In choosing to do our startup in the San Francisco Bay Area, near the heart of the Valley — the world center for technology and innovation — and joining an incubator run by Xooglers, we didn’t expect our company’s most powerful and transformative lesson over the past 4 months to be that in the realm of the visceral, intangible, and emotional. What we learned first and foremost was the importance of vision and its resonance as an organizing principle.
A company is a group of people making a series of decisions. But what continues to bind individuals together in a common enterprise? And how do individuals with wildly variant opinions and selves make shared decisions? The lesson we learned is that vision, not profit motive or friendship, provides the emotional glue to stick together and the axioms upon which concrete decisions — resolving data and feedback — are made.
iDoneThis started out as a side project done over a weekend by Rodrigo and me with one simple mechanic in mind — a daily prompt to record what you did that day. In years prior, Rodrigo had kept a calendar to track daily progress and we thought to make that process easy for everyone. People liked it.
But from the get-go we didn’t have a grander sense of what iDoneThis would become — and it showed. On day one of AngelPad, Thomas Korte and Gokul Rajaram harangued us for telling them the exact same story about the product that we had when we’d applied back in May. There wasn’t an evolution in the product’s story that’s inherent in growth and maturation.
The truth was that we were standing still at a fork in the road. Without vision, it’s impossible to resolve competing customer requests, measure data in relation to objectives, and apply best practices and learnings in context. Vision resolves customer issues at cause not symptom, contextualizes, and prioritizes. If the founders are aligned, vision invigorates — otherwise, decisionmaking as a process breeds dissent because vision is axiomatic.
That process of human gravitational attraction, decisionmaking, and retention is the lifecycle of enterprise organization and has vision at its core. For instance, attracting new talent means selling a vision because vision is the glue going forward and the emotional hook to joining in the first instance and it drives appraisal of profit potential secondarily. The rise of Google exemplifies that — organizing the world’s information is an epic idea worthy of the best of the best’s life work who took it as inspiration and as a challenge on a high-level and comprehended how it could make them very wealthy when the discrete product under consideration, search, wasn’t thought of as much of a monetization opportunity.
In the convergence toward a real emphasis on founder-market fit, passion, and domain expertise, we’re seeing how founders and investors understand the importance of vision contrariwise to the concept that the “idea” is worthless. Rather, delivering a vision means describing a world just outside the realm of possibility, but drawing a line connecting it back to the current state of the product in actionable and plausible steps, through history, ultimately ending back to the founder, who he/she is and the makeup of his/her prior experiences.
For us, at AngelPad, Thomas and Gokul admonished us to tell a compelling story on what iDoneThis could be and why it was the problem that kept us, the founders, up at night. It started out feeling like sophistry — post-hoc rationalization to please and persuade investors with a plausible argument — but ultimately, it’s simply an exercise in narrative which is by its nature retrospective and reductive.
Why did we build that thing we did, out of all the things we could have done, and how did our life bring us to that point? If it was exploitation of a market opportunity, you need to start over. A vision is about inspiration, not opportunity — and inspiration comes from self-reflection. Vision, then, is sight looking inward, a process of “connecting the dots” on your past experiences — giving them logic and trajectory, and solidifying that story into a belief in where that can take you.
This guest blog post comes from Bassam Tarazi, founder of Colipera. Colipera uses both individual goal setting and the social pressure that comes from being a part of a group endeavor to help you stay committed to your goals.
We find plenty of reasons to not start; plenty of made up, self-sympathizing reasons to never see a dream or a goal through to the finish. Truth of the matter is, we allow those reasons to seep in like water in a punctured hull because we haven’t committed to the task at hand. We’re not devoted to the all-hands-on-deck mentality that is needed to keep the dream afloat.
You see, commitment is the first and most important part of the journey. Commitment comes before the first action is even taken. That’s where the journey starts. To continue on the mode of transportation analogies, if you were committed to driving cross-country from New York to San Francisco, it doesn’t matter the exact route you take only that you were prepared for the long, sometimes ass-numbing, but wholeheartedly unique voyage ahead of you. While you are no doubt excited for all the new people, towns, experiences and wonders you’ll see, you have to be mentally ready for the hundreds of monotonous and forgotten stretches of road you’ll consume along the way.
