Stepping back from Sett has left a lot of room for me to reflect. What went wrong? Of those things that went wrong, which were avoidable, or will at least be avoidable in the future? Two big things always surface, the first of which I'll talk about today.
When Sett started out, I spent most of my time innovating, imagining, making decisions, and building. The building was a very specific sort of building-- the kind where you're going a hundred miles and hour, shooting for 80% perfect. Something out of nothing, not perfection out of something.
By the end of Sett, I was spending my day programming and dealing with customer support. We were servicing our technical debt, meaning I was filling in that last 20% of polish that we had left the first time around. On top of those things, I was trying to figure out how to get us making money.
The biggest difference in these duties is something that maybe only I, or close friends, could spot. I'm really good at the first group, and pretty bad at the second group.
I'm intermittently good at customer service. I always try to do the right thing and would rather lose money than have a customer be dissatisfied. But I'm not good with staying on top of email, so I wasn't always as prompt as I should be.
I'm terrible at marketing.
I'm a proficient programmer, but I don't love it. It's not my art, like it is for many other people. I get a kick out of finding novel solutions and debugging, but I don't care about patterns and algorithms. And I don't really care about becoming a better programmer. My interest in it is the ability to build something from nothing, and I'm good enough to be good at that.
In any project, you have to take the good with the bad. Sometimes you'll be doing things you like, other times you won't. And, in any startup, you'll end up having to fill in skill-gaps and work on things that aren't your forte.
But what worried me was that I was spending almost all of my time doing things that other people could have done better. My output was being sourced from my weaknesses, not my strengths.
That should have thrown up all sorts of alarm bells earlier. My best contributions to Sett were very clearly in the phases were I was working from my strengths. I think that's true of anybody in any project. And, yet, I'd allowed myself to slide into a position of working from weakness.
When we started Sett, we had a long term vision for it. But in no part of that vision did we think about what we would be contributing, and whether it was a good fit or not. In retrospect, I wish that I had chosen a path that would maximize me doing what I'm good at and minimizing doing things I'm bad at.
I think a lot about contribution to society. All delusions of grandeur aside, I think that society works best when people spend as much time as possible doing what they're uniquely good at. That crosses all strata of society. I still remember a Wendy's cashier from 15 years ago who was amazing at what he did and left an impression on thousands.
Think about what it is that you do for most of your day. Is that something you care about? Is it something you're good at, or actively improving? If it's not, think very hard about whether you're in the right place or not. And when you decide what to do next, think about the path you'll be taking, and how closely that path follows your strengths. I know that's what I'll be doing.
Photo is a kid looking out at Hong Kong bay. Is it creepy to take photos of kids like this? I never really know if it's okay to take pictures of strangers.
Heading to Maui for the first time tomorrow! I'm looking most forward to doing some good hikes (and hopefully getting some blog photos along the way).
I often see managers mistake something that's 80% finished to be 20% from being completed.
It's one of the hardest skills in software development -- setting yourself up for the final 20% when you're currently at 0. I've come in on rescue missions for projects that hit 80% then stagnated indefinitely and discovered they're 100% from being done.
Make the software do something last. Creating outside-in will always cause the import hard/costly to change parts to be incorrect.
I remember a waitress from more than twenty years ago. I remember thinking at the time that if I had a company I'd have made her an offer right on the spot. Probably the best customer service experience I've ever had and she had a room full of tables she was working and not just ours.
By the way, I came here because I just reread MHCY for the first time since .. 2009 I think. Still a great read. I especially needed the refresh from the section on not-chasing. It's easy to kind of fall into certain behaviors that ARE chasing... but you may not realize it at the time.
Not knowing what Sett is (took a couple years off from reading your blog), I can't really speak to it, but the idea of doing what you're best at makes sense. What's the answer? Outsourcing, perhaps. But outsourcing is a real art that takes a certain amount of skill to develop... I failed several times in the past when trying to outsource things. Over the past 8 months I've put a huge amount of effort into breaking down my business into tasks that I can outsource. It's still work in progress but I think it will help me expand faster once I get it done.
I'll give my persepective. The terrible cliche is still the most important one: What's In It For Me?
I think what you designed served your purpose with aplomb: it was fast, community-oriented and designed the way you'd want it. But I don't think you understood what people wanted. Two types of people blog: the casuals and the pros. Casuals want something that's free and something they know. Hence, blogger or wordpress. Most people in this category are not the types to Reddit frequently, for example. And they sure as hell won't pay to have their own 'website'. People in this category, your blog served excellently. Unfortunately, most of these people never heard of SETT. I mean, how would they? Also, more importantly, these types are on decline. The world, sadly, has quit sharing its views coherently, and has moved on to 140 characters, rant-y status updates or battling for social justice on Tumblr.
The other type are the pros who want maximum flexibility. People who already have a grand vision of how their blog should look like, and they need it to look just so. For these, your platform served less well. It wasn't proof-tested enough.The theming editor was in its infancy. And the principal attractions (community driven and so on), aren't really what they are looking for.
