Finding Our Way in the Dark

Danielle Messler
February 2, 2021

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The TL;DR


  • This week, we’re talking about launching the beta version of Thunk— and how perfectionism can get in the way of launching just about anything.
  • But it’s really about getting it out there— and Andrew talks about what his version of a minimum viable product is, and the important of showing value as soon as possible.
  • There’s a similar concept called minimum viable creativity that Danielle discusses, and talks about the idea in terms of writing.
  • We get into why you shouldn’t start from the beginning when building a product, but zero in on the core interaction and build around it.
  • We talk about what features were prioritized for this very first version of Thunk, and how Andrew made those decisions.
  • We get into all the details on the beta: how many are on the waitlist, where we connected with them, and how we plan to invite them.
  • Promoting something you created usually feels kind of gross. Andrew and Danielle talk about why that is, and how to do self-promotion authentically.
  • Get priority early access to Thunk: podcast@thunkjournal.com
  • Follow us on Twitter @nalband and @danielleismessy

Episode Transcript

Andrew 


I'm Andrew and I'm the CEO of Thunk. I'm a product designer, and I'm working to create a world with more joy, beauty and delight in it.


Thunk is a journaling tool that we're making to empower creators. This podcast is the story of building an app and business from the ground up.


Danielle


And I'm Danielle, a self conscious creator and content marketer working with Andrew to grow the reach an audience of Thunk.


So I think something fun to do at the beginning of every episode would be to give an update on the number of users we have. Obviously today we're starting from zero because we're starting to launch the beta.


So really, today, we're gonna kind of go over what we've done to get the beta out the door.


And some points that I think are important for us to talk about are this perfectionism angle and thinking you need the perfect final version of the product to ship, but it's really just getting that minimum viable product out the door.


So last week, we talked about Thunk, its current state as being kind of this minimum viable product. And that's what we're launching with the beta. 


Andrew, how did we get to this point, and can you go over what a minimum viable product even is?


Andrew


So a minimum viable product is really a minimum first version of your product that can deliver some value to customers. People can approach this in a lot of different ways.


Some people think of the minimum meaning "I have just enough to test something, I have enough built, that I can learn something from my customers."


There are other schools of thought that I'm probably closer to where it's really almost like a minimum valuable, or a minimum delightful product, where you're really having someone come in and have a good positive first experience with your product.


That's how I like to think of sort of the minimum that you're building. And it can be a very simple thing.


But I think the core idea of minimum is that you don't build the entire vision that you have right up front before you show it to somebody and learn something.


Danielle


We were kind of trading information back and forth about marketing, and you were teaching me about product design, and my instinct was to start from the very beginning. And your advice was really good.


Go for that, that main feature, the main thing that's different, or the main thing you want to build— the idea you want to test.


So what is that first chunk and what went into deciding what pieces to build here?


Andrew 


Yeah, I think that might be even worth elaborating on a little bit. That conversation that we had, which really is sort of about, I think, a lot of ways that gets to the minimum viable product.


So you know, in the case of you really just wanted to test dragging and dropping a to do list onto a calendar, and in order to do that, sometimes you think, "Okay, I need to build this entire application." So you're rebuilding stuff that people have already built, that we already understand really well.


In the case of Thunk, that core interaction that we were looking at was the disappearing text. And I really just wanted to see if that particular piece worked, and I had a whole other vision of what some could be and what some could do, but I intentionally didn't build any of that stuff and really just prototyped out that core disappearing text interaction.


And when we built the first, first, first version of the product, that's really all it was. We didn't build things, for example, like an account or a login, or a front end website — that's a great example of a place where people get really hung up when they're trying to start a company or build a product is — they might spend all this time building this website before they even have a product. 


That's a pretty common thing to get stuck in...like if I had a dollar for every time someone is like, "I'm just gonna get my website, I'm sorry, oh my website, I kind of haven't got my website up yet." You know, and interestingly enough, that was the last thing I did in Thunk.


There's a tendency to think you need to start from the beginning because that's all you were taught in school — to do things —start, step by step by step by step.


And then, counterintuitively, maybe really when you're building a product you start right in the middle, you start right in that moment where you're like, "Here's my idea for what might deliver some more value and you build that first. And you build that until you reach the moment when you can deliver some value. And that I think is your minimum viable product.


