How I came up with a name for my agency

Background

As of this writing I am in the process of founding a product design & development consultancy in Basel, Switzerland. To register your company with the commercial registry you need a name. As a brand you need a name that works well for your business.

As eager as I was to rush the process and get started with actual business, I knew that picking the right name could end up making a big difference.

This was complicated by the fact that I am founding the company with a friend who is financing the whole endeavour. I wanted us both to be happy with the name, but as we discovered, our brains work very differently from one another.

How I started

Before I started brainstorming I suggested a name that I had already come up with beforehand:

Product Nerds

I thought it communicated the right things. I’m focused on digital “products” and ”nerds“ conveys that we’re good at what we do.

My friend saw things differently.

As he’s not familiar with the world of digital products the word “product“ to him conjured up imagery of a classical factory-produced product. And nerds, for a German speaker, doesn’t have the same expert/funny connotation as it does in English. In German a nerd has a derogatory charge (one of the dictionary translations translates back to English as “asshole”). So although I still like the name, it became clear it was the wrong name for this situation.

Then, I just started brainstorming lists of words. I tried to seed my brainstorming with words that sounded nice and which I thought were related to my industry, such as “prototype”. And then I started looking up the latin translation for certain words. Why? I’m not sure, I think I thought it sounded professional. I documented my process in Figma and here you can see a screenshot.

Opus is Latin for work and cura is the Latin word to heal. I thought that they sounded cool together and my friend is also the founder of a NGO that helps children in Thailand (healing work I guess?) so I thought it was fitting. Then I tried to combine it with prototype and I arrived at Protocura.

I thought that was pretty cool. The people I asked responded luke-warm. My friend didn’t like it that much. He thought it sounded like Prokura, which in German means something like having signatory power in a company. Not quite the what I wanted to convey.

So I decided to read a book on the subject. I decided to read “Hello my name is awesome” by Alexandra Watkins.

I read a book on coming up with a brand name and here’s what it taught me

The book was illuminating. First of all, it made me realize I hadn’t put too much thought into what a really good name sounds or looks like. Luckily the author had several of her own that she had come up with. One of my all time favorites?

Gringo Lingo — as a name for a language school in Latin America.

What an amazing name.

In her book Alexandra Watkins tells us to stay away from Latin names, as well as trying to sound cool by sticking stuff to the end of names e.g. -ly and -r.

Interestingly Alexandra emphasizes that getting the .com domain name is actually not THAT important. Getting the right name is key, and you can come up with a clever domain name after that if the .com isn’t available.

I was doing the opposite, for every name checking if the .com was available.

Once I dropped that requirement, new options started opening up.
In her book Alexandra presents a framework and a process for coming up with a name. Her framework is as follows.

A name should be:

Suggestive – It needs to evoke something about your brand
Meaningful – It needs to resonate with your audience
Imagery – Visually evocative to aid in memory
Legs – Lends itself to a theme for extended mileage
Emotional – It moves people

Alexandra also provides some rules to avoid bad names:

Spelling challenged – Stay away from names that aren’t spelled the way they sound
Copycat – Don’t choose a similar name to a competitor
Restrictive – Don’t get locked into a name that you may outgrow down the road e.g. diapers.com
Annoying – Don’t choose a name that annoys customers
Tame – Uninspired names e.g. Cloud Net
Curse of knowledge – A name that only insiders get e.g. Eukanuba (pet food)
Hard to pronounce – e.g. Sur La Table

In additional to these rules, Alexandra has a whole process you can go through which she lays out in the book, which she calls your brand roadmap. I went through this process and you can view my brand roadmap in the presentation here.

Going through Alexandra’s process surfaced some good candidate names. Here are some of the names we arrived at that are worth mentioning.

Hello World Studios

“Hello World” is a reference to the output statement you usually learn first when learning a new programming language. It’s also an upbeat name, easy to pronounce. Unfortunately the .com was taken by a small German web development agency who didn’t reply to my emails.

Happy Path Studios

In UX jargon the Happy Path is a sequence of envisioned steps a user can take as they move their way through your product which leads to the desired outcome. This name checked many of our boxes but the “th” sound in English isn’t easy for German speakers to pronounce (one of our requirements) and it requires insider knowledge.

Flowability

A reference to the psychological state of “flow” in which someone feels in-the-zone and loses track of time. This may be what you want to design your product to accomplish. Also a loose reference to ”user flow”, a UX term for the conceptual path a user may take to navigate through your product. And lastly, also a loose reference to usability, another UX term which aims to capture how easy it is to use a certain product.

Studio Click

Because the agency would help make things “click” and also because my girlfriend was planning on integrating some of her photography work into what we were doing (and camera shutters *click*) and we wanted to reflect that in the name. (This, by the way, is an example of how the requirements for the name evolved a bit as we were going through the process.) Although the .com was taken, the .ch was available and it sounded authoritative. We almost went ahead with this name, mostly out of impatience. We decided to abandon it when my friend’s wife told us it was shit.

Finger Food Studios

A great name for a digital product agency. Finger food is a funny way of referring to apps as they represent software experiences that are accessible through our fingers. Unfortunately others came to the same idea and Finger Food Studios is an innovation studio in Canada. But I took this to mean that the process was working, we were coming up with good names.

More brainstorming was needed

Regarding brainstorming Alexandra has some very valuable advice: Do it alone and do it on your computer. The group brainstorms we had weren’t very productive. It was much better to do the brainstorming alone. Her brainstorming tips are really good.

Let starter words seed your imagination. After that, follow you curiosity. Type a word into google, try the urban dictionary, try a name generator. Some words might tickle your interest, save those, and move on.

