One simple thought to keep you motivated on your startup

Working on your side project or business idea takes a lot of motivation. Deep down you know you should be working.

But it’s tough. Tough to get started. Tough to avoid distractions. Even tougher when you’ve just put in a full day at your 9 to 5.

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I’m in the same boat too.

In January this year I started the web app challenge. My goal was to build software for the property management industry. Initially I worked extremely hard. I knew I needed to make a dent into my new product before I began to second guess myself.

Every time I came up against a difficult problem I would get a bit disheartened. I didn’t want to start work when I got home.

I was tired.

Eventually I’d set aside a weekend and put in the hours to solve my problem. Most of the time the solution was simpler than I thought it would be. So I began to ask myself “Why am I finding it so difficult to sit down and work on something I actually want to work on?

At my job I’d be reminded about how much I really wanted to work for myself. And how much I want to build a business that allowed me freedom. Freedom to travel.

Then it hit me. I kept losing sight of that goal.

My goal is to quit my job within two years and have a business that meets my financial needs. Every day that I don’t work on my goals is a day longer I stay employed.

That’s an empowering thought for me.

Now, my aim is to spend at least one hour each day working towards my goal. This small shift alone has increased my productivity.

I keep a score. 730 (365 days x 2). Each day I don’t work at least an hour on my new business, I add one to the score.

Each day I do work at least an hour, I minus one from the score. Hopefully, by the end of two years I will have spent roughly 730 hours or more on my own business.

That’s about 20 full time working weeks! Time that could be easily wasted watching the latest TV shows in the evening.

So here’s my challenge to myself and to you. What can YOU build with 20 full time working weeks?

Web App Challenge Status Report

Back in January I threw down the gauntlet and decided to take on the web app challenge. I said I would make a profit. I also said I would be transparent.

So here it is. An update.

The past couple months have been a crazy journey. I’ve taught myself Ruby on Rails. I’ve written 80% of a web application that works. And I’ve even learnt how to deploy it to a VPS myself.

That’s not all. I also had the time to make a marketing site and get the app tested by a potential end user.

Let me be honest. My app is nowhere near finished or ready for sale, but I am getting there. To be perfectly honest I’m finding it really tough to juggle my full time day job, family and social commitments and working on the app. I’m getting there, but not as fast as I’d like.

In case you don’t already know I am building software for property management and lettings agents in the UK.
I haven’t been tracking my time so I can’t say how long I’ve spent on the app so far. I’ve spent under £300GBP on a VPS and domain names.

Right now I think I’m over complicating some functionality and that’s stopped me from implementing anything other than bug fixes for a while. If you’re good with modelling data or would like to test my app please get in touch!

Scratch your own itch

When you’re building a product, web app or otherwise, the de facto advice is to “scratch your own itch”. It makes sense. Find a problem which bothers you enough to take some action to solve it. Ideally, you won’t be the only person with the same problem and others will be experiencing enough pain to do something about it i.e. pay you for your solution.

If you’ve been following my posts lately, you’ll know I’m midway through month two of my web app challenge. Going against conventional wisdom I’m not scratching my own itch – I’m scratching someone else’s (that sounds wrong…but you get what I mean).

Now although the itch isn’t mine, it belongs to someone close to me and I feel their pain.

What’s the pain?

90% of their business activities are recurring repetitive tasks that could be automated. Right now they do everything manually – yes, manually.

Is there a solution out there?

Yep, plenty. We could use one of these existing solutions but decided against it. After speaking to several businesses in the same industry the consensus was that existing providers were either too expensive, too hard to use or a combination of the two.

Another thing I noticed was that many of the existing providers didn’t offer an overly “user friendly” web based offering. Instead they required to customer to have on site equipment (severs etc) to run their applications. On top of this most providers (in the UK at least) seemed to have websites that looked dated and didn’t demonstrate their product well.

There were some exceptions to this of course and I made use of free trials where available. I found that whilst many performed the job they were not intuitively easy to use.

What am I building?

I’m building a property management application. The person who’s itch I’m scratching is my Father. Whilst his business is a lot more than just property rentals, this is the area I’m choosing to focus on as it’s where they are experiencing growth and need a solution thats more scalable than spreadsheets and files in filing cabinets.

It’s nice to have access to a “subject matter expert” at home, but I’m also in touch with similar businesses to ensure I build a tool that caters to the majority of needs rather than something bespoke for my Dad.

How much time have I spent?

Keeping in mind I have a day job, I’ve had to make some hard decisions about how to spend my out-of-work hours. I try to make it to the gym 3 times a week and leave Friday/Saturday evenings for socialising. The rest of the week I try to work pretty much immediately after getting in from work until bedtime.