Danielle


I'm someone who has about 25 different domain names that renew...those kind of projects where I'm like, "I just have to get the website up." And I think you said something really interesting — that you have to start in the middle.


I was recently reading an article about, you know, this minimum viable product idea. It's obviously from "tech Twitter," and it's this idea of minimum viable creativity. And it's kind of a simple flipping of a mindset of where you start.


You kind of go in, you make that mess, you pull out what the value is, and you go from there. Whereas traditionally, even with writing, like, I've been like, "Okay, I'm gonna start with my nice five paragraph essay, get my intro in, and my three points. And that puts a lot of pressure on writing.


So I think those two ideas together are really interesting. Were there any features that you kind of sacrificed that you were like, "Oh, I really want to work on this, but we just got to get it out the door."


Andrew 


The number of features that I have, in my mind far out strips what we're actually able to ship. For sure. And there's an entire backlog of items, sort of a list of items that we have, that we would love to put into the product, but that we haven't yet, because other things have come up as a priority. 


Danielle 


Do you want to speak a little bit to the status of our beta list?


Andrew  


Yeah, for sure. So status right now, we have about 44 folks on a waitlist to come into the beta. And those are folks that we found through Ness Labs, which is a community that I've mentioned before on the podcast.


And it's really people who are psyched up about productivity, sort of mindfulness based productivity, they're interested in tools for writing, and a lot of the folks are trying to themselves start newsletters. And so they're looking to write more frequently, and a lot of them journal, and that makes Thunk a very good fit for them.


So I've been engaging with that community over the past couple of months or so. And really just wrote a post announcing that we were opening up this beta program, and that's where the vast majority of folks have come from that are on that list. So they're sitting there for a little bit longer than I would like, waiting for us to open the doors to let them in. And that's where we're at right now.


Danielle


Yeah, I'm really excited to send that email out today. And hopefully get a few folks on there. And I think that's a really good point, we kind of touched on this last week. And you were saying, you know, it's really, really hard to find these kind of initial user interviews to have that initial validation of what you're building.


And, you know, you're really lucky to kind of stumble across Ness Labs. And I think that's an important thing to bring up that maybe isn't as intuitive for creators is, you know, where to kind of find your people — find those first users, those first readers, those first listeners, and a really good place to look is the communities that you're in.


Andrew 


See, I think there's often this idea that you need to promote yourself, and people are trying to get better at promoting themselves. So when you're inside of a community, nothing makes people feel crappier than you going in there and promoting yourself.


Nobody wants you to promote yourself, and you don't need to improve on that at all. In fact, you know, what I've found is, mostly people want you to engage with them and be helpful. People make these posts in these communities. And they start off and they're like, "Here's my thing, buy my thing, get my thing, it's me, I'm doing the thing." And then it's all the other stuff.


And you really want to flip that around, you want to say, "Hey, like, I'm trying to start a podcast, like, here's what I've learned. You want to kind of give value up front, you know, and I know that's advice that is easy to give, but hard to follow. But ultimately, that does work extremely well.


So kind of flipping that promo thing, and really trying to avoid it inside of communities, I think is important, really trying to say, What can I do to engage? How can I add value inside of here?


Danielle 


I think a lot of us have really developed this aversion to the kind of charlatans of social media that just tweet out Hallmark greeting card advice and get all of these followers. And you're just like, "You're not actually saying anything though."


Andrew 


Yeah, I mean, you gave me a great framing on this, which was to think of think of everyone as just friends that you haven't met yet.


You know, think of this, this group of people that's out there...how did you put it? I think it was something like, well, just imagine there's this group of people out there who're interested in journaling, and writing, and I can't wait to like, hang out with you and explore your product.


And you just have to go into the room and be like, "Hey, what's up everybody? I'm Andrew. And this is like, what I'm trying to do and what are you interested in?" And I think that is a hard framing to take when you're trying to get into that when you think, "Oh, I need to promote myself. That's not the first thing that you think. But it really is a great way to engage with people. And that was really helpful advice, by the way. So thank you.


