Danielle Messler



  • In this episode, we’re talking feedback.
  • We give you an update on the user count (spoiler, Andrew forgot to prep for recording!)
  • We talk about how to use feedback constructively— and when to know you’re getting lost in it.
  • Andrew covers what features Thunk will release next

Episode Transcript

Andrew: Welcome to another episode of Finding the Net. I'm Andrew:, product designer, CEO and creator of Thunk, a journaling app that lets you find patterns in your thinking. 

Danielle: And I'm Danielle:, a self-conscious creator and content strategist, building Thunk's audience alongside Andrew:. 

Andrew: This podcast is an inside view of what it's like to build, launch, iterate on and grow a consumer application from the ground up. 

Danielle: We're on a mission to get a thousand people using and loving, and we want to bring you along for the ride. 

Andrew: As you listen to Finding the Net, you'll learn from our mistakes and our wins, and you'll find new ways to approach your own creative journey. 

Both Let's get into the episode.

Danielle: So last week, we talked a little bit about some of the setbacks we had while launching the podcast and that first round of beta testing, how we were a little delayed, but with no further ado...what is our user count at this week? Did we get any more people into the beta? 

Andrew: I think I'm going to be fired from this podcast. I didn't fact check the number before we started. But I know we've probably got about five more. Got a very small increase this week from last week. So last week we were about 33. So I'm gonna say we're at about thirty-eight. Oh, and you know, we did have one person sign up for our like marketing emails, which shocked me. 

Danielle: Oh that's exciting. 

Andrew: Yeah. I was like, who wants to get our marketing stuff just like right after we launch the website? So that surprised me quite a bit.

I've talked to I think two people so far who have been in the beta significantly, who have written a couple of times and really been in the app. And I have a few more on the schedule. And there's a few things that have stood out, I think, so far. One thing is kind of funny, but what do I take away so far is no one's willing to pay yet for what we have. So that's like, in some you're like oh that's so sad and frustrating, but it's a good way to kind of just quickly check, like, where are we at in terms of solving a customer problem and are they willing to pay and are they excited enough about what we have? So that's a very strong piece of feedback that's kind of coming back.

And then I think I have a pretty clear path to two or three features that we're currently building that I think will get us over the hurdle to the point where we can, or I think people would be more willing to pay for what we have right now. You know, one other thing that came through with feedback was, uh, people do like the disappearing text, which is, which is lovely. It's sort of funny, you know, because you question yourself sometimes you're like is this actually worth anything. I think it is. Will other people feel that way? But both of the people I talked to so far are saying, yes, I really like that. I'm glad that's in there. And I like using it for this morning. Page's style of stream of consciousness writing. 

Danielle: Yeah, that's definitely good news that people like it since it's the core feature. And I feel like it's got to be hard when you're like, when you spent so long building something and you're just like get to that point of like, is this actually good or am I going slightly crazy? 

Andrew: Yeah. I mean, you know, this is a funny thing where I, I think I started writing about this and I was trying to talk about how. Oftentimes, I think when you get into these customer feedback sessions, everyone is a little bit different and you get a lot of really different stuff. Now, some people would suggest that you go through in a very systematic way and you ask very specific questions. I totally don't do that at all. I kind of wing it every time I go into this and I take a lot of notes and I ask you,. 

Danielle: You wing it and don't have a solid plan?! 

Andrew: Yeah, occasionally I've been known to do that. But, you know, you can, you can really get lost in all the different feedback that people give you. And, uh, I think it's it is important to kind of trust your gut in some sense...there's a whole school of thought that you should not build the product for yourself. I've seen that go wrong, but I'm actually personally a believer that there is a way to do that very, very well. And to use the customer interviews more as a sort of checking in or a guidepost as to like "How close am I?" Am I close my bar, do there seem to be other people who feel the same way. But I've tried to navigate when I've been building products that were for other people, I really struggled to even find one thing that they found interesting at all. And I'm finding that's not really the case here. It's easy to identify what are the things that I think that might, you know, deliver value. And it's much easier to see a path forward. Whereas when I've been working on a product where I'm not potentially a customer of it, I really do struggle to figure out what on earth we should be doing. And one other funny thing is I really like talking to these customers, so I do it a lot, which is a good thing. 

