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Supercharge Your Software Business with 8 Easily Forgotten Principles
14

Supercharge Your Software Business with 8 Easily Forgotten Principles

Business
Published or Updated on
February 3, 2022
/
14
min read

Every business owner must understand certain principles to be successful. They’re applicable to a wide range of business models, but it’s easy to forget them.

In The Common Path to Uncommon Success, John Lee Dumas (JLD) distills his many years of interviewing successful entrepreneurs into a comprehensive guide to applying those principles to starting and growing a business.

This summary reviews some of the key principles with an eye towards software entrepreneurs in the early stages of their journey. I’ve incorporated some of my own experiences in working at startups and large software companies. However, assume that all major concepts are from the book.

1. Understand Your Customer Avatar to Make Faster, Smarter Business Decisions

You may have a passion for your industry, but what good is your passion if it doesn’t serve the customer?

The trick is to understand the customer’s needs and desires and adjust your daily activities to satisfy them. Make it feel you’re speaking directly to them and they’ll want to buy from you because of this feeling of closeness.

Begin by creating an avatar: a description of your customer that helps you write for them without having a specific person in mind.

To construct your avatar, imagine your ideal customer and compile a story about their features. Start with these questions:

  • How old are they?
  • What is their commute like, if any?
  • What skills do they have?
  • What are their struggles?
  • What are their failures?
  • What’s their ideal day like?
  • Where were they educated? In what fields?

This is a start, but you can take this further and examine their relationships, what food they like, where they live, favorite movies and TV shows, aspirations, and so on. The fuller the story, the clearer your picture of their needs and desires.

Before you create a new product or service, whether your first or your tenth, read this story and imagine whether your avatar would use your product in the course of their day. Would it fit their lifestyle? Do they have time to use or consume what you developed? Would it solve a burning problem they have right now?

Keep your avatar story handy and review it when making key business decisions. It’s also helpful for marketing because you’ll instantly know whether your content would resonate with them.

Speaking of marketing…

2. Be a Student to Spread Awareness of Your Brand

This happens a lot: YouTuber vlogs about their hobby just for fun. Every few days, they publish a video about their hobby, what they liked about it, what screwups they had, and what discoveries they made. Two years later, they have a large audience, allowing them to make money from ads or affiliates. Suddenly it’s a business they can live on and keep doing for as long as they want.

What the vlogger didn’t know is that they were applying one of the less frequently considered marketing methods: out-teaching your competition. Unless people are consuming the content you produce purely for entertainment, you’re probably teaching them a thing or two. As Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson explain in Rework, this can build awareness and trust in your brand better than ads or other marketing methods.

Documenting your journey is a great way to out-teach your competitors. You have an automatic source of content ideas. No need to come up with them in advance.

Example Scenario

Day 0: Write some code. Blog about starting your new project, a Pinterest scheduling tool.

…keep coding and blogging…

Day 8: Write some code. Blog about the awesome features of the programming language you chose, and how you picked the perfect one.

…keep coding and blogging…

Day 16: Write some code. Blog about the 5 other Pinterest scheduling tools you found that are just like yours. Now you have to add some features to make it unique, but it’ll take a few hundred hours more. grumble

…keep coding and blogging…

Day 32: Write some code. Blog about a cool article you read on quantum computing for renewable energy, and how it would be fun to develop software for discovering catalysts that would improve the way we store renewable energy. At least you won’t be competing with a dozen other apps… yet.

…keep coding and blogging…

Day 64: Write some code. Now that you have a whopping 200 readers from 64 blog posts (darned sandbox), you decide to challenge them a bit with an incendiary post.

…keep coding and blogging…

Day 128: Finish your prototype. Blog about the annoying programming language you chose, how it’s the worst and missing a lot of very basic features. Never again!

Document on the platform you’re most comfortable with and, more crucially, the one your avatar is used to. Brandish the avatar story you wrote earlier; if you know what their typical day is like, their interests, their age, and so on, you’ll know whether they have the time and patience to read a blog post or whether they have the time and patience to watch a video.

