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How I stopped procrastinating, learned to code, and launched my first product

lynnetye profile image Lynne Tye Updated on ・13 min read

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I've been reading about inspiring founder stories for years, wondering how people did it. I'd read posts on Hacker News, Indie Hackers, and other forums like DEV without ever sharing or posting myself. In fact, I wouldn't even leave comments. I was what I'm guessing many of you are: a lurker.

But a couple of weeks ago that changed. I launched my product Key Values, something I built all on my own, and got it to the top of Hacker News and Product Hunt, netting almost 30,000 pageviews in a few days.

14 days post-launch

There is a lot to say about what comes after that initial traffic spike (the post-launch trough of sorrow as they call it), but today I'll talk about what came before it.

Below, I discuss the six major barriers that I had to break through in order to go from lurking to launching.

Trust that slow progress is better than no progress.

I moved to San Francisco to go to grad school at UCSF and I didn't even know what a startup was until after I dropped out two years later. I was amazed by how people casually started companies, raised money, pivoted, folded, and then started new companies. It seemed like entrepreneurship was in everyone's DNA but mine.

Even after working at my first tech startup, I still couldn't see founder potential in myself. I wondered what I could have been had I been born into a family of business owners instead of a family of academics. I was 26 years old and had worked hard my whole life to pursue a career I no longer had interest in. It was a pity party mixed with mania, and I felt so behind compared to everyone else, I thought I'd never catch up.

Then I decided to embrace that.

I would trust that slow progress is better than no progress.

I decided I should learn to code. I mentally prepared for months of confusion and Lean Cuisines, signed up for a coding bootcamp (which I didn't actually finish), and started learning how to make something out of nothing. It was hard and I might have cried several times, but I knew this is what it'd take to catch up.

Lean Cuisines

I don't even want to know how many Lean Cuisines I ate in 2015...😳

Even after I was able to get contract work, I still didn't have the confidence to start a business of my own. I didn't know when I'd feel ready or what kind of business I'd start, but I did know that whatever it was, I would need a marketing website.

I set out to find clients who needed a web developer to build a new website from scratch, but already had designers and a marketing team for me to learn from. I was looking for opportunities to get more exposure and breadth, and essentially bootstrap my education on how to become a founder.

Ironically, I needed Key Values to help me find jobs that aligned with my personal goals and values, but it didn't exist yet.

It took longer using the old-school method of waiting and hoping for the right opportunity to come my way, but I did eventually find work that paid me to round out my skill set and gain more confidence.

We all want to start at the finish line, but we can't. So start at the starting line and just focus on moving in the right direction. It doesn't matter how long it takes you.

Make sacrifices now to be a founder in the future.

I needed more than just confidence to try and start a business. I needed money. I needed time. There are tons of people who can work on passion projects after work or on the weekends, but I am not one of them. I've never been able to split my attention and focus on doing many things at once.

As a freelancer, I knew that I could start and stop at any time, but I needed enough of a cushion to work with focus, uninterrupted. People suggested I find an angel investor or raise capital, but... I didn't even have an idea yet. I needed a financial situation that would give me time to make mistakes and learn things slowly.

So I decided to hustle hard, double up on client work, and save money myself.

I worked over the holidays and on weekends, and went back to poor grad student living (I remembered how to live off of $32k/year in San Francisco). I stopped eating out, stopped drinking, and stopped buying things I didn't absolutely need. I even stopped taking Ubers and Lyfts and started biking everywhere.

I made sacrifices early so that I could later give starting a business my best shot. It took me more than 18 months, but eventually I saved up enough money to give me about 12 months of runway.

Everyone has a number of tolls to pay in order to get to where they're trying to go. It helped me to just focus on paying each of them, one at a time.

Stop trying to come up with a genius idea.

I was pumped to start my journey as a first-time founder. I knew how to code, I had money saved up, and felt confident that I'd be able to persevere through tough times. However, I was missing something pretty important.

I didn't have an idea!