Too many people in life get in the car, and figure out 3 miles in that they’re not sure where they’re sleeping that night, a bridge may be out in Utah, and San Francisco is still 2,900 miles away. So of course, quitting seems like a much better option.
The Journey Within the Journey
How do you manage the 3,000 mile journey mentally? Day by day. Exit by exit. Mile by mile. Inch by inch. Our brains don’t like being less than 50% done with something. We don’t want to only get excited for the inevitable downhill, no-turning-back psyche of passing Chicago. We need to have smaller, mini-goals because we take great joy in hitting milestones. “Hellllooooo Ohio!” and, “Nebraska, you’re big, but I will beat you yet!” We play the “How many miles can I drive today before I stop for gas/food/sleep?” game. Accomplishing goals, no matter how small, feels great.
This psychology works in fundraising, as well. Why do most charities only start broadcasting their current funding state to the public when they are near 50%? Well because it shows people that the cause is worth fighting for and that the goal is within reach. Fundraising also uses another tactic to help raise money at that point: peer pressure. If other people have helped it come this far, it must be a worthy trip. It’s part social proofing, and part the wisdom of crowds. If no one else has committed to this thing, why the hell should I? And conversely, if so many people have committed to this, I want to be a part of it too. I want to help get it over the edge. I want to be part of something.
Day by day. Inch by inch. Goal by goal.
It’s easy to get support for what you’re doing when you’ve shown some success; and to be successful, you first have to start, unceremoniously. In the beginning it’s mostly your commitment - your blood, sweat and passionate tears that gets you to some percentage of completion. Before you can hit the highway, the gas tank needs to be full, that long overdue oil change needs to be taken care of, those brakes need to be retooled, and snacks should be on board. That commitment needs to be made first.
In the beginning, it’s not fundraising, it’s friendraising. Breaking down your goal into manageable bites allows people to support you and gives you a chance to be part of someone else’s dream; to be part of something outside of yourself. Take the collective inspiration that groups provide and merge that with the personal accountability that each of us need to succeed at any task and you have a recipe for a journey worth traveling.
Bassam built Colipera as a system for collective inspiration and personal accountability. You can check it out at Colipera.com.
We have a broad-based, loosely constrained web application. Our users engage with the site in a variety of different ways for a number of reasons. That makes it difficult to take a bunch of usage information and turn it into actionable data about how to position our product.
In searching for data to form the basis for a concise statement on our site’s value proposition, we ended up in an unexpected place. We had built an invite system which was super simplistic. A user could type in an email address and include an optional message. We would email that person with an invitation to sign up to use iDoneThis (no special referral URL, just a link to http://iDoneThis.com).
It turns out that when a user invited her friend to use iDoneThis, she used the optional message, not merely to say hello, but as an opportunity to pitch her friend on using iDoneThis. Our invite system ended up containing concise statements of how users use iDoneThis, how it works for that use case, and the value they derive from it — and gives us the language to express all of that.
Turning those words into a word cloud gives macro-level view on the key concepts used by the crowd to pitch iDoneThis. Day, done, email, and track are the most commonly used words. After that, simple, send, see, work and every stand out. Finally, journal, calendar, sends, diary, and free have a good number of mentions.
- “Every” and “day” describe the temporal context of the “done” and the “email.”
- “Email” is the medium within which we work — everyone knows how to use it, so it’s “simple.” We “send” a daily email, which describes the difference between push versus pull.
- What got “done” is what’s being “track[ed]” — it’s the question for which we’re prompting a response.
- “Track[ing]” daily “done[s]” creates an object of value, a “journal”, “diary”, or “calendar” which could be used personally or for “work” that you can look back on and “see” your progress.
The prominence of words such as “really”, “like” and “love” to express the concepts above suggests that, whether for personal or professional use, iDoneThis is valuable because it’s a friendlier way to do status updates because a nagging boss isn’t involved.