If you don’t have the bandwidth to create your own website, starting on social media is also a good bet because you’ll get feedback faster and thus identify what your avatar really cares about sooner. Blogs take a long time to gain exposure on search engines, so you risk becoming discouraged and giving up too early. To avoid this, you can first build a following on a site like Quora, Pinterest, or YouTube, then create your own website and make your audience aware of it, to minimize the dangers of long-term dependence on social media platforms.

When you build in the open, you show your audience—in real time—the obstacles and failures that you overcame before finally succeeding. By being a student, you teach them how to succeed. Not only can this help your audience improve their own efforts, it will also build trust in your brand.

When you’ve just learned a concept, you have an advantage over someone who learned it years ago because you know how it feels not to know it. You can explain it more clearly to someone who doesn’t have the knowledge.

You also give them a chance to offer feedback that can help you succeed, leveraging the power of reciprocation: people feel obligated to repay you when you help them with a problem [1].

That problem could simply be “I’m bored. Lemme watch YouTube. Hmm… the YouTube algorithm suggested this indie hacker’s video about a Pinterest scheduling tool they’re working on. So long as it’s authentic and not too polished, it’ll be like a reality TV show about my favorite topic, building successful software companies. That’ll cure my boredom!”

3. Niche Down to Eliminate Your Competition

To stand out in an ever-growing market that’s flooded with software products, niche down several times until you’re practically the only one serving a particular demographic. According to JLD, you should be “nervous that your target market is too small”.

Niche markets are often more profitable than broader markets because they are not as competitive and there are fewer substitutes. When you’re the only one building for a specific audience, you can develop a mediocre product and people will buy it because it’s the only one that solves their problem.

One way to niche is to combine multiple interests or skills and solve a problem at their intersection.

Let’s say you’re passionate about fitness and weight loss. You could make a calorie tracking app! Oh wait, there are zillions of those already. Well, you’re also deeply curious about psychedelics’ use in treating mental health. In fact, you worked on a project where your team designed a wearable device that delivers a calibrated dose of DMT, as prescribed by the wearer’s doctor, for pain relief [2].

Aha! You can develop an app that tracks and manages doses of psilocybin as part of a treatment for obesity, an emerging area of research. In countries that have approved its medical use, your app would ensure that the patient accurately receives the medically prescribed dose through a wearable device.

You’ve niched your offering, but that’s not enough. To niche your audience, you decide to focus on married obese people for whom traditional behavioral therapy hasn’t worked.

You just went from an extremely crowded market to possibly being the only solution for some people: Fitness App -> Fitness App for Managing Obesity -> Fitness App for Managing Obesity by Delivering Treatments through Wearable Devices -> Fitness App for Managing Obesity by Delivering Psilocybin through Wearable Devices To Married Obese People Who Unsuccessfully Tried Behavioral Therapy.

You can eventually raise prices with no complaints. You work fewer hours because you don’t need as many customers to get to your income goals. Awareness of your product spreads fast by word-of-mouth. New customers are more likely to become repeat customers.

Because you have knowledge and experience in the relevant areas, anyone who tries to enter the same space would have a hard time catching up if they’re not familiar with weight loss, psychedelics, or wearables. If they don’t share your passion, they’d also be more likely to give up when the going gets tough, as it inevitably will.

You’ll have less competition as you document your journey. Your video “Why You Need This Weight Loss App for Obesity” will get more attention from your avatar than a video on “Why You Need This Fitness App”.

“Become top 25 percent at three things and combine them to become top 1 percent.”—Naval Ravikant

Note that you can niche in multiple areas. If you can easily tweak your app to deliver psychedelic anxiety treatments through wearables, you can sell almost the same product to two different people with unique problems. You’ll expand your audience without losing the specificity that convinces people you’re their best solution.

4. Stay Alert for Opportunities to Supercharge Your Growth

It’s getting easier to start a business. You can take advantage of powerful cloud platforms, open source software, and low-code tools to build a product fast. However, that also means others can copy your product fast.

To harness the power of first-mover advantage, once you’ve identified your niche, scan the horizon for ways to speed up business growth.