Danielle: You could talk to one person and they could, you know, completely validate what you were saying. You talk to two people, you could get a perspective that you didn't see before and you can solve another problem. And once you start talking to a bunch more people, you're just getting so much noise. So I think it's really important to hear that, OK, like, yes, listen to the feedback, take it into account, but also know how to listen to it so that you don't end up creating something for everyone which ends up being useless. 

Andrew: Yeah. It's really tricky because each person is their own sort of individual needs and people will ask you for really specific stuff, which I think is maybe something I didn't understand before I started doing this for the first time. You know, someone will say...someone will look at what you have and they'll ask you for something really specific and you have to really dig in with them and even kind of push them a little bit on like, "Yeah, but like, what are you trying to do? And like, why do you want to button there?" Or why do you want, you know, a pink button in the upper right hand corner of the screen with it? You know, they'll be very specific and you kind of go through it and once you get to what they're trying to do you can address that need probably in a really different way. And that's really your to design that stuff and to tell the difference between, you know, suggestions that are maybe very specific to that person or more generalizable to everybody. And I really, I really have I think I kind of a different view of this than a lot of folks where I really deeply believe that your own intuition has to be heavily involved in guiding it and that the best products are made by teams that are like actively using that thing and really want it for themselves. It's just so easy to get lost if you're not building something for yourself that you want and that you use. I think there's this popular idea that you validate everything in start up land as if you're this like crazy scientist, it's like a big lean startup thing. I think it's really attractive because it promises certainty. You know, it's as if it's saying, don't worry, there's an answer to exactly what you should do with this product or marketing or whatever it is. And the truth, the God's honest truth is there is not a clear answer. There is not a way to scientifically prove that you have a good, correct thing. It is much more of a like you know, there's a much more art in it than that. You can't make it a pure science. It's just not. That's like fantasy, I think. 

Danielle: Yeah. And you think there's like some value to doing it at a certain point down the line, you know, trying things out and tracking them and, you know, figuring out what works. But it kind of takes the fun out of some of these bigger experiments and some of these things, like with marketing, like there's some things you just cannot track. So like you can have all of these ideas. But like ultimately know, I text Mandy about the journal and she texts it to her mom, who then, you know, puts it in the Florida mom's Facebook group --- cannot track that to a marketing target. 

Andrew: Haha, yeah, that Florida mom's Facebook group we are just dominating. We are just crushing it! 

Danielle: I don't know why that's what popped into my head. You know, looking at all this feedback from users, are there any features you're thinking you're going to prioritize and how do you make that decision? 

Andrew: So, yeah, let me tell you about the features that we're prioritizing and then I will tell you a little bit about the decision making process. So there's three that we're really looking at right now. One is what I call linking, which is something that you find in Obsidian and Roam and similar products like that, where you're creating associations between words and phrases inside of your writing and in journaling. That's pretty cool because you could find something that you might be particularly interested in seeing repeatedly over time or seeing how it relates to other things. And I think it's one of the nicest ways that we have to start of getting this thing about finding patterns. And that's something that, you know, when we talk about feedback, that's actually something that comes across very strongly. When I talk about finding patterns in your writing or seeing things that you didn't realize were, you know, happening, that gets customers very excited. They're very interested in that. So linking is something that I think is a step in that direction. The other thing we're doing is I called it three, but the next two are kind of related to each other and I call them templating and component. Templating and components are this idea that you want to go into your journal every day and you want to engage with some template of thinking. So in our case, we're kind of that now. So we go in and you engage in this morning pages style of thinking and it's a template and it shows up every day. And there's one thing you can do, which is this morning pages style writing. I think that's really valuable and an awesome and it may stay that way. And we add this as a separate product or the whole product could go this direction. But basically templating allows you to engage in a set of things that you might want to do every day. So give you a few examples. One might be I want to do a list of gratitudes and then I want to do my morning pages style writing. Another might be I just want to check in, you know, on my mood. And then I kind of want to do the morning pages style writing. And the idea here is that you have these components that are essentially ways of thinking or ways of engaging with writing and thinking. And they're coming up for you every day in this templated format. I've looked at a lot of folks who use Roam and they've kind of hijacked it to work this way. It's not really what Roam supports out of the gate, but it's really how everyone uses it. Like literally I don't know if I've met somebody who like, you know, I go into their Roam and they pretty much all have it set up, something like this, you know, morning routine. A couple of things they do. Maybe there's a meditation there. There's usually some journaling. There might be a little like to do list. And then oftentimes there's a little like evening wind down or places that they capture media and stuff like that so that you see repeatedly, like when you talk to people. And that's sort of interesting because you can see how sort of packed together that is and that there's clearly an interest in doing this, this thing where you engage with writing in a specific way every day. 