I’ve found staying motivated is hard. It’s even harder to get to work after “relaxing” in front of the TV for an hour. In my head I keep telling myself, I’ll have more time to watch TV after July. It’s been tough and some days I get nothing done, but having limited time is keeping me focused.

I haven’t done any specific time tracking, but my guess is about 10 -15 hours a week.

“The one human quality that must be developed is self discipline for success. The will power to force yourself to do what you know you should do when you should do it, whether you like it or not, whether you feel like it or not. Success is tons of discipline.” — Brian Tracy

Where are the links I promised last post?

In my last post I mentioned I had been in touch with a great bunch of guys working on their own web app challenges. They’ve been a great source of motivation and inspiration so far. Here are links to their blogs/projects:

App Name App Author Target Monthly Income
by July 2013
App Description
Convert Kit Nathan Barry $5000 (USD) An app to help improve the conversion rate of your landing pages and make the set up of auto responder email courses easier. Martyn Garcia 10 paying customers The best conversion optimization platform the world has ever seen. Developer and designer friendly.
The Niche Finder Paul Devlin $5001 (USD) A tool that scans eBay recording product metrics such as how many of each product the seller has sold each month. The products are then displayed in a best seller list so users can find popular products at a glance.
ThankBee Rob Chava $1000 (USD) With ThankBee, Android app developers can:

  • Invite buyers to friend them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, or to join their mailing list.
  • Invite users to give them valuable comments and feedback (possibly solving issues that would normally end up as negative reviews).
  • Promote their other apps and services.
  • Offer special discounts or trial codes to users who cancelled their purchase.
Procedure Office Will Claxton $500 (USD) Virtual Assistant Management Software

  • Manage any number of Virtual Assistants easily all from one simple to use dashboard
  • Create Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for quick reference to common repeatable tasks
  • Custom Tasks & SOPs have colour coded Priority Levels
  • Set SOPs to Re-occur on the VA’s to-do list
  • Business Owners receive notifications if scheduled SOPs not completed on time
  • Statistics on task completion timing and scheduled SOP completion percentages
  • VA’s can have multiple clients, this makes managing daily workload much simpler as everything is in one location.
Property Management App CD £3000 GBP (~$4700 USD) An easy to use, web-based Property Management Tool for UK based Letting Agents

Planning an application

Since the last update on the Web App Challenge a fair few things have happened.

To begin with, I’ve been fortunate to connect with some amazing people, also taking part in their own web app challenges. We have a Google Group where we are currently sharing ideas and advice – you’d be surprised at how much overlap there is even though each of our apps are different.

Each participant has their own blog and I’ll post with links in my next post.

Now, an update. Nathan and the others have all been decided to spend 20 hours or less per week working on their app. So far I’m managing about 10 hours per week at best. Regardless, I am still making progress.

My app has a home, about, and pricing pages as well as some “internal pages”. I also have secure (in my opinion) user sign up and authentication built.

With any luck I will have a basic version out and being used by the end of February so I can start gathering feedback.

So far I am happy with progress, especially since I lost the last 5 days to poor health. I know the big picture of all the features my application should have. I also know which would provide the most value and therefore be included in version one.

My plan is to clearly map out the “flow” and user experience to make sure if nothing else my app does this one thing beautifully and adds real value for the user.

Once I’ve got a clear idea of how it should work I’ll get back to coding and hopefully be done by Feb 28.

Writing this now, I don’t think I’ve actually explained what I am working on or given much context. Keep with me and I will reveal all in the next few posts.

I got a Raspberry Pi!

Sitting at my desk on Tuesday morning I spontaneously ordered a Raspberry Pi. I’m not quite sure what I was thinking but I went on the site and just ordered one. I ordered a Raspberry Pi with a clear case. Unfortunately the package where the Pi comes in the case was out of stock, but I could order the two items separately and have them the next day for £1 or so more. (Surely it’s more expensive to put the Pi in the case and ship it?)

As promised the Pi turned up on Wednesday and I began to play with it. I decided that most things I could do with a linux box I could do with my VPS, so I decided to make a home media center with my Pi. Some swift googling led me to OpenElec – reviewed as being one of the better XBMC distributions for the Pi and only required a minimal amount of space, which was good because I only had a 2GB SD card handy rather than the recommended 4GB.

Long story short, I love my Raspberry Pi + OpenElec. It’s taken me a good few days to get it running the way I want and scan my media, but now all my media is just a couple taps away (using any android phone in the house as a control).

On the flipside, playing with the Raspberry Pi has totally distracted my time away from my Web App Challenge. I haven’t made any progress since Tuesday night. I’ll be getting back to business tomorrow night and will write more about how I set up the Raspberry Pi and more details on how I am progressing with the Web App Challenge!