Runway lengthens if you’re making money

(adapted from this twitter thread)

One thing most people don’t realize about starting a small business, particularly in the context of something with low overhead and low fixed costs, like software or media: not-enough revenue is still money!

Say you have $16k and need $2k/mo to live on. That’s 8 months of runway.

Say that after 3 months, your business makes $1k/mo. Not sustainable yet, but now you have 10 months runway! ((16-2*3)/(2-1)=10)

Not-enough revenue is still real money! 🤑

Huh. “runway” is actually backwards metaphor for this thing, at least in a personal context (may be different with “moon or bust” startups, that aren’t making any money while burning up runway).

Real runway is fixed distance, & certain speed needed for takeoff, but faster you go the sooner you run out of runway! 🛫 All-or-nothing. It’s dangerous to be going very fast but not fast enough, because it means that

By contrast, as you get momentum going with a personal business, that actually buys you more time.

» read the rest of this entry »

Complice: Beyond Getting Things Done

Some years ago, I invented a new productivity system, called Complice. Complice is a productivity app, and it’s also a productivity philosophy, or even an entire paradigm.

What is Complice?

Complice is a new approach to goal achievement, in the form of both a philosophy and a software system. Its aim is to create consistent, coherent, processes, for people to realize their goals, in two senses:

  • realize what their goals are
  • make their goals a reality

Virtually all to-do list software on the internet, whether it knows it or not, is based on the workflow and philosophy called GTD (David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”). Complice is different. It wasn’t created as a critique of GTD, but it’s easiest to describe it by contrasting it with this implicit default so many people are used to.

First, a one-sentence primer on the basic workflow in Complice:

  1. Clarify your goals: what matters to you on the timescale of months/years?
  2. Set intentions for today: how can your day be in service of your big-picture vision?
  3. Take action: work on what feels meaningful, whether the intentions you set or other emergent opportunities or challenges.
  4. Review, reflect, reorient: did you do what you set out to do? Is it actually moving the needle? Go to 2.

There’s a lot more to it, but this is the basic structure. Perhaps less obvious is what’s not part of the workflow. We’ll talk about some of that below, but that’s still all on the level of behavior though—the focus of this post is the paradigmatic differences of Complice, compared to GTD-based systems. These are:

  • choosing & doing, over organizing
  • goals as fundamental, rather than tasks
  • aliveness, instead of exhaustiveness
  • proactive, rather than reactive

Keep reading and we’ll explore each of them…

» read the rest of this entry »

A Collaborative Self-Energizing Meta-Team Vision

Originally written October 19th, 2020 as a few tweetstorms—slight edits here. My vision has evolved since then, but this remains a beautiful piece of it and I’ve been linking lots of people to it in google doc form so I figured I might as well post it to my blog.

Wanting to write about the larger meta-vision I have that inspired me to make this move (to Sam—first green section below). Initially wrote this in response to Andy Matuschak’s response “Y’all, this attitude is rad”, but wanted it to be a top-level thread because it’s important and stands on its own.

Hey @SamHBarton, I’m checking out lifewrite.today and it’s reminding me of my app complice.co (eg “Today Page”) and I had a brief moment of “oh no” before “wait, there’s so much space for other explorations!” and anyway what I want to say is:

How can I help?

screenshot of LifeWrite landing page

Because I realized that the default scenario with something like this is that it doesn’t even really get off the ground, and that would be sad 😕

So like I’ve done with various other entrepreneurs (including Conor White-Sullivan!) would love to explore & help you realize your vision here 🚀

Also shoutout to Beeminder / Daniel Reeves for helping encourage this cooperative philosophy with eg the post Startups Not Eating Each Other Like Cannibalistic Dogs. They helped mentor me+Complice from the very outset, which evolved into mutual advising & mutually profitable app integrations.

Making this move, of saying “how can I help?” to a would-be competitor, is inspired for me in part by tapping into what for me is the answer to “what can I do that releases energy rather than requiring energy?” and finding the answer being something on the design/vision/strategy level that every company needs.

» read the rest of this entry »

Transcending Blame while Hopping Mountains Together

Another personal learning update, this time flavored around Complice and collaboration. I wasn’t expecting this when I set out to write the post, but what’s below ended up being very much a thematic continuation on the previous learning update post (which got a lot of positive response) so if you’re digging this post you may want to jump over to that one. It’s not a prerequisite though, so you’re also free to just keep reading.

I started out working on Complice nearly four years ago, in part because I didn’t want to have to get a job and work for someone else when I graduated from university. But I’ve since learned that there’s an extent to which it wasn’t just working for people but merely working with people long-term that I found aversive. One of my growth areas over the course of the past year or so has been developing a way-of-being in working relationships that is enjoyable and effective.

I wrote last week about changing my relationship to internal conflict, which involved defusing some propensity for being self-critical. Structurally connected with that is getting better at not experiencing or expressing blame towards others either. In last week’s post I talked about how I knew I was yelling at myself but had somehow totally dissociated from the fact that that meant that I was being yelled at.

