Last Friday night, after two years of really hard work on SETT, we sent invite codes out to the four hundred people on the SETT waiting list, offering fifty spots. Whoever managed to snag a spot could either take a free basic account or buy a premium account and get 50% off for life.
The main point of releasing these spots is to start testing SETT on a wider scale, to get more feedback, and to begin work on some really cool blog to blog features. So if no one actually paid for an account, and everyone just took free ones to mess around with, I would have been satisfied. I figured maybe one or two people might pay, and maybe things would go really well and five people would pay.
As it turns out, thirteen people bought accounts, covering all three price points that we set. More than the actual money, which I've already used to upgrade the servers, I'm personally touched that people are excited enough about SETT to pay for it. I've worked so hard on this and continue to narrowly focus on making it the best blogging platform, that it's moving to have people who share the vision.
I'm also grateful for the people who set up free accounts and have already started using them. Many of the paid and unpaid SETT customers are members of this site who are active in the community section and comments, so I have high expectations for all of their blogs. As they get settled in, import their old blogs, and write new posts, I'll be linking to some of them here. Next Monday I will link to every new SETT blog that has at least one post on it.
The most consistent thing I have scheduled in my life are my biannual visits to Boston to visit my family. In my memory, probably because I try to balance spending time with my family and working, they serve as milestones in SETT's progress. Two years ago for Christmas of 2010, I started explaining to my family what I was going to be working on. I didn't fully understand what we'd be building, so it was hard for me to really convey it. Here's a timeline of where we were at according to those visits:
Christmas 2010 - Idea is brewing
Summer 2011 - Very basic buggy version running on my computer
Christmas 2011 - Almost ready to break the secret of what I've been working on and switch my blog to SETT
Christmas 2012 - Ready to launch and invite people in waves.
At times it seems like things move slowly, but when I look at it in the context of those family visits, which never feel that far apart, I can see that we've been moving at a fair pace. When I think about that next visit this Summer, I realize that things are going to be radically different than they are now. We will have really put ourselves out there and seen whether we can sink or swim. We've put in a lot of work already, but these next six months will be a critical test for us.
I have an unerring faith that we will succeed because I believe in what we're building, and because I know that we can't succeed unless I have that faith. Every day, even when I'm tired or unmotivated, I operate under the assumption that SETT will become a great thing and that it will only get there if I put in my time.
When I launched SETT on my blog and you readers responded so positively and made use of the stuff that we had built, that bolstered my faith. When DROdio and Sebastian switched, that cemented my faith as well. The support of the fifty people who joined SETT this weekend was another huge boost to my faith. I'm having to base it less and less on blind belief and more and more on actual evidence. I'm very grateful for that.
So that's where we're at. Onboarding those fifty people definitely had some issues, since a lot of the processes they went through were relatively untested, but overall it went well.
The biggest issue was three different people each encountering a strange bug which resulted in them getting 500+ emails from SETT. Each person took it so in stride that I'm still sort of awestruck. One new customer had to email back and forth with me for four hours before I finally connected remotely to his computer and investigated the bug through his own browser. I was again impressed by how cool he was about it.
It feels great to be making good software, but it feels even better making software for good people. Once again, thank you for being a reader and putting up with the (ever decreasing) bugs on my own site, and a special thanks to everyone who started a SETT blog on Friday and to those who tried but got on too late.
If you'd like to get on the waiting list, sign up at the bottom of SETT.com. I'm going to be giving a few invites to DROdio to give away on his blog, too, so be watching for those!
Photo is the Terra Cotta warriors from Xi'an. Or you can imagine them as the likenesses of the first fifty SETT bloggers, immortalized for all time in terra cotta in a small plot of land in central China which I bought specifically for this purpose.
WOOT! Tynan, you & the SETT team have been working tirelessly for the past two years to get to this day. ( I know because I've been watching it all happen!).
I remember when we were walking in Muir woods and you told me about this vision you had. A vision for a blogging platform that would allow communities to participate in the conversation. A vision for a new type of interaction among those who were passionate about the subject matter. At first I thought you were crazy for trying to unseat the big blogging platforms out there. Then I got really excited as you described it in more detail, and I somehow talked you into letting me give it a try for my blog. And I'm so happy I made the switch. The SETT experience is leaps and bounds better than anything else that's out there. And I know this is just the beginning. I am SO excited to have other bloggers joining SETT.
Congratulations on your beta launch and the passion of the SETT community. Everyone who switches to SETT will look back on this day as the start of something magnificent and be proud to have been involved.
Tynan, you have my utmost respect for your dedication and your hard work. However, ultimately, the only metric for your success won't be your faith, but how many people will give you actual money for the product.