Even as a web developer, I didn't see the world as a sea of problems that could be solved with technology. I'd often complain about things (why is it so hard to share bookmarks, I wish Spotify let me cut songs together in a playlist, it's so annoying when I forget my passwords!), but never thought if I could engineer solutions myself. Idea generation was a muscle I'd never worked out before.

So I gave myself homework to write down ideas every day, no matter how bad they were. In addition to writing down ideas, I also got in the habit of validating ideas to see if they were any good. Unfortunately, I ruled out each of them because I'd find out that someone else had already thought it before.

Then I had an incredibly important eureka moment.

Do not rule out ideas that there are already solutions for. I was driving, listening to a podcast of Laura Roeder talk about this and I almost had to pull over, it was such an a-ha moment for me.

Laura Roeder advice

It is one of the most recurring lessons on Indie Hackers, but it still took me a long time to understand it. If you look through each podcast episode and search for "competit" (for competitor, competition, competitive), you'll hear Wes Bos, Nathan Barry, Todd Garland, and others talk about the advantages of tackling a problem that already has solutions.

I didn't need a genius, never-before-done idea. In fact, I didn't even want one.

When I told people about Key Values, a product that helps engineers find jobs, everyone would name competitors. There are behemoths like Monster.com, LinkedIn, and Indeed, and at least a hundred more in this space. Previously, I would've given up on the idea immediately, but this time I didn't rule it out. Even in a crowded market, I still couldn't find an engineering team that shared my values.

I went further in validating my idea, making sure it was something I really wanted to work on.

Am I personally familiar with the problem I'm solving? Very. I literally spent the last couple of years working as an engineer, experiencing the pains of finding jobs myself.

Do I know if customers will pay? Yes! And this is part of the brilliance of not ruling out ideas that there are already solutions for. There are many competitors already making money from companies wanting to recruit, hire, and retain engineers.

Do I know of any effective channels to reach my target audience? Tons. As an engineer myself, I know that engineers hang out on Twitter, bootcamp alum mailing lists, Hacker News, and DEV.

Will I enjoy working on this every day for the next 2 years? I love meeting new people, talking about company culture, helping people find happiness and fulfillment, and learning about organizational psychology. I get to call this work?!

Is this a winner-take-all market? No way, Jose. It's a big pie and I only need a little slice. Nobody else has to lose in order for me to win.

If things go well, can I easily scale? Yes, I can automate the process of onboarding teams to my website by having them write their own profiles. It shouldn't require much, if any, extra money or manpower on my part.

Can I still walk away with a win even if my idea fails? Absolutely. I will learn so much talking to different engineering teams and building a product from scratch. More importantly, I can build an audience through Key Values and can take that with me even if the idea itself flops. Worst case scenario, I'm already researching which teams I'll apply to if this doesn't work out.

For anyone that isn't an idea person (🙋) coming up with an idea is a massive barrier. I admittedly still suck at it. But you'll immediately be better at it once you stop ruling out your non-genius ideas.

Take pride in showing people the ugly behind-the-scenes.

Before I started building anything for Key Values, I spent weeks interviewing engineers, meeting with engineering managers, getting coffees with technical recruiters, and researching personality tests, dating sites, and match-making algorithms. Meanwhile, I was keeping up my indie lurker status.

I'd see other people ask for feedback about their products on Indie Hackers, and I'd think, "Wow. I'd be so embarrassed to show anyone that!" I was certain that my early versions would be prettier, better put together, and more thought out.

I promised myself to ask for feedback at the end of each week, and every week, I'd make an excuse and push it back. I kept delaying.

I spent almost 3 months working in a vacuum, obsessing over things like cool hover effects without having shown my website to anyone. I didn't even know if anyone wanted what I was making! I worked alone for so long that I went a little crazy. Don't do what I did.

Isolation

Don't isolate yourself like this guy.

