eno writer

009 - iteration / conflicting advice

start small, then iterate, Iterate, iterate

I've said this a few ways already but I'll say it again: so many of the challenges in the early days of starting an ambitious project are psychological. In particular, the enormity of the task at hand can be absolutely paralyzing, leaving me feeling helpless to make even a tiny dent in it. Often to push through this, I just need to do something. The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.

With my code, I can keep these initial steps private. No one needs to ever see these meagre first steps that are rife with errors. In other areas that's not possible. I need to have some crappy thing out there with my name on it.

One example of this is eno's website. It is extremely barebones. I can't imagine anyone looking at this website and thinking eno is anything more than a hobby project. eno's LinkedIn presence is not much better. Until recently, it wasn't set up as a proper company so it looked like a fake job on my profile.

When I went to announce eno, I could have taken a few weeks and created a much more polished presence. Maybe I would have had a higher uptake on my initial announcement if I had a splashy website. The issue is that every minute of work on this would have been stolen from minutes worked on making the actual product. The other issue is I didn't really know what eno was. The front page of eno-writer.com has a three sentence description. At the time I wrote it, that was basically everything concrete I had to say about it.

I also could have done even less and not had any website at all, just posting these blogs on my personal LinkedIn account. This would have been a major misstep. Each of these posts is like planting a little seed. Many of them will not grow into much, but some might sprout up and bear fruit for years. If that happens, I want all that traffic going to a domain I own - one day there might be an actually good website there! I also want to convert anyone who really enjoys one of my posts to my mailing list so I can ensure they see future posts.

On top of that, there's the matter of my personal brand. When my profile comes up on LinkedIn and undoubtedly some people decide to stalk me out. I want a 100% conversion rate on "people stalking Gordon" to "people who are aware of eno - the modern word processor Gordon is building".

So, literally the night before I announced I was working on eno, I made a website, a mailing list, and changed my LinkedIn. It took about an hour. I knew all of it was pretty terrible but I didn't care. It was something. I also knew that it wouldn't be this way forever.

Every week since I announced eno I have spent a few minutes quietly tweaking these things. I changed the mailing list provider because the first one I picked sucked. I added the subscription link to the front page of eno-writer.com. I made eno a legit company on LinkedIn so it doesn't look fake (of course if you click on it, the profile is still very anaemic). I created a logo by typing the word "eno" over a grey square. I started experimenting with posting my blog entries to different places to try to grow my subscriber base. And perhaps most importantly, I now have nine posts on eno-writer.com - it's starting to look less like a vaporware hobby project and more like a serious going concern.

It's only been three months. If you project my progress forward, the website and LinkedIn starts looking pretty good by the end of the year!

conflicting advice

"You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." ~ Abraham Lincoln

Readers of this blog may remember a post from a few weeks ago entitled "The Iteration Trap" wherein I criticized the concept of MVPs. Such readers may point out that I have just praised the idea of an MVP without explicitly writing the term MVP. Yes, that is exactly what I have done.

The answer to so many questions is "it depends" and that is the case here. This is unfortunate because business is much easier when we have clear cut answers. Clear cut answers allow us not to have to think very hard about decisions we make. As a result, when we receive the advice "do less X, do more Y", we often morph it into "never do X, only do Y".

I could get into the specifics of why I think the "MVP and iterate" strategy is right for eno-writer.com and not right for eno itself. The meta lesson is more interesting. When running a business, you are basically just making decisions all day. Many of these decisions must be made with woefully incomplete information and a total lack of previous experience. To deal with this, we go shopping for advice. We are looking for something in the form of "If A, B and C are true, do X" and we find this kind of advice all over the place.

Instead of this, I like to think about all my favourite pieces of advice as having varying degrees of gravitational pull. Entirely conflicting pieces of advice can be actively pulling simultaneously. Given the circumstances, one may pull harder than the other. In any given decision, I am trying to locate a place along a spectrum. In this case, the spectrum ranges from "eno-writer.com doesn't exist" to "eno-writer.com is a full fledged enterprise software marketing website". One advice's gravitational pull may be so great it pulls me to the extreme end of the spectrum, but others may offset it to draw me back towards the middle.

I don't want to always end up in the middle, sometimes the extreme is where I need to be. If I do end up on an extreme though, I don't want that to mean I can never be on the other extreme for some future decision. For some decisions, I might need a little bit of both extremes. For others, I might need a comfortable place in the middle of the spectrum. Every possible conclusion should be on the table.

I'll be taking next week off so please expect my next post on April 5.

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