The Most Important Decision for Founders [Letter #20]

Three questions to ask yourself before starting a business or getting attached to a business idea:

  1. What resources are you willing to put in? time, money, risk?
  2. Who do you want your customers to be?
  3. What do you want to get out of this?

I came across these questions in a Seth Godin interview about his latest book The Practice: Shipping Creative Work. The 1st and the 3rd questions make sense. The 2nd one seems less obvious, more unexpected. I assert that this is the most important decision for entrepreneurs:

Who do you want your customers to be? Or your users, students, readers, clients? Who is your thing for? Who do you serve?

The initial appeal of being self-employed is that you have complete control over your time. You decide what to do, when and how to do it. You are your own boss, you don't answer to anyone. However, if our goal is to be successful as an entrepreneur, we should seek to change this as soon as possible. We should be eager to be on the hook for something to someone. The real appeal of doing-your-own-thing then is not that you don't have to answer to anyone, it's that you get to decide who that is. Who you want your customers to be, who your work is for. Once your decide, then you're on the hook to serve this group. This is an important decision as we get to serve who we like. It helps to like your customers, to be able to relate to them and have the desire to dedicate your work to helping them succeed.

Being On The Hook and Smallest Viable Audience

People generally are reluctant to be 'on the hook' for something. The Practice makes the case that actually 'being on the hook' is where you want to be. Because if your work benefits others and you create things that are useful, then your customers/readers/users will seek out your work. They'll be waiting for you and if you don't show up, they'll wonder what happened. This is what it means to be on the hook.

You also want to be on the hook to a group that is as specific and as small as possible. You don't want to be on the hook to anybody and everybody. This is called the smallest viable audience in The Practice.

However "who do I want my customers to be?" is not easy decision to make. Your answer to this question may evolve over time. My current answer has two subgroups and I haven't managed to narrow down to one yet.  One subgroup is people who are in the early stage of their software career or who want to transition into software from another industry. I teach them. Speaking of liking your customers, I genuinely admire the dedication of self-taught developers transitioning to tech mid-career. I want to see them succeed and enjoy a long meaningful career. I like this group of people.

The other group is software engineers with 10 to 15+ years of experience who feel stuck and are looking for the what's next. I now believe all builders should do their own thing, create their own business. Not necessarily a traditional 'startup' involving a software product and raising funds from venture capital (although that is fine too). I believe all builders can create value and earn a living independently. They would need to learn non-technical skills. I can relate most to this group and I can help by teaching business skills as I learn them.

The point is I get to decide. I get to decide who I want my customers to be, who my work is for, who I want to serve. That is a powerful freedom.


Monthly Habit Review and Planning

Speaking of being on the hook, tracking daily habits is one way we can put ourselves on the hook. It's the end of the month so reviewing how I fared with this month's habits and planning next month's habits.

Reviewing February Habits:

Habit #1 Recording - I was able to keep up with this habit. My 'hack' has been to read out loud essays on business and entrepreneurship. It also serves as a way to curate content that I find insightful. So far, it's been for my own reference, I'm publishing but not sharing. I will continue this habit for next month.

Habit #2 Mental exercise - this habit of 10 minutes of daily meditation was hard to stick with. I am not entirely sure why yet. I will conclude this one for now. But as a side effect of this habit, I did some research and wrote a report on how meditation works. I do feel like I have good grasp on the operating theory. Also here are my notes from a fascinating free course on the science of meditation that I did last summer.

Habit #3 Writing/creating hour - I hosted co-working session from 6am to 7am every weekday morning. I worked on a variety of things. Will continue this habit for next month.

Planning March Habits:

I’ve done my pre-thinking and I am ready to commit to the below habits for the next 31 days!

  1. Connecting - send a message to 2 new people each week. Someone whose work I admire. That's all, I will keep this open-ended.
  2. Contributing to communities - post on one of the online communities each week day (IH, Dev, NL). I will choose which one based on the topic.
  3. Recording - continuing this habit from last month. Committing to record audio essays each weekday, and publish everything I record. The goal now is to improve the audio quality and make these recordings useful to others.
  4. Writing/Creating hour - Continuing this from last month as well. The goal will to work on the same thing everyday, something I can ship/publish.

That's it for this one! I hope you enjoyed the read.

Until next time,

Bhumi

February 2021 Habit Grids

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