Tools I used

  • Namelix (Great AI driven name generator. Can give you ideas for names as well as ideas for new seed words)
  • Instantdomainsearch (Great for a quick check of domain availability
  • Urban dictionary to find jargon related to my industry
  • Google searches such as “digital product jargon”
  • I used Figma to create artboards for each seed word and then put the words it seeded in the artboard. This lets you easily zoom in and out and the word clouds you’re generating in the brainstorming process.
  • Powerthesaurus. Probably the best thesaurus out there. Great for coming up with tangential words based on a seed word.

Some other notable strategies

Since the name needed to be pronounceable by German speakers, we tried starting with words that are known English words that have been adopted into the German language. These are so-called Anglizismen and there’s a nice list of them on Wikipedia. This gave some interesting seed words.

We also tried starting with so-called “compound words” in English, like finger food. These are words that consist of two separate words. This also gave some interesting seed words and led to the cool name: Finger Food Studios (unfortunately taken).

Plugging a word like “programming” into Namelix will surface a bunch of different words related to programming that go beyond synonyms. E.g. it will surface words like “syntax” and “modeling”.

Finally we landed on…

We finally landed on the name Pocket Revolutions inspired by this article.

How does it square up against Alexandra’s categories? Here’s my take based on the feedback we’ve received so far (bear in mind this subjective).
It’s suggestive because it evokes the idea that we’re doing something revolutionary, and that someone that works with us can start a revolution of their choosing.

It’s meaningful and evokes imagery because most people understand the link with “pocket” and the the reference to a technological revolution.
It has legs as we’re thinking about calling ourselves revolutionaries and inviting clients to start their revolutions.

It’s emotional because aren’t all revolutions bursting with emotions?
Both pocket and revolutions are easy to pronounce for German speakers and they sound quite playful together.

One of the notable differences with the other names we came up with is that Pocket Revolutions really seems to convey a brand. My buddy said it best when he said [about the name]: ”that’s really a brand”. I feel the same way.

Some lessons learned

Finding a good name can be really, really hard

It really helps to know and feel what a good name looks and feels like e.g. Gringo Lingo or Key Values. It’s also worth realizing that working more or working harder doesn’t translate into progress. I would brainstorm for 3 hours and come up with a handful of mediocre names.

Brainstorming is best done alone and using your computer

Although you can bring some methods to bear, in general it’s a very random walk type of process. You need to let certain things inspire you and save the things that draw your attention onto a big canvas for later contemplation.

“Letting it go” doesn’t always result in ideas

In some other creative endeavours “letting it go” helps you come up with new ideas. Somehow your subconscious goes to work when you stop focusing on the problem you’re trying to solve. This didn’t happen for me in this case. All my ideas came while spending conscious effort on it.

(Note: Although the title says “I”, coming up with the name was ultimately a team effort and I would like to take the opportunity to give credit to my business partner. Extra credit goes to his wife for calling us out on the name we were peddling before.)

Let me know if any of this was useful. I’m @jessems on Twitter!

My May 2019 Retrospective

3 things that went well

  • Spent a lot more time writing
  • Succeeded in creating a mock api with Google Sheets
  • Found a new name for my agency

3 things that I need to improve

  • Do more German
  • Exercise more (did not reach 2 workout sessions per week on average)

What did I not achieve and why?

I set out to find one client last month, but I didn’t find any. To be honest, I didn’t spend much time looking. I spent my time coming up with a new name for my agency, writing a lot and learning some new technologies which I’ll be needing (like Angular and RxJs and Firebase).

I did manage to get all the documents sorted for the founding of the company. We decided to change the name last minute. The name of the agency will now  be: Pocket Revolutions.

Time distribution

The time spent on JesseMS was actually also time spent writing. So in total I spent a little over 20% of my time writing this month!

Pocket Revolutions

  • Changed the name of the agency (previously Studio Click) to Pocket Revolutions. I’m very happy with the new name. Post about the naming process is upcoming.

Rapid Breakup Recovery

  • Published 1 blog post
  • Started coding my own CMS for RBR

Revenue

Ebook sales: $38

Total: $38

Pingcoin

  • 5 coin recordings were submitted by users and were added to the app
  • First blog post about Pingcoin was published here

Monthly Planning

  • Sign 1 new client
  • Launch the Pocket Revolutions website
  • Publish a portfolio piece on Pingcoin

Pingcoin in Iran

After publishing a new feature for Pingcoin where users can submit coin recordings for addition into the app, I’ve seen users submitting coins every week. This is incredibly encouraging. The only drawback to this situation is that although the system is getting more coverage (e.g. more coins) it’s not getting necessarily more accurate (e.g. more recordings per coin). I’ve been thinking about how to solve this.

It’s worth noting that I’ve received two recordings from Iran so far from the Bahar Azadi coin. A young trader has reached out to me and has been kind enough to explain to me a bit more about the situation in Iran. For one they’ve recently been hit by a market crash which sent the value of the dollar and gold plummeting.

Two gold Azadi coins submitted by a user in Iran

 

He’s told me of the situation in Iran where there is a 8% markup above spot price for gold coins from the Iranian mint. This has given counterfeiters the incentive to mint their own coins of correct composition, to capture this markup value. One of his questions was whether or not the ping test would be able to catch these types of counterfeits.

Iranian plaza where gold coins are bought and sold (image submitted by my new friend in Iran)

 

My answer is probably not, but I’m willing to do some more research with him. Like a musical instrument, the sound of a coin depends on its shape and its material. If you manage to mimic both, you will mimic the sound as well. Thus a counterfeit coin which uses the correct composition would sound the same as a genuine one. I suspect there might be some differences at the microscopic level (e.g. differences in crystallinity) between different minting processes, but whether or not these will be great enough (or predictable enough) to detect a difference, I don’t know.

