What's Stopping Us?

Danielle Messler
February 23, 2021

Listen:



The TL;DR


  • This week we’re talking about what’s holding us back from getting more users into the app.
  • Andrew speaks to the technical side of Thunk and what’s required as we scale.
  • We get into signs you know you’re building something people love.
  • Danielle talks about abandoning creative work vs finishing it.
  • Get priority early access to Thunk: podcast@thunkjournal.com
  • Follow us on Twitter @Nalband and @danielleismessy




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

Danielle:

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 1,000 people using and loving Thunk and we want to bring you along for the ride.

Andrew:

Listening 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:

And kicking us off for the week with another drum roll. How many users do we have this week, Andrew?

Andrew:

This week we're at about 52. So we got another maybe handful since last time we talked.

Danielle:

That's exciting. Bringing in all the people, they're finding the net!

Andrew:

Yes, come to us. We are your friends. You can sit here.

Danielle:

So last week we left off kind of with this big question of, you know, what's holding us back, what's stopping us from trying to get a ton of people in the door and how fast do we think we can get them into thunk?


What do you think is holding us back or our biggest challenges to just getting a ton of people into the app and through the door?

Andrew:

Yeah. So I've had a week to think about this since we talked about it last week and I'm having trouble coming up with a good reason why we shouldn't and I'm starting to feel really strongly that it's important for us to actually really try to make this a reality and go for as many people as we can.


And so of course, we talked about that perfectionism tendency and the challenge there, but I'm really starting to see it as more of aya know, let's just fight fear and get out there and, and go for it because I think that we can get a lot of folks in there and it's really what it's really, what will help us know where we're at.


And as we're striving and struggling to get that number as high as we can get it, we will learn things and we'll figure out what we need to do. And I think by actually going for it we'll get there. So my, I, I'm more convinced than ever that we should just go for it and that there really is nothing that we need to wait for or to stop us from going as hard as we can and getting as many people as possible.

Danielle:

Cool. A question I actually have for my own curiosity -- are there any technical limitations to just -- so say the best case scenario, this thing picks up a ton of speed and like 2 million people sign up overnight. Just kidding. I'm sure that would like break the internet.


Because Thunk is a journaling tool and it's really important to save that information, are there any technical limitations? Is there a risk of losing your notes? Cause that's happened to me with a new app that I was using. All of my info is gone and it was so upsetting.

Andrew:

You're kind of asking two different questions. So one question is just like, can this thing scale and how are we handling and are we prepared for that? And the other question that you're asking is what about, you know, data security and data loss?


 And do I, how do I know that I'm not going to like lose my stuff that I'm putting in there? That's a value to me. So say, okay, one of our developers has been on me for a couple of weeks. "You Need to be creating backups of the entire database." and just, just for that very reason that we don't want to be losing customers data and that's really important. And so I'm very thankful that Sergey is paying attention to that stuff. And calling me out on it and saying, "Hey, look, I need cycles to work on this. And this is important."


So that's something that is really I didn't, you know, frankly, you know, in all transparency, it's not currently happening, but I think that's something that in the short order we will want to do to make sure that we like people's data is saved and stored.


You know, even if there's some issue, the other question about scalability. So this is a, this is a really funny one or one that I think trips people up a lot. I used to think differently about this. And now I have a, this is my opinion has changed. So I used to think ah, man, it's really important to like, think about scaling up front and make sure you're prepared for it because you know what could happen?


Oh man, can you imagine if you were actually succeeding and like your site goes down, what a nightmare. And now I feel really differently about this. And I think don't even worry about scale. Just try to get some value to some people. And if your site goes bonkers and you're just hammered with traffic, just figure it out. Like it's might be a disaster for a little while, but that was, that is such a wonderful thing. And you will slow yourself down and you'll screw the whole project up.


If you spent two months trying to make a scalable application and you never actually deliver enough value to get people excited or interested enough to actually take your site down. So my feeling is very strongly that if a site, if you're doing such a good job, generating interest that your site crashes and it's a disaster, spin that into like some marketing, you know, turn it into like, "Oh my God, we just couldn't handle all of the traffic. We had to shut everything down." We're completely overwhelmed. Go here and sign up for our, you know, for our next version.


