Ben Issenmann
 

Tiny products

Tiny products 1. take two weeks to build, 2. generate income and 3. require zero ongoing maintenance.

Deadlines against dead projects

The biggest problem is not finishing what we've started. Our mind is our biggest enemy. We self-sabotage, we seek shiny new things, we lose interest, we create unnecessary complexity, we procrastinate. It's hard to ship a project when we can always add more, explain more.

Conditions for tiny products
Conditions for tiny products

But when we have a deadline, all of a sudden we have to make decisions. Insignificant details get left out. We have to make concessions. The project gets shipped. Starting with a time constraint is, in fact, a creative constraint in the design process. Especially as we become solo, indie, freelance makers with no bosses, setting ourselves a deadline isn't natural. But deadlines make projects live.

Short cycles to shortcut intuition

Our intuition is shit. What we think will succeed probably won't. Spending two weeks on a product reduces the risk of putting too much time into a bad idea. We're terrible at predicting the future. Because here's the untold story: you don't decide what's good and what's not, your audience does. And when we understand this, our job then is to feed the funnel.

Funnel for audience tiny products

It is to keep on creating. Every day. It is to push stuff into the world consistently. To trust the funnel blindly. To have faith in the maths of success. To ship creations we might not even be proud of, but let our audiences decide what creations turn into creatures, taking a life of their own.Oh and short cycles are fun: lots of launches, lots of adrenaline.

Income generation to gauge value creation

People pay for things when they are valuable to them. Asking people to pay for what we create is the best way to know if you've actually made something that is valuable. The validation is infinitely stronger when someone buys your product instead of just committing to buy it. So the income generation condition incentivizes for making valuable things. A tiny product that doesn't generate income shouldn't be called a tiny product, it's a hobby. The goal of Minimum Viable Products is to learn. The goal of a Tiny Product is self-sufficiency.

More shots, less moonshots.

Cool kids want to start startups. Cooler kids now want to hyper freelance. What happens when we scope ambition down? Just shipping something tiny that has value? Tiny incremental progress require less willpower, but if you add it up over time = aggregate > working on hugely ambitious projects.

Graph of many shots vs moonshots tiny products

That's how great things start. It's much easier to double down on something that already works than working blind-fully on moonshot project. This goes against the predominant Silicon Valley stories, perpetuated by Marc Andreessen, Elon Musk and co, though they were exactly the ones who worked on tiny products early in their careers (and then doubled down on what is already working, creating a "big vision" along the way). As Daniel Vassallo or James Clear would say, build a "portfolio of small bets" instead. Play games where you can take many shots, less moonshots.

Tiny products out there

Big strategies for tiny products

So let's say you're interested in creating tiny products. And you're also thinking about the meta game of creating and owning many tiny products. This is an infinite game: to keep on playing you have to keep shipping. Some questions to ponder together:

When is it time to switch from exploring to exploiting our portfolio of tiny products? It takes intuition and being in touch with our feelings and motivations to know when to double down on products with most traction. But most of us want to keep exploring. I'm in the process of hiring a remote assistant to focus on this.

Can we compound the success of previous tiny products to new products? By default no one cares about you. Launching constantly get easier with an audience. For every tiny product, collecting emails is probably the smart move. Attention is malleable: you can channel it toward any future product. New launches instantly have potential. You're just an email away from a flop.

Is "build in public" worth the effort for tiny products? Yes. Sharing what you work on means validation and feedback more often. So you don't have to wait two weeks to know if your idea will fail. Document what you work on, share your process, tweet it.

Publications where to share your tiny products, download the list

When should we kill tiny products that aren't succeeding? We don't have to. If we don't maintain any product, it's better to keep something online than deleting it for the sake of it. What we should funnel our attention and efforts to instead are killing ideas before we make them products. Most ideas shouldn't be built.

How can we find the right tempo to switch from ideation to creation? Though two weeks is short, my difficulty so far has been to spend too long exploring concepts for a tiny product (thus feeling too spread out) or spending too long on exploiting an idea recklessly with no validation (thus feeling exhausted). Mastering my tempo is crucial to play the long game.

Why are tiny products now possible? Because no-code. Because everything is turning into an API others can plug into. Because the tools to design, code and launch ideas that we now costed thousands a decade ago.

Now, my question to you: can you build a tiny product from the current project you're working on? What would it look like? How would it work? How would it make money? Even though it might not seem possible to bend your project inside the conditions of a tiny product, try. Right, you think you can't build products? Challenge yourself to ship one, that's how we learn. Not fantasizing about the required skillset, just building and shipping products. Finding time between clients or juggling with a job. It is possible. Just create every day.

Further readings

The Basecamp boys published Shape up last year with two inspiring ideas: working in six weeks cycles and the concept of appetite with fixed time, variable scope. A great free book to read in an afternoon. Though it's pretty unbearable to read, Nassim Taleb's Antifragile talks about creating optionality to better support shocks. Reading a summary is probably smart. I'd also encourage watching YC's startup school video about continuously launching. Finally, I wrote an article about a model where freelancers combine consulting, education and products, and tiny products are directly tied to these ideas.

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Last edit: 
Nov 19, 2020
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Ben Issenmann

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