I have now run IdeaMensch for the past decade. There have been some incredibly rewarding aspects to it and equally as many stupendously challenging parts. I have learned countless lessons and have met thousands of people. Or maybe countless people and thousands of lessons. There were moments when I felt like a brilliant entrepreneur. There were just as many moments when it felt like I just signed up to get continuously kicked in the family jewels by an oversized man with steel caps in his shoes.
It hasn’t been all fun, and it hasn’t been all terrible. I’d say 51% fun and 49% terrible. Yet, somehow IdeaMensch has endured, and I am still at the wheel.
Given that I probably have invested thousands of (mostly unpaid) hours into this endeavor, the question is why?
Isn’t IdeaMensch supposed to be a fun, rewarding side project? Why put up with the pain?
That is a fair question.
Actually, my writing partner, Chris, asked a very related question in our monthly Western Writers League workshop.
How do you stoke the fire when things start to feel mundane? Or how do you keep going when everything gets really hard, and you feel stuck?
I’ll try to answer that question, to the best of my abilities.
1. Bring others into your idea
From the earliest days, I have always had other people who were excited about IdeaMensch helping me. Actually, for most of IdeaMensch’s existence, I have used just about all of our revenues to pay those people. This has allowed me to step away a bit from time to time and not totally burn out. That time away from IdeaMensch has often given me the necessary perspective to come back into it feeling refreshed and inspired. Given that IdeaMensch has published every weekday for years now, this has been a powerful contributing factor in its longevity.
2. Continuously find ways to gain traction
Momentum is a powerful motivator. When you got the wind in your sails, everything seems just a bit more complicated. Especially when you compare it to having the wind in your face, which is pretty much a constant condition when trying to build anything. The longer you make something, the more technical and operational debt you ultimately acquire. That means you end up spending the right amount of your time just fixing little things that are broken. That can be disheartening.
Over time, friction comes naturally.
Traction you need to consciously build.
At least once or twice per month, I look for opportunities to create mini-projects/improvements that help me gain some sense or level of traction within IdeaMensch. Seeing friction develop gets me excited, ensures I stay engaged, and frequently builds momentum that can sustain me in the future. These kinds of traction pushes are the equivalent of date nights in long-term relationships.
3. Build something that helps others
I can get sick of working on IdeaMensch. No doubt. Sometimes when I spend whatever free time I have in my life fixing some major technical bug I have no business trying to fix, I ask myself why I do this upon myself. The most common answer to that question is actually the impact IdeaMensch has on others, more so than on myself.
I head on social media and read some posts by people excited to share their interviews. I have a folder of super nice emails people have written to me over the years. I look at pictures of the cats whose adoption fee we pay.
When the going gets tough, seeing what impact we have had on others is the single biggest motivation there is for me. Whatever you decide to build, make sure it benefits others. If it just helps you, money might be your key motivator. Once your basic financial needs are met, that motivation will become non-factor.
Build something that helps others. And when the going gets tough, lean on that impact to be reminded why you build it in the first place.
4. Don’t let your good habits slide
Most of side projects, while meaningful, probably aren’t determining whether people live or die. Don’t allow your good habits to slide in the name of moving forward your side project. The occasional late night is ok, but you need to make sure that you a) get enough sleep, b) eat healthy, c) move plenty, and d) spend time with people who’re important to you. If you don’t do those things, your flame will eventually diminish, and then your side project is bound to stop. So no matter what, make sure you take care of yourself.
And one last thing. Side projects are like hot peppers. They need time to grow. The longer you hold on and let the sunshine on your peppers/project, the hotter and better things get. That endurance and compounding are crucial, as you are likely not coming to bat with a suitcase filled with money.
You need time. You need staying power. You need to keep going when things get hard.
Giving up is easy.
Don’t give up.
It will never be easy, but usually worth it. At least 51% of the time.