» read the rest of this entry »

Selling to friends (and telling crushes you like them)

I was chatting with a friend of mine the other day, who remarked:

I’ve got a question for you… I’m working at this company where I get a referral bonus for new hires or new customers, and when I told some of my coworkers that I was friends with the CEO of [Company], they said that I should try to get them to sign up.

…and I was like “whoa, that feels really aversive”. So I was wondering if you have any tips on selling to your friends.

Turned out this is a question I had pondered before, myself. Specifically, last October I found myself puzzling over the question:

“Why was it easy to ask friends for money when I was starting Complice, but not now?”

Fortunately, most of the conversations in which that had happened were recorded in the form of chat logs, so I was relatively easily able to investigate the question framed as such. First, I made a list of relevant factors that were different at the nascent stages of my company versus several years in:

  • in 2013 in was kind of an exclusive offer: you couldn’t just decide to sign up without me contacting you… and I was only looking for ~10 people to start. Not only that, but if I hadn’t messaged them, they probably wouldn’t have even known that it was happening… so there was a sense in which I was giving them valuable information. Whereas now, many of my friends have heard of Complice already.
  • » read the rest of this entry »

A laptop employed as a nightlight

This post is kind of from two years ago. I got thinking about it again last night when I was reading Wait But Why’s The Cook and the Chef, an article describing how Elon Musk does what he does, which is a lot. The author, Tim Urban, is using an analogy of chefs as those who actually do something original and cooks who just follow recipes. He remarks that most people think that most people are chefs and then some chefs are just better than others… but that a better model is that most people are cooks (some better than others) and then the main difference between most people and Elon Musk isn’t quantitative (“he’s smarter”) but rather qualitative (“he does things differently”).

It’s like a bunch of typewriters looking at a computer and saying, “Man, that is one talented typewriter.”

Imagine a laptop.
What can you use it for?
That laptop can be used as a paperweight.
It is, in fact, better than some objects (such as a pen) at being a paperweight.
But that’s probably a waste of the laptop.
What else can you use it for?
It can also be used as a nightlight.
It has quite a lot of comparative advantage at being a nightlight—most objects don’t emit light, so a laptop works pretty well there.
However, it’s still a huge waste.
And, if you’re a human, not a computer, it feels terrible to be wasted: to not be used for your full range of capabilities.
» read the rest of this entry »

Just Do A Thing (that nobody’s expecting you to do)

This post was co-written with my friend Duncan Sabien, a very prolific doer of things. He had the idea of writing the article in a sort of panel-style, so we could each share our personal experiences on the subject.

Malcolm: At the CFAR alumni reunion this August, my friend Alton remarked: “You’re really self-directed and goal-oriented.  How do we make more people like you?”

It didn’t take me long to come up with an answer:

“I think we need to get people to go and do things that nobody’s expecting them to do.”

Duncan: When I was maybe nine years old, I had a pretty respectable LEGO collection dropped into my lap all at once.  I remember that there was one small spaceship (about 75 or 80 pieces) that I brought along to summer camp, with predictable results.

I found myself trying to piece the thing back together again, and succeeded after a long and frustrating hour.  Then, to be absolutely sure, I took it completely apart and reassembled it from scratch.  I did this maybe forty or fifty times over the next few weeks, for reasons which I can’t quite put my finger on, and got to where I could practically put the thing together in the dark.

These days, I have an enormous LEGO collection, made up entirely of my own designs.  My advice to pretty much everyone:

» read the rest of this entry »

Deciding to make things happen

Last Thursday—after my last day of classes ever—one of my classmates, Sung Cheul Hong and I found ourselves in an interesting conversation at a local craftbeer bar. At one point I asked him, “What was the most surprising thing you learned during your degree? Not necessarily from school, though it could be.”

He thought for a moment, then answered: (this is from memory, a beer and 3 days later)

I think it was… that you can just kind of decide to make things happen. I wanted to make a positive impact on campus, and I had this idea for a Product Vision Club to educate students about product management, with companies giving talks and students building and executing on their visions.

I didn’t have anyone on board, I just wrote a one pager, like what this club is about and what we are going to do this term, and made a facebook group and a public announcement… and people rolled in! An exec team, guest speakers, and of course members.

I just had an idea and a high-level plan, then I publicly announced the plan as if it were happening regardless, and… Bam!

What Sung said probably wouldn’t’ve been my answer if someone had asked me the question, but this is a thing I’ve been learning. I wrote last year in my post about self-authorship, about how I realized I had no birthday plans, and just decided that I would have a cuddle party, announced it, and it happened. This year, I one-upped my past self and » read the rest of this entry »

The 40-Hour Work Weekend

I’ve experimented with focus blocks before, where I’m working a large percentage of the time and when I’m not working I’m only engaging in distractions that are centering, rather than divergent. Following in the footsteps of some other entrepreneurs that I admire, I decided to make this entire weekend a focus block. I closed out my email inbox friday afternoon, and didn’t open it again until sunday. And I got a lot done.