Ultimately, the taglines to use are the ones that convert the best. Implementing a dead simple invite system is one of the easiest ways to seed that iterative process. Let your own customers pitch on your behalf, and see what they say.
The lean startup movement disdains the big press launch, and rightfully so. However, the polemical nature of the argument gives off the impression that press should never be sought. Quite the contrary, press should be sought ceaselessly. That being said, it’s important to understand the magnitude of traffic that you can expect from press and of what kind.
We’ve been fortunate to have received writeups from three of the biggest drivers of traffic for a young startup: Lifehacker, Netted, and Business Insider.
With the tiny investment of time that it took to draft two cold emails, we got a huge payoff in getting written up by Lifehacker. For most new startups, TechCrunch is a distant and unattainable goal, but Lifehacker will write about your weekend project if it’s got a compelling productivity hook. To boot, Lifehacker will drive traffic on the same order of magnitude as TechCrunch with users who may actually stick around.
Lifehacker visibility attracted productivity nuts like Ernesto Ramirez to our site, who brought a strong point of view to our broad-based product. As a Quantified Self guy, within the daily email-reminder scheme, Ernesto saw the opportunity to track “everything else” — the stuff that you can’t track with a device. He helped us understand how to build for QS folk and evangelized our product throughout the community.
The one-day high traffic spike from Lifehacker was just short of 4,000 visits, but over the course of a month, that same content was syndicated out to Lifehacker Japan, Lifehacker Australia, Lifehacker Canada, and Lifehacker UK. All told, we got over 11,000 visits and around 4,000 signups from investing one hour to draft two emails.
Getting written up by Netted was a pleasant surprise. We hadn’t pitched them — they had found us through Lifehacker, tried the site for one month, and liked it, so they wrote about us. Zach at Netted had kind words for us. He wrote, “Honestly, I spend my days looking at hundreds and hundreds of sites… yours is well made, simple, effective and generally awesome. Well done.”
Netted drove a one-day high just exceeding that of Lifehacker — a tad over 4,000 visits — but because Netted works as a daily email, it netted very little traffic in the days that followed (on the order of hundreds of visits).
Nevertheless, the Netted cohort is the strongest of the three in terms of those users who have stuck around and continued to use the product. It’s a testament to the Netted brand and the character of its user base that it drove thousands of signups to a “digital journal” product who didn’t just sign up to take a peek at the product. Netted referrals had close to the highest ratio of signups to first-time use, and those users continued to use the product week over week.
It’s useful to follow tech journalists because they’ll occasionally tweet asking for help with stories they’re writing. In late June, Alyson Shontell at Business Insider tweeted that she was “compiling a hot Silicon Valley startup list” and she sought “help finding hidden gems.” I found her email and composed her a note with a short blurb about iDoneThis as a hidden gem.
I heard nothing from her for a month, and then at the end of July, she wrote back saying that we’d made the list. A few days later, the list was up and the bump hit a one-day high of nearly 5,000 visits.
The writeup was fantastic for us in terms of traffic and signups, but the Business Insider bump was perhaps most notable in terms of the queries from VCs, angels, salespeople, and job seekers that it sent our way. It makes sense — it’s an industry blog about startups, not a subject-matter site like Lifehacker. Nonetheless, because the startup world is filled with high achievers and productivity seekers, we also retained a number of committed users from the writeup.
What’s your take on press?
Have you experienced press bumps? How do you turn it into recurring, sustainable traffic? Let us know in the comments!
I’m often asked how iDoneThis has been featured so often in the press. Business Insider picked as one of 20 startups to watch, Bob Scoble tweeted about us, and Lifehacker, Netted, The Next Web, and The New York Observer have all written about our modest three-man band.
For us, press has come from making a case to be heard through relationships with the relevant people. Knowing people results from schmoozing.
I’ve never been a good schmoozer. My mom told me to be a professor like my dad, because, “No one likes you.” I’m usually standing in the corner talking with a friend at parties, if I’m at a party at all. I get worn out from being around people and need my alone time to recharge.