After months of lurking, I finally got the courage to make my first post in the Indie Hackers forum. I had 15 replies (okay, 6 were mine), but the feedback was so helpful and it sucked me out of the dark and lonely hole I had been working in.

I wish I had asked for feedback sooner. I wasted time and energy building out features that no one even wanted and spent many weeks feeling lost, spinning my wheels.

So what if your design sucks? Ask for design help! Not sure what your business model will be? Then ask for feedback about different pricing models! Don't be afraid to put yourself out there.

If you're doing it alone, you're doing it wrong.

If you're stuck, show people the ugly behind-the-scenes and tell them what specifically you need help with. Fellow makers and founders can help you get unstuck. You might not feel ready to put yourself out there, but I promise you that your product will never be good without your doing it.

Don't rely on one big launch.

I had never launched a product before and was incredibly worried that I'd mess it up. It was stressful thinking about when I'd launch, what I needed to get done before I launched, and how I'd recover if everyone who saw my product ended up hating it.

To get over my own anxiety, I decided to do a series of mini-launches first.
My first post in the Indie Hackers forum? I absolutely count that as a mini-launch. I incorporated everyone's feedback, graduated my key-values.herokuapp.com domain to keyvalues.io, and a month later, I mini-launched again with my second forum post in the IH forum..

The next week, I posted in a Facebook group for Dev Bootcamp alums and then the week after that, in a stealth-mode all-women's forum.

Launch, get feedback, improve your product, and repeat.

Truth is, you don't want to go from zero traffic to 10k pageviews overnight. Thinking this way will give you unnecessary stress wrinkles, and it also makes it hard to prepare for.

By removing the intimidating, anxiogenic, self-imposed deadline to launch Key Values, I let myself reap the benefits of the Always Be Launching lifestyle. Each mini-launch let me practice answering tough questions, fix bugs that people reported, and make improvements to the design, UX, and marketing of my website.

You don't have to start with one big launch, so free yourself from thinking this way.

Prepare for your first big launch.

I heard tons of horrors stories about failed launches: misconfigured websites, servers crashing, only getting negative feedback, and of course the worst one, having a product launch be a total dud. As a first-timer, I was sure there were other things I didn't even know to worry about!

It's hard to defend against the unknown, so I decided to focus on what I did know.
I set up Google Analytics and Amplitude to make sure I was tracking basic user behavior. I didn't want to drive a lot of traffic to my site and miss the opportunity to understand how people were interacting with it.

I also read Pieter Levels' launch advice and took it to heart. Key Values is a static website hosted on Heroku, and I set up server-side caching using Amazon CloudFront to make sure my server wouldn't crash. I had identified Hacker News as being a good channel months earlier (during my validation phase), and I decided to post in "Show HN" where I thought I'd have a better chance of getting traction.

I jumped right into the comments. I introduced myself and provided some context based on the questions I had been getting from my previous mini-launches.

HN first comment

I ended up getting Key Values on the front page of HN where it reached #3 and stayed on the front page for about 14 hours!

HN #3

Another thing I did to prepare for my HN launch was rewrite my About page. I knew this would be a good idea but vastly underestimated just how important it'd turn out to be.

I did some research on what makes a good About page and made sure to hit the major marks. Open with the single sentence you want everyone to read. Include a photo of yourself. Make it personal. Provide a call to action to get in contact, subscribe, or both.

My About page ended up being the 2nd most visited page on Key Values.

About page traffic

There are plenty of things to worry about when doing your first big launch. My advice? Identify, analyze, and prepare as best you can. You won't be able to prepare for everything and that's okay.

Two things happened that I didn't prepare for at all.

First, someone posted Key Values to Product Hunt on my behalf and I wasn't sure what to do (I wasn't familiar with its community or what rules there were). While it ended up on the front page all day, I wished I could have coordinated my own Product Hunt launch. (You'll see that I didn't reply to anyone because I didn't even have access to comment on my own product. 😂)

Second, I hadn't prepared how I'd present Key Values to the press because it hadn't even crossed my mind. Matthew Hughes, a tech journalist, reached out to me over Twitter and since I didn't have a plan, I ended up forgetting some important things I wanted to communicate. It ended up alright though and he published an article about Key Values in The Next Web!