The video!

Like the others, I made a timelapse video. I’m kicking myself now, because I didn’t confirm that I had a functional system on Linux for recording my webcam and then turning it into a timelapse. Meaning it took me way longer (read: several hours today pulling my hair out while staring at my screen) to create this video than would have been reasonable, and it’s not even sync’d the whole time. But I know how to do it better next time, and can probably push out a video with 30mins at most of post-processing, provided I set things up well at the start. I learned a bunch about the ffmpeg and sed tools though, which was helpful. I’ll post my scripts once I fix the aforementioned problem.

The stats!

TagTime

An app that pings you at totally random intervals and gets you to tag what you’re doing. The pings are on average every 45 minutes, but sometimes will be within seconds, or hours apart, so you never know. tagti.me »

Complice: My goal-progress-tracking business, 75 days

My aforementioned business now has a name: Complice. I’m sure I’ll write more about the name-choosing process later. This post is about various things I’ve learned in 73 days of business.

75 days

75 days. 11 weeks. It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. I definitely had the sense of being at an earlier stage. But I guess I spent awhile going fairly slowly while I only had 1 user… which I didn’t even get stable until mid-October. So that’s half of the time right there, before I’d… done much of anything.

Wait.

I was already using a proto-Complice system at the time, so I can look up exactly what I did in there… Oh. I actually was spending a fair bit of necessary time on customer acquisition… plus walking my alpha user through things. I was also tweaking the planning questions a lot, which is funny given that I’ve basically ditched them for now. Oops. Well, learning. It’s not obvious how I would have realized their lesser importance at that point, esp since my single alpha user was doing them. Slowly though. Oh and blogging. I counted a lot of blogging. And here I go again! It’s important though, I think.

Once I’m actually loading this stuff into databases, I’ll be able to generate graphs and word clouds and other metrics about how much progress people are making over time.

User-visible Improvements

Paul Graham writes “Startups rarely die in mid keystroke. So keep typing!” User-visible improvements are a commitment not to stop typing: that every day, some improvement to your product will be made available to your users.

It comes from Beeminder, who’ve just recently blogged about their thousandth UVI. My graph is much less grand, but it’s coming along. I’m tweeting my UVIs out at @compluvi. (My main Complice twitter account is @complicegoals)

The very system of Complice itself (which I’ve been dogfooding since before it existed) has been already keeping me making progress, but publicly committing to UVIs has the further benefits of communicating to users and potential users that I’m actively improving this, and ensuring that my progress is felt by my users, so I don’t spend most of my time on things like “answer their questions” and “read business book X”. Those are important, but I need to be actively improving things as well.

Having public commitment is really important. Early on, I would sometimes tell my idea to friends and they’d say “but how are you going to compete with X, Y, and Z?” and I would feel really discouraged, but I already had a half-dozen users who’d paid me to help them. I couldn’t just give up that easily. UVIs are kind of like saying “well, maybe I don’t have to make it to 20 pushups, but I can at least do 1 more… okay, and maybe 1 more”.

Blogging about Complice counts as a UVI because it’s definitely user-visible, and because a business with blog posts is better than one without. Of course, I have to do more than write blog posts, but bugfixes count too and they’re not sufficient to have a successful business either.

Assumptions

In the process of starting to work with my beta users, I continually experienced having my assumptions thrown out the window. I had assumed that: (time to realize; how I realized)

  • users would respond to my emails within at most 48h, from the start (2 days; they didn’t)
  • users would respond remotely well to long emails (2 weeks; they didn’t)
  • users would have more time for this stuff on weekends (4 days; I asked about this)
  • keeping users at the same stage would make any sense at all (2 weeks; the ones moving faster were getting impatient and some people had barely done step 1, so )
  • it’s important to start with the planning before jumping into daily outcome-tracking (3 weeks; including several days of waffling about whether or not the switch of focus actually made sense)
  • users would understand all of my instructions perfectly (I’ve been doing this sort of thing for so long that I’m getting hit really bad with illusion of transparency.

The first few assumptions were kind of silly, but other . I’ve been reading The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, and it talks a lot about having explicit experiments with stated hypotheses. This helps iteration/innovation proceed much faster and more nimbly because it doesn’t rely on falsifying data to hit you in the face: instead, you’re actively looking for it. I’ve been trying to add more explicit experiments to my validation process.

Stay in the loop

If you’re interested in joining Complice when it becomes more widely available, head over to complice.co and enter your email address. My goal right now is to have something ready for New Year’s Resolution season, but given that I’m going to be busy with family stuff over the holidays, that’s going to be challenging!

This post adapted from the first entry into my business journal. I decided just today that it would be valuable, for myself and potentially others someday, to write for a few minutes at the end of most days with how things are going with my business. The intention is to capture the nuances and feelings that don’t show up in the list of things I did.

A portrait of Malcolm Ocean

I'm Malcolm Ocean.

I'm trying to figure out how humans work so I can help make humanity work. More about me.

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