again.
You can chalk it up to discipline, or lack thereof. But I also start to doubt the usefulness of the project. In the beginning, you can’t help but be really positive about why it will succeed. But when that phase fades, you are left with lots of work to do but not enough dedication to follow through.
Getting a project off the ground and on the sustainable growth path is a long-term commitment. Knowing the amount of work needed, you need to be convinced that you’re building something useful, otherwise, the cycling of quitting too early is likely to repeat.
To avoid the situation again, I tried to brainstorm a few mental filters to help me narrow down the ideas I would like to pursue. I call it an idea sieve. A set of rules to evaluate and pick ideas:
- Build Tools: I want to make tools that allow people to save time in what they already do. JS plugin to make it easy to read CSV files. An easier way to diagnose webhook issues. A tool to create charts easily. All these are examples of tools that will simplify their work. Games/Apps have users with fickle attention spans. But tools provide a lasting value. Once a user incorporates a tool into their workflow, they are likely to stay with it. Additionally, the fact that my software is simplifying someone’s work is quite motivating.
- Paid from the Start: I have never set a price on any product that I have shipped. The fear of rejection ran deep. I kept procrastinating and ended up never charging a dime. Lost interest followed. Money, I have realized, is an important tool to sustain your motivation. Yes, it might suck if no one ends up buying, but there’s no other way to build a sustainable business. If people start paying, you’ll be forced to listen to your customers. There’s no better indicator of growth than sales/revenue.
- Should be Scalable: The idea should be scalable. Paul Graham famously said that startups should do things that don’t scale. He was referring to being scrappy and preferring manual processes before automating them. That’s true, but, some solutions are not easy to scale. They require you to add employees (or hours) to grow revenue. An example of this is consulting or productized services. If you stop putting in hours, you stop making money, so you’ll never be free.
- Shouldn’t Needs Employees: I either want to run a one-man show or hire very few people.
- Competition is there, but not that much: The product should be in a space where solutions are there but not that many. This allows you to differentiate more easily, and the existence of competition partially validates your ideas. So note-taking is a bad space because it’s hard to sell people that your app is better. API to generate charts is much better.
- Clear idea about marketing: I should have a clear idea about how marketing can be approached. Ex: If the channel is going to be content marketing, one should have a list of 5+ articles that can attract relevant traffic. If it’s going to social media, I should know where my target audience exists and how can I reach them.
- Personal Problem: It should be a problem that I have personally faced. Having a product that you find useful is incredibly motivating and you’re likely to have a better vision of where you can take it.
So what are some ideas that have passed through the idea sieve? Here’re two of them:
- TextQuery: I always found it hard to extract insights from raw CSV files, so I want to build a solution that does the bulk of the work and helps me visualize the data quickly. There are a couple of other solutions that do this. But I want to differentiate by being offline-first, snappy, and beautiful.
- Paid Query Builder Component: I have seen multiple companies needing to build Query Builder UI, and that usually takes a long time. There are a few open-source/commercial query builders, but they are not up to the mark. Perhaps, a commercial builder with an excellent UI could have a market.
Your filtering rules could vary but it’s important to take time to write them down. The chief reason is that you don’t want to chase every idea that comes into your head and then, abandon it once you realize it’s not going the way to expected.