Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Why I Built CustomJournal — Project #3 of 12 in 12 months

I didn't write about my previous projects so I'll catch you up on how I got here before I talk about CustomJournal.

I quit my job over a year ago. I knew it was time to leave. Towards the end the winds changed. There was a change in management, the community broke down and the people who I shed blood and sweat with started leaving. My rate of growth slowed down a lot. Although I made good money there I realized that it would be really dangerous to stay.

I started with long term travel, something I always had wanted to do but never had time to do because of work. I had seen how things were shifting at work ahead of time and cut down my expenses so that I would have ample runway to take whatever path I chose next. I gave as much time as I needed in my travels to destress and think. I traveled for 6 months total. When I got back, I decided that I would once and for all, focus on a dream of mine of starting a business. But I didn't know where to start.

Challenge Accepted

Luckily, I stumbled onto this podcast episode by Peter Levels which was so inspirational. When he was stuck and depressed after a failed venture, his Dad told him the best thing to do is to take a big pile of dirt and start moving the dirt from one pile to another. When you are stuck, especially if you are starting to spiral down, the worst thing you can do is to stand still. You have to get moving. Action leads to .. well more action. But with the previous experience, the new action will likely be better. I'm sure you could literally move dirt and that would itself be beneficial. But the message here is you need to stop dwelling and start doing.

Which led him down the path of his 12 startups / 12 months challenge. Why is this idea so brilliant? Because it puts in just the right amount of constraint and prevents 2 major mistakes that new entrepreneurs often make:
 1) Not getting started - So many people never do anything. They talk about starting a business, they read books about starting a business. I'm guilty of both. When I was working my job 4 years ago, the company I was working at acquired a startup. I took the founder out to lunch to ask him about the experience. I was so pumped about it and then… I did nothing. FOR 4 YEARS! During that time I also read at least 10 books on startups and business. Its to easy to dream and talk, its hard to get started. This challenge forces you to get started right away.

2) Spend too long building product - the almost too common story is the one where the entrepreneur comes up with a brilliant idea, then proceeds to spend a year building it out. Some never really ship it because it is never "done", others ship and then quickly find that no one wants their product. By putting the 1 month constraint on your project, you are forced to think critically about what the true MVP is. You are also less likely to build useless feature that your users don't care about. The sooner you can ship the sooner you can get feedback and adjust.

If You're Not Embarrassed By The First Version Of Your Product, You've Launched Too Late" - Reid Hoffman

And those are the reasons for why I am taking on this challenge. To make sure I get enough at bats and that I am actually moving. Do. Ship. Get Feedback. Learn. Repeat.

So how did I decide to build this app?

When I had quit my job and was traveling through Asia I used a standard structured journaling template that I found online and just started to fill it in each day in a single Google Keep note. Each day I copied the template over, dated it and filled in the journal. After some time I realized that I wanted to change the questions that I asked myself. I found a few other questions that I wanted to reflect on each day. The specific one was to reflect on a how I pushed or challenged my self that day. I wanted to make sure I was thinking about growth. So my template slowly adapted. After doing this for awhile, I got a little bit annoyed of the copy and pasting on a mobile phone, so I was looking around for a structured journal app that I could use to replace my journal. But none of them really support customizing the prompts. So thats how I got my idea.

This leads back to the idea of doing. If you are having trouble thinking about an idea, you should also consider moving dirt. If you keep an entrepeneureal mindset, ideas will pop up from your action.

If you are someone like me who has been wanted to ship a product for the longest time, but has never taken action, consider taking up a challenge like this one.


Of course my next product. But I have another twist to this challenge. I’ll be doing it from abroad! I’m digital nomad-ing in a couple months and have already bought my plane tickets. Will let you know where when it gets closer.

Interested in supporting me? I’d love feedback on my app

Originally posted on Medium here

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Introducing CustomJournal

I'm excited to share with you all my 3rd project in my 12 projects/12 months plan. Speaking of which I'm a bit behind, this one went 6 weeks :(

I know, I know, I'm supposed to do a once month max project for the challenge. The reason for it is to not spend too much time producing a product that noone will want. You always want to validate as quickly as possible. However, I had my reasons.

This project was a scratch my own itch thing: I've been journaling for some time and I built it with myself as a user in mind, so I know I'll have at least one user (but of course I hope you will enjoy it too!) . Also, I actually really really enjoyed learning how to code Android. The general advice for developers on IndieHackers is to get out of developer mode as quickly as possible and go into marketing, however, I really enjoy the product development aspect and hey, this is all about enjoyment at the end of the day.

Anyway here it is:
And this is what it looks like:

Now let me tell you my story. I've been listening to the Tim Ferris podcast for quite some time now and he talked about his journaling along with other guests who journal. A couple common themes were that they have common things that they think and write about each morning. Gratitude is one of them. I think this is huge. Today we live in a world where we are pushed to constantly excel and achieve and push ourselves. We look around and feel anxious that we might not be doing as well as our coworker or maybe that one guy launched his successful company at 13 but we are already approaching 30. Especially with the spread of social media, all sorts of mental ailments such as anxiety and depression have come about. The cure for this is gratitude. Shifting the focus from what we don't have to what we do. We are all pretty lucky, but we generally don't take time to consider this. 

So thats the reason I took up journaling. I wanted to stay grounded as well as work towards my goals. So I started with a simple "5 minute" journal that consisted of:

  • 3 things that I am grateful for
  • 1 affirmation.
  • 3 amazing things that happened today
  • how could I have made things better.
Its very simple but the effects are profound. You have to take time to reflect on things or else things stay the same. Structured journaling was great because it forced me to ask myself specific things. So I journaled away for a few months.

After some time I realized that I wanted to change the questions that I asked myself. I found a few other questions that I wanted to reflect on each day. The specific one was to reflect on a how I pushed or challenged my self that day. I wanted to make sure I was thinking about growth. The app that I was using didn't offer that option. Why can't I ask myself whatever I want? And that's where I got the idea to create an app that was flexible enough to handle this. As your focus changes you can change the structure of your journal to focus on what you want. Maybe its personal relationships, maybe its fitness and exercise. Whatever it is, you can put it in your journal.

This is what the manage template page looks like
So my current journal as of now looks like this:

  • 3 things that I am grateful for
  • 1 affirmation.
  • 3 amazing things that happened today
  • Today would be great if..
  • what is something out of your control that you should stop worrying about?
  • Notes (for random thoughts during the day and a quick note about what I did)
  • checkboxes for keeping track of habits (meditate, study mandarin, code, exercise, write)
At the end of the day I complete this section:
  • 3 amazing things that happened today
  • how could I have made it better
  • name 1 challenged that you pushed through
That's it. But of course I'll adapt it as I go. That's the whole point.