Danielle: I think you brought up a really interesting point that this component's piece helps solve. It's like when you get into a product and it's like super flexible, but it's also so complicated and all of the options are available all at once. So how do you kind of avoid making Thunk really cluttered while still having all of these options that people are going to want to use? 

Andrew: Yeah, I think there are some very specific strategies I have in mind about this, so I'll try to talk through and see how many I can come up with the top of my head. So one is definitely to what I would almost call like selective disclosure or like slow disclosure, where we slowly give you, uh, you know, one step and then the next step, then the next step. Actually, interestingly enough, when I was working on a game last year, that's something that games do very well, actually, which is like kind of step you through each little thing. And they make there's all sorts of tricks, like when you're designing a 3D environment to sort of make it clear the path that you kind of want the person to go down. And so even though there's a very specific path they really need to go on, it sort of feels like they can go anywhere, but they just sort of follow this, like, obvious route that they're going to take. And so I think it's similar with how I think about the designing thing and making it work well in this sense is like we might just give you one or two components in this. And that's I guess that's why the idea of templates would exist, is that you might swap those out. And so somebody doesn't want to go down this whole rabbit hole of, like, deep in this thing could just be like, I just want the gratitudes and morning pages thing or I just want the morning pages thing or I just want more of it to do list style thing. So people can specifically grab things without having to go down this whole road of customization. I think the other thing which is maybe a little more nuanced is kind of nudging you into action. So when one really small example of that would be when you click on so in Roam and Obsidian, when you're going to create a link, you do this double bracket thing. You do these like two square brackets on the keyboard. And that allows you to link something. But there's really no suggestion that that's possible. If you go into this thing called gitbook that's designed for documentation, it actually gives you this little placeholder suggestion text. It says like try typing, bla bla bla bla bla, you know, and it tells you just subtly it kind of nudges you something that you can do inside of the tool. There's all sorts of little tricks like that that you can do with placeholder text and with ways that you kind of nudge somebody in a particular direction that teaches them slowly how to use the product. And, you know, I guess one other thing off the top of my head is just actually like having a really good documentation and learning section that explains how everything works. That also can be very helpful if a product sort of has to have more customization in it. But I think this is an old trend in app design where things are becoming more highly customizable by the customer and by the user. It's something that I'm seeing a lot in tools like Notion, where you kind of build an app inside an app. And I think that's something we're going to see more of. And that's probably something we're going to be doing with Thunk. 

Danielle: Kind of back to this concept of feedback, you gave me very helpful feedback, I think, at the beginning of this week when we were working together to kind of organize the Notion board and, you know, get into really executing things. I think a big takeaway for me was not trying to do everything myself all of the time, because there's going to be things that like you're not good at naturally or, you know, maybe you just don't really need to spend the time doing that when someone you know knows it. And I think that that was one of those things that was like a very helpful piece of feedback. And I know that this is something you relate to the like I want to do it all myself thing. And we've talked about this before. But anything come to mind a bit more recently? 

Andrew: Yeah. I mean, I think one thing that came to mind, and this is sort of funny, but like last week I think we were we were talking about going and hiring someone to do the whole Webflow thing. And then I was like, okay, I'm just going to give this one shot with a template myself. And then if that doesn't work I'll go hire someone. And that actually kind of worked. And I just kind of banged it out and like, you know, a day or two I was basically finished. And the result I was very happy with and kind of got it done. And that was one of the big blockers of launching the podcast, was just getting that website live. So that ended up being a weird situation where you do it yourself actually kind of worked. But this is something that I am really thinking about this week and I have some notes for us about this around, you know, how do we systematize this process so it works better?

