We failed before we even launched. Reflection time.

Written by Stefan on 5/23/2021

We're about to officially Launch Notifire and we've got to be honest, we've failed before we even launched. Let me explain who we are and how we screwed up in following sections.

TL;DR

Let's be honest, when you see a wall of text, most of the time you don't read it (at least I don't). So here's the gist. Feel free to read below to get the full scoop of learnings.

  • We wanted to launch a project quickly but failed to do so
  • We wanted to make something useful but failed to properly validate
  • We've adapted our process to fit what we've learned

Who we are

We're Niche Mates, a group of longtime Friends that want to build sustainable projects & companies that solve problems that we have ourselves, or our Friends have.

Why did we build Notifire?

In the beginning we wanted to build Notifire to scratch our own itch. If you're a full-time employee that builds side projects, you probably have this problem too.

We constantly struggled with being focused on the right things. For example, if I visited Github, I would see all the notifications for my main job AND my side projects all scrambled together. I always want that notification badge to go away, so I'd go through all of them together at the same time.

Even though it probably wasn't the right moment to be looking at side projects. Or during the night wasn't the best time to worry about work.

Another problem (that I'm sure you also have) was keeping up with all the services I used for work. For my main job, I mainly use Github, Notion and Slack and Figma. For our projects, we use Github and Figma, but also Google docs.

Just to complicate things, I also have some advisory positions where I get pinged on Slack, Github, Gitlab and Trello.

Hence the idea to build a place for all your notifications that you can easily sort by context was born. This was heavily influenced by Hey and their features. Like sorting into multiple spaces, Imbox, Feed and Paper Trail. But in Notifire you're basically segmenting your notifications by whatever you want.

You can make a space that fits your needs. I separate my work by the following: Work, Side Hustle, Advisory Positions and within the side Hustle I segment by Projects. We also have a book club we run using Github projects and that goes into Miscellaneous. You get the idea.

More or less we went and successfully scratched our own itch. But we still failed. Why? That can be summarized in 3 points:

1. We needed 6 months instead of 2 to build this β†’ Things take at least twice as long and then some more
2. Failure to properly validate in the beginning β†’ Validation is crucial
3. Failure to fully focus on the project β†’ Focus is the most important thing

I'll go into more detail on those points in the next section

Why did we fail?

We wanted to launch this project within a 2 month timespan. We started chipping away on it in October and it took us until now to get it to a point where we consider to have built our MVP.

As a philosophy for our company, Niche Mates, we set out to launch 12 projects in 12 months but as you can see working for one project for 8 months will not make it very likely to get there πŸ™‚

Let's examine the core things we did wrong, why it happened and what actions we've taken going forward to be better.

Things take at least twice as long and then some more

Why?

This is imo because you have low energy when you work on your side project during the nights and weekends. You seldom get a good block of focus time, especially while still building Notifire I struggled with the notification overload I described above.

We estimated the effort for this based on some vague estimate of how much time we would have each week. But life seldom works that way, I for example adopted a dog a month after starting to work on this project and while it was one of the best things I ever did, it definitely derailed my productivity.

When things move slow you tend to get dragged down (at least I do) by the lack of progress. What you could ship in a week going full time... takes 4 weeks as a side hustle.

That makes me think I'm incapable of moving fast, which is one of the things I pride myself on and something that is crucial imo. It's one of the major advantages over bigger companies and/or competitors.

This led me to spend more on another project that we're running together and improve that, instead of chipping away on this project. Leading to even longer delays and less progress. You could say it becomes a vicious cycle.

Learnings?

  • Be less optimistic in your planning
  • Adjust buffer for weeks that you have low energy or life gets in the way
  • Try to batch hours together when working on a project to get into flow

Actions taken

  • We now plan with a 3x of what things would take going full time, add some down time and factor in a week of no hours at all per month
  • Time-block your focus blocks in your calendar, and instead of working 1 hour every night, try to work just 2 times per week. Put in a solid 2-3 hour block of time.

Validation is crucial

Why?

In the beginning of this project we did some initial validation but definitely not enough. We were too fooled by the narrative that we have this problem so others are probably likely to have it too.

This lead us to believe that it's fine to just go ahead and build this after talking to a couple friends that all said it was a good idea (Mom test anyone? πŸ€”)

We did do some outreach to people outside our circle and are also running a campaign on ship to collect emails to gear up for launch, but I still don't feel like we've validated it enough.

Learnings

  • Start validation earlier
  • Don't fall down the rabbit hole of thinking just because it's your problem you don't need to validate

Actions taken

  • Our goal used to be to launch 12 projects in 12 months but we have shifted our focus to validate one project every month and only go forward with it if we hit certain goals that we set for that project.
  • While we only actively build one project, we're validating a bunch mostly via landing pages that take like a day to set up and Matt our product guy works on driving some traffic and talking to customers. Examples for this include making cheap and SEO optimized transcripts for YouTube and a way to schedule your week and avoid the urgency trap.

Focus is the most important thing

Why?

As touched on in the previous point we started our side project company with the goal to launch a bunch of projects in 12 months (12 to be exact) and we already launched one before that we put kind of in maintenance mode.

So when we started Notifire we split our focus on 1. Maintaining and extending the first project and 2. Building Notifire.

We did this by putting one person on Notifire as the lead and one other person on the old project as the lead but what we should have done instead is extend the old project and hand it over to Matt to grow then both shift over to Notifire as the next big project fully focusing on that to build some momentum.

When dragged down by the lack of progress, I even went ahead and tackled another project on the side scratching my own itch to show myself that I can ship stuff fast and that watered my focus down even more as I shipped it to myself and a couple friends and then had to maintain it.

In case you're interested it's a weekly planner called "Roles" that we're validating on Product Hunt ship in order to see if it's justified to put in more time. This helped me forget about it for now and focus on the other things at hand.

Learnings

  • Momentum requires focus
  • Only do one thing at a time (Ironically, that's what Notifire is for, yet we failed to do this ourselves πŸ€”. But we're only human and we make mistakes. We're trying our best to learn from them though, I promise 😁)

Actions Taken

  • One project gets all our attention in what we call an "active build stage", we might be passively validating a couple more but one gets all the developer attention (we're 2 devs + one non dev)
  • Shift towards validation focus (This helps putting some thought into all the million other ideas we have but can't build. We can easily see what people think with low effort and get the ideas out of our head. Making more space for our "One thing")

Conclusion

Let's be real, none of this stuff is new.

I've read about those mistakes plenty of times, especially not focusing on validation enough. I guess that makes us fools (if you believe what Bismarck is saying) but maybe that's what we are and where we stand and that is just a fact. I think failure is not inherently a bad thing, failure to learn however, is bad. And in my opinion we're trying our best to be better and we've already taken the first couple steps. First, to be self-aware. Secondly, to implement those learnings.

If any of the problems we're trying to solve with Notifire resonate with you, you can sign up for early access here.

If you want to stay informed with where we're headed, you can subscribe to our (irregular) newsletter here

If you want to get more insight into our process or anything else that we're doing, feel free to shoot me an email.

I may or may not ask you for $500 for my 12 step program to failure as described in this article. I also sell that as a course on Tiktok πŸ’ͺπŸ˜πŸ€™

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