There’s a certain efficiency in the glad-handing ways of a freshly-minted MBA because knowing the right people is in large part a numbers game. Sometimes I feel twinges of jealousy at their ability to get ahead via shameless self-promotion, but to an introvert like myself, relating to people in that way isn’t just uncomfortable, it seems morally repugnant. The aspiration is to treat people as ends themselves and not as a means to feed the ego or further our careers.
Nevertheless, I shouldn’t flatter myself. It’s tempting to mask my lack of confidence with false pride. The real reason I hesitate to talk to people is because I’m afraid of provoking a negative reaction in others, but I convince myself it’s because I don’t want to grovel, schmooze or act fake. That lets me avoid subjecting myself to the prospect of rejection, but in the end, all it boils down to is a missed opportunity.
Ultimately, to network, for me, is an attempt to connect with another person in a meaningful way — that’s a platitude, but schmoozing is 95% in the mindset. Choose a mindset that’s not limiting, but empowering, and you’ll make schmoozing effective on your own terms. You can be yourself — a good, stand-up person — and still effectively schmooze.
1. I schmooze to support others.
Studies have shown that women ask for more in negotiation when they negotiate on behalf of others as advocates versus negotiating for themselves. One study in 2000-2001 showed that women’s average “ask” was 23% higher when they were representing others rather than themselves. For men, it was the opposite — they had a 10% higher ask when negotiating on behalf of themselves.
For introverts, male or female, it’s a trick to step outside of yourself. To work up the moxie to schmooze, I remind myself that my whole team is counting on me and part of my role as “everything-else” guy is to schmooze.
In the mentality of schmoozing as advocacy, there’s a subtle yet powerful twist on schmoozing that can run through various efforts on self-promotion. It’s that of self-promotion through the promotion of others, making introductions, being sure to ask, “How can I help you?”, tweeting about ideas, trends, and other companies important to your customers, using other entrepreneurs’ products and giving feedback, and more. These behaviors are empowering and proven to be highly effective.
2. I treat everyone the same.
The most effective way I’ve seen to talk to a particular girl in a bar is to talk to everyone in the bar. It’s counterintuitive, but it makes sense, and it’s all in the approach — I’m not a creeper, I’m a nice guy who gets along with everyone. Project that mindset outwards and it becomes visible for all to see.
I do my best to treat every person I meet the same. When it’s time to talk to an important person, I’m empowered to treat them as good as I treat anyone else. So many of our industry connections with influential people have come through treating everyone who comes through our customer support pipeline with the same high level of consideration and care.
Make yourself and the way you treat others into a repeatable process and you’ve turned schmoozing into just the act of being yourself. When I was at a rest stop along I-5 and I saw Bob Scoble making conversation with my cousin, I approached them and joined the conversation, because that’s just what I do — I’m a nice guy. And Bob tweeted about us later, because that’s what he does — he’s a nice guy. We got hundreds of signups in the days that followed.
Hi there. We’re proud to announce two new features to you. Friends, iDoneThis users, humans, Dundee the productive dog — lend me your ears.
Get your iDoneThis daily dones in your Google Calendar! Click on the “Feed” link underneath your iDoneThis calendar. You will receive a secret link that you can plug into your Google Calendar.
We’ve made iDoneThis calendar sharing dead simple. Click on the “Share” link underneath your iDoneThis calendar. You will receive a different, equally as secret link that you can share with anyone.
We take your privacy seriously. All feeds, sharing, and secret links are turned off until you decide to turn them on. A talebearer revealeth secrets: but it that is of a faithful website concealeth the matter.
- Walter, Rodrigo, and Jae
P.S. We’d love it if you gave the gift of iDoneThis to your family and friends. Send out invitations by clicking on the “Invite” link underneath your iDoneThis calendar and putting in the email address of every single person you know.
Meet Rakesh Nair, software developer, writer, and foodie. Rakesh stays productive with his many projects so that at day’s end he can write down his accomplishments in iDoneThis.
I express myself almost completely in three words which form a part of my Twitter bio: Fat, Humorous, Witty.
I love food, all kinds, with absolutely no exception. Chinese food, especially noodles, is my top favorite and burgers and fries come a close second.