One of the things I'm doing right now is I'm trying to line up some content that we can, like, tweet out. So I'm trying to come up with topics and tweets. And in the midst of doing that, you know, I like to design things. So all of a sudden I find myself making these little like Twitter, you know, visual like cards. And I'm like designing that. I'm kind of learning out and in. So, yeah, well, they're there and that's that's great. But where I continually fail in this social media world is the consistency element of it. You know, I have these very brief splashes of, like, you know, producing stuff that looks nice and then I just cannot stay with it. And so that's something I'm kind of trying to watch out for and I'm concerned with.

And and I'm glad that you're here at least so that I have to be accountable to you. Unlike some of those consistency things -- like you're looking and watching. But I want to think about ways to take some of that work, you know, that initial work of like, well, I sort of got a little layout here and a design that works and find a way to replicate that out. So we have some other folks maybe helping us or, you know, contributing in. And I think the question that I have written down somewhere is now how do we systematize this so that it's essentially like low to no effort for the two of us to have a consistent thing that's going out like a consistent product that's being released in our social? I think there's a way to get a machine going, and I think that's the way that we can, well, I know that we can sustain it if we do it that way. So I'm thinking about that. 

Danielle: And there's definitely like so many tools that help make this super easy to templatize, especially for social. And I used to go down this rabbit hole too, right -- and it's my job to be on social media -- of like getting kind of stuck. Even earlier this week when we were writing our Twitter threads to like announce the podcast, I just like stared at it for like twenty minutes. And then all of a sudden you just kind of have to get to that point where you're like, screw it, it's the Internet. It's going to last probably thirty minutes tops. And I think that I fell into that with, like designing things a little bit to where I'm like, no, I must learn to use the complicated programs. But honestly, most of the time I just use Canva. 

Andrew: Well, this is something where it's so true that the tools have just improved drastically, like the quality of the stuff that's out there for producing work is just going up every day. It's just gets better and better every day. Um, I think I'm even talking about something beyond that where as I've mentioned this book before, "The E Myth" and it has this idea of approaching a business as if even if you're never going to do this, approaching the business as if you're going to franchise it -- as if you're going to go out and, like, open 30 Thunks, you know, and if you were going to, if you if your plan was to do that, then how would you have to design it? Like how systematic would you have to be about your approach to certain pieces of work that you're doing now?

There's certainly room for creativity in there, but, you know, you kind of if you needed to reproduce Thunk, well, first of all, it's definitely not designed that way. So let's own that right now. It's not designed that way at all. But if we wanted to do that, like, how might we, you know, how might we think about the production of that content? Like would we write a process document of here's where all of these things live and here's how to actually like go through and create one and here's where the file is where we've written down the snippets from the podcast? And here's the system by which you take the podcast and you pull out the snippets and here's what you're looking for, such that people who maybe weren't able to make it up as they go quite as much as maybe you or I can are able to get in there and generate a good result, you know?

And it's sort of it's it's a funny thing because he's, like, really loves McDonald's. He's just like so into McDonald's and like that whole business. But you have to hand it to McDonald's in the sense that, like, yeah, you know, it's not the best hamburger you ever had, but it's always they always fulfill the sort of promise that they make, which is like a reasonably good hamburger that's always going to taste the same. You can get it anywhere. You can get it fast, you're in and out, and it like does the job. And they're very consistent with that. And their quality level is really high. And I don't know, I found that -- I think that's a really interesting way to think about it.