Everyone pays attention to what’s easily noticeable: what they can read in the news, watch on TV, and observe as they go about their day. What most people don’t pay attention to is the hints of potentially disruptive emerging technologies.

You’ll find these hints in bits of news, sometimes separated by months or years. You might notice them in sparsely distributed passing mentions in podcasts, videos, and conferences. At first glance, they suggest nothing noteworthy, but when you collect these bits of data and try to put them together into narratives, you might notice a trend towards an advancement in capabilities you can parlay into your business.

For example, how can you build your product to operate seamlessly on the new interfaces of spatial computing, to aid network effects? If your app looks good on one device but not another, you limit your audience.

“Race to where the puck is going to be and then figure out how to skate.”—Jay Samit, Future Proofing You

Tips to Build a Mastermind of Software Entrepreneurs

A software mastermind is a group that understands how to run a software company. They meet regularly so members can give each other advice and support, share knowledge, and network. They also help maintain sanity when the going gets tough.

They help each other reach success faster by learning from the combined efforts of members who are struggling with—or have recently struggled with—similar problems.

In each meeting, one person is in the “hot seat” and describes their current biggest challenge, then asks for the group’s help. The hot seat is a different person each time, rotating through the group.

5. Seek those who are at a similar stage in their business’ growth as you are.

Providing good advice requires a thorough understanding of a person’s situation. If participants have wildly differing backgrounds and objectives, there’s a low chance they’ll have experienced similar problems and, therefore, have useful solutions.

I recently joined a mastermind where we all had our own businesses, but they were in different industries and used different business models. Some were real estate agents looking to become location independent, one was making a video game, and some were selling hard products online. We all had different marketing channels; some were using social, others print ads, and one was mailing physical postcards.

Every time someone brought up a problem they were having, the rest of the group could only give general high-level advice because we weren’t familiar with how their industry worked. Meetings ended up focusing on non-business topics like diet and exercise, things everyone was already working on.

A mastermind of software founders might have members who can share their experiences with putting together a no-code solution, for example, to help the “hot seat” decide whether their product is a good candidate. They’d offer specific tool suggestions, books about no-code, and examples of successful implementations.

6. Replace less productive uses of social attention with the mastermind.

Instead of getting into Reddit flame wars or browsing random Twitter threads to fill lulls in your day, engage your mastermind in Discord discussions. You’ll get the same dopamine hit from the “likes” on your Instagram post of your vacation as you would from “likes” by members of your mastermind on your post about the new features you just implemented.

The Turing Test didn’t turn out to be a good metric for artificial general intelligence, but it did foster a sense of competition towards the goal of fooling humans. It gave AI researchers a common, measurable goal.

Similarly, a mastermind whose members have a similar goal can establish criteria for success that they all share and work towards. If you were already writing code, trying to grow a social media following, and doing market research before joining the mastermind, then entering a contest that requires everyone to do the same thing to win could boost motivation.

You benefit from the feeling of competition even if everyone doesn’t have the same goals. Consider the addictive qualities of video games. You might have an entire realm of wizards, knights, orcs, elves, and dwarfs, each with varying amounts of gold, armor, spells, and potions. Everyone could do their own quest.

But if there’s one metric, like Character Level, that determines who wins in an encounter, that would be enough to impel everyone to grind. “This guy’s Level 95! I gotta level up so I can also have powerful spells and better armor, and beat him if we get in a fight!”

Some possible metrics for a software business mastermind:

  • Revenue
  • Lines of code written
  • Bugs fixed
  • Features implemented
  • Users signed up
  • Users talked to
  • Social media followers earned

Members who reach a certain amount would “level up” and get a badge. To make it more compelling, turn awards into a scarce resource. For example, only one person can be the “Bug Crusher”.

How to Improve Productivity as a Software Entrepreneur

Building faster is as much about subtraction as it is about increasing your execution speed. Throughout the book, there is a recurring theme of concentrating your forces, focusing them to a point so you don’t dissipate your energy across less impactful tasks [3].

7. Concentrate Your Forces by Reducing Your Commitments

Pick one business idea and hit it hard. If you work on 5 business ideas, it will take a long time for any of them to produce noticeable results, which dampens your motivation and gives competitors time to catch up and surpass you.