I prepared for my launch to the best of my ability, and looking back, can think of a few things I'd do differently if I had the chance. The takeaway though is that launches are a combination of preparation and luck. Focus on the things you can control and cross your fingers for everything you can't.

Final thoughts about launching my first product.

I did it! I launched Key Values. I built something I love and put it out there for other people to see and use. It feels like a rite of passage that I wasn't sure I'd ever go through, and I couldn't be more proud or happy.

When people ask me how I started Key Values, I tell them it was a side project that quickly turned into my full-time passion some time back in May. While this isn't untrue, it also makes it sound like something that happened overnight. Trust me, it didn't.

In some ways, Key Values started in 2012 when I left academic research to find a more fast-paced and risky profession.

It started at Homejoy (my first job at a startup) where I realized that a single line of code can be as impactful as having hundreds of 1-on-1 meetings.

It started when I made yet another career change to become a web developer, because I wanted to be able to start and finish projects without relying on others.

It started when I got inspired to create and innovate something of my own after months of lurking on the Internet.

It started when I learned how to adapt to the different working styles, goals, and values of my various clients.

It started when I became comfortable asking for feedback and engaging with my new community of founders, entrepreneurs, and indie hackers.

No one starts right at the finish line.

A lot of people are now asking me about what I'm going to do next. I've entered the post-launch trough of sorrow and the truth is that I'm still figuring out my next steps. I'm experimenting with different marketing strategies and exploring ways to turn Key Values into a revenue-generating business (I haven't started charging for my service). While I don't have all the answers right now, I'm optimistic and trust that slow progress is better than no progress.

I'll let you know how it goes. 😉

If you want to get in touch, you can email me (lynne@keyvalues.com), find me on Twitter (@lynnetye, @keyvaluesio), or better yet, comment below!

Posted on by:

lynnetye profile

Lynne Tye

@lynnetye

Lynne is the creator of Key Values, a website that helps engineers find teams that share their values. She lives in San Francisco, is an Iron(wo)man, and loves meeting new peeps!

Discussion

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This is such a motivating story, Lynne. I definitely see a lot of familiarity in my journey of starting dev.to. Key Values is a great approach to the issue, and it's an amazing name, btw.

 

Thanks Ben! I'm catching up on all of the great content you've put out there and am excited to learn more about your story as well. I'm glad that I discovered DEV and look forward to being a part of this community as it grows :)

 

Awesome. I'll probably reach out tomorrow with some more questions about k/v, hope you don't mind. 😁

I definitely don't mind, especially because I miiiiight have already beaten you to it 😂

Ah great, I'll get back to you tomorrow.

 

One of the best stories I've read today! Way to go Lynne :)

 

Thanks Humza! Even if you only read two, I'll take it! haha ;)

 

Thanks for sharing your experiences! As I can totally relate to being bad at idea generation, this post is really inspiring to start writing down ideas regularly.

I think the strategy of doing multiple mini launches is great, especially because it would freak me out if the same happened to me like it happened to Pieter Levels with hoodmaps :D

I wish you all the best with Key Values and hope you keep us posted!

 

Andreas, thank you so much. Re: idea generation, I'm not sure why I'm so bad at it! Some of my friends happen to be "idea people" and spit out ideas constantly. While they're not always engineering related, it's helpful to surround yourself with people who are strong in the areas you are weak. Write all of them down and feel free to share and discuss them with the community!

They're almost certainly not going to be genius, never-before-done ideas so it really only helps to dissect them out in the open :)

Thanks for your support and kind words! Fingers crossed I'll have more to share in the coming weeks/months 😂😂

 

It's just great to see that there are more people that can't come up with new ideas instantly 😀 - we are not alone! 🙃

Yeah I guess the ideas will be quite bad, but that doesn't matter, I think by just getting the habit of coming up with at least something, we could get more open and mindful for things that may be right before our noses. It's the same with the phrase "scratch your own itch" - yeah I would like to, but apparently there is no itch - not complaining though, I started to write to get a better view on things, which helped a bit.