We just can't possibly let anyone in because we're just so overwhelmed with demand. So that's kinda how I think about it. Now, the technical team might view that a little bit differently and we are certainly using some tools that, you know, modern. So there's a little history here of like people used to just host their own servers and stuff, but there's a lot of new services like Heroku and Firebase and AWS. And those are very much built to help you with some of these scaling issues now, there's it doesn't, they don't solve all of these issues for you, but they do solve a lot of them more like deep, hard tech ones for you. So, you know, the short answer is we're, I'm not thinking about scale at all. And I think it's something that, you know, we, we have a little bit of, you know, brain power going into, but I also, I think it's another way that people delay getting to the moment of. I don't think that people, they just like noodle on their scaling problem. Just like I tend to noodle on product design problems as a way of like procrastinating from finding out if anybody wants something


Danielle:


Today. Or actually it was yesterday, I was using this daily planning app I've been using for about a month now. And I really like it and it's a newer one. And I notice like midday, like it had just completely shut down. Like it just wasn't working at all.


And I like emailed support and it was like, is this just me? And they were like, no, we're having like tons of issues. And then on Twitter today, I actually had seen the founder. Cause I recognize him from his email signatures. Like someone I follow had randomly liked one of his tweets where it was like easier than an NPS score is like having your product not work for 12 hours and seeing how many people write in like where is it?


And him just being like, yes, big challenge. Like we're rethinking how we do things. But like, ultimately this is a good sign because people are using it enough that they care when it's down.

Andrew:

Hmm. Yeah. And, and maybe that just gets to this early stage thing where it's like early stage, your biggest problem is no one cares, no one wants this. No one cares. And so if you're, I it's just, it's so difficult to get that right.


To get to the moment where wow, people really care that our site went down, that, that I just want a hundred percent of our focus to be on getting people to care that our site went down and then we'll, we'll fix all the other problems. If you, if, you know, it's like the hardest problem in business is like building something that people want in my humble opinion, you know, like actually having a product that anyone wants at all. And that is just, you're pulling something out of the abyss. There's really not like a very, you know, there's not a super clear path to do that.


You know, if there were, you know, there, there are books, there's lean startup and there's all this, you know, what, what's the other one, like customer development. You know, and there's ways of thinking about it, but there's a reason why this is like, you know, there's a reason why so many startups fail, you know, because it's really hard to just get that first thing that first step of somebody cares. And so I just want us to dedicate all our energy to that.

Danielle:

Right. Cause it's like, it's very grueling, non-scalable work at first because like the best thing is when you get to that certain threshold of people that are in there every day and finding a ton of value that they're already telling their friends about it, like I will text someone and be like, Ooh, this plant daily planning app I found is great, but convincing people to get in the door, like when you're the one who made it is so hard. And they're just, I mean, you have to do things that, that don't scale. Like he couldn't do this with like 10,000 people. And yeah,

Andrew:

I mean, I think that's a, that's a, isn't it that's like a Y Combinator thing do things that don't scale. Right. And, and I think, I think one of the things is like one of the examples is like Airbnb or something. And they figured out that you know, in order to get people to rent the properties, they needed really awesome photos. And that was the thing that really got somebody to rent.


And I, I I'm probably like messing up some startup history here, but I'm pretty sure they either went around themselves or they like hired, you know, photographers to go around when they were just a little baby company to get these nicer pictures in order to get some of those like bookings to start happening. And, you know, it's, it's just that that's a fundamental thing. Visual works.


And eventually, you know, they found other ways to like kind of, you know, scale that up, but they sort of seeded it in a very unscalable way of like, kind of doing everything themselves. And you know, I think that's, that's like the struggle that we're in right now. Right. It's, we're going out to, I'm going out and I'm like, all right, I gotta be tweeting and I gotta be going to these different forums. I gotta be talking about what we're doing.


And it's like, that's pretty foreign to me. I'm not the most, like, that's just my natural state, you know, like, let me just go talk about this thing. It's, it's definitely uncomfortable, but that's a big, important area.