The only thing that almost beats eating is reading. I love books and I read a lot.
The genre of the books does not matter much and I read magazines in as interesting a manner as a murder mystery. Science Fiction though has been somewhat close to me since I started reading Isaac Asimov and his Foundation and Robot series.
Humor and wit, both are qualities that have been developed because of all the reading that I’ve done mostly. I dole out enough sarcasm in the entire day and poke fun of enough people, not excluding me in the bargain, to make most of my day and keep worries away from me. When deadlines approach nearer, my colleague and I are usually making fun of everything and laughing till our stomach hurts just to relieve our stress.
Location: Mumbai, India
How do you use iDoneThis?
I got to know about the site via LifeHacker in late April. I have been using it everyday since then to keep a track of everything that I do, be it at work or at home. I try to make my day as productive as possible, ensuring that I have something to write at the end of the day.
My usual aim is to have some kind of progress noted for my projects and to have something new to talk about.
iDoneThis has helped me to break the monotony of my work and make it more exciting, in my own manner.
iDoneThis is my own time-sheet to keep track of all that I’ve been doing. At some point of time, I plan to make sure that I try and assign tasks for myself for the next day and achieve them.
You’ve gotten stuff done for nearly 100-days straight. How are you going to celebrate hitting the century mark?
Okay, a 100 day streak was something that I had been aiming for when I saw that there was something called a “streak.” Now that I’ve reached 100 days of productive working, I plan to take it forward to 500 and then to 1000 days.
Yes, I do plan to diligently do productive work for the best part of 3 years and make sure that I know how my progress has been over the years.
As I keep updating, I will look back at what I’d done earlier, learn from them if necessary, and keep myself propelled in the best possible manner.
What’s your favorite novel of all time?
I cannot say that I have one favorite novel. In fact, if I may say so, I have three, one each of my favorite authors:
J. R. R. Tolkien - Lord of the Rings
This one is my fantasy fix. For me, nothing beats the mystery of the Ring and the fearless and joyous spirit of the Hobbits
Jeffrey Archer - As the Crow Flies
An epic tale that I have loved each time I’ve read it.
Isaac Asimov - The Foundation Series
For me, he is the BEST sci-fi author ever.
Meet Corey Maass, productivity expert, software developer, and musician. Corey uses iDoneThis to keep track of work, play, and everything in between.
Corey’s been working on the web for 15 years, enough time to learn a little about a lot of things. In 2004 he launched his first web app, and has created a dozen more since. Working on his own ideas, or helping clients, his passion lies in building smart, helpful web sites that are a pleasure to use. Most recently, he launched the Birdy, which helps you track your spending.
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Contact: The Birdy
How do you use iDoneThis?
Mostly for work and business. Every day I jot 4 - 6 items, usually a line on each project I’m working on, and then one or two things going on in my personal life, like trips I’m taking, or friends I’m meeting up with.
You have an epic 99-day streak. What’s just some of the stuff you’ve gotten done during your streak?
I’ve taken three trips, got engaged, changed jobs, and launched two new products.
You’re an expert on personal productivity. What are some other productivity systems that you use?
Daily, I use another product I built called Timerdoro.com for reducing eye strain, and keeping me focused. (Built with Joel Van Horn and Brandon Gracey.) I love Gmail, and use it with FollowUpThen.com to keep my inbox near zero. I track my hours with Harvest, and my todo’s with Omnifocus. Podcasts, Google Reader and Hacker News keep me up to date.
Incremental progress is almost a law of nature; nevertheless, I’ve often fantasied about accomplishing a lofty but distant goal, pursued it for a month or two, merely made incremental progress, and quit.
Sometime in January, shortly after we first launched iDoneThis, I decided to pursue my long-standing desire to run long distances. I’ve started that many times. Shin splints, knee pains, being in bad shape, busy life, you name it — each time something got in the way and I dropped the habit before accomplishing anything meaningful. Not again.
This time I put a goal in front of myself: run Bay to Breakers — and I carried it through. In 12 weeks, I went from being only able to run 1 mile at a time, to running 7.4 miles continuously.
