Stacking Bricks

Ash inspired me, but I wasn’t willing to commit to a “real” startup … there’s something I really want to learn, but any effort has to fit into the constraint that it can’t eat up time that I’d rather spend with Gus and Paula. I’m also not willing to sacrifice our financial lifestyle to go all-in – no ramen-noodle startups for me.

After talking about the subject with my boss, he sent me a link to an article by Amy Hoy. I heard Amy give a talk at MicroConf a few years ago – I remember being very impressed with her no-bullshit approach to business, but I hadn’t thought about it in a while.

Along with her own successful SaaS business, Amy runs courses to teach people like me how to build no-bullshit businesses. Like most people, my challenge isn’t knowledge – it’s action and experience. I simply don’t have the experience of selling something I’ve made for money. If I ever want to build a sustainable business, I need that basic experience. I don’t know if I ever will build a “big” business, but I still want that basic experience!

Amy implores her readers to start small … build something absolutely tiny so that you can gain experience with all the other parts of the business – the parts that aren’t building the actual product. Building the product is the fun part – most creative types like me need to work on all the other parts (finding customers, exchanging value for money, supporting people, etc.).

Consistency is the name of the game here. Amy calls it “stacking bricks” – if I commit to consistent work on a tiny business, then before long, I’ll build on that success to make a slightly less tiny business. Eventually, I’ll build something substantial … but even if I never reach that point, I’ll be learning things I want to learn (it’s another form of practice).

After reading a bunch of Amy’s writing, I spent a few evenings making a site to help people choose a camera and paid about a buck a day to send some AdWords traffic to the “best for sports page” (yes! go there!) . When anyone clicks on the Amazon links and buys a camera, I make a few bucks (I got the idea for that kind of project from Noah Kagan, who also preaches small progress toward business-building … I also really like cameras). I ended up spending about $80 and have brought in $20 so far. Not a huge success, obviously, but I’ve already learned a ton – and it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than business school. Most importantly, it’s not too big of a commitment – I’m just pulling from a tiny bit of my relaxation time that I’d otherwise probably spend reading Gizmodo or ESPN.

Just this week, Amy came out with a new approach that she’s promoting – her year of hustle. It’s even more prescriptive about the steps to build a tiny business. I trust her, so I’m going to do what she says. I’ll keep you posted.

3 thoughts on “Stacking Bricks

  1. pfoley Post author

    Amy just pointed out to me on Twitter ( that I haven’t followed her process at all, because I haven’t built anything yet (affiliate links are not a product). True! That’s my next step – to follow the precise process she outlines at (Yes, Sensei!)

    My first struggle is picking the right industry/problem/set of customers to go after. In the past this would have been easy, because I was more specialized. Now I need to choose from several wildly different problems. As I understand it, the key is to focus on something you’re already good at. I’m no longer _great_ at anything, but here are some areas where I have some significant, recent knowledge and experience (along with my fears about focusing on it):

    Supporting an API (as opposed to building it) – too nichey? does anyone care?

    How to have a sales conversation over the phone (this is hard for computer geeks) – seems like a vitamin more than an aspirin … do enough geeks understand why this is useful to want to pay for my help?

    How to support customers online – do I have enough to offer beyond what luminaries like Sarah Hatter already do?

    How to start a podcast – will people pay for anything podcast related?

    How to lose weight while working at home – crowded space – can I afford to get traffic?

  2. Andy Brice

    I think you can learn a lot from your camera affiliate site. Also I can see the need for sites like this. We have so much choice now that analysis paralysis is a real issue. If it was successful you could easily add ‘choose a bike’, ‘choose a tablet’ etc.

    But I think your site might be too wordy for most people. Maybe it would be better to have a wizard/survey that asks them questions then recommends the best cameras depending on their answer. It could take a lot of effort to build up the underlying database and keep it up to date though.

    1. pfoley Post author

      Cool idea, Andy! Thanks! Yeah, I’m wordy – need to figure out how to be more concise. Part of the reason this stuff is good practice.

      I do like Amy’s approach to building an info product for someone in my position. I’m going to do a tiny bit of Google keyword analysis on topics like “supporting an api” vs “fixing your awful online help” vs “how to manage feature requests” etc. (not actual wording, but you get the gist). As long as I pick a topic where I can find customers, I think it would be great for me.

      Always appreciate your thoughts.


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