Danielle:


So what's your biggest blocker do you think from just like going and tweeting and being like, "Hey, I've made this"

Andrew:

I mean, so this is funny. I'm like, I'm trying to, I'm trying to like dig deep and just be like, what is the real answer to this question? I mean you know, surface level, there's sort of like, well, I don't want to be one of those people, you know, I don't want to be one of those people that shows up and is just like, you know, Hey, look at me, I'm the coolest, like, you know, pay attention, pay attention to me, you know? So there's that. 


And then maybe, you know, in a deeper sense, there's just, yeah, the classic thing would be like the fear of rejection, right. Is that like you're out there. You know, if we want to get deep psychological, it's like, at some point you showed up to mommy and daddy and you were like, look at my drawing. And there was definitely a point where they were like, okay, what? And like, that's the fear, right.


That just sticks with you forever. And, and that is, I, you know, I think the, the secret, at least that I've found recently is the eternal, the eternal launch where you're just always logic, you know, it's like maybe that, that should be like a rallying cry or something like ABL always be launching, you know? So, so you're just like, you're just like continuously launching because, you know, I think you see like a product hot launch or something and you think, okay, they worked on it for five months and then they did a product launch, but that's definitely, I don't know.


Some people might do that, but that's like, we haven't done a product launch and we technically launched and we probably will do a product launch. Right. And so it's kind of like, I think it's just that, that continuous always launching thing and always kind of, you know, it's this, I, you know, maybe there's this idea that you have, you know, in order to be good, you kind of have to be constantly doubting yourself, you know, like in order to really make something good, you kind of have to continuously doubt what you're doing, because if you don't do that, you end up just going with whatever you thought first and whatever you thought first is probably wrong. If you constantly doubt yourself and you constantly rethink, do I need to, do I need to build this over from scratch? Is this totally wrong? Is this right?


If you have that sort of a mindset, you're going to make something good, because you're going to iterate the hell out of it. You're going to ask people, you're going to like really pay attention to what's working and what's not working. And you're going to know, you know, when you get something that's good. And I think that person who does that is a little afraid to go talk about it and promote it because they're constantly wondering if it's right, right. They're just constantly fundamentally asking that, question. So I think that might be a hurdle for people who are doing the necessary work to make something of quality is hard for that person to get into that mindset of like, okay, I'm going to go out there and I'm going to like more actively just, you know, promote what we're trying to do.

Danielle:


Yeah. It's funny. Cause my goal this year is I'm going to write a blog post every week and I've actually like, kept up with it. I've done four so far, which has been amazing. And yeah, it's been great. And I have like barely promoted them at all because I'm still in that mindset where I'm just like everything I do sucks.


And I mean, I think that generally, and I don't mean to be all like Debbie downer. Like I hate myself. It's just like, Ooh, like I could have spent more time on that. And it's like, that's always true. It's the like projects or work or creative work or, you know, even products and apps.


Like they're never actually finished. Like there's no such thing as finished. They're just abandoned. Like, this is good enough goodbye.

Andrew:

Yeah, I don't know if I've talked about them before on the podcast, but Patreon, probably people are familiar with that company. It's a way that creators can get some support and monetary support from their fans for the work they're doing. CEO of that company is a guy named Jack Conte.


And he talks about this idea that of, you know, he talks about creativity a lot and he talks about art a lot. He talks about this idea of abandoning work. And then he has this, this whole concept around like building or I guess, working to publish is the way he puts it, or it's just like, the goal is just to publish as much as you can. And if you talk to people who are you tubers, or, you know, other other sort of very, you know, creative type folks who are constantly putting things out into the world, what you'll find what they often will say is I really don't know, like before I release something, like what's going to be good and what's not going to be good.


And I'm kind of always surprised, you know? And in, in my own experience as like a, a song writer, I remember like, you know, writing so many songs. And I remember one time I was just like playing at this dive bar and I played this random song that I wrote, which to me was just, it was just a song. I don't know. It wasn't any better than any of the other ones that I had written.


But like, you, I immediately got this like reaction of like, you know, my friends coming up and being like, who wrote that? And like I noticed people were singing it, you know, as I would play it, like repeated times at the show and I'm just like, what's going on here. And so I think it's like, that's, that's, I love that idea of like working to publish and making it just about getting things out in the world. And you're kind of doing that, right. Except maybe you're having this other challenge, which maybe needs its own name, which is like, you know, making it, your goal to just speak about it more or talk about it more or connect, you know, those things in.

