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Solo Founder Takes the Long Way with Accompl.sh

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By Jenn Vargas (Founder, Accompl.sh)

I’m about 18 months into the journey of taking Accompl.sh (formerly 101in365) from a little weekend project to automate my own annual goal tracking to a living, breathing web application.

Taking the “long way” of being a solo founder, I found working on Accompl.sh as a side project has been a crash course in time management, community building, product development, design, coding, you name it. But the most difficult part of all has been making the big decisions about the direction of the project itself.

Without a co-founder to help rationalize my own thoughts about the future of the product, I was stuck in a bit of a quandary — Do I stay on the path I originally set out on, potentially limiting the growth of the site, but staying true to my original design? Or should I compromise a bit and open the doors for even more people to use the tool that I built and believe in? The answer may seem obvious, but when you’re up until 3 or 4 in the morning working on your pet project in virtual isolation for over a year, it’s not as clear.

Decisions, decisions. Over the last few weeks I’ve made a few major decisions about the future of Accompl.sh — decisions I’ve been struggling with for well over a year but that I finally took the leap and acted on. I’ll share a bit of the process with you all in hopes that it’ll help you avoid the traps that I fell into.

Trap #1: Not fixing the things that bother you about your product

I was tired of explaining why I had so many arbitrary rules in my product every time so I shut down physically instead of just fixing the product.

A few months ago, I stopped enjoying working on Accompl.sh (then 101in365). My spirit was dampened by the stress and defensiveness that came along with explaining my product to people — specifically why users are required to come up with 101 goals in order to even use the site and how it’s actually less difficult than it seems.

This was a huge problem and I knew that I needed to take steps to address my inability to explain my product or let the product/project die. The latter wasn’t an option in my mind, so it was time to take a more critical look at the site, reconsider some of my decisions from early in the development process, and start making changes.

Trap #2: Allowing for complexity

Shape your product to fit user behavior. How you build something may not be how people actually use it. So instead of making your users adapt, make your product simpler and better.

I saw that users were falling into one of two groups. Many who developed 101 goals and locked in their lists actually created a second account to have a second list because 101 goals wasn’t enough. On the flip side, there were the users who started a list but gave up after running out of ideas for goals to satisfy the 101 goals requirement and never came back. The average number of goals in a list was 42. There was obviously something wrong with the model. And while there were more people in that second group than the first, I wanted to take them both into account when deciding where to take the project.

Trap #3: Not letting go of your past work to get where you want to go

Be willing to change directions even though you’ve already done so much work. There’s an important aspect of goal-setting that I, sadly, hadn’t applied to my own project — there are always multiple ways to reach your end goal, and you may have to try a variety of those methods in order to get there. As long as you’ve defined your vision, you will be able to determine whether you’re on the right path.

The Pivot

I want to build a community of people that motivate and inspire each other as we all work to achieve our own goals, and realized that the very first iteration of 101in365/accompl.sh was just one of the ways I could reach that end goal. But it wasn’t working. The site had hit a plateau. It was time to try something new. It was time to take the leap and pivot.

Taking into account my observations of user behavior, I changed Accompl.sh so that the user no longer has to set 101 goals. And with the addition of the Accompl.sh Credits system, you can have as many lists as you wish with any number of goals in each list.

I had feared that changing my product would undo everything I’d built up over the last 1.5 years. But now that I’m on the other side of the pivot and am starting to see positive results, I know the changes I made were tough but necessary and completely in line with Accompl.sh’s mission. I couldn’t be happier with the results. User adoption has been great so far: the number of locked lists mid-way through June has nearly surpassed May’s results and has blown the previous months out of the water.

Not knowing what my next stage is a HUGE problem

It’s a combination of not knowing whether I want to take it full time, whether I CAN take it full time, and generally trying building up the confidence to ask people for help (advice, funding, reality checks). I’m working on the latter at the moment — asking friends who’ve been though this what I should do next. I know that at some point down the line I want to work for myself, whether it’s accompl.sh or something else. Taking that leap petrifies me but at the same time keeps me up until the wee hours of the morning working toward the next stage, figuring out what where it might take me.

Despite the challenges and ups and downs, I can’t help but keep pushing forward. It’s worth it. Not only do I love the process of creating something from nothing, but it’s also incredibly inspiring. Every day I get to see people from all over the world log on, check off a goal they’ve been working toward, and share their successes with us — nearly 25,000 completed goals to date! With each new list, the entire community gets another set of goals that we can draw inspiration from. And with each new member that joins, I’m re-energized to make the site even better so that it can help even more people accomplish their goals.

When it comes right down to it, the big decisions are sometimes a burden and indecision/analysis paralysis can sometimes get the best of me, but it’s a burden that I welcome with open arms because it’s a chance to learn something new. Do I hope that someday all of this work will let me fulfill my goal of having my own company? Absolutely. But whether 10 people use Accompl.sh or 10 million, I’m going to keep going. At the end of the day I’m getting to play a small part in helping people achieve their goals and getting to work on something I love in the process. You can’t really ask for more!

About the guest blogger: Jenn Vargas the founder of Accompl.sh, an online community for developing, tracking, and accomplishing your goals in 365 days or less. She is a designer, developer, and compulsive list-maker. Previously, Jenn worked at Yahoo and Flickr. Jenn is currently a Product Manager at Etsy in Brooklyn, New York. She holds a B.A. in Information Science from Cornell University and is also a Founder Labs alumna. Follow her on Twitter at @jennjenn and @accomplsh.