I hope we will read more of you, have a nice day/evening!

 

"I didn't even know if anyone wanted what I was making!" Pretty brave! Sometimes you just have to do something in order to prove that you can. To me, that was the valuable lesson here.

 

Absolutely. While I do consider myself to be a great student and am very coachable, there are a lot of things I have to do and learn for myself. There are mistakes I almost want to make myself, too. Really though, it's me just proving to myself that I can do it. It's great when you have people who believe in you, but it's more important that you believe in yourself. Wow, that sounds incredibly cheesy and kind of stupid, but I really mean it hahaha

 

Regarding the comment about not knowing if there was a need for what you were creating...to me was irrelevant (for you). To me, what you learned in this process was a hedge against this very issue because you now possess the skills to develop a future minimum viable product for any idea you would like to turn into a reality. MVPs are a great way to test the murky waters of acceptance while (possibly) gaining the traction necessary to attract investors. Now, you can quickly build, test, and (if necessary) discard ideas before you invest time and money into a project that may not have legs. I personally have applied this same principle to writing and designing table-top games. I prototype quickly (with extremely low fidelity). I get people to test/read my ideas and where I go from there depends on the reaction I get. This allows me a chance to pull the plug on my "darlings" or shelf them until I can work out the kinks.

 

Thanks for sharing your experience and having so many awesome references! The idea of being an entrepreneur has been in the back of my mind for a while and this story has inspired me a bit to look even more into it.

Hope Key Values grows and I'm looking forward to reading more posts from you.

 

It's a little seed that you planted back there a long time ago, right? Me too. Took me a while to grow it up, but I'm glad I did. Hope you do too :)

Thanks for reading and am glad the references are useful!!!

 

Any tips on how to get some big sites to feature your stuff?

 

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by that?

For example, I wrote this article (my first about Key Values!) and then submitted here in dev.to. I woke up this morning to a text my friend sent me saying that it was on the front page of Hacker News!

Or did you mean something else?

 

okay, I thought you maybe spoke personally with some Journalist or something

I did. He reached out to me over Twitter after seeing Key Values on Hacker News.

Ah okay. HN is always a bit like playing the lottery he he.

I'd say it's like Settlers of Catan. There's both luck and strategy! haha

This article had some luck for sure. I actually posted it on HN yesterday, but it died quickly. But today, for whatever reason, it got traction and did really well!

In terms of strategy, I'm currently thinking of topics and articles that would appeal to the HN community. I'm tailoring pieces for that audience. Topics like "company culture" or "how people find jobs" will almost certainly be torn apart (or invisible) on HN.

However, a discussion on the metrics I've collect (what values do HN readers select on Key Values the most, are there trends based on the user's city and country?) might do better.

If you know your audience, you should tailor your content/marketing to them rather than the other way around. It's not a guarantee, but it will certainly increase your chances of doing well.

This makes me want to write a bit on this subject, @kayis , though I need to gather my thoughts. I will say that Settlers of Catan is much more strategy than luck though!

Settlers and Catan and Hacker News are both more strategy than luck if you ask me!

That's what I always want to believe.

But most startup things feel like pure luck to me.

I want to do my own but it feels like a black box and I fear it.

I need to write a post on this subject. I don't think typical advice on this subject speaks practically to developers. 😋

This would be pretty awesome!

 

I still get scared putting myself out there, but I've somehow gotten over that fear in a big way over the last few weeks. Just looking back, it seems like anything I've ever been proud of doing was really scary in the process. I'm pretty comfortable being vulnerable w/ my friends and families, I'm getting in the habit of expanding that "circle" to the include everyone on the internet?!! 😂 Anyway, thank you for your support! Support from those few strangers is 99% of the reason why I'm becoming less afraid.