Another way to reduce your commitments is to focus on one platform for your content when you’re just starting out. You’ll more quickly gain proficiency in creating content for that platform, which extends the time you spend in flow, which increases your motivation, which drives you to publish more frequently, which speeds up audience growth, which gives you a strong source of feedback so you can tell what your avatar cares about, which improves your proficiency because you learn what works and what doesn’t and can whittle down your SOPs to just the 20% of steps that produce 80% of the results… a virtuous cycle!

I fell into the multi-platform trap with my first SaaS attempt, an app that teaches C#. After three weeks of blogging about it, I heard a podcast about how video is more engaging. Besides, it’s so easy to repurpose a blog post to video! Why not? So I started making video versions of my blog posts. Oh wait… this shiny new app lets me slice up the video and post snippets to 5 social media platforms! So I did that too.

My once-a-week blog posts turned into once-a-month blog posts, social media posts, and videos. Traffic growth to my site slowed down. I lost momentum, got distracted, and my app never saw the light of day.

If I could do it again, I’d stick to just blogging until I was making enough money from app sales to hire someone to help me with video editing, thumbnail and title crafting, social media posting, etc.

8. Preserve Energy with Motivation-Boosting Tactics

Tactics that maintain or elevate motivation can help you avoid tasks that dissipate your energy.

For example, regularly visualizing your goals not only keeps the rewards visible, which motivates you, but it also helps you gauge whether a particular task you just performed moved you closer to your goals, or whether some other task might have been a higher priority.

Unless you’re alert, your instant gratification monkey will convince you to pursue the easiest or most pleasurable lower-priority task on your list. Having a vision of the result and the subgoals that trace to that result will help you detect derailment.

Another way to use motivation is what JLD calls “batching like a baller”, where you dedicate specific days of the week to a single task. Instead of creating a social media post every day, take one day to create a week’s worth of social media posts and schedule them to be published automatically throughout the week.

Besides concentrating your forces, batching boosts motivation because small chunks of progress don’t get you as fired up as large chunks. If you have to code 200 features to finish your prototype, and you can only finish one per day because you only have a couple hours each day, you’ll notice how slowly you’re progressing and possibly get discouraged. But if you put aside two days a week only for coding, you might complete 5 features on each of those days, which gives you the feeling that you’re making more progress.

“The time quantum for hacking is very long: it might take an hour just to load a problem into your head.”—Paul Graham

Batching saves time and energy because you don’t have to “boot up your brain” multiple times daily. By staying in the same context throughout the day, you keep the same concepts in short-term memory where they’re easily accessible.

Conclusion

My biggest takeaway from The Common Path to Uncommon Success is the importance of focus. For early stage software companies, this means working only on features that increase the value of your product relative to others in the market. These features should solve your avatar’s problems so effectively that they’ll ignore any shortcomings your product has.

Let your competitors spend their resources on the bells and whistles customers care less about. By delivering a product that solves a burning problem better than anyone in your already sparse or unoccupied corner of the market—good thing you niched down—you’ll grow a large, faithful user base that provides the revenue to slowly, steadily expand.

The Common Path to Uncommon Success contains fundamental information on how to start and grow your business and succeed in the business world. Unlike some business books that are just a collection of tips and tactics, it is a step-by-step guide that will lead you from the starting point to the finish line. JLD’s enthusiasm shines through on every page, so it’s inspiring to read, and you won’t want to miss the “Well of Knowledge” at the end!


[1] Cialdini, Robert B. Influence, New and Expanded. Chapter 2.

[2] Bexson Biomedical is actually working on this: https://www.vice.com/en/article/xgxkpn/wearable-psychedelic-drugs-maximum-control-trip

[3] In The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene offers the chapter “Law 23 - Concentrate Your Forces”, where he describes how historical figures applied—and failed to apply—the concept, and illustrates its relevance for today.

Chris Del Campo
Wizard of Light Bulb Moments

Practiced in the art of playing video games while writing long essays. Subtly charming social mediaholic. Wannabe pianist. I like long, romantic walks down every aisle of Target.

