Moving Forward

In the Micro ISV Mistake articles, I outlined the main areas where I went wrong when starting my business and developing my products. I wasn’t just wallowing, by writing about and exploring the problems, I was trying to identify and plan a way forward.

Obviously, I haven’t managed a complete turn around in just the last couple of months. I realised when writing the original articles that there were some things I was going to have to learn to live with, and that I would need to take a long term view on others. For example, there’s no way to get back time and momentum squandered during the early stages, and a product with too general a market can’t be tailored to a niche overnight.

But, I think enough time has passed, and I’ve made enough changes, to start writing those updates I promised.

Prioritisation

One of the biggest recurring themes in the mistakes was prioritisation, and I realised pretty quickly that I was still failing miserably in that area. Despite having a business partner who is also a developer, I was the only one working on both of our products, which are completely unrelated (and when I say unrelated, I mean in all respects, no shared code, no shared market, nothing at all in common). The situation was all my own making, my energy was all over the place and I was always inevitably the first one to sit down and start making things happen.

When I added in the fact that I was in the midst of a very difficult period on a personal level, it was totally clear to me that I was as close to burned out as I could imagine. I’d been spreading myself too thinly, trying too hard, worrying too much, and I’d let a year slip by without any clear direction or priority. It seemed like I’d just been scrambling around trying everything I could think of to get myself on the right track... not only was it not working, it had left me exhausted.

Lightening the load

Clearly, I couldn’t let that situation continue, so my first move was to hand one product over to my partner. In this respect I was lucky that I had a partner, and that he was a developer. Had I not, I would have had to make a similar but harder decision, probably to either discontinue or neglect a product, or bring someone on board to take it over.

The hand-over actually gave us an opportunity to put that product back on target. With the first version, I’d failed to find a specific target market; all I’d succeeded in doing was in building something I wanted to use. I used to think that would be enough to make other people want to use it too, and I even added all kinds of little bells and whistles which I thought might be useful (the error of my ways is all too clear to me now). So we knew that we needed to go back to the drawing board, and I hoped a new developer could be the first step towards that. He should find it easier to be more brutal with his changes and bring fresh ideas to the product. We took another step back towards the drawing board by starting to give it away, based on the theory that we will get more users and more feedback, and ultimately a better product.

With half of my workload removed, the next big change happened naturally. I started to calm down, get more work done, and be more motivated and focused. My product has improved more in the last couple of months than it had in the last year, and I feel like the desperation and a lot of the stress has left me. When you’re desperate it shows, and it’s not an attractive quality... if you’ve been running a business for a few years and haven’t made it to where you want to be, it’s hard to avoid frustration. The thing is, you can’t fix it by struggling, whether it’s year one or year five, you have to have a sensible goal based on where you are, not on how long you’ve been working at it.

Testing the theory

The next change might seem to conflict with everything I’ve just said, but I’ve also decided to try out my own advice on a new product idea. There are a few differences in both the type of product and in my approach which make me believe that I can do it without ending up back where I started, with too much work and not enough motivation. The first big difference is that it’s almost identical to my current product. The second big difference is that the new product is focused on one specific feature. The final difference this time is that I know, for now, it’s not important.

All I’ve done so far is taken the idea and built a basic site to explain and share it. I’ll be blogging about it, but beyond that I’m not going to divert any attention away from the work I’m doing on my existing product. If I’d had this idea last year, I would have started work on it right away, and then three to six months later launched it on the unsuspecting world. In other words, I’d have taken my attention away from something important, just to build something new because I thought it was a good idea.

I believe that two more things need to happen before the idea turns into something important enough to actually start working on. I have to find and connect with potential users, and then once that happens, I need to fill in any holes in the concept and figure out exactly what it needs to do. Then it will become important, and I’ll have to find a way to fit it into my schedule. Until then, my priorities are clear and my business doesn’t suffer. If I never manage to find anyone who wants to use the new product, then I haven’t lost anything. If I do, I’ll have a genuine reason to build it.

More to come

This was a summary of some of the biggest changes that have taken place since I sat down to write about what I was doing wrong. I’ll have more to say about each of them, and some smaller ones, in future articles.