I know from doing some research into the German Reich 20 mark coins, which were minted by numerous mints, that some differences were detectable between the mints. The distributions for each resonance frequency was centered on distinctly different frequencies. The problem, however, was that the distributions themselves overlap. So although there would be some coins which you could tell apart, many of them you would not. I would expect a similar situation for the Azadi coins.

Having said so much about the domain specific things within Pingcoin it’s worth making a meta comment about what’s going on here. My goal with releasing this feature was to initiate a user feedback loop. I wanted to get in touch with users. To better understand them and to iterate on the product. This is now happening and it’s great for more than one reason. For one it’s great because it’s satisfying and motivating on a human level. I am talking to people across the world that (apparently) value what I’m doing. That’s amazing. It’s especially nice to hear that my product is making a difference since it’s not an industry I’m deeply embedded in myself and because I had honestly given up on that hope much earlier. The reason I got this far has more to do with an unshakable compulsion to finish what I started, rather than some clear value-driven mission.

Secondly, it’s great because it’s teaching me more about my users, their use cases and the context of their use of my product. For instance, my Iranian friend mentioned that he trades coins in 10 packs and that trades happen quickly, making it difficult to do a manual test for each coin. This information will inevitably feed into the product and improve it. These two elements, motivation plus direction from the market, are what I was missing the last time I was working on this idea (2012-2013). It’s incredibly gratifying to find these here now.

It’s also interesting to note that my process for improving the app is quite slow. Even though I created the submit-a-coin feature as quickly as I could, I tend to think carefully about the problems I’m trying to solve and their solutions. I really let the problem marinate in my head and try to come up with various solutions in my head (which I also often sketch out). I’m not deliberately slowing down the product development process (perhaps because I’m not devoting 100% of my time to this idea), however, my sense is that it takes time to arrive at a solid idea. Often I’ll have a good idea with some drawbacks, followed by another good idea with some drawbacks, and then through the marinating process I’ll combine them into a super solid idea, without drawbacks. Reading Kolko’s while I’m doing this is also just perfectly on point:

Design is slow and not just because it takes longer. Because it’s reflective, contemplative, and methodical, design encourages marinating and stewing, exploring and dreaming.

-Well Designed by Jon Kolko

What’s marinating in my head right now is how to move to a situation where my app is getting progressively more accurate due to the data it collects. This is made difficult by several factors:

  • I don’t have access to many coins myself
  • I can ask users to contribute coins, but I am not able to verify whether these are authentic or not
  • I’ve asked dealers (who would be able to verify coins) to contribute to this cause, but so far they’ve not been very interested
  • Even if someone is interested, it could be a bit cumbersome to upload a 5MB .wav file every time you try to do a quick test
  • Even if you’re willing to upload a recording, I need additional information about the coin to be able to add it to my database (e.g. year of minting). This can be cumbersome to enter.

Meanwhile there are some usability issues that also need to be resolved, most notably the onset detection part of the coin testing flow (e.g. detecting the moment a coin gets flicked). This is also something that has been marinating in my head and for which a first solution is already fairly clear (a web-based onset labeller). More on that as I progress.

I remember the app being in a semi-finished state and feeling torn about whether or not to proceed with it. Initially I chose not to, but it kept bugging at me. Then I revisited it, but did not build a submit-a-coin feature (instead routing users to a web form with a recording option). It was only after seeing that users were trying to send me coin recordings that I realized it would probably be worth building the feature properly. I can only say, I’m glad I did.

On writing at all

An essay on why I hadn’t started writing in spite of being aware of the apparent benefits it has brought people whom I admire.

People I admire recommend writing

I was listening to the Indiehackers podcast episode where Rob Walling tells the story of how he got started as a bootstrapped entrepreneur.

What stuck with me was that he seemed to attribute much of his success to writing a weekly essay on his blog.

Among other things, he shares how his writing allowed him to grow an audience which he would later leverage to launch his book.th

One reason this part of the story stuck with me is because it’s not the first time I’ve heard it.

Other entrepreneurs I admire (e.g. Nathan Barry, Chris Guillebeau, Brennan Dunn, Nat Eliason) have also emphasized a similar lesson about writing and it seems to go something like this:

When you write regularly, good stuff tends to happen.

They are not claiming there to be a direct relationship between writing and beneficial consequences, like, say, between caloric intake and bodyweight.

No, they’re saying that there is something about a regular writing practice which somehow results in you experiencing benefits you would have had a hard time anticipating beforehand.

What they are saying is that writing benefits you… somehow

Although Rob was able to leverage the audience he had grown in order to sell his book — he did not set out to write with the explicit goal of writing and selling a book.

The book emerged from his consistent practice of blogging in public.

Nat Eliason also touches on this topic in a recent essay while discussing the success of a Kegel exercise app he developed:

I didn’t make Stamena until I saw how much traffic my articles were sending to the app store for someone else’s app.

When you already know you have a stream of people asking for a product, making that product gets much less risky.

This logic is probably why so much passive income advice comes out to some form of “start a blog!” That’s not terrible advice, but most blogs don’t make money. The better advice would be “start a blog that talks about things people will pay for.”

Analogous to Rob’s story, Nat did not start writing articles on Kegel exercises so he could sell a Kegel app.

Instead, through his practice of regular public blogging, that opportunity emerged.

Opportunities emerge when you write a lot.

That seems like a fair enough statement, but is there anything else we can say about why that would be the case?

Is it simply due to an increase in your surface area on the internet?

I suspected that wasn’t the case and I tried to figure out if perhaps there is more to a regular writing practice that would warrant this consistent, yet somewhat nebulous advice.

What can be said about how writing benefits us?

Writing sans publishing helps us refine our thoughts and edit them

One way we think about writing is as a process where words are chosen and transferred onto paper (or a screen) in order to communicate an idea.

In this mental model of writing the idea is clear, all that is left is to find the right words to accurately map it into language.

This, as I’ve discovered, is not a very accurate mental model of writing.

