Monday, February 18, 2013

How You Lost Your Purpose

It happens suddenly, losing your purpose I mean. But when it happens you probably don't realize it. You started out with a goal in mind, a purpose to your efforts, and somehow you lose sight of it in one fell swoop. Then, you realize it (or not) months later when its possibly too late to do anything about addressing it.

It can happen when you bring a partner on board, or in a brainstorming discussion with a non-stakeholder. It can even happen while discussing new channel opportunities with your business mentor. But, mostly it happens because you don't communicate that vision and goal properly.

You may not want to communicate that goal because it would seem silly to outsiders, or because it is not ambitious enough, or a cadre of other reasons. But, you have to communicate that goal, else your partners and other stakeholders will, at best, shrug and struggle to understand your vision over time and, at worst, will steer you away from it.

Then. for no apparent reason, you start to lose interest and your effort-level wanes. Your partners and mentors scratch their heads to understand how you've plateaued. You yourself begin to question why you got yourself into this business. Its not that complicated: you've lost your purpose. The business is investing in things that don't address your goals, and it won't pivot to address them just to salve your needs.

So, you try to get interested by whatever means: 1) interesting challenges, 2) exploring new technologies, 3) reaching new markets, 4) meeting cool people... but if you've lost your purpose, these are just temporary solutions.

State your purpose. Now. Email your business parters, investors, mentors. Tell them why you got into this in the first place and tell them that you'd be much happier if you were heading the same direction again. Tell them you'll have your motivation back. Meet them for lunch. Explain that you never communicated exactly what you wanted out of this in the first place. Find ways to agree to address those goals.

Then, get back to working with a purpose.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

All Products Need Maintenance, So They Better Pay

There's something to be said for having a pet side project that adds some value to your life in the form of a warm-fuzzy / proud-papa / glad-I-did-that feeling. But that feeling subsides after a few years when your pet is starting to throw tantrums and rip up the carpet. At that point, you start to realize that the fleeting "value" most of those efforts created is long gone and all you are left with is a drooling, malfunctioning beast.

I spent 5 years from late 2005-2011 building applications that created little slices of value for people in return for nothing: CalendarHub, DryRunner, WoodenCube, Rezzible, BibleApps, Blogger Plugins, Chrome Extensions. It was a great run, and had I done all of these in school rather than side projects during a taxing career, I'd probably still be proud of them. But in the end, they made no money, and for the free-to-play projects still clinging to life, there is little incentive for me to go back and do something with them.

I am purposefully being a bit reflective on what I've done and the results they've given me, because I'm getting primed to go on a tear in mobile apps. I'm trying to distill some lessons from those bad choices and apply them to the mobile space, and what I know about mobile apps in the App Store and marketing in general is that All Apps Decline... which makes mobile seem like another mistake if not approached carefully.

To contrast my previous efforts, I've had one success in monetary terms: Appointron. It makes more than enough for me to justify continued work on it, and the market is huge, so it gets love all the time. That brings me to a couple of stark conclusions, one of which I've already tipped my hat to:

1) All products that you build need ongoing maintenance... so they better pay you something for the effort, else it will always be a drudgery to go back and fix the brokeness over time.

I'm not saying that a free project that never pays you cannot be fulfilling, I just think there is a drop-off in that fulfillment that is unexpected and you must factor that in when you start something.

2) You need to be willing to kill projects that don't go anywhere.

This one hits close to home. The reality is that there is a % of your time/brain that you can use to care about those products, and if you keep them around without receiving benefits at all, then they are simply a drain on your time and talent. Cleaning house is hard many times because you still believe there is some value locked away in those auto-pilot projects that you can somehow harvest. You are probably fooling yourself here.

Focus on things that create real, long-term value for 3rd parties, and make sure they pay you.