Do you say something like “Man it would be great is someone would create a site that does [fill in the blank]” a lot? Do you find yourself coming up with great ideas only to forget them a couple of hours later? Have you ever told an idea to your friends, have them tell you it’s horrible, only to see the exact product a year later released by someone else?
Well, do something about it.
Write Your Ideas Down
Have a great idea? Write it down. In a notebook, in Evernote (or SpringPad), on a napkin that you put in your pocket, write the idea down. Basically store it somewhere that you won’t lose it later. If you write the idea down, you can come back to it later. I can’t tell you the number of ideas I let slip away because I had this great idea while I was at work and didn’t write it down. So I started carrying a notebook (Amazon affiliate link) around. When I have an idea, I stop and write it in my notebook on one of the pages dedicated to business ideas. This allows me to easily find it later. If I don’t have the notebook with me for some reason, I open up Evernote (web page or application) and write it down in a note that is specific to my business ideas. Sure it means I have to look in two places when I’m reviewing those ideas, but at least I don’t forget the idea.
Don’t just write down the idea. Write down anything related to it. For example, I once had an idea to give companies the ability to create their own secure chat server, so I wrote the idea down, but I also wrote down to look at cloud computing options that would allow me to start and stop servers as needed, chat server software, protocols, and so on. That way I just didn’t write down the idea but also the surrounding ideas so I knew what direction I wanted to go.
Pick An Idea
After you’ve gotten a few ideas written down, spend a Saturday reviewing them. Flesh them out a little. What do you need to implement those ideas? What things should you research more? Which one really gets you fired up? If you find that an idea sparks a million other thoughts about that idea, go with it. If you aren’t passionate about it, you’re probably not going to get very far with it. However, if you find that a specific idea really gets your brain going, focus on it. It’s really about passion. You’re going to have to really like that idea to be able to spend the next year or so working on it.
Keep it Simple
That idea that’s spawning a million thoughts a second, that’s good. But don’t let yourself get carried away with all those secondary ideas. Write them down so you don’t lose them to the ether. Instead, after you’ve written them down go ahead and pick the absolute essentials. For every sub-idea, ask “is this absolutely essential to accomplishing the initial idea” and if the answer is “no” then move onto the next sub-idea. This will help you determine what’s really important to the idea. The ideas that aren’t absolutely essential can be worked on/implemented after launch.
This is important: If it’s not absolutely essential to the achieve the goal of your product, you don’t need it to launch.
This is one of the most important thing to do. Build it. Get working on it as soon as you can. You’ll hit road blocks, have burn out, and have to put some time in during your off hours. But if you don’t build it, you can’t release it. Set up a schedule to work on the project. A couple of hours a day, no less than three days a week. Having such a schedule really helps you to set aside time for the project but still allow you to have a life. Having a life outside of work and your side project will delay any burn out experience you’re likely to have.
When you do hit a period of burn out, work on something else related to the project. Don’t have the website design, work on that. Formulate plans for after the launch of the product. Organize the to-do list or write a blog post about what you’re working on or some of the lessons learned so far. These things help you get through the burn outs but allow you to maintain momentum and your work schedule.
This is probably the most important part of the whole process. Getting it out to the public. Letting real users hack away and break things. Hey, thinks are going to break, accept this truth early on and you will be less stressed about it. But releasing your product means you completed the process. You took an idea from inception all the way to release. Sure you probably hit some snags along the way. It probably took you a little longer than you initially thought (it always does). But, it’s released, it’s out there.
Unfortunately, just releasing the product isn’t enough. You’ll need to make enhancements. Those ideas I said you need to put to the side because they’re not essential, start cherry picking those and working on them. You’ll have bugs to fix. There will be customers to support, they’re going to request things. Getting here though is the just the start of the journey. If you can get to this point, you’ve made it farther than most.