Lessons learned by building things

2020 was not a normal year. With the pandemic and the lockdowns, I had a lot of time on my hands. Given that every plan I had made was cancelled by the virus, I put some time in on building products from scratch that people would want to use. Overall, I built two things with friends: soluchan.com, a website to help people preparing for competitive examinations in India, and funnel.fyi, a tool to help you organize your job search. Here are a few things I learned building these products.

A small feedback loop is essential.

Build it and they will come do absolutely nothing.

It’s tempting to take the easy path and spend weeks writing code, developing new features. However, if you do not have users and do not know for sure that your users want the thing that you’re writing, there is a very high probability that all that code will just sit in a lonely git repository unused. It’s best to write as little code as possible, talk to potential users, get feedback, and then write code with that feedback in mind. This feedback loop should ideally be as small as possible.

It’s hard to switch context.

Working a full-time job and trying to build things is not easy. Engineering is not a job you can clock out of. A lot of good ideas come to me in the shower or late in the night when I’m on the bed getting ready to sleep. If you focus on one thing for 40 hours a week, the side project will languish. It’s harder to focus on it, it’s harder to innovate with it. I think that to do this well, it needs to be a full-time focus.

Marketing is essential.

Being an engineer, I’ve been comfortable with writing code to build things for quite a while. However, those are not the only skills that are needed if you want to build something that creates value for others. People will not be aware of what you’re building if you do not push it. Pushing the thing you built in a way that’s engaging and fun is not easy or obvious, but it’s necessary. Nothing will happen without it. Things are made or broken by marketing. At some point, you will need to spend ALL your time on it.