Supercharge Your Software Business with 8 Easily Forgotten Principles
14

Supercharge Your Software Business with 8 Easily Forgotten Principles

Business
Published or Updated on
Feb 3
/
14
min read

Every business owner must understand certain principles to be successful. They’re applicable to a wide range of business models, but it’s easy to forget them.

In The Common Path to Uncommon Success, John Lee Dumas (JLD) distills his many years of interviewing successful entrepreneurs into a comprehensive guide to applying those principles to starting and growing a business.

This summary reviews some of the key principles with an eye towards software entrepreneurs in the early stages of their journey. I’ve incorporated some of my own experiences in working at startups and large software companies. However, assume that all major concepts are from the book.

1. Understand Your Customer Avatar to Make Faster, Smarter Business Decisions

You may have a passion for your industry, but what good is your passion if it doesn’t serve the customer?

The trick is to understand the customer’s needs and desires and adjust your daily activities to satisfy them. Make it feel you’re speaking directly to them and they’ll want to buy from you because of this feeling of closeness.

Begin by creating an avatar: a description of your customer that helps you write for them without having a specific person in mind.

To construct your avatar, imagine your ideal customer and compile a story about their features. Start with these questions:

  • How old are they?
  • What is their commute like, if any?
  • What skills do they have?
  • What are their struggles?
  • What are their failures?
  • What’s their ideal day like?
  • Where were they educated? In what fields?

This is a start, but you can take this further and examine their relationships, what food they like, where they live, favorite movies and TV shows, aspirations, and so on. The fuller the story, the clearer your picture of their needs and desires.

Before you create a new product or service, whether your first or your tenth, read this story and imagine whether your avatar would use your product in the course of their day. Would it fit their lifestyle? Do they have time to use or consume what you developed? Would it solve a burning problem they have right now?

Keep your avatar story handy and review it when making key business decisions. It’s also helpful for marketing because you’ll instantly know whether your content would resonate with them.

Speaking of marketing…

2. Be a Student to Spread Awareness of Your Brand

This happens a lot: YouTuber vlogs about their hobby just for fun. Every few days, they publish a video about their hobby, what they liked about it, what screwups they had, and what discoveries they made. Two years later, they have a large audience, allowing them to make money from ads or affiliates. Suddenly it’s a business they can live on and keep doing for as long as they want.

What the vlogger didn’t know is that they were applying one of the less frequently considered marketing methods: out-teaching your competition. Unless people are consuming the content you produce purely for entertainment, you’re probably teaching them a thing or two. As Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson explain in Rework, this can build awareness and trust in your brand better than ads or other marketing methods.

Documenting your journey is a great way to out-teach your competitors. You have an automatic source of content ideas. No need to come up with them in advance.

Example Scenario

Day 0: Write some code. Blog about starting your new project, a Pinterest scheduling tool.

…keep coding and blogging…

Day 8: Write some code. Blog about the awesome features of the programming language you chose, and how you picked the perfect one.

…keep coding and blogging…

Day 16: Write some code. Blog about the 5 other Pinterest scheduling tools you found that are just like yours. Now you have to add some features to make it unique, but it’ll take a few hundred hours more. grumble

…keep coding and blogging…

Day 32: Write some code. Blog about a cool article you read on quantum computing for renewable energy, and how it would be fun to develop software for discovering catalysts that would improve the way we store renewable energy. At least you won’t be competing with a dozen other apps… yet.

…keep coding and blogging…

Day 64: Write some code. Now that you have a whopping 200 readers from 64 blog posts (darned sandbox), you decide to challenge them a bit with an incendiary post.

…keep coding and blogging…

Day 128: Finish your prototype. Blog about the annoying programming language you chose, how it’s the worst and missing a lot of very basic features. Never again!

Document on the platform you’re most comfortable with and, more crucially, the one your avatar is used to. Brandish the avatar story you wrote earlier; if you know what their typical day is like, their interests, their age, and so on, you’ll know whether they have the time and patience to read a blog post or whether they have the time and patience to watch a video.