You've got your first dozen paying customers and some people would say that this is enough as a business/market evaluation. Congrats for that achievement!
Investing two years in a product without having a single paying customer has quite some risk and cost attached to it. I'm not sure if I'd do it. Not only is there the cost of "missed opportunity to make cash otherwise" but also the possibility that not enough people will buy, which might be the worst case. Some people are paying, but not enough to be sustainable. This would be different if you invested only a couple hundred hours and see if you can make a few bucks of it. But a couple thousand hours?
With that investment comes also a huge emotional investment. You made sacrifices throughout the two years and with that there's an increase of the feeling that "It HAS to work - otherwise, I'm crushed deeply". But I guess from what I've learned about you from your blog post, this is exactly the way you wanted it. High risk, hopefully high reward. Sort of extreme.
Anyways, I wish you all the best with SETT!
You're not the first to bring up the idea of testing early. I've read books about it, too, and am familiar with the idea. Although I think it's a good idea in general, I wasn't interested in doing it this time.
The main reason for this is that SETT is something I believe in. It has the potential to make life a little bit better for a lot of people, and I want it as a blogger. I also know that deciding on a blogging platform is a big deal, and because of that I wouldn't have trusted earlier tests. We don't have the luxury of doing just one thing right-- we have to do hundreds of things right and dozens of things much better. This is about the earliest that we could have something that I think is compelling enough for people to pay for.
We tested somewhat by releasing on my blog, to see if it actually worked as we hoped and whether or not we'd get the results we expected. Early on in the process of building SETT, I decided that we had to actually help people get more subscribers and more comments. If we could prove that we could do that, I figured we'd be successful. If not, we had a lot more work to do.
So I agree that getting people to pay is the most important test, but I wanted to make sure they were paying for something that represented what I was hoping to build.
I also don't mind forgoing opportunities to make money or not making much money for two years. I'd actually prefer to make very little than make a medium amount, because it keeps my drive high.
Thanks for the comment and the well wishes-- I appreciate it.
SETT looks promising.
However, I was wondering, how are you planning to compete with WordPress?
WordPress is the leading blogging platform right now, and one of the reasons that it might be hard to get a new blogging platform off the ground is that WordPress is convenient not only in terms of product itself, but also in terms of infrastructure around it, all the free themes, plug-ins, tutorials, one-click installs on hosting servers, etc. I'm curious about how you are going to convince people that they should use SETT instead of WordPress. I've seen few different blogging platforms and this issue of competing against WordPress always seems to be one of the key factors why they don't become popular. I'd love to see SETT taking off, though.. :)
> Early on in the process of building SETT, I decided that we had to actually help people get more subscribers and more comments. If we could prove that we could do that, I figured we'd be successful. If not, we had a lot more work to do.
This would make an interesting case study. How did community engagement improve? What were the most important factors? Could this also happened due to other events etc.? If you can clearly trace it back to the introduction and benefits of SETT, that's a perfect marketing instrument.
> but I wanted to make sure they were paying for something that represented what I was hoping to build.
I started my business "by accident". I ran it as a side project for years while I was studying. It was always far from the vision of the perfect product that I had in my head. Then, graduation day came closer, I was making maybe 400€ a month off ads and was thinking:"How can I ever get to the vision I have in my head without making any real money off this website, if I'm going to have a regular 43-hour-week job in a few months? Impossible."
I had already a lot of users and a friend of mine said:"Look, you've got a product, you've got users. They use your website every day. Forget the vision in your head for now and start to charge some money. It's the only option available to you. Start charging 1€ a month. That's a no-brainer for the people. They'll stick."
So I programmed the whole payment and account expiration logic, wrote an email-draft for the thousands of users telling them that their account is going to expire in 30 days. and that it'd be 1€ per month after that. If they wanted, they could for sure download all their data. Then I thought:"This is it. I either screw this whole thing up, lose 'my baby' in that I invested years of work and emotion, because it is far from the perfect vision in my head - or people gonna stick and it might make me incredibly independent one day." I hit 'Send' and waited.
30 days later, all accounts expired, some people complained, 70-80% people didn't care and stayed as customers and I made 20k€ in two weeks.
The lesson I learned from that is that there's a difference between the perceived value that your users have and the vision you have for your 'baby':
The vision in your head is the driving factor for your business. It's the masterplan for the coming years and the motivation to make it the best product ever by having this feeling 'it's still not good enough'.
The perceived value of the product in its current state is the aspect that makes you money. People don't pay for visions (that'd be called investments). They pay for products that provide more value that the money than they spend on it.
