Ignorance is Bliss

About 11 years ago, I quit my job to start Sifter. Today, after my knowledge of running it for 8 years, I would have been too hesitant to start it. It’s not that I would be afraid, but I’d overthink it. I’d be at a standstill over-analyzing every single thing, preparing, and striving to “get it right.”

With Sifter, I didn’t have a clue. I knew how to build a web site, and I hacked together a few web applications on my local computer. But I had never single-handedly shipped production software, done customer support, set up SSL, or done any work related to billing and credit cards.

Today, however, I’ve done all of that and much more. And over the last several months, I’ve regularly caught myself overthinking things that aren’t important when you’re getting started. We hear a lot about minimum viable product, but there’s another side that’s just as important. Minimum viable operations.

Do you need help desk software? Not yet. An email address will do the trick just fine for now.

Do you need continuous integration? Nope. You still want to do automated testing, but if you’re the only developer, your project will be fine if your tests are only running on your local machine.

Do you need load-balanced servers? Probably not. You’ll want a replica database, but out of the gate, load-balancing is probably overkill.

Do you need a newsletter and accounts on every possible social media network to keep your customers updated? You need something sure, but a newsletter is probably enough. Posting to a bunch of places with few followers is more of a distraction early on.

Do you need a changelog or software so customers can upvote feature requests? Nope. Just carve out time to talk to them. And encourage them to email you. It’s not perfect but it’s enough.

Do you need complicated billing, multiple plans, monthly/yearly options, and all of the associated emails? Nope. Just take the simplest approach to let customers give you money. With pricing, chances are good that you’re going to get it wrong on the first try. So just put yourself in a good place to evolve.

Do you need extensive analytics and marketing tools. Absolutely not. All you need there is real conversations with real customers. As an added bonus, by not having any tracking, you drastically reduce the complexity of things like a privacy policy and other legal obligations for staying compliant.

Do you need some kind of automated onboarding email sequence? Nope. At this point in the game, personal communication is a strength. Send genuine and real emails directly from your personal account. Instead of trying to automate it all, just talk to your customers or potential customers.

In isolation, each of these things feels small, almost trivial. Collectively, though, they never end. There’s always room to do more. Letting yourself do less is your leverage, though.

In my case, I was all too aware of each and every one of these things because Sifter eventually needed or used them. So this time around, my lizard brain figured I should set them all up perfectly from the get go for my next big project. And you know where that got me? Literally nowhere. Not even close to launching. I’ve since scaled it down, and it should launch pretty soon. It will be more of a seed than a sapling, but it’s something. And that’s what matters.

I caught myself, and I’m working to be much more scrappy and pragmatic now. But you’d think I would know better. With Sifter, I was so completely ignorant of everything, I just charged forward and worried about things as they became an issue. This time around, I tried way too hard to be prepared, and it’s suffocated my ability to make meaningful progress.

There’s always more to be done. The key is to focus on just the things you absolutely need. Don’t overthink it or you’ll spend all of your time preparing. Start small, and only add operational complexity when it’s too painful to put it off any longer. You’ll have plenty of time to improve your operations later, and your business will let you know when to do that. Until then, just leave it alone. Launch and learn.