Launching is not the goal – building something immensely valuable is.
This essay is not about bragging. While it may not be immediately apparent, this essay is about a fear of mine. This essay reveals an insecurity. This is an essay to myself and a warning to my future self.
Over the past few years, several friends and I have collaborated on dozens of side-projects. From physical card games to productivity tools to consumer applications, we have acquired tens of thousands of users and millions of visitors from all over the world. We have engaged with massive clients – like professional sports teams, P&G, and Universal Music Studios. We have collected many of the “accolades,” been covered in publications (Forbes, Fortune, Mashable, etc.) and earned some pretty solid revenue.
I want to make the case that none of those external accolades matter to the long term version of myself. The long term version of myself cares about impact, presence, and value-creation.
I have learned an immense amount about building things and working with the best people in the world over the past few years. I have developed many hard skills and cultivated a diversity of soft skills backed by extremely unique experiences.
But what I have not done is achieved any vision of making an outsized impact on anything worth remembering.
These “little projects” – some with tens of thousands of users – some with tens of thousands in revenue – they failed. In the traditional sense, they were complete failures.
They acquired users (sometimes tons) early on and then, perhaps 3-6 months afterwards, stopped being used and stopped providing value to people.
I want to unpack several learnings from here:
1 – Validation seeking in general:
In hindsight, it is really really easy to convince other people that you are smart, work hard, and are going to be successful. At first, this may seem challenging, but then you realize that seeking validation on the internet – a place full of bored people – is actually incredibly easy.
What is hard, and what takes much more work (several orders of magnitude more), is convincing the “right people” you are working on the right thing. This is what I am now focused on, building things that matter to people that I think matter.
I wish I could teach these lesson to my former self. Validation seeking is easy. What is hard is filtering validation. This is a nuanced difference but I think it is something many of us overlook, especially as young students trying to figure out what the world is like. We are hungry for advice, inspiration, etc. We want want want. Yet we open our eyes and ears to everything without first learning how to choose from right and wrong. Is there a better way? Probably not. But I wish we put up a massive disclaimer in front of our eyes before accepting any sort of validation/advice.
2 – Validation seeking applied to business
I would make the argument that many of these attempts *could* have easily gone on to be real businesses. I would double down and bet that we could have fundraised, built out a team, and actually scaled several of these projects.
But we did not. We did not do any of that. We killed them. We let them implode. Why? Because we did not care enough.
These projects were practice. They were fun. They were never supposed to be serious. Some were more serious than others, but overall, we never had the intention of raising money for any of them.
You could call this a waste of time. I call it learning. But nonetheless, I take any form of accolade from these bs projects with a boulder-sized grain of salt.
It is too easy to convince others your projects are “cool.”
It is massively harder to convince others to love your product. It is massively harder to build something incredibly valuable.
It is this nuance that ruins people. They get complacent, fueled by the wrong metric, advice, feedback and then they hit a brick wall. They hit a wall because they hit a relative maxima, without seeing Everest up ahead.
They stall out. The wall blocks them from seeing clearly, seeing the facts, seeing the reality.
I see the wall. And I am about to break through it. Whatever it takes.
I have never been super proud of my projects because I know they have never provided 100x value to anyone. This will change.
This will change because soon, I am done thinking about practice in the sense that I want to be a professional. I want to grind, work really hard, and execute.