A more accurate, and more helpful, mental model is one where you start with an idea that is not entirely clear, and in your attempts to capture it with words, sentences and paragraphs, it becomes more refined in your mind.

Prof. Dr. Jordan Peterson stresses this point in some of his writing and in some of his talks.

He describes writing as formalized thinking and refers to it as one of the most important things you can practice in life, in general.

You can find out more about his ideas on writing in a quirky little word document, an essay-writing tutorial for his students, which has been floating around on the internet.

In it he says:

The primary reason to write an essay is so that the writer can formulate and organize an informed, coherent and sophisticated set of ideas about something important.

The act of writing, he says, helps you formulate your thoughts. But he goes a bit further:

Why is it important to bother with developing sophisticated ideas, in turn? It’s because there is no difference between doing so and thinking, for starters. It is important to think because action based on thinking is likely to be far less painful and more productive than action based upon ignorance. So, if you want to have a life characterized by competence, productivity, security, originality and engagement rather than one that is nasty, brutish and short, you need to think carefully about important issues. There is no better way to do so than to write. This is because writing extends your memory, facilitates editing and clarifies your thinking.

You can write down more than you can easily remember, so that your capacity to consider a number of ideas at the same time is broadened. Furthermore, once those ideas are written down, you can move them around and change them, word by word, sentence by sentence, and paragraph by paragraph. You can also reject ideas that appear substandard, after you consider them more carefully. If you reject substandard ideas, then all that you will have left will be good ideas. You can keep those, and use them. Then you will have good, original ideas at your fingertips, and you will be able to organize and communicate them.

According to Prof. Peterson writing requires you to explore a topic and in doing so you are required to clarify and edit your thoughts.

You stand to benefit from clearer thoughts because actions rooted in clear thoughts will do more to bring you closer to your goals.

Writing is not like taking dictation from an internal thought stream.

This used to be my mental model.

It’s inaccurate and unhelpful.

Writing is thought-refinement through exploration.

Writing and publishing increases our surface on the internet

This is the most straight-forward benefit and the one that is the easiest to intuit.

As you write more you increase the amount of space you inhabit on the internet, through which you are increasing the odds that one of your ideas reaches someone and resonates with them.

As a result they may interact with your idea, spread it, or both.

Writing and publishing gives us the ability to iterate on ideas

Once you’ve refined your thoughts you can take the additional step to publish them and invite others to interact with them.

Through these interactions your idea might evolve.

Everything you write and publish can be seen as the start of a conversation.

Conversations about ideas can allow you to iterate and improve on those ideas.

Starting a conversation about an idea may also tell you whether or not the idea is worth iterating on at all.

Through iteration, ideas may lead to opportunities (business or otherwise).

Thinking of a published piece of writing as a prototype has the added benefit of lowering the internal barrier you maintain for yourself when it comes to publishing.

Writing and publishing keeps us honest

Prof. Jonathan Haidt in his book The Righteous Mind explains how the public nature of the academic review process helps balance out the individual biases held by the researchers taking part in it.

The governing dynamic is that we behave differently in public compared to how we behave in private.

If we believe we are being observed and that what we say or write will be scrutinized by others, we are more honest and by extension more scientific.

Writing in public contributes to us being more honest and accurate in our thought processes.

The more accurate our thoughts, the more helpful they will be in aiding us while we navigate reality.

Writing and publishing persuades

Writing seems like it could leverage many, if not all, of the 6 principles of persuasion as identified by Dr. Robert Cialdini.

A valuable blog with a regular publishing schedule could contribute to the influence you wield through the principles of consistency, likeability, authority and reciprocity.

Increasing your influence may lead to opportunities or may give you the ability to seize upon them when they present themselves.

Writing regularly may help you hone this skill.

Was any of this really a surprise?

I was aware many successful people recommend writing.

I was aware a blog could probably increase the serendipity in your life.

I would have believed that there were probably multiple worthwhile benefits to a writing regularly.

Why, then, did I never start writing?

If it wasn’t a surprise, why didn’t I act on this earlier?

When I started writing this essay, I asked myself this question and no answer came to mind.

None. My mind drew a blank.

I didn’t have a clear reason.

Or perhaps I should say, I wasn’t clear on the reasons.

That is, until I started writing.

Through the process of writing this essay, answers to this question have emerged and have become clear.

This, as I’m coming to understand, is arguably the most powerful benefit of writing.

Writing is idea-refinement through exploration.

Here is what my exploration uncovered:

I never clarified my thoughts about why I wasn’t writing

Possibly the main reason why I wasn’t writing regularly is, ironically, that I never took the time to write about it.

Without writing about the question why I wasn’t writing, I never explored it in earnest, and never clarified my thoughts.

Now, after writing about it and organizing my thoughts on the subject, I am able to present them to you here.

I didn’t consider myself a “writer”

One of the first feelings I identified as potentially holding me back from writing is a feeling of not feeling like a writer.

Nathan Barry writes about this very feeling and perhaps it can be fully described as a manifestation of impostor syndrome.

Having said that, I never felt like I lacked the capability of being a writer — a feeling I believe is a prerequisite to impostor syndrome.

Being a “writer” was not part of my identity.

Productivity expert James Clear talks about how identity forms the basis of behavioral change.

Lasting behavioral change, according to James, comes from a change in identity.

Change your identity and your behavior will follow.

Keep your identity unchanged, as I did, and your behavior will remain the same.

I didn’t think whatever I would do would make an impact

I didn’t think anything I would write could have much of an impact, because my reach seemed severely limited.

This is another thing that Prof. Peterson invites us to reflect upon.

He makes the case that we are connected to millions of people just by two or three degrees of separation.

Without appreciating the results of this simple thought exercise, we’re likely to underestimate our potential impact.

I certainly was doing so.