As a final word, though, I think it comes down to, what you said, marketing. Getting people talking about your product is sadly almost more important than the product itself. Especially when you rely on high volumes to succeed.
I still believe that technically, this was heroic work. Although I never understood why you didn't look at it like a proper company and involve more people, it was still massive amounts of solid programming for what it was. So good work. Hopefully, the next venture is the bulls-eye
I'm sure you already have a plan but here's some additions.
Some recommendations for Maui (lived there 3 months and was just back 2 weeks ago):
Buy the book Maui revealed, try to find an older copy because there are a lot of "illegal" hikes now, like swinging bridges, which is fun and usually you can still hike it anyways, but there is a hike in Hana that is restricted now (there's an angry guy with a gun), I think he manufactures drugs, so listen to the warnings and don't go on that one.
It's the end of Whale Watching season, the tours are amazing since these creatures are majestic but if you want to rent a kayak and paddle out it's even more of an adventure and you can go snorkling.
If you want to camp you can pitch a tent on the beach between Maalaea and Lahaina or between Lahaina and Kihei.
Must do: hikes to waterfalls, road to hana, haleakala sunrise, little beach on sundays, whale watching. If "Jaws" is breaking in Pihei than you must see this. World famous surfing with waves 20-50 feet high where surfers have to get towed in by Jetski. No point though if the waves aren't breaking, check out Ho'okipa instead, great surfing and world famous wind surfers.
Kahului: This is where you fly into, OGG. Home of the Banana bungalow hostel, they have some cool hikes and trips they plan including little beach on Sunday which is a must do. The only hospital on the island is in this city. Restaurant local favorite: Da Kitchen, trust me, its da best.
Maalaea: not much here except some boat tours leave from here. The kealia boardwalk leaving from Maalaea to Kihei drive is gorgeous though. Also there is the Lahaina pali hike leaving from here, it's the coastal trail hike natives would take before there was a road to get to Lahaina. You can do the whole thing and hitch hike back to your car if you want, or do half, but it will take you up to the windmills and a gorgeous view on a clear day.
Lahaina: Whalers town, home of Mac Fleetwoods restaurant, a bunch of touristy shops, shave ice, the old courthouse. You can take surfing lessons at breakwall in Lahaina. On the drive to Lahaina there is a fruit stand, banana bread, Leoda's kitchen and pie shop. Near the campground across the street (a little south) there's some kayak rentals, hard to find if you don't know where it is.
Kanapali: Tourist area, some cool touristy beaches and snorkling if you look at the guidebook. Dragons teeth is alright but not spectacular.
West Maui: A beautiful drive in its own right, you can drive all the way back to Kahului but in my opinion that road is more dangerous than the road to hana. There is less traffic but it's dirt and one way, at the very end of the drive there is the best banana bread stand in Maui. Notable sites: Olivine pools, Nakalele blowhole (lava tube when water splashes up looks like a blowhole going off), Honolua bay (decent snorkling, cool hike to the bay, very tropical, nice views from above), chutes and ladders hike - google it, it's one of my favorites, you hike down a sea cliff edge, it looks super dangerous and sketch but its safe because it's at an angle, there is a rope you can use but freescaling is easy too. Bring your shoes if you hike barefoot because the lava rock below is sharp, if you hike to the left (find a path) there are some pretty sweet views and some tidal pools, if you go to the right there is an awesome tidal pool to jump and swim in if the waves aren't crashing too harsh. The funnest hike by far. Also, probably shouldn't say this, but taking a bathroom break off the side of the island from the cliff at the top is a pretty freeing feeling.
Kihei: touristy part of town, you can get shave ice, do touristy shops. The triangle is the nightlife center here. There are some decent beaches. Kihei cafe is excellent for breakfast, a local favorite.
Makena beach: Another touristy area, but Big Beach or Makena beach is pretty nice, there are three entrance points, and the further you go the more locals there are. Little beach is located here, if you're in town sunday it's a must. There is a naked fire dancing drum circle hippy drinking drug party that starts a couple hours before sunset and goes just an hour or so after. Even if you're not into drinking or drugs it's a really unique experience. Steven Tyler from Aerosmith often attends. Drive to the end of the road here during the day and you can see some lava fields. Monkey Pod has Maui's best Mai Tais with lilikoi foam.
Makawao: Some awesome Yoga, accupuncture and a whole foods like shop, you'll pass through here on the way down from Haleakala. There is also a winery and lavender farm nearby.
Paia: The hippy-ish town. Baldwin beach is here, but there is another beach closer to town that is by the youth center I like better. Generally the sand is stickier here, the beach is a bit dirtier. There's a nude beach if you keep walking. Paia fish market has excellent food, same fish as the famous Mama's fish house, but not as fancilly prepared. Flatbreads has some great food, and you may spot Owen Wilson or Willy Nelson there or in Rock and Brew, or at Willy Nelson's bar "Charley's". They serve local Kombucha there.