And in it, it helped me see that by not doing it that way, we're facing something that actually totally came up for me this week, which is just starting to feel a little overwhelmed with the scope of responsibilities that are on your plate. You know, I think as we've expanded from development to, you know, content and marketing, my sphere of responsibility has increased pretty significantly, right, and doing the systems approach is a way to deal with that -- it's a way to kind of know, OK, we have a system in place that's going to handle that thing that has to be done well in order for this business to succeed. And you kind of want to... I'm trying to figure out more ways to let go of those like responsibilities. And, you know, we talked about this with to do lists. The only way to really feel at peace is to have a system that you trust, you know, and it doesn't matter what it is, can be pen and paper. It can be an app. It can be anything but the only way to really like sleep at night is to be like, I trust that tomorrow I'm going to remember to do that tax thing I need to do or I'm going to remember to, like, file that health insurance document that I have to file for, yada, yada, yada. You know, that's the only way to sort of like rest your head at the end of the day. 

Danielle: There's so many  little things going on in the day that could take up so much attention. But you really kind of give yourself back more time by taking that attention that you were spending on getting it done to building a system that helps you spend five minutes on it as opposed to 50. It's definitely something I've been trying to do more of this year, especially with to do lists and building those systems. 

Andrew: In order to try to solve this feeling of being overwhelmed I started from, you know, kind of the top of the funnel, just like, well, how do we just keep Thunk alive as a project so we can keep playing the game and keep trying to make journaling and doing all the things that, frankly, I love doing on a daily basis. And beneath that, I came up with a couple of things like -- we got to make a product that people really want.

We need to make people aware that that product exists and that we need to, you know, package and sell that product to them in a way that we capture enough of the value that we're creating to kind of keep things alive and perpetuate playing the game. And from there, I just kept breaking it down, down, down. It was just like a whole list of very specific things that we're all trying to manage and I highlighted all the ones that I was either managing completely or shared managing or I had somebody sort of totally doing. And I also mapped out all these metrics...any way, it was all over the place. But by the time it was over, it ended up being very clear to me that, like, I need to ease up on taking so many responsibilities.

I need to show the team just more clearly, like, here's what's going on and this is why I'm freaking out. Like, this is the problem, the problem actually became very clear to me right at the end of doing that. And then I also ended up with like two really specific metrics that I think we can track that are at the right, like at the stage that we're at right now, will prove out that we're like doing these first things correctly and then we can kind of come back to some of the other, like, standard metrics that you might track. So it was amazing that by going to that total chaos and slowly whittling away at it and make sense of it was actually like, oh, we got some, we're good, I can action this. And this is even useful for the team. I can show them this and they'll understand why I'm asking for certain things. I won't seem like a crazy person now. 

Danielle: No, and I think that's some of like the most value of like this kind of journaling, too, and like because it's not living in your head anymore. It's not like spinning around in there and you're like trying to hold on to all the pieces and like worried about forgetting something like it's all on one page and you can kind of like be like, OK, you're there, I know you're there, I know you're an issue. But like, right now I need to go over to this strand of things and like, it just helps you, like, see the forest through the trees instead of, like, getting smacked in the face with branches every day. 

Andrew: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think if you think of your thought, if you imagine thinking as this sort of like linear thing, right where you can't really hold that many thoughts in your head at any given time when you when you write it all out, you can see it all. You can see the whole thing. You can't read it all at once, but you can kind of get a sense of it.

And if you then sort of interact with it, you know, you sort of externalize your thinking onto the page and then you can play with it a little bit. You know, you can sort of see what's going on, like, are there any patterns here? And, you know, as humans, we're actually pretty good at looking at like chaotic shit, like determining a pattern, you know, just like looking at the weirdness and being like, oh, here's like a thread, here's what's happening. And 100% journaling is like that where, you know, you get it all into the page and it's not in your head anymore. And you can look at it differently, objectively and you can, like, think and interact in a totally different way. 

Danielle: So next week, we're going to talk about, you know, what is the biggest barrier to us going out and getting like a ton of users? 

Andrew: Yeah, we should we should totally think about that. This week is like what's stopping us from going and trying to get a lot of people using this thing? It's a good question. 

Danielle: Yeah, I think so, too. So I'm excited and thank you all for listening. You can find us on Twitter @nalband and @Danielleismessy. And we'll see you next week. 

Andrew: Yeah. Thanks so much. If you want to get involved in Thunk or the beta program, send us an email at And we will talk to you soon. Thank you. Bye.