If you don’t have the bandwidth to create your own website, starting on social media is also a good bet because you’ll get feedback faster and thus identify what your avatar really cares about sooner. Blogs take a long time to gain exposure on search engines, so you risk becoming discouraged and giving up too early. To avoid this, you can first build a following on a site like Quora, Pinterest, or YouTube, then create your own website and make your audience aware of it, to minimize the dangers of long-term dependence on social media platforms.

When you build in the open, you show your audience—in real time—the obstacles and failures that you overcame before finally succeeding. By being a student, you teach them how to succeed. Not only can this help your audience improve their own efforts, it will also build trust in your brand.

When you’ve just learned a concept, you have an advantage over someone who learned it years ago because you know how it feels not to know it. You can explain it more clearly to someone who doesn’t have the knowledge.

You also give them a chance to offer feedback that can help you succeed, leveraging the power of reciprocation: people feel obligated to repay you when you help them with a problem [1].

That problem could simply be “I’m bored. Lemme watch YouTube. Hmm… the YouTube algorithm suggested this indie hacker’s video about a Pinterest scheduling tool they’re working on. So long as it’s authentic and not too polished, it’ll be like a reality TV show about my favorite topic, building successful software companies. That’ll cure my boredom!”

3. Niche Down to Eliminate Your Competition

To stand out in an ever-growing market that’s flooded with software products, niche down several times until you’re practically the only one serving a particular demographic. According to JLD, you should be “nervous that your target market is too small”.

Niche markets are often more profitable than broader markets because they are not as competitive and there are fewer substitutes. When you’re the only one building for a specific audience, you can develop a mediocre product and people will buy it because it’s the only one that solves their problem.

One way to niche is to combine multiple interests or skills and solve a problem at their intersection.

Let’s say you’re passionate about fitness and weight loss. You could make a calorie tracking app! Oh wait, there are zillions of those already. Well, you’re also deeply curious about psychedelics’ use in treating mental health. In fact, you worked on a project where your team designed a wearable device that delivers a calibrated dose of DMT, as prescribed by the wearer’s doctor, for pain relief [2].

Aha! You can develop an app that tracks and manages doses of psilocybin as part of a treatment for obesity, an emerging area of research. In countries that have approved its medical use, your app would ensure that the patient accurately receives the medically prescribed dose through a wearable device.

You’ve niched your offering, but that’s not enough. To niche your audience, you decide to focus on married obese people for whom traditional behavioral therapy hasn’t worked.

You just went from an extremely crowded market to possibly being the only solution for some people: Fitness App -> Fitness App for Managing Obesity -> Fitness App for Managing Obesity by Delivering Treatments through Wearable Devices -> Fitness App for Managing Obesity by Delivering Psilocybin through Wearable Devices To Married Obese People Who Unsuccessfully Tried Behavioral Therapy.

You can eventually raise prices with no complaints. You work fewer hours because you don’t need as many customers to get to your income goals. Awareness of your product spreads fast by word-of-mouth. New customers are more likely to become repeat customers.

Because you have knowledge and experience in the relevant areas, anyone who tries to enter the same space would have a hard time catching up if they’re not familiar with weight loss, psychedelics, or wearables. If they don’t share your passion, they’d also be more likely to give up when the going gets tough, as it inevitably will.

You’ll have less competition as you document your journey. Your video “Why You Need This Weight Loss App for Obesity” will get more attention from your avatar than a video on “Why You Need This Fitness App”.

“Become top 25 percent at three things and combine them to become top 1 percent.”—Naval Ravikant

Note that you can niche in multiple areas. If you can easily tweak your app to deliver psychedelic anxiety treatments through wearables, you can sell almost the same product to two different people with unique problems. You’ll expand your audience without losing the specificity that convinces people you’re their best solution.

4. Stay Alert for Opportunities to Supercharge Your Growth

It’s getting easier to start a business. You can take advantage of powerful cloud platforms, open source software, and low-code tools to build a product fast. However, that also means others can copy your product fast.

To harness the power of first-mover advantage, once you’ve identified your niche, scan the horizon for ways to speed up business growth.