Road to Hana is amazing. Take your time and look at Maui revealed first. There are some awesome hikes to waterfalls here. Some hikes/waterfalls to check out: hunters point, Lower Nahiku (bridge is closed, park your car and walk across, the views are worth it), bamboo forest hike, seven sacred pools (ohea gulch) and camping there, infinity pool, lava tubes, check the guidebook. The coffee shop and food right before hana has the best eats. There are some locals only hikes here so unless you know someone you may not have access to them.
Haiku: This isn't generally a touristy area but you can sign up for a yoga class here.
Any hikes you go on you'll probably see no trespassing sign. Some you can ignore, some you should strictly adhere to. Have a sense of adventure but if you see locals respect them, acknowledge and ask permission. Stay safe, there are druggies and dealers hidden in some of the forests and areas.
If you have more time take a tour to snorkel at Molokini, it's really good, or take a ferry to Lanai.
Lanai is the old dole pineapple island that is now a tourist island where Bill Gates even got married. There are two four seasons on the island and one town The four seasons by the beach has excellent snorkling, nice camping and sometimes you can swim near spinner dolphins, if they're there. Hopping into the hot tub at the four seasons by the beach is the most relaxing thing I've done in my life, I don't know why. Shipwreck beach is pretty fun too, especially if you can pull off to a more private beach area a bit early. Garden of the gods...I wasn't too impressed.
Kamaaina is the term for local discount
Native is a Hawaiian native by blood
Local is someone who moved to the island and lives there
Shave Ice is a delicious treat (not shaved ice)
Pakalolo means marijuana
Slippahs means flip flop or sandals
Is a large portion of the problem that the site is thrown together and a nightmare to debug at this point? Because that was the issue that killed my first large social community. I kinda saw it happening with Sett over a year before you called it kaputz. Once you put your heart and soul into something and you lose it for a specific reason, you get a spidey sense for others running into the same problems.
The thing is that you don't have a degree in programming or computer science. Like you said, it's not even your primary interest. A failure like you had is almost inevitable first-time around unless you have some severe techy guidance from another co-owner that is listened to constantly. Programming and inventing I'd say is my PRIMARY interest in life, and yet I still fucked the goose royally on my first big software architectural problem.
It's really really hard to learn software architecture from a book. It's tempting to think that because we've got the Internet and a million tutorials that we can throw things together and make a large project that will last. It's just not the case. The best way to learn to build a house is to build a house and let the first one crumble to dust. The same with large software projects that require thought-out architecture.The cool thing is that you've built your first house. Hell, it's still standing and you were very successful by most metrics. Now you can build a house that'll last. Your next big software project, whatever it will be, even if the idea isn't that great, will at the very least be well-architected. You've learned a metric shit-ton by building Sett, and if you keep doing software projects, that'll be the most valuable thing you got out of it(Not to discount the friends you met along the way!).
Thoughtfully written post Tynan. If only we could all work from our strengths. I am lucky in that I excell and really enjoy 70% of my job. The part I hate is the darn paper work (which is computer work now). Please look into taking the tour around the base of Haleakala and see the sunrise from the top! You can rent a bike and roll down the mountain....be careful!!!
Great post. Its always good to take a step back and reflect. Post mortem in corporate speak.
Let me know if you stop in Honolulu. Would love to meet up. Huge fan of your writing. For a good hike on maui, check out pipiwai. It's in Haleakala National Park in the area called Kipahulu. Awesome hike. Definitely something cool to check out after hitting the sunrise at Haleakala. https://www.facebook.com/benokumura
When I write about "average people" or "average Americans", I often get flack about it. Some people call me elitist. Occasionally I get called something worse. Then there are the comments about how if everyone did something that I suggest, it wouldn't work anymore, or that the average person isn't exactly the same as me, so he may not be able to do everything I can do. All this boils down to a pretty good topic for a post.
Who exactly am I talking about when I talk about average people? The best way to define my usage of the term would be to say that I'm talking about people who live lives of defaults. They go with the flow and conform to society's expectations of them. That doesn't mean that they're all exactly the same-- there's enough chaos in the world to make everyone completely unique. But although the expressions of their principles are unique, the actual principles are pretty much the same. They do what's easiest. They may have big dreams, but they have low goals. They work as hard as they have to. They don't make independent decisions.
That's not to say that they ALWAYS fit exactly into this mold, only that they usually do. And there's a bell curve, of course, with some people being dead average, some people being mostly average, and then way out on the fringes there are weirdos like myself, and probably even weirder people than me.
Why do I rant about average people so much? It's not because I hate them or think poorly of them-- it's actually because I believe that they're capable of much more and would have better lives if they made the effort. Mostly I think it's a shame that so many people are plodding down this worn trail when there's lots of undiscovered wilderness to explore. I have some contempt for their actions, but not for them as people.
It's all about leverage.
Here's the deal: everyone, through unique life experiences, has their own unique sets of skills, strengths and talents.
But more importantly, you have a unique combination of those sets of skills.
If you find you have a talent for writing, the first thing you're going to figure is "Hey, maybe I should do something where I get paid to write!"
Congratulations, you're already a step ahead of the curve.