Anyways, you're here now, you released this baby to the public. I'm excited what's gonna happen with your business :)
Hi everyone, I've got 10 invite codes for SETT, for those of you that want one. Here's how to get it.
Tynan, yesterday I reread some of your old posts about polyphasic sleeping, especially stuff like the "polyphasic vs. monophasic deathmatch" and why you stopped. You said things like that you didn't know what to do with all the additional time and that it limited the social things you could do. When you describe your daily routine these days, it seemed that neither would be much of an issue. That's why I ask:
Have you ever thought about going back on some sort of polyphasic sleep schedule? It seems it would work pretty well with your current life situation. But since I think it unlikely that you have not considered it, you being you and all, why have you decided against it?
This really interests me.
On topic: Cool that SETT's finally being adopted by more people. I'm looking forward to said blog to blog features, sounds interesting.
Nice work Tynan. Good to see SETT finally being released to a larger audience. Growth will be easier (or at least less of a guess) now that you'll be getting real-world feedback.
For some reason I thought this was a solo project. You have a team ("we") working on this?
Tynan! Congrats! I been a reader for three years and your hard work habits (a lot of your recommended reading too) have rubbed off on me. I took up exercising six days a week, started meditating almost daily, getting back into violin after a 7 year hiatus, started learning Ruby on Rails, and developed a travel bug. When you first moved your blog to SETT, I didn't see what the big deal was, but after I read through the community page of your blog, I realize no other blogging platform out there has channeled something so fundamental to the blogging experience. That is, encouraging readers with real estate to micro-blog about the blog's theme. Sure, one person can be a famous blogger, but through reading blogs, I found that I actually got more out of user comments than the actual blog itself. One person surely can't think of everything. :)
I would love to have an invite. I been brainstorming about a foodie/restauranteering/coding/habits blog myself. Good luck with your blog, I would be happy to use and support your platform for years to come!
When I first released SETT, a common bit of feedback I'd get was, "It's nice, but it's really slow". This shouldn't have been too surprising to me, given that I hadn't spent any time optimizing it, and didn't know how to, anyway. So I sat down and decided to fix the problem. Now SETT is extremely fast, despite running on a single server with a 6 year old processor. It's far faster than WordPress, but still a bit slower than Tumblr, which is incredibly fast.
What happened? Well, I have a policy-- when something important is a weakness, I try not just to get it up to par, but turn it into a strength. If you look at decisions I've made in my life, you'll see this over and over again. I was terrible with girls, so I became a good pickup artist. I wasn't well traveled so I became a nomad. My posting began to become inconsistent, so I doubled up and started posting twice a week on a consistent schedule. I ate a moderately unhealthy diet, so I got very healthy and strict.
This attitude pervades my entire life and my work. Even in SETT you'll see this all the time. It was slow, so now it's extremely fast. Scrolling deeply-nested comments was a hassle, so I built what several people have told me is the best nested comment interface they've ever seen. It was buggy, so I went overboard with automated testing and QA policies.
Why do I think this is the best approach? Two reasons: accuracy and efficiency.
I'm a big believer in the "Four Birds" philosophy of life - whenever possible, I want to kill four birds with one stone. I want to produce, consume, learn, and connect - all at the same time if possible. And the more I layer on top of that, the better. Can I enjoy, relax, recharge, adventure? Five birds? Six birds? Why not?
While other people are watching a movie passively, can I make a couple interesting notes from the dialog and research what it's inspired by? Can I show the link between a new movie and an old Kurosawa Akira movie? Can I publish that, creating a cool way for people who like cinema to learn, and to connect with people who like great cinema? Can I consume the movie, produce an insightful review and research, learn more about cinema and art, and connect with good people all at the same time? Can I enjoy the process, relax even while working, recharge and feel invigorated, and perhaps it'll lead to an adventure? Seven birds with one stone? Why not? We all get 24 hours per day, if I want to be doing massively important things, I can't be taking it one bird at a time.
I've been working on this lately. When I start consuming something great, how can I also produce something for my friends and colleagues, learn more in the process, and connect with great people?
I've been looking for these opportunities for a while, and I'm starting to see them everywhere. Today, I'm pleased to announce DROdio-izing Day 1.
I came across Daniel Odio a little more than a week ago on Hacker News. He comes across pretty brilliant to me - a rare mix of strategist/tactician/teacher. He's a technology entrepreneur who built high technology into an established business - real estate - before moving into development. When I found Odio's site, I was really impressed. But the article that really pushed me over the top was - "Why Henry Ford Would Love Blogs." I felt like - wow, this guy gets it. A grasp of history, high level strategy, an understanding of how and why to make decisions, and how to turn high level strategy into solid tactics. And he can communicate it clearly and teaches how to think that way. Wow.