Everyone pays attention to what’s easily noticeable: what they can read in the news, watch on TV, and observe as they go about their day. What most people don’t pay attention to is the hints of potentially disruptive emerging technologies.

You’ll find these hints in bits of news, sometimes separated by months or years. You might notice them in sparsely distributed passing mentions in podcasts, videos, and conferences. At first glance, they suggest nothing noteworthy, but when you collect these bits of data and try to put them together into narratives, you might notice a trend towards an advancement in capabilities you can parlay into your business.

For example, how can you build your product to operate seamlessly on the new interfaces of spatial computing, to aid network effects? If your app looks good on one device but not another, you limit your audience.

“Race to where the puck is going to be and then figure out how to skate.”—Jay Samit, Future Proofing You

Tips to Build a Mastermind of Software Entrepreneurs

A software mastermind is a group that understands how to run a software company. They meet regularly so members can give each other advice and support, share knowledge, and network. They also help maintain sanity when the going gets tough.

They help each other reach success faster by learning from the combined efforts of members who are struggling with—or have recently struggled with—similar problems.

In each meeting, one person is in the “hot seat” and describes their current biggest challenge, then asks for the group’s help. The hot seat is a different person each time, rotating through the group.

5. Seek those who are at a similar stage in their business’ growth as you are.

Providing good advice requires a thorough understanding of a person’s situation. If participants have wildly differing backgrounds and objectives, there’s a low chance they’ll have experienced similar problems and, therefore, have useful solutions.

I recently joined a mastermind where we all had our own businesses, but they were in different industries and used different business models. Some were real estate agents looking to become location independent, one was making a video game, and some were selling hard products online. We all had different marketing channels; some were using social, others print ads, and one was mailing physical postcards.

Every time someone brought up a problem they were having, the rest of the group could only give general high-level advice because we weren’t familiar with how their industry worked. Meetings ended up focusing on non-business topics like diet and exercise, things everyone was already working on.

A mastermind of software founders might have members who can share their experiences with putting together a no-code solution, for example, to help the “hot seat” decide whether their product is a good candidate. They’d offer specific tool suggestions, books about no-code, and examples of successful implementations.

6. Replace less productive uses of social attention with the mastermind.

Instead of getting into Reddit flame wars or browsing random Twitter threads to fill lulls in your day, engage your mastermind in Discord discussions. You’ll get the same dopamine hit from the “likes” on your Instagram post of your vacation as you would from “likes” by members of your mastermind on your post about the new features you just implemented.

The Turing Test didn’t turn out to be a good metric for artificial general intelligence, but it did foster a sense of competition towards the goal of fooling humans. It gave AI researchers a common, measurable goal.

Similarly, a mastermind whose members have a similar goal can establish criteria for success that they all share and work towards. If you were already writing code, trying to grow a social media following, and doing market research before joining the mastermind, then entering a contest that requires everyone to do the same thing to win could boost motivation.

You benefit from the feeling of competition even if everyone doesn’t have the same goals. Consider the addictive qualities of video games. You might have an entire realm of wizards, knights, orcs, elves, and dwarfs, each with varying amounts of gold, armor, spells, and potions. Everyone could do their own quest.

But if there’s one metric, like Character Level, that determines who wins in an encounter, that would be enough to impel everyone to grind. “This guy’s Level 95! I gotta level up so I can also have powerful spells and better armor, and beat him if we get in a fight!”

Some possible metrics for a software business mastermind:

  • Revenue
  • Lines of code written
  • Bugs fixed
  • Features implemented
  • Users signed up
  • Users talked to
  • Social media followers earned

Members who reach a certain amount would “level up” and get a badge. To make it more compelling, turn awards into a scarce resource. For example, only one person can be the “Bug Crusher”.

How to Improve Productivity as a Software Entrepreneur

Building faster is as much about subtraction as it is about increasing your execution speed. Throughout the book, there is a recurring theme of concentrating your forces, focusing them to a point so you don’t dissipate your energy across less impactful tasks [3].

7. Concentrate Your Forces by Reducing Your Commitments

Pick one business idea and hit it hard. If you work on 5 business ideas, it will take a long time for any of them to produce noticeable results, which dampens your motivation and gives competitors time to catch up and surpass you.

