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.

I’m Starting a Business: Planning and Achieving Goals

I write a lot about goals. Sometimes big meaty well-defined goals like the album I recorded last year or the polyphasic experiences I had this summer. Other times the goal is just a 30-day challenge to do something daily or give something up. Sometimes it’s more abstract, like my aspirations to become more aware of my own mental processes. In the past few weeks, I’ve started taking things to the next level in a few ways. First, I’ve started doing not just evening reviews but also morning solo-standups where I plan my day. Second…

I’ve started a business to help other people with their goals.

I’m running this business incredibly lean:

About 2 weeks ago, I was reflecting to my friend Dan from Beeminder about how I thought I might be able to create something to play a kind of complementary role to his product. While Beeminder helps you keep track of numeric goals, I found I needed another system to help me keep track of my progress on more abstract and nuanced goals. As I noted during my end-of-2012 reflection, last year I started using the Pick Four system by Seth Godin and Zig Ziglar. Naturally, of course, as a tinkerer, I was constantly tweaking it, and developed a more robust system. I also found myself wishing I had better software to help me keep track of everything.

Handdrawn graphics showing four goals around a stylize Pick Four cover (ripples in water)

This summer I tried doing sketchnote style goal planning. Really pretty but didn’t actually help much.

However, I figured, it probably wouldn’t be worth it to build that kind of software just for myself. Would it be valuable to others too? Dan recommended starting just the way he started Beeminder: by helping one friend, manually. By chance, later that day I found such a friend, and so after talking with him briefly about his goals, we started going through the steps of the system. I would email him questions and prompts inspired by Pick Four, and he would respond. Meanwhile, I was also pitching the idea to other friends and getting them to sign on for my beta, which I’m hoping to start with about a dozen people in November.

about a dozen people, who have some goals they seriously want to achieve, and are feeling frustrated because they feel like they aren’t making as much progress towards them as they’d like. If this sounds like you, let me know! If you’re not sure if it’d be a good fit, get in touch and we’ll have a quick Skype chat. [EDIT 2013-11-05: the beta cohort is now closed, but feel free to email me and I’ll keep you posted]

So far the November beta cohort is about half-filled. At that point, things will be a bit more streamlined, although people will still be interfacing with me regularly—once this really gets running, in 2014, it’s going to be mostly automated, so if you want the chance to have a really cheap personal goals coach (me!) then now’s the time. The beta is going to be $10/month; after that the service is probably going to be at least twice as much. While I charge separately for full-on consulting, it’s super important to me that my system is helping you, so if you’re stuck then I’ll gladly help troubleshoot things with you. My business doesn’t have a name yet, but I think it will be valuable for people. Full refund offered if it isn’t—I want my customers to be satisfied.

I’m spending this upcoming weekend volunteering at the October CFAR workshop, where I hope to pick up some new ideas for what kinds of questions will help people most with staying on track, and to have more chances to pitch my business to smart, ambitious people.

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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