I felt discouraged every time I discovered I didn’t understand a topic

A second feeling I identified is something that occurs when I choose to write about a topic and I erroneously (and naively) assume that I understand it.

When, through the process of writing and trying to pin down an idea, I realize I cannot, I become disappointed.

I can sense my internal time estimation for finishing the article (or essay) as quickly growing and becoming increasingly uncertain.

Before, I might have thought I could finish the article in an afternoon, now I’m not even sure another day would be sufficient.

(This has happened to me a lot while writing content for my men’s breakup advice blog and has happened multiple times while writing this essay.)

My inner talk shifts to: “Who do I think I am writing about something I don’t even understand?”, never realizing that uncovering and grappling with the unknown lies at the heart of what writing is.

Writing is exploring — not taking dictation.

If you consider yourself an explorer, unknown territory is the norm.

I tried to connect the dots looking forward

Let’s imagine we’re speaking with Rob Walling back in his early days, right before he committed to writing on a weekly basis.

Imagine we were trying to convince him to start a weekly writing habit with full knowledge of the exact results it would bring to him and his career in the future.

Now imagine the argument we could formulate in that situation:

“Rob, you need to start writing on a weekly basis because it’s going to lead you to launch a successful book (which you don’t yet know you want to write) to your audience (who you don’t yet know.)”

Even with perfect knowledge, not only does this seem like a strange argument to be making, it also doesn’t sound very convincing.

This reminds me of something Steve Jobs said during his famous Stanford commencement speech:

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.

The dots definitely connected for Rob, but he would only be able to make those connections looking backwards.

The serendipitous benefits of writing will only be apparent looking backwards.

This was never as clear to me as it is now.

How can I act on this now?

By writing about why I wasn’t writing, I’ve clarified why that was the case and why I should write going forward.

I want to write because I want to refine my thoughts on certain topics.

Above all, I am interested in improving the quality of my ideas and my ability to communicate them.

I want to write in public because I value accuracy and because I appreciate the power of iteration.

In writing this essay I’m also making a public commitment to writing and I’m also proving to myself that this is now my identity, laying the foundation for lasting change in behavior.

Lastly I have a new level of appreciation that any serendipitous opportunities that may come from my public writing won’t be seen looking forwards, only looking backwards.

My April 2019 Retrospective

After reading Results: The Agile Way, I’ve decided to switch up my retro format a bit so it’s more in line with the book.

What are 3 things that went well?

  • Brought the app for my client, Axova, to a presentable level and presented it. Now waiting for their dev to get in touch with me so he can set up an API to communicate with.
  • Finished editing and launched the first RBR podcast episode. Super happy about that!
  • Shipped a Submit Coin feature for Pingcoin which allows users to submit coin recordings themselves.

What are 3 things I need to improve?

  • Exercise more. Only averaged 2x a week this month.
  • Find a new client.
  • **Private**

Although I’m happy with the progress I made in launching the RBR podcast, the Axova app and the new Pingcoin feature, I haven’t gained any ground financially this month. Next month this will really have to take center stage and I’ll either need to focus on finding a new client, or something else.

What did I not achieve and why?

I’ve been putting off setting my yearly goals since, well, the beginning of the year, because I felt tremendous resistance towards it and I didn’t feel like I had the right framework. I think after reading Results: The Agile way I’m ready to do it.

I didn’t find any additional clients because I didn’t spend much time looking

I didn’t participate in the local Basel incubator Startup Academy because so far I’ve not felt energized to go through with it.

I didn’t finish the Axova app yet because I’m dependent on their dev, who I’ve not been put in touch with yet because he’s busy.

Time Distribution

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Rapid Breakup Recovery

Key achievements

  • Published the first episode of the RBR podcast

Revenue

Ebook sales: $19

Total revenue: $19

Ebook sales have been down ever since canceling Drip and not moving to an alternative. This is a bit counterintuitive because my understanding of the analytics was that my free 7-day email course wasn’t generating much sales. Perhaps I was mistaken in that. 

Pingcoin

Key achievements

  • Launched a Submit Coin feature

Revenue

Total revenue: $0

Right now I’m waiting for people to submit coins and plan to add them to the database as soon as they do.

Monthly Planning for May 2019

  • One new client signed
  • All founding documents for the founding of my company sent to the attorney
  • ** Private outcome **

My March 2019 Retrospective

Introduction

I’ve started a digital product development agency to earn a living, get better at product design & development and to create space to develop my own products. (Working title: “Happy Path Studios”)

As of this writing I have two clients and both are interested in improving existing offline processes through the development of software. German-speakers like to refer to this as “Digitalisation” and it seems this would be a good focus for an agency.

This month I focused most of my time designing and developing the first version of an app for one of my clients, axova.ch, a solar-panel installation service provider.

March Goals

  • Yearly goals set
    • Failed. Did not take the time for this
  • Intercompanion podcast episodes edited and published
    • Failed. Did not take the time for this.
  • RBR podcast episodes edited and published
    • Failed. Did not take the time for this.
  • Accounting ready
    • 90% ready
  • Ionic course ready
    • Completed!
  • Taking part in the startup academy
    • 90% completed.
  • Finish onset detector
    • Failed. Did not spend any time on this
  • Finished Andy’s app
    • 80% ready

Even though I missed quite a few of my goals, I think it’s more a reflection of my difficulties in predicting what I want to be doing in the month to come. I’m very happy with my focus on the Axova app as well as with the progress I’ve made there. I wouldn’t want to sacrifice that for any gains in the above categories. What I’m taking from this is that I need to be more careful when setting my monthly goals. I’ve overestimated in the past, but this month I also set goals I lost interest in.

Kaizen: Account for your tendency to overestimate what you can get done.
Provoking Question: How might I set goals at the beginning of the month I still support at the end of the month?

