One year after pressing pause, I'd like to reflect on the journey: what's worked, what hasn't and the changes in-between.<...>
You'd think that this would merely be an exercise in going over my notes and charting the route my year took, but it's seemingly not as simple as that. I can't even create a blueprint in hindsight.
But reflection is about starting at the end and re-tracing my steps.
So let's start with today: I'm proud to announce that my new startup - Receiptful - has just been released publicly, after being in private beta the last couple of months.
Just reading that sentence evokes feelings and triggers thoughts about what it really means to me (especially relative to where I was mentally, emotionally and professionally about a year ago).
What I've tried to do below is to just share all of those thoughts and feelings. I've gained clarity on some of them, whilst some of the others are just a verbatim copy+paste of the things I experienced (and am yet to figure out some kind of clarity or learning).
The two things that I've always associated with strong (and successful) individuals is their ability to be decisive and take action. It's odd though that I'm not sure how deliberate my decisions or actions were in facilitating my journey.
For one, I did a really half-assed job of actually taking a break and resting up. Even in my pause post I allude to already having new ideas. The reality was that even though I shut PublicBeta down, I never strayed too far from my online habitat. This meant that I continued to read, I continued to explore ideas and as early as the week after Christmas, I almost jumped into one of those ideas.
So if you ask me if I feel mentally and emotionally rested today, I'll unequivocally tell you: "Yes!". But that wouldn't be because I necessarily rested; just that things are different (better?) today.
The second consideration here is how ambitious I am about Receiptful and how excited I am about the progress we've made recently. Fact is that I stumbled onto the idea after reading a blog post; a post I found without actively searching for it. Someone that I follow on Twitter shared it and it sounded interesting; so I read it. Perhaps the former has a deliberate action, but finding and reading the article just happened.
I was also working on a reincarnation of PublicBeta at the time (one that I had invested $10k into) and I decided to drop it to pursue Receiptful instead.
I can't deny any involvement (decision and / or action) in facilitating this journey, but neither can I take exclusive credit. There's part of the last year that just happened as a consequence of other things. And there's a part of me that then looks back at my PublicBeta experience just thinks maybe it was just a stage.
And that too passed.
Maybe better days are just around the corner regardless of the decisions and actions I take today. Maybe survival and sticking at it is the only deliberate thing we could do.
When I first had the idea to build Receiptful, I was very excited about the opportunity; partly because it made so much sense to me and partly because no one else had done it before. That was a positive energy in helping me take the first few steps.
It wasn't however until later when I started hiring that I realized just how much the energy had shifted and changed compared to when I was building PublicBeta.
With PublicBeta, I only had a handful of candidates apply. But with Receiptful, I absolutely couldn't keep up with all of the interest that I received. And the candidates that did apply were really good too.
I think a big part of this is just the idea itself and the ability to clearly communicate it. PublicBeta was complicated and I definitely had a hard time pinpointing an elevator pitch of any kind. Receiptful's just been much simpler and - as such - easier to communicate, market and sell.
The other thing that I've definitely noticed is that energy doesn't necessarily relate to actual progress. In fact, with PublicBeta we had much shorter milestone cycles (i.e. when we've finished something) compared to Receiptful which has generally had longer periods of public inactivity. Yet this never changed the energy I felt around the project and product.
This leads me to believe that energy is most about perception and not about anything that can be labeled empirical fact.
I did zero customer development and didn't speak to anyone before I started building Receiptful. I read the blog post and intuitively decided that this is something I'm pursuing with everything I have.
This approach is in stark contrast to the one I took with PublicBeta (something which I also mention in my next point below), where I tried to super-validate the idea. That poisoned my mindset though and I never got to a point where my head and heart aligned to fully commit to that pursuit. I never really believed that the idea had legs and all of the various (validation) signals simply combined to collectively confuse me.
I'm reminded of how Groove's beta version took about 4 months to build and cost about $250k before it was launched. No landing pages to test interest before the building commenced. Nada.
I'm not saying that seeking validation is a bad thing. And sometimes - when time and / or cash are limited - it's the only option. But seeking validation before you take action is fraught with its own challenges and is never so simple as the "1-2-3-steps you're done" techniques claim to be.
Furthermore, seeking validation isn't something that's as all-action as actually deciding to create something.
Taking action and creating (versus testing and validating ideas) is just something that aligns well with the way I work. I'm impatient and impulsive, so I prefer to start the work rather than waiting for signals. There's obvious risk in that (and Receiptful might still fall into that black abyss of not ever reaching product/market-fit), but the reward of momentum makes it worthwhile to me.
I have a new perception about comfort zones; one that slightly contradicts, but mostly augments my previously-held beliefs.
When I started working on PublicBeta, I wanted to challenge myself in a whole new way. This meant that I wanted to build something completely different to WooThemes, I wanted to work on something where I could use a recurring revenue-only business model and I wanted to apply all of the skills and experience I'd accumulated during my WooThemes journey.
What this meant though is that I initially veered away from everything I knew and the way I went about building a very successful business with Woo. In some cases, I did things in exactly the opposite way (like the way that I re-prioritized PublicBeta's roadmap to support fundraising at the expense of self-funding / bootstrapping the business).
I've said before that PublicBeta wasn't a full-on failure and that there was enough traction there to suggest that a couple of good decisions and weeks of hard work could've created something of (sustainable) value. But the way I went about building the business created more challenges than was required.
Today with Receiptful I'm in much more of a hybrid space. I'm self-funding and bootstrapping an idea that has overlap with an industry (eCommerce) and ecosystem (WordPress) that I know intimately. I also didn't wait for validation (as I mentioned above) and instead just started creating (like I did with WooThemes).
I have however also augmented this known approach with new elements. I'm working on a SaaS product and the revenue model is exclusively recurring revenue. I'm focusing on benefits and not features. I'm launching as early and as quickly as possible. And this list goes on.
Ultimately I'm being challenged and I know that an acceleration in growth will only challenge me more. But in the eye of that storm, there's still home comforts in the sense that I can rely on personal experience of where something has or hasn't worked for me. It's not a theoretical experience that's been passed onto me by hear-say; it's something my experience.
This currently feels like the best of both worlds. I'd imagine that my approach will continue to evolve in the weeks / months / years ahead. For now though, the transition has at least one part that's known and comfortable.
It's ultimately a journey. It's neither perfect, efficient or precisely what we expect, but we all have our individual journeys.
This is just a recap of one, year-long micro-journey in the effort of at least tracking the changes, because there is no version control to what we learn or experience (and how we let those things influence our futures).
I look forward to writing a similar post next year. :)