Another way to reduce your commitments is to focus on one platform for your content when you’re just starting out. You’ll more quickly gain proficiency in creating content for that platform, which extends the time you spend in flow, which increases your motivation, which drives you to publish more frequently, which speeds up audience growth, which gives you a strong source of feedback so you can tell what your avatar cares about, which improves your proficiency because you learn what works and what doesn’t and can whittle down your SOPs to just the 20% of steps that produce 80% of the results… a virtuous cycle!

I fell into the multi-platform trap with my first SaaS attempt, an app that teaches C#. After three weeks of blogging about it, I heard a podcast about how video is more engaging. Besides, it’s so easy to repurpose a blog post to video! Why not? So I started making video versions of my blog posts. Oh wait… this shiny new app lets me slice up the video and post snippets to 5 social media platforms! So I did that too.

My once-a-week blog posts turned into once-a-month blog posts, social media posts, and videos. Traffic growth to my site slowed down. I lost momentum, got distracted, and my app never saw the light of day.

If I could do it again, I’d stick to just blogging until I was making enough money from app sales to hire someone to help me with video editing, thumbnail and title crafting, social media posting, etc.

8. Preserve Energy with Motivation-Boosting Tactics

Tactics that maintain or elevate motivation can help you avoid tasks that dissipate your energy.

For example, regularly visualizing your goals not only keeps the rewards visible, which motivates you, but it also helps you gauge whether a particular task you just performed moved you closer to your goals, or whether some other task might have been a higher priority.

Unless you’re alert, your instant gratification monkey will convince you to pursue the easiest or most pleasurable lower-priority task on your list. Having a vision of the result and the subgoals that trace to that result will help you detect derailment.

Another way to use motivation is what JLD calls “batching like a baller”, where you dedicate specific days of the week to a single task. Instead of creating a social media post every day, take one day to create a week’s worth of social media posts and schedule them to be published automatically throughout the week.

Besides concentrating your forces, batching boosts motivation because small chunks of progress don’t get you as fired up as large chunks. If you have to code 200 features to finish your prototype, and you can only finish one per day because you only have a couple hours each day, you’ll notice how slowly you’re progressing and possibly get discouraged. But if you put aside two days a week only for coding, you might complete 5 features on each of those days, which gives you the feeling that you’re making more progress.

“The time quantum for hacking is very long: it might take an hour just to load a problem into your head.”—Paul Graham

Batching saves time and energy because you don’t have to “boot up your brain” multiple times daily. By staying in the same context throughout the day, you keep the same concepts in short-term memory where they’re easily accessible.

Conclusion

My biggest takeaway from The Common Path to Uncommon Success is the importance of focus. For early stage software companies, this means working only on features that increase the value of your product relative to others in the market. These features should solve your avatar’s problems so effectively that they’ll ignore any shortcomings your product has.

Let your competitors spend their resources on the bells and whistles customers care less about. By delivering a product that solves a burning problem better than anyone in your already sparse or unoccupied corner of the market—good thing you niched down—you’ll grow a large, faithful user base that provides the revenue to slowly, steadily expand.

The Common Path to Uncommon Success contains fundamental information on how to start and grow your business and succeed in the business world. Unlike some business books that are just a collection of tips and tactics, it is a step-by-step guide that will lead you from the starting point to the finish line. JLD’s enthusiasm shines through on every page, so it’s inspiring to read, and you won’t want to miss the “Well of Knowledge” at the end!


[1] Cialdini, Robert B. Influence, New and Expanded. Chapter 2.

[2] Bexson Biomedical is actually working on this: https://www.vice.com/en/article/xgxkpn/wearable-psychedelic-drugs-maximum-control-trip

[3] In The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene offers the chapter “Law 23 - Concentrate Your Forces”, where he describes how historical figures applied—and failed to apply—the concept, and illustrates its relevance for today.

Chris Del Campo
Wizard of Light Bulb Moments

Practiced in the art of playing video games while writing long essays. Subtly charming social mediaholic. Wannabe pianist. I like long, romantic walks down every aisle of Target.