Danielle 


And it's been really helpful for getting this even though it's 44 people, which is great, I think that's a great number to start with from nothing. And I think it really speaks to how you went about that within the community is that it wasn't this like self promotion, it was more just like "Hey, I'm building this thing, I don't have it all figured out. And then the conversations just kind of flowed naturally from there.


And because if you think about a community as like you're walking into a room, you're not going to go in there with your megaphone and be like, "Download my app, I am important!" Listen to people's conversations and join in, and then it kind of flows naturally from there.


Andrew


Maybe there's a question for you in here, which is, how do we keep that conversational tone? Is it just a mindset? Is it? Is it some sort of other more structured approach?


This is something I've definitely had challenges with before when I'm, you know, trying to write things, it's almost like, the harder I try, the worse I do. And the more I just dashed something off quickly, the better it ge ts.


Danielle


Kind of backing it up to the bigger picture...we're so inundated with marketing language these days. And I think most people [have a] fairly good bullshit meter to be like, "Okay, I can ignore this email, this isn't actually coming from a human being.


And with things like this I think the the trick I use is, again, going back to that friend mindset of how would I write an email to a friend, because that's how I want to treat the people on this waitlist is, you know, they're friends, and we're building something for them.


So I tend to read a lot of my copy out loud. Helps it feel a little bit more natural gives you that feeling of it's actually a human on the other end of this. And that, in turn, makes people want to help you more and less likely to ignore you.


Andrew 


Yeah, I like that. I mean, that's both a very practical tip of reading it out loud. And also a good framing of like, well, what am I looking for when I'm reading it out loud? Which is to make sure it passes that sort of basic muster of "Would I talk to my friend this way?"


And that's, I definitely felt that thing, I think maybe we're all feeling, where it's like, I'm just so tired of that "markety" voice, I can't like listen to it anymore.


And we're just so overwhelmed with communication that's coming at us that is like that. Then in some ways, if you just go into this more friendly conversational tone, you know, you're more interested to engage desperate for something that feels authentic these days.


Danielle 


Yeah, after being inundated with all of the internet charlatans telling us how to get rich quick, I think we're, we're ready for real people.


Back onto launching and perfectionism, we're sending out the beta invites in a couple of hours and I'm wondering if you've been struggling with today being the day and wanting to put off the launch at all?


Andrew  


Yeah, I mean, I think it's a daily struggle. I think, you know, in fact, to be totally honest, there are moments where I still am trying to delay this beta launch in my brain, like, "Oh, I need to do this, I need to do that. And let's do this on Monday. Maybe we'll do it on Wednesday, next week."


You know, so there's a very true thing where not only...what's funny about that is that it mirrors the problem that the customer has, which is this perfection-paralysis thing, or this, or this publishing fear, you know, maybe you could think of it. In fact, there was a, there was a moment in the Ness Labs community where I was in this sort, of course, and it wasn't about this, but everybody kept asking, basically, the question, like: I'm really afraid to publish, what do I do? And they phrased it in all sorts of different creative ways.


Like, it didn't sound like that it didn't sound like "I'm scared helped me," it sounded like, well, I'm just looking for, you know, assistance in the order of steps that I need to take. But really, underneath that question, you could tell really obviously was this fear of like I need to hit the publish button.


At that moment, the world is gonna see me and I'm very uncomfortable with that. And that's something that, for sure, is a part of launching this moment of getting this, you know, beta out into the world, because as long as you're just noodling in the cave, as long as you're just building the thing for yourself alone, you don't ever have to face the moment of, well shoot, I launched it and no one likes this thing, or there's some sort of core issue or there's some sort of core problem with it.


So, you know, as we approach this moment, there's definitely those, those hesitancies those fears, and I've definitely talked myself in and out of a launch multiple times. So I think that's a core part of where we're going here. And it's a core part of something that has been a part of launching this thing since for quite a while. So this is an exciting moment.


Definitely like pushing that button and saying, "Alright, we're gonna put it out into the world and we'll see what happens and we will definitely learn some things and we'll make some adjustments and we'll grow from there."


Danielle 


Thank you for listening this week. If you want to join the beta that's launching today, you can email podcast@thunkjournal.com and you can find Andrew and me on Twitter.


Andrew 


Yes, thanks for listening and we'll talk to you next week.