Possibility and Probability

A Python programmer with a personality thinking about space exploration

27 August 2019

Reader question: What is the hardest part of starting a business?

by nickadmin

I recently heard from Florin who asked:

What is the hardest part of creating an online business, from your point of view?

This is a great question and I had a ton of thoughts on it. Here’s the response I sent back:

I think the hardest part is keeping your motivation up. This is because a lot of people (myself included) think that motivation is a one time event: “If I get motivated I’ll start work!” But my experience is that this isn’t true. I’ve needed motivation at different stages of the process and if it ever fails, then the whole project just seems to collapse. To make things more interesting, sometimes different levels of motivation is needed. Let me give a few examples: Getting started : I think everyone is familiar with this one. Taking that first step can be really scary and a lot of people never make it to this point. There’s a huge gap between thinking about doing something and actually doing it. No matter what it is, coming up with an idea, starting to write code, doing research…. if you can’t get excited and motivated about something it will forever remain “Oh, I’ve got this idea…” and nothing will get accomplished. Taking a big step on something new : A lot of people get lost on this one. Doing new things can be scary and a lot of people will realize that starting a business, or even just a side project!, is a big step so that is so different than their daily life that they just freeze up and stop. This includes a lot of things. Basically anything outside of your comfort zone. I and others have lost all motivation when it came time to: seek advice from someone else, trying to write some marketing copy for a website/email, hiring a freelancer to help with something like graphics, attend a conference/meetup to talk to other people…. basically anything that I don’t do on a normal basis can cause me to say “Hmm, well maybe this isn’t a good idea…” Which might not be true! I think this where a lot of developers fail in their journey: They are excited to start the project, but eventually they hit some roadblock that looks scary and they just stop. So many people have thought and dreamed of big things like electric cars and re-usable rockets. But most people were scared of taking the huge steps needed to do these huge things. Elon Musk managed to stay motivated while facing some humongous challenges around those, and look where he is today: Landing rockets on barges in the middle of the ocean! Talk about a big step on something new! I wish I could stay motivated to pull something like that off. :) Spending money : This one is where I fall down a lot. I’m trying to run my experiments kinda lean, and I don’t want to loose money. But… my graphic design skills are pretty horrible. My copywriting skill is weak. Conventional wisdom says I should hire someone to do these tasks for me. But I’m so scared I’m going to spend a ton of money and not like the results I get (or get ripped off, or the project will fail for some other reason and I’ll still have lost that money). So as a result anytime I think I have to spend money it I start to lose my motivation. A few months ago I had what I thought was a great idea for a store to sell posters. I knew this would involve making some graphics and buying some ads to get traffic to the site. I managed to do the graphics on my own, but the ads just killed me. I spent as little money as I could and as a result got very little traffic to my site. (like $20, and only a few people). The “answer” to this problem was new graphics for the ads and some more testing (e.g. buying more ads). But… I just couldn’t bring myself to do this for some reason. I let that little setback completely steal my motivation and eventually I put the store on the backburner. I probably missed an opportunity to grow there, but for some reason when I hit that magic $20 line I just lost my nerve. Follow through : Everything worth doing eventually gets to a point where it gets hard. Or boring. Or routine. At those moments if your motivation slips, then you will stop. The perfect example of this is most New Year’s resolutions: The gyms are full of people on January 1st who are working hard to get in shape. By February 1st, most people have given up and the gym is empty. Same thing with starting a business. I can create a Trello board with tons of tasks detailing how I’m going to start and execute a new idea to make some money. But if I need to get the rolling on one of those tasks and it turns out it needs 5 extra steps, it takes some motivation to get that done. Especially if it is something you think you’ve already done. In high school a classmate of mine got a summer job we all wanted. He wasn’t anyone special and I wondered why he got it and not me. The answer was his follow through. After applying like we all did, he called to see what they thought. Then a day later he called again to see if they had made a selection. That calling and checking was what they were looking for: someone who cared enough to make sure the “job” got done. (The job of applying for the job!) Because no one else did that, they selected him and he got the cool job (and awesome pay that came with it). The big one: Why? For all of my rambling above, I think it all boils down to this one. If the reason why you are doing something isn’t strong enough, eventually your lack of motivation will overtake your willingness to do the work. Having a good reason why you are doing some thing acts like a multiplier for your efforts. For example, if your “why” is just to make extra money… it will only supply you with a little bit of motivation when you hit a challenge. BUT…. if your why is “to make money to get that medical operation for my child/parent” you are going to go a lot further before you give up. Here’s how I think about this in terms of a math equation:

motivation = (effort * why)

If your why is 0 or negative, your effort is going to be pretty minimal. But if the why is 2 or 5 or 100… suddenly your motivation goes way up! And it is kind of a feedback loop so the more motivated you are now helps motivate future you to do even more! My why hasn’t been very strong on a lot of my recent projects. I think that’s why a lot of my experiments haven’t turned into the successes that I want.

Do you have a question I might be able to help out with? Hit me up and let me know!