Danielle:


Which is just, it's so funny because I do this for a living, right. Like I create content and I promote it and it's always been so hard for me to do. And like, I always forget that like Boston, brunch guide exists too. And like, that was very successful, but I still look at pictures. I'm like, mm, like it's a little too warm. Probably should have like adjusted the white balance a little bit more.


And then I'll put something out that I'm like, like I'm going to post something because it's cool. And the picture is not perfect. And like, it always does so well where I'm like, what the? Like the photo that I spent like that I spent like 30 minutes, like location scouting, and then like getting all the angles and then, you know, you get a hundred and then you edit 10 and then you like pick between literal, like the smallest of changes. Like how was the flag blowing in the wind or something like that. It's like,

Andrew:

Yeah, well, I don't know. Maybe there's a, maybe there's a, maybe there's a mindset solution to this. Right. Where you start getting excited about some, some playful of it and aware, you know, you're like, Oh, I'm just gonna, you know, I'm going to just gonna get 20 of these out there.


And then I'm gonna look at which one actually kind of like resonated with people. And I'm not going to think very much about, you know, the rest of it. There's there's you know, so I mentioned song writing. There's this book that I read once that was all about having this songwriting day where you'd have you get like three friends and you'd all, you're all song writers and you get all the junk food and like, you know, beer and whatever junk you want.


And you, you know, so you don't, you don't try to like do your diet or whatever you're trying to do. You're just fully indulged. And then you try to write 20 songs in a day, which is this absurd. You know, if I, have you ever tried to write songs like 20 getting 20 songs done in a day is like an insane amount.

Danielle:


My friend who's in a band does that with his band. Like they just like write as many songs as possible. And then earlier any of these, like any good


Andrew:


Well, and then maybe it's like, you don't even ask yourself the question, you just kind of put it out there. Like you don't even ask if it's good, you just start, you know?


And it's like, it's almost like we need a place where it's like, it's like a testing ground or something where you can just get it in front of, you know, a hundred people and just sort of tell which one's like, kind of decent. And then you need like another tier above that where you're like, okay, now I know it's like it played okay. In that audience.


So it's like go to a broader audience with these three things that I've kind of refined into. Like, or I just know that they're like getting a response. Right. I I'll give you an example of something that happened this week. Ian one of our developers working on this backlinking idea where you can kind of link together concepts and he sent me a video of it in progress. And I was like, all right, I'm just kind of like trim this video down. I'm going to tweet it out. I'm going to throw it on, you know, a couple of forums and I'm going to say, Hey, this is something we're working on. Would love to get feedback from people who are familiar or interested in this kind of feature. And, you know, immediately, like I started to get interest and I'm like, Oh geez. 


And then, you know, funny things started to happen like that. So that's not something that I would usually feel comfortable doing and it's, but that's really what building in public is all about. Right. And then, and then funny things started to happen where somebody goes, Hey, is this in the app yet? I couldn't find it in discord. And I'm like, Oh, sorry. Yeah, it's not there. And then I sent Ian the image of this guy asking for it.


And now, now it's like, Ian's whole mindset. I mean, not that he's obviously already interested in working on it, but it changes the game for him. Right. Because he's like, all right, well, it's not just stupid, Andrew, just being like, hurry up, you know, this matters, there's this person that has a name and they're asking for it.


And I had a bunch of examples of that, and that's just energizing for the team to see the human beings that are out there that like we're serving, you know? And so I guess what happened there was like, by me, relaxing a little bit on my own perfectionism. Right. And just being like, all right, let's just throw this like dirty first draft out there. I got feedback. I got, I got, I got a feedback which I'm so hungry for. And I got all this valuable stuff to like, keep the team excited. Like, Hey team, like, look there's humans and we're building this for them.


And, and you know, so that was a big, you know, kind of aha moment maybe for me on this whole building and public thing. And I want to do a lot more of.

Danielle:

Yeah. And I definitely think we should. And maybe that's something we can even like talk about next week is like, alright, what is building in public? How do you do it? You know, all that being said, let's talk about thunk itself for a bit.


You know, you've been using it consistently. You've been doing morning pages and journaling and, you know, what's the biggest benefit been so far. And have there been any surprises from using and building this up?

