Not Every Project Is A Startup

Originally Published on July 8th, 2018

It’ll be not too long before my company's app, Tess, launches. I started Tess a little bit over a year ago with my friend Nick Ruspantini because we wanted to make an app that let anyone record a podcast straight from their phone. Tess has evolved to become something more than just an app where people can make podcasts, we've spent the last few months making a really cool podcast player so listeners can enjoy the app as well.

Through this journey, we've learned a lot about ourselves, added another co-founder to help out with the non-technical side of the company, gathered some money from pitch competitions and grants, written so much code, and have stressed our love of working on Tess out of our systems, why? Because startup culture continuously gnaws at you with hype, pressure, stress, competition, and anxiety.

I'm a developer and a designer, the act of making experiences and figuring out problems gives me a sense of satisfaction that is unparalleled to anything I've ever done before. The first six months of creating Tess were amazing, Nick and I would just code and then talk to people who wanted to use our product. We would be so excited to see what people made on our platform, and continue to iterate and iterate. Things were going well with our project, so well, that people thought of our project to be a startup. People wanted to talk to us more about our project, give us advice on building our 'startup', and we listened to them. One of the first things that we would constantly get asked is our business model, so we gave into the idea of needing to have a business model.

This was when things got weird and had to bring on another person on to the team, but we didn't know how to monetize Tess and we didn't have a launched product. And because we didn't know how to monetize Tess, the criticisms would always come hard at our project, but the truth is we weren't worried about it. We had a bare-bones app that was being distributed on TestFlight to beta users, but every time we would get into a room with a startup 'guru' they would bring up how our Tess's days were numbered. But we didn't have a startup, Tess was a project, made out of an idea and love of development. Here we were though, two people asking for advice for our college project and getting ridiculed because of our lack of startup acumen.

Not everything has to be a startup, building things is fun just by itself and doesn’t always need an ultimate goal.

I think this is a key issue in modern entrepreneurship, passion projects get put into the box that startups are in and this opens the door for distractions, hype, and ego to creep in. All of which can be very detrimental to your passion project because they take away your time from development or talking to the people that use your product. Instead, do everything you can to get back to the happiness and excitement that originally guided you to keep on developing, to keep the happiness that your product gives to users flowing, and to feeling the satisfaction of tiny wins. It's the only way to get back to where you truly want to be. Keep those feelings for as long as you can.

You don't always need seed rounds or to spend thousands of dollars on marketing to make a product that people love and use everyday. So today, I take back my company from the million different startup philosophies and startup gurus that try to tear down ideas and motivation instead of building them. This means trying to find a clear way to revenue and not hypothesizing and basing that we will be able to sell user data in the future/put advertisements on our platform. This means sorting through all the bullshit that is put in front is startups, all the hype, and spending our time talking to users to make sure that they love each and everyone of our features. This means being stingy with our money, not focusing on hiring until there is profit, and never growing because of hype but solely out of necessity.

We're going indie.

What does that mean? To me, this means we will not be looking for outside capital, not hypothesizing ridiculous amounts of scalability, charging real cash to our users, being product obsessed, and finding our own philosophy to support and grow our company.

Projects do more than create software. They help you get out of your comfort zone, find new solutions, learn industry-level standards for development, and more importantly let you build relationships with the people you are building the tool for and the people you are building with.

We won't be compromising time worked on the software or quality of code written and shipped, on the contrary, I am positive that this change will have a significant impact on how we operate because we can go back to solely doing this to enrich the lives of users and work on an amazing product. There are so many things that get in the way of young startups, if you feel the same then I'm sure you can empathize with my writing.

Look forward, keep your head high, keep iterating, and make sure you never let any of these startup guru's, accelerators, investors, or marketers keep you from creating something amazing.


An Update on April 1st, 2019

The three cofounders of Tess decided to close up shop late 2018. There were many reason why we decided to stop but ultimately, we all needed to grow more as people to be prepared to operate a company. Many of the sentiments said in this post still resonate with me deeply and I still love the idea of independent companies.