Time Distribution

Project Distribution
Axova App 39.9%
Learning 19.9%
German 14.1%
General (Business/Productivity/Alignment) 12.5%
Reading / Summarizing 4.7%
Personal (Administration, Bills, Chores, etc.) 2.7%
Language Learning Logistics / Research 1.8%
My Basel Startup 1.6%
RBR 0.9%
Product Discovery 0.8%
Following My Curiosity 0.6%
Pingcoin 0.5%

Total: 155:56:47 (~35 per week)

Most of the Learning was spent learning Ionic using Maximilian Schwarzmueller’s Ionic course on Udemy (which is great). This is the second developer course I’m taking on Udemy and I find myself surprised again how good the quality is. It seems like there’s stronger competition between course authors on Udemy vs. subscription platforms such as Pluralsight which results in higher quality courses. It’s also worth noting that you can find some courses on Pluralsight or on Oreilly’s learning platform that are also avaialble on Udemy. You’re just missing out on the super valuable reviews on Udemy.

I also spent some hours figuring out how to best learn German (Language Learning Logistics / Research) and then 14% of my time (1 hour every morning) learning German. I’m not sure if my approach is worth writing about yet, though.

Updates by indie product

Rapid Breakup Recovery

Spent almost no time on RBR this month, because I wanted to focus on the work for my client. This also means that I still haven’t filled the vacuum left by removing drip. In other words I haven’t had an automatic email sequence for my subscribers in a while.

Key accomplishments

  • None

Revenue

  • Ebooks sales: $38
  • Coaching calls: $0
  • Total March 2019: $38

Pingcoin

Spent almost no time on Pingcoin this month. I fixed one bug that caused the app to crash for users.

Key accomplishments

  • Reached 100 downloads on the Google Play Store.

Revenue

– $0

Total Indie Revenue March

  • $38

What went well

  • Created goals for the month
  • Created a wireframe for the app, got it approved
  • Learnt Ionic
  • Started coding the app

What did not go well?

  • Not following up on my Kaizens
  • Felt a bit less present this month
  • Missed one week of planning / retrospective
  • Came up with the idea to timebox tasks, but never did it
  • Feels like I’m not reading enough
  • Goals w

What should I do differently

  • Make Kaizen review more explicit

Kaizen

  • Make my reviews of Kaizen more explicit
  • Account for your tendency to overestimate what you can get done.

Provoking Questions

  • How might I set goals at the beginning of the month I still support at the end of the month?

My February 2019 Retrospective

You can find a description of the projects mentioned on my Projects page.

Key achievements

  • (Pingcoin) Met with a Swiss coin dealer to speak about a possible collaboration. To be continued.
  • (Learning) Completed the web developer bootcamp Udemy course
  • (My Basel Agency) Got a verbal go-ahead for my second client for my (still nameless) agency

Other/personal

  • I’ve decided I want to reach native level fluency in German. This will help me in running my business here in Basel, Switzerland. This will be reflected in my goals for 2019.

Monthly goals check-in

  • Writing (5/10)
    • Started writing longer pieces in my daily journal
    • No other writing
  • Financial independence (8/10)
    • Found two clients that have agreed to first project together for my Basel Agency
  • Full of love (7/10)
    • Did okay. Daily meditation, gratitude journaling, EFT
  • Seize every day (5/10)
    • No particular achievements here
  • Reading (6/10)
    • Finished the Startup Owner’s Manual
    • Finished Emotional Design
    • Started The Overwhelmed Brain
  • Explore my subconscious and integrate my shadow (7/10)
    • Daily journaling and shadow ritual
  • I am strong (1/10)
    • I broke my routine here after getting sick. Haven’t been to the gym since Feb 7.
  • Travel (N/A)

Time spent

Total: 167:55 hrs

The plurality of my time was spent on Pingcoin, which had been more or less my plan. I’m working on an onset annotator in javascript, but it’s taking me a bit longer than expected.

A considerable amount was spent on the Following my Curiosity category. This is mainly due to the 18 hours I clocked working on the antique map with 3D relief. This was not planned, but I felt such strong curiosity and motivation that I felt I had to work on this. I’ve been trying to make it a policy to trust my subconscious and let it pursue anything that gives me energy. Next step? No idea. I’m really pleased with the end result though.

Revenue

Rapid Breakup Recovery

Ebook sales: $38
Coaching calls: $50
Total: $88
I removed Drip and thereby my 7-day email course. This has impacted my sales as I haven’t taken the time to replace it with anything else yet.

Grand total: $88

Overall

What went well

  • Clocked a lot of hours
  • Finished the web dev course
  • Got my second client

What did not go well

  • I have still not edited the RBR podcast episode and the 4 Intercompanion podcast episodes. I am struggling to balance my desire to focus with keeping existing projects alive. This month I tried to focus on Pingcoin (which you can see by the time that was spent there). However, in order to do so, I neglected other projects. I can’t help but wonder if I’m approaching this correctly
  • I still haven’t laid out my goals for 2019.
  • I’m behind on my personal accounting

What can I do differently

  • Do my accounting at the beginning of the month

 

Digitally rendered 3D elevation + 1798 political map of Switzerland

I came across the maps of Scott Reinhard on Twitter and I fell down the rabbit hole of the art of combining old maps with modern 3D elevation data. This is what I was able to create playing around with QGis, Blender 3D and Photoshop:

Inspired by the work of Scott Reinhard.

Thanks to Daniel P. Huffman for the tutorial that got me started, and to Andrew Tyrrell for his hint towards georeferencing.

Original map

Elevation data from Copernicus Land Monitoring Service.

Made with QGis, Blender3D and Photoshop.

