One of the projects I'm working on will launch publicly soon. With that on the horizon, I've been asking myself: What does it take to start something new?
When most people launch a new project, they tend to tackle the challenge like this:
Think of business idea
Create 12-month plan
Come up with name
Claim social media handles
Is this list familiar? We’ve all taken this approach to projects and experienced the disappointment of losing momentum. While some of these actions do need to be taken, focusing primarily on these eight steps can lead you down the wrong path. You run the risk of your enthusiasm for the idea waning by the time you execute.
This list of tasks doesn’t create a business. It produces a hollow brand instead. You probably have no idea what to do with it now it exists.
If you haven’t figured out what happens next, all eight of these standard launch activities are fundamentally unimportant. If you manage to haphazardly win your first customer, the real work begins there: figuring out how to deliver on the promise.
In this scenario, you’re likely to run out of steam before ever really getting started.
I think there are better ways. Here's an alternative step-by-step:
Think of business idea
Scale it down to a single project
Sell it to someone in your existing network
Run that single project to validate the idea
Get feedback and figure out how to improve
Create a case study to showcase what you did
The idea here is to put time and energy into high-value but low-effort actions and avoid low-value but high-effort actions at all costs. In essence, it’s about getting down and dirty — doing the actual work, not just the planning. Making stuff.
The worst potential outcome of this approach is that you end up with a portfolio of cool projects that tell a story about who you are and what you think is important. That’s a lot better than a long list of non-starter businesses.
Next time you want to launch something new, do yourself a favour and skip the unnecessary steps. Strip the idea back to basics, be self-critical, and simply get going.
As always, hit reply to share your feedback—I’d love to hear from you.
The Big Idea: Shanzhai Culture
I’ve had a few people ask me if it’s OK to copy my formats or adopt my strategies recently. The answer is almost always yes. I just want them to improve on it somehow and share it onwards. That’s how the internet should work.
These conversations got me thinking about an idea I covered in my column for Inverse a few years back: the Chinese copycat culture known as “shanzhai”.
The word literally means “fake” and was coined to describe knock-off phones with names like Nokir and Samsing. These were actually as good or better than the originals. After all, the same factory workers making them build the Nokia and Samsung phones for a living too.
Over the past decade, the technology company Xiaomi — simply “Mi” internationally, because X’s are hard — conquered the Chinese market with cheap iPhone clones. Then it entered the global market as its own brand.
A culture that started in the tech city of Shenzhen has spread across Chinese life. Apparently, there’s even a shanzhai Harry Potter. We see all this as piracy in the West, but in Chinese culture, originals are continually transformed and deconstructed.
What can we learn from this way of thinking? Is there potential waiting to be unlocked?
Maker of the Week: Xavier Damman
This week's maker hails from Brussels, Belgium but he spent the last decade working in the US, splitting his time between San Francisco and New York. A coder and entrepreneur by trade, Xavier Damman is founder of Storify and Open Collective.
He’s also a loud-and-proud Extinction Rebellion activist. He’s currently in an amusing a battle of wits with the municipality over the future of a community garden he and his daughter constructed in a parking space.
Working with Xavier over the years has taught me a valuable lesson: the person who acts first wins. If you spend too long convincing yourself that an idea won't work or discussing the details of how to go about doing it, you lose the energy and spirit. It might never happen. So cut the bullshit and don't hesitate — act instead.
Handpicked for You
Sharon Van Etten has released five studio albums, composed a film score, starred in a critically-acclaimed Netflix show, had one child and is currently working towards a degree in psychology. She’s creative and portfolio careerist in the truest sense of the words, and this New York Times profile from last year captures the excitement and struggle of her creative life perfectly. It should remind us: this isn’t just my work, this is my life.
Last week, I collaborated with Anna Codrea-Rado of The Professional Freelancer on this webinar. We talked about how to build personal resilience, how to take your first steps in outsourcing, the importance of collaboration and the future of freelancing. We had 70+ people join us live and got great feedback, so I wanted to share the session here too. Watch it on YouTube (above) or read a full transcript of our conversation. I’ll try to write up a summary blog post for my website soon.
In this podcast series, BBC broadcaster Suchandrika Chakrabarti interviews creative freelancers who are challenging the status quo to build careers on the internet. This episode meets book editor and London Literary Salon co-founder Parul Bavishi. She discusses writing and editing in a pandemic and how she accidentally created a global Zoom community under lockdown, with plenty of tips to strengthen your creative practice. You can also join Parul’s daily and weekly writing sessions.
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