I like plans

I spent the last four months working on CodeNewbie. In that time, I launched our community forum, produced a weekly podcast, redesigned the website three times, managed a small team of contributing bloggers, did over a hundred customer interviews with people in our community, and tested out two educational products, one of which I’m really excited about.

It was just me and my ideas, and it was painfully lonely. My brain constantly second guessed every move I made, annoyed I couldn’t do it right the first time, or the second, or the third. I always knew that ideas weren’t as important as execution, and I found that out first hand. Most of my mistakes I could laugh at, but a few really hurt. They weren’t anything big, nothing worth tweeting about, but they popped up in private emails and conversation.

I find it hard to forgive myself. It’s something I have been working on, and I’m getting better at it. But when you’re working in silence in your living room office with no one else to blame, it’s hard.

I didn’t appreciate how much of an extrovert I am before this little experiment. Every google hangout was a chance to talk to actual humans! If we talked during this time period, and I sounded creepily enthused, my apologies. It will probably happen again.

But what I misunderstood the most was the concept of a plan. I like plans. I like process. We spent weeks, Rob and I, trying out different audio software for the CodeNewbie Podcast in different places and conditions. We tried recording from a cheap mic, a headset, an expensive one. We listened back using different quality headphones. We did fake interviews with a shitty internet connection, in a noisy room, and we let them run for hours, just in case. We tried different audio settings, and after two weeks and four guests, we finally got it right. And that’s how I like to do things. I like to have a plan.

But I’d always assumed success. Without a plan, the worst that would happen was a shitty success. A silver medal, maybe a bronze, but a medal either way. With all the low-production podcasts that were doing well, I knew I didn’t have to make the CodeNewbie Podcast sound great. But I wanted to, and I did, and it does.

So when I thought of our first educational product, I had a plan. I did a few dozen customer interviews. I got great feedback on the idea, the problem I was solving, and the way my solution addressed these problems. I got feedback on the landing page, and made adjustments. I decided it was ready for a small group to test, and I put it out there. I had a target number of signups I was looking for, and a short window of time to make it happen. I’d revised it with my mentor, and everything looked ready. I got the number of sign ups I wanted in the allotted time, but my conversion rates were very discouraging. I considered that test a failure, and I wasn’t ready for it. That was the biggest lesson I took away from these four months. You can have a great plan, do your little tests, and still fall flat on your face. You can never tell how people will react to something until you put it in front of them.

I think it wouldn’t have been as big a blow if I had a partner, someone to share the frustration with and keep me centered. But I absorbed the blow myself and it took awhile to get over it.

I care a lot. I care a whole fucking lot. I think I’d get further if I cared a little less.

I was venting to Rob about it recently, and he said, “Never confuse strategy with outcome.” I love a punchy line of wisdom, but I savored this. I think it pinpoints what’s been the hardest part of this journey -- emotionally separating my strategy from the outcome. Just because it didn’t work out doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good plan, and it doesn’t mean the plan had no value. In fact, it’s the plan that made the outcome so clear.

Aight, I gotta go. I have a plane to catch.