My January 2019 Retrospective

Key achievements

Rapid Breakup Recovery

  • Recorded the first RBR podcast
  • Learnt about podcast editing and started the editing process

Intercompanion

  • No progress

Pingcoin

  • No progress

Other / Personal

I’m starting an agency!
While looking for consulting opportunities I hit it off with an investor in Basel who wants to work with me on developing an app and also help me bootstrap a product development agency. The app will be aimed at helping NGO’s do their bookkeeping and aid them in their relationship management of their donors. The agency will take on all kinds of digital product development assignments. Super excited about both the app and the agency.

Web Development Bootcamp
I made my way through most of a very long and thorough web development course on Udemy. I’m really enjoying the course and it’s filling in some missing pieces in my haphazard self-taught programming education. It also helped me settle on a tech stack (all JS).

Monthly goal check-in

I’m still in the process of writing up my goals for 2019. I’ve been using my 2018 goals until then as they’re still valid.

  • Writing (5/10)
    • Apart from daily journaling — no progress here.
  • Financial independence (7/10)
    • Found my first client who also wants to help me bootstrap a product development agency!
  • Full of love (7/10)
    • Did okay. Daily meditation and self-parenting.
  • Seize every day (5/10)
    • No particular achievements here
  • Reading (10/10)
    • Finished reading About Face, Atomic Habits, Hello my name is awesome, Ignore everybody and one chapter I selected from Midas Touch (as it came recommended)
    • Started reading The Overwhelmed Brain and listening to Big Magic
    • I’m still behind on summarizing the books I’ve read.
  • Explore my subconscious and integrate my shadow (8/10)
    • Consistently meditated, journaled, shadow ritual and did EFT when necessary
  • I am strong (physical strength)
    • Was consistent in going to the gym 3x a week following the 5×5 program
  • Travel (N/A)
    • Note: My travel goals have changed.

Time Spent

Total clocked hours: 150:51
Back at Chiang-Mai levels of clocked hours. This is probably also due to the fact that in January I was consistently clocking my time spent reading.

This month I spent the plurality of my time on Learning because I enrolled in a Udemy class on web development called the Web Development Bootcamp. It’s been a lot of fun and incredibly useful.

I spent around 18% of my time on Peter’s app which is the code name for the NGO app. This time was mostly spent doing research and understanding the problem space.

The “General” category is what I use for time spent on my morning routine, on my retrospectives etc. At this point it’s getting a bit unwieldy. I will look at splitting it up into different categories (e.g. work ON systems and work IN systems).

After general, the highest category is Rapid Breakup Recovery, which is mostly due to the fact that I spent time recording and editing the podcast.

Revenue

Rapid Breakup Recovery

  • Ebook sales: $38
  • Coaching calls: $0
  • Total: $38

Grand total

  • $38

Happiness

41% good or rad (down from 48% last month).
I’m still not sure how to report on this. Although I have a lower relative amount of good moods, I logged 25 good moods in January compared to 24 in December. It doesn’t feel like this month was much different than the one before. I would like to get a daily average with a standard deviation, but that doesn’t come out of the box.

Overall

What went well

  • Found a first client for the development of an app who also wants to help me build a product development agency!
  • Found a new coach for both personal and business-related issues.
  • Web development bootcamp (24+ hours)
  • Reading and tracking reading. I tracked pretty much all of my reading and I did a lot of reading.

What did not go well

  • I waited a long time before setting my January goals and doing my yearly retrospective.
  • It’s taking a long time to come up with a name for the agency.
  • My monthly retro has slowly expanded and it’s been taking up more time. I believe it’s time to start automating certain elements of it.

What can I do differently?

  • I will be naming this category “What can I do differently” as opposed to “What should I do differently” to emphasise the fact that it’s not feasible to implement all improvement points in the next iteration. Points of improvement should be added to my backlog. I should select some of these points for the next iteration during my planning phase.
  • Do my retrospectives & planning within 2 days of the new month
  • Somehow I spent no time on the Intercompanion project. In retrospect this makes sense, I was focused on other things, but I’m coming to the realization that shifts in time spent on projects on the month-level (and greater) are difficult to be aware of.
  • Find time to summarize and ankify the books I’ve read
  • Start automating my retrospective / planning systems

 

My 2018 Retrospective

Key accomplishments

  • Launched a beta version of my (physical) coin testing app, Pingcoin.
    • Learnt basic Java
    • Learnt basic Android development
    • Learnt basic OOP
  • Completed 8 months at FIFA and saved enough money for a 10-12 month runway in Thailand (ended up coming back early after getting together with my current girlfriend :))
  • Spent 2 months in Chiang Mai working for myself
  • I got to the root of an anxiety I had around money. With no monthly income I would get very agitated about spending money and spending time away from my computer. With help from a friend I was able to narrow this down to a deep seated fear of failure. Once I understood it was about failure, it lost 95% of its grip over me.
  • Recorded 5 podcast interviews. I noticed I really enjoyed the process. I still need to do the editing though.

Revenue

Rapid Breakup Recovery

  • Coaching calls: $810.51
  • Ebook sales: $1’045 (55 ebooks sold)
  • Total: $1’855.51

Goals check-in

Be present, full of love and surround myself with others that are full of love
Score: 7/10. I think I did okay here. Meditated daily.

Become financially independent
Score: 2/10. Although I worked hard towards this goal (I thought), I didn’t move the needle much. Need to fundamentally rethink my approach in 2019.

Be a strong man, in great physical shape and able to defend myself and my family
Score: 5/10. I didn’t do much exercise in 2018.

I do not postpone happiness & making an impact
Score: 9/10.

Travel the world and continually expand my frame of reference
Score: 8/10.

Explore my mind, my unconscious and integrate my shadow and become at peace with myself
Score: 7/10.

Read daily to expand my frame of reference and support my other goals
Score: 6/10.

Write daily to clarify my thoughts and to connect with other minds
Score: 7/10.