 

Hi Lynne, great to read your story. I checked out KeyValues couple of days back on producthunt, was impressed with the way you have focused on one thing and have done it really well.

 

Thanks Pradeep! How did you find it on Product Hunt exactly? I'm admittedly still pretty unfamiliar with PH. I'd actually love a quick run down on how you personally use/browse products there. I was under the impression that most people just scan the front page.

 

I don't exactly remember but I keep looking for products that help developers find the right job. I work in similar domain for remotework. Would love to collaborate with you.

 

This post is so inspiring, Lynne! Thanks for sharing your awesome experience with so much humor, humility, and courage!

 

Thanks Adam!!! You're the only person to comment on my humor which means you get me 😊 I'm laughing mid-chew right now because so I'm actually eating a Lean Cuisine right now. How embarrassing.

Ps. I see that you're a lawyer/developer?! What a rare combo –– kudos!

 

Haha, it's good to know you're keepin' it real after becoming a fancy founder. ☺️ Seriously, though, I really do appreciate that you can look at the whole process, hard as it was, with some levity. Also, I really identified with the line about a "pity party mixed with mania!"

It's true, I am a lawyer and developer. I'd like to find a way to leverage the combination, but haven't really figured it out yet.

What about coding Etherium Contracts or such? That seems to be where law and code are heavily overlapping...

 

Lynne this is a great read. You are inspirational, probably you can make every lurker(like myself) not be one ;). Good luck with all your projects.

 

Well, you've already commented on a post, which is more than I had ever done 1 year ago today! Lurker no more.

 

I totally get inspired with your spirit! Well done Lynne! That's very helpful for me to get back on track crafting a product. Hopefully one day I can launch my product just like yours. :D

 

You definitely can if that's what you want! I'm no expert, but if there's anything I can share from my experience to help you with your next launch, ask away!

 

Nice story. Wishing you luck on this adventure.

 

Thanks and thanks –– I'll need some luck for sure ;)

 
 

One of the top inspiring post I have read till now. Awesome and thank you.

 

Aww shucks! 😊 Thank you and good luck with whatever you're jumping into next!

 

Congratulations, Lynne! Your story is very inspiring and I hope it will serve as an example for many, many people! What worked the best for me as I started to realize that I have a problem with procrastination was a Kanban Board, precisely this one: kanbantool.com/. It made things relatively easy, because it allowed me to list and schedule my tasks and actually focus on fulfilling them. I still use it today and recommend to anyone that has the same problem as me.
Thank you again for your honesty, Lynne, and wish you all the best with your website!

 

So many people use Kanban boards! I haven't found one method that always works for me –– it really depends on the type of work I'm doing, how much there is, and how excited I am about doing it haha. Will definitely check out kanbantool.com though. Thanks :D

 

I'm so glad that this resonated w/ you! I think this was one of the biggest turning points for me.

Thanks for reading and commenting, Kyle!

 

I kind of think of the phrase "crowded market" as a bit of a myth. Maybe it's something to take into account, but a market full of undifferentiated competition hardly seems like a bad place to try and step into.

 

I love Key Values just as much as I love this article! Thanks for inspiring me to get back on the horse, Lynne :)

 

Giddy up!!!

(And thank you –– you have no idea how happy it makes me to hear that people love Key Values. I do too, but I'm a little biased 😉)

 

This is a really good story! And it turns out that Key Values is a really good site. It makes looking for a company exciting.

 

That's the best thing you could have told me!!! Looking for a new job/team is such a dreadful process when it should be something to look forward to. Key Values was worth building if it makes the job search more exciting for just one person. Thank you.

 

Awesome Story .. one of the best i read in weeks
Thank you for introducing me to Indie Hackers
wish you the best of luck

 

That's so kind of you to say! Thank you.

I look forward to seeing you around both here in DEV and on IH! 👋