Andrew:

Hmm. Yeah. I mean, I've made this joke a couple of times for people that it's like, Oh, if you're having trouble with consistency and in your journaling habit to start a journaling business, you'll get way more consistent with your journaling. And so that, that is something that I, you know, I really, at a certain point I looked at myself and I was like, gosh, I'm not actually, I've done journaling for awhile and often on context, but now we're building the app and I'm kind of like not living and breathing this. I need to change that.


So I started changing it and I started really working in, in the app a lot and just using it on a daily basis. And what's your streak at? I don't know. I think I might be around like 15 or something like that. So, so not that, but what I've, what I've noticed is, you know, just a really surprising amount of just like clarity and freshness of just like, Oh, I guess, I guess I'm actually just getting things out that I need to discuss or think or talk about. And it's like, I just get to dump that stuff onto the page kind of each morning.


And sometimes, I don't know, it's like, it's amazing the diversity of benefits. So you get that, that clear thinking you to get that sort of calmer mind for sure. You know, I think another thing that really comes through it is, you know, I actually just think through stuff, you know, as I'm writing, I'll just, you know, ideas will come up and it's, so it's like this powerful thing when you're building an app and, and writing about the app in it while you're building it, you just thoughts occur to you as you're writing. So focus mode that we have now in the app is a result of this.


So I'm sitting in the app and I'm writing and I'm like, I don't know. I'm like all this interface. Like I just want this interface to go away. And I just want to write the, I just want to see the words. And so I kind of quickly prototype that up. And then I sent it over to the team and I said, let's, let's do this, let's put this in. And they put it in and it's awesome. You know, I love it. It's so great. And so that's been you know, I don't, I don't know how useful that is to anyone, but gosh, if you can write inside of your tool about your tool and think about your tool, it really helps you make your tool better. That's for sure.


You know, just like it's, it's something that has totally improved funk itself. Just sort of being in it, using it because you're sitting there thinking, writing, and kind of getting that stuff onto the page.

Danielle:


Yeah. Cause you're, you're naturally in that you're in a thinking process in a different environment, instead of being out of the environment and being like, what would make this great you're in it being like, okay, like, yeah, I want a focus mode because I'm here and it's what I'm craving for whatever reason. And if you don't have that same, I guess environmental trigger, like you might have not come up with that or, or deprioritized it when it could be something that's so important to

Andrew:

Something that happened this week was I found myself realizing that I spent actually quite a bit of time building this mission, these value statements that like really, I believe in and I care about and I realized I hadn't communicated them to the team at all.


So I got back to, I went back to this old book called the advantage that I read and it goes through kind of how to get all the way from, like, why do we exist all the way to like, what person must do, what specific activity to get us closer to that reason for being, and it's a whole bunch of things in between there, you know, it kind of starts with why we exist. It goes down to your values. It continues on with what's most important right now. And Oh, it's like how we operate. What's important. Most what's most important right now. And then ultimately who must do what, like who has to do what activities for us to accomplish those important things.


So I got this in front of the team. Finally, I actually wrote it down in like an actual hierarchy where you can see how this stuff relates. And I got down to this, this very clear statement of like, well, the most important thing for us right now is just getting people to buy this tool. Right. And I kind of hated landing on money as a, as a, as a metric.


But I realized that like having somebody buy it from us, it's a very good indicator of what really does matter, which is that we're providing them with so much value that they're happy to pay us for some of that value that we're giving them. And we need to be, you know, we can't be providing value at the level that we're charging. It has to be in excess of that, or it wouldn't be a reality.


So I I've found that a lot came out of that conversation with the team, they were thinking differently. They were asking me questions when I kind of said, Hey, look, I want to, you know, hit this hard revenue target of like, let's try to get like a thousand to pay, you know, five bucks for this. By the end of March, they started asking me all these great questions.


And so I think that might be a great fodder for next week to dive into what were some of those questions. How did that influence, you know, and change the entire conversation that we were having and how did it really solve a problem that I was having, which is why is no one else asking these hard questions? So that might be something that's fun to go into next week. And let's dig into that.

Danielle:

Thank you all for listening. You can find us on Twitter at @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 podcast@thunkjournal.com and we will talk to you soon. Thank you. Bye.