What went well

Goal setting

For the first time in my life I set yearly goals and I was fairly consistent in looking at them regularly (almost daily). There are many I didn’t reach (or didn’t do particularly well on), but overall I’m very happy with my progress. The goal-setting approach I used worked fairly well. I started by going through Jordan Peterson’s Understand Myself program and arrived at 8 goals. I then came up with some routines and procedures to support the achievement of those goals. My morning routine is the cornerstone of my day. I wake up as early as possible (initially I was consistently waking up at 4:30) and I meditate for 20 minutes. Then I go through a checklist which I consider my morning routine. It involves me reviewing my goals, doing some affirmations, journaling and an Anki card review session.

Anki review

After reading Michael Nielsen’s and Gwern’s blogpost on spaced repetition systems and Anki, I decided to try to incorporate it into my routine. Every morning as part of my daily routine I do an Anki review session where I review the cards that are due for that day (typically 1-10). Recently I’ve been using it for helping me remember coding concepts I’m getting introduced to. It’s hard to report on the results in an unbiased way, but I feel it’s very effective at refreshing concepts at the point where I’m just about to forget them. After several repetitions I usually end up remembering the card long-term.

Tracking Myself

As a consequence of setting goals and tracking my progress I’ve gotten into the habit of tracking more aspects of my life. I’ve been successfully tracking my time spent working using Toggl, my daily mood with an app called Daylio, my sleep with Sleep for Android and weekly and monthly retrospectives in Trello and on this blog.

Hustling before work

I didn’t track my wake up times, but many, many days I would wake up at 4:30, do a morning routine (including meditation) and I would be able to work from 5:00 to 7:00 before I would go to work. Waking up this early is great because you have zero distractions, you spend your best energy on your own projects (and not your job) and you do it when you’re fresh (as opposed to doing it after work). The downside is that you’re absolutely f*cked when you get back home from work and you really need to be in bed by 20:00 to get enough sleep. Waking up early is however the most effective strategy I’ve come across to hustling around my day job. That, and negotiating a 80% work contract.

What did not go well?

Goal-achievement

Although I had my goals written down, and I would visualise them and review them daily, there are still some I didn’t reach (e.g. $1000/month side income or going to BJJ training 3x a week). Why? I’m not entirely sure. But I think it has to do with not knowing I was off course and therefore not adjusting course. It seems that just writing a goal down and reading it daily works for certain goals (e.g. travel a lot, do fun stuff in your spare time) but not so well when there needs to be a clear, step-by-step plan to get you to the goal (e.g. $1000/month side income goal).

Coding was super slow

As part of the 24-hour startup challenge I attempted coding together an app in NodeJS. I assumed I could learn it on the fly. I assumed wrong. Even though I managed to code together an Android app in 2018, this doesn’t mean I can jump into any new technology easily. That may be an obvious statement to an experienced developer, for me it was a very valuable wake up call. In 2019 I want to be fast at shipping working software. I’ve already started taking a Udemy web development course after seeing @stephsmithio recommend it.

Achieving Financial Independence

Most of the work I did in the early mornings before starting my day job was done, ostensibly, with the goal in mind of achieving financial independence. I did not achieve this goal, so something about my approach needs revisiting.

Accountability Partner

I tried setting up a weekly call with an accountability partner on two occasions. The first partner and I lasted a couple of months and I found it very motivating and productive. At some point, however, he dropped out. The second accountability partner, a young lady running her own business, only lasted 2 sessions with me. I’m not sure why these relationships failed, but since I think it’s such a valuable ritual, I am looking for a new accountability partner in 2019.

Personal Network

I’ve heard it ad nauseam “your network is incredibly important for business”, yet I never invested in it or focused on growing it. Through college and my career so far I’ve come in contact with plenty of people, but these contacts never translated into a resource I felt I could leverage. I became painfully aware of my “lack” of network when I tried to find some consulting clients late 2018. I was working with a business coach to help me find my first clients and one of the first things he asked me was: “Who in your network can you call to find leads?” The truth was I could only come up with a handful of people I could call. If personal network is one of the factors that’s important in achieving success in business, then I would have to score myself very low on this dimension. This makes me want to turn this around in 2019.

Exercise

I did not do much exercise in 2018. I tried starting with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu again, but as I was living far outside of the city it was difficult to go to evening classes and still get back in time to sleep so I could wake up at 4:30. The silver lining on last year is that towards the end I started using the 5×5 workout app which helps you with a 3x per week compound lifting routine. The app is really a breeze to use and has helped me get into a steady routine of squats, deadlifts etc. 3x a week.

What should I do differently?

Revise goal setting/achieving system

In order to set goals I stand a chance of achieving and to make sure I adjust course when I’m off track I need to take a careful look at my goal setting / achieving system and revise it for 2019. Two questions that I’m asking myself are:

  1. How might I set goals in a way that I stand a chance of achieving them?
  2. How might I become aware I’m off-track for a certain goal and how might I effectively correct course?

Get better and faster at developing products

I want to be quick a coding together prototypes.

Try again to find an accountability partner

Working with an accountability partner was valuable. I should continue my search in 2019.

Exercise & Brazilian jiu-jitsu

Do compound lifts 3x a week and do jiu jitsu at least 3x a week (as soon as I can afford it). I have some mental blocks I run into when I try to go to BJJ consistently. In 2019 I want to overcome those.

Start building and strengthening my personal network

Learn how to build and strengthen my personal network and make this a primary focus for 2019.

Revisit my strategy for achieving financial independence

Aside from reviewing my general goal setting / achievement system I want to review my strategy for becoming financially independent. Some questions that I’m asking myself are:

  1. Do I need to focus more?
  2. Do I need to pick my projects better?
  3. Do I just need to continue and persevere?
  4. Should I put more importance on completing projects?