23 January 2024

Bernard devlog #3: Pre-launch reflections

This is a series recording my experience working on Bernard, an automated service that monitors your website for broken links and other issues.

It's been 14 months since I started working on Bernard, and finally, I am ready to launch it properly. Today.

But before doing so, I figured I'd sit down and write some thoughts on the long and exhausting journey that led me here.

Why am I working on this problem

Bernard was born to scratch my own itch: I wanted to put some effort into writing some thoughts into this very website, and I hated the fact that link rot and 404 pages are just the natural manifestation of entropy on the Internet; blogs not even a decade old are like visiting a ghost town, and even paper left in the sun lasts more than virtual text. I write not for a particular audience, but to augment my terrible memory. I do not want my virtual thoughts to go stale when I need them the most.

In fact, this is a problem I've experienced previously in my career as a consultant, and to which I have never found a satisfactory solution that scales from the static website to the large multi-user CMS. A simple service that checks my website and tells me if I accidentally deleted an image, or forgot to set up a redirect after I moved some pages around.

This is the elevator pitch, now let me give the personal angle on why I decided to start a solo bootstrapped business: after a massive, life-changing burnout in 2020 (I will write about it), after a lot of introspection and staring out the window, I decided I needed to build something with my own hands. I've been a software engineer for 17 years, giving away my time working on someone else's dream for money, and while it kept a comfortable roof over my head, it simply didn't nourish. There are a lot of things I want to research, to learn about me through my work that I need all the time, energy and flexibility that a regular job would just chew through, leaving none for me. At this point in my life, my creativity is what I want to focus on.

It's quite corny, really: I want to become the digital equivalent of the stereotypical small, premium quality Italian artisan (think a shoemaker), through which craft they are able to express their vision and direction, unimpeded. No real goal of making billions and moving to Dubai. I just want to do things my way, now. I have a couple of viable business ideas I might dedicate myself to in the next decade, and Bernard is the first one of such.

It is harder than it looks

Everybody knows launching a business is hard. Doing it solo is even harder. Doing it on your ever shrinking savings and no plan B is borderline reckless. But what everybody is talking about is effort, and effort is easy. The effort of going to a cushy desk job or climbing Everest is the same: one step after the other. Effort takes a long time, but it just needs good routine and good coffee.

The challenge is not the sheer amount of work to be done, code to be written, sales techniques to learn, people to pitch to. The challenge is seeing what you thought was a brilliant idea on day 1 lose its charm day after day. It is the ever-growing self-doubt you are wasting your time on something that ultimately no one cares about. It's the Siren of common sense telling you that you should probably find yourself a job because you have 30 days of runway. I have wasted countless weeks in the throes of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

After 14 months, that fear keeps me awake at night. It is one of the reasons it is suggested to ship ASAP, but this is my first attempt, so of course it's taken far too long to get an MVP out of the door, paralised by anxiety and perfectionism. Lesson learned, and this is why literally last week I gave myself a very strict deadline to launch, get feedback, or more likely, get tumbleweeds and silence.

And today is the day.

Lessons learned

My next 14 months

What I'm releasing today is a free beta, and currently, it's generating a monthly revenue of -£50. The last time I checked my bank account, it was crying.

I do not expect any overnight success of any measure, it's going to be very slow growth, learning a lot of things I'm not comfortable with—SEO, marketing, sales—and just keeping at it day in day out. I have very modest dreams for these next 14 months: create something people like enough to pay for, and reaching £2,000/mo in net revenue, so I can make rent. Doing consulting on the side would be fine if it didn't mean wasting weeks at a time sending CVs and replying to ads to get no response whatsoever, as it has been for the past year. If I have to shout in the void, I might as well do it to promote something of my own that I am proud of.

In more concrete terms, I want to write a post on the details of the Bernard crawler, (watch out for a "writing a web crawler in Elixir" post), iron out the pricing system to finally launch paid plans next month, improve the reporting UI, and honestly, get some real world feedback and act upon it first and foremost.

A toast to the potential solo entrepreneurs with a crazy dream out there. This one's for you.

Feel free to contact me for comments, questions, or just to say hello, at soft.boat7651@fastmail.com . I'd love to hear from you.

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