The plan was simple: start with a distance that I know I can comfortably run (1 mile in January), sign up to a race that was way longer than I’ve ever run, increase gradually, and track my progress using iDoneThis. The question was whether I’d stick to it.
iDoneThis gives you a checkmark whenever you accomplish your day’s objective, and the desire to get my checkmarks kept me going at first. Every time that I added a checkmark, I kept my streak alive of another week having run a greater distance than the week before.
This was basically the Seinfeld Productivity Secret — once you start a streak, all you have to do is keep the streak alive and that will result in making progress towards your goals. I ran continuously for 1.6 miles last week. Surely I can run 1.7 this week. If I ran 1.7 last week, surely I can do 1.8. Knowing that all I was doing was making small incremental progress kept me from giving up in those last couple of minutes that I was pushing my endurance.
I noticed that as the weeks went on, I began keeping more detailed logs of how far, breaks I took, and how fast I ran. The extrinsic motivation of accruing checkmarks and elongating my streak gave way to an interest in the details and process of running. It turns out that intrinsic motivation is far more powerful and sustainable than extrinsic motivation.
All of a sudden the dedication to keep making incremental progress was not something I actively thought about. It had been downloaded to iDoneThis ala Getting Things Done. GTD’s focus is on recording tasks externally to free the mind of having to remember what needs to be done; rather, you can actually concentrate on the task at hand and getting it done. For me, that process meant offloading from my mind fear of failure and worry about the enormity of the task at hand. I just ran.
12 weeks after only being able to run 1 mile at a time, I ran a continuous 7.4 miles and celebrated by looking goofy with my medal and replenishing many of the calories I burned running.
Gamification can be thought of as bridging the reward gap between incremental progress and eventual goal accomplishment. Motivating myself with checkmarks and streaks was like training a dog with treats — the most amazing part is that even when the treat is removed from the process, the dog will keep performing the trick. For me, running Bay to Breakers was a compelling lesson in how simple mechanics can form consistent habits that can culminate in an experience that’s nearly life-altering.
Meet Ernesto Ramirez, Ph.D student in public health, Quantified Self organizer, and disliker of to-do lists. Ernesto uses iDoneThis to feel great about what he gets done every day, to motivate himself to do more, and to create a record of his life. He made the following word cloud to show his last 62 days on iDoneThis. Ernesto’s an inspiration to us at iDoneThis, too — we’re working on giving everyone on iDoneThis his or her own individual word cloud. (Look out for it soon!)
Ernesto Ramirez is a doctoral student studying Public Health at San Diego State University and the University of California, San Diego. He is interested in using technology to help people live a life of wellness. He’s getting married next year and is really excited about that too.
Location: Sunny San Diego, CA
How do you use iDoneThis?
I use iDoneThis to help me realize that I’ve been productive during the day and to reflect on what I’ve done. Sometimes this means a lot of work and school related tasks, but other times it is very social as you can see by how big “dinner” is in the above picture. I’ve never been good at handling “To Do” lists because of the nature of my work and personality.
As a grad student I am constantly being asked to take on additional tasks and duties. I’m also a social person who thrives in collaborative environments so I am constantly seeking conversations and collaborations. These behaviors never fit into a structured model of task completion so “To Do” lists always had an inherent failure trap built in. By using iDoneThis I’ve been able to reverse that failure model with a very positive accomplishment model. The positive feelings I get when type those emails at the end of the day are probably the number one reason I use iDoneThis. It doesn’t matter if I didn’t check off everything on today’s “To Do” list because look at all those amazing things that I did during the day!
I also use it as motivator of sorts. As someone who studies behavioral science I am deeply aware of the power of momentum. Seeing the streak number go up every day is a pretty powerful motivator. Plus, having a vague idea of the number of things that I’ve done over the past few days from when I periodically look at the website helps me to try and input all the things that I think are important for future reflection.
Lastly, sometimes I’m not sure why I use it. I’m one of those weird people that tries new things without an inherent purpose. I find value in exploration and knowledge creation. I imagine one day once’ I’ve built up enough things that I’ve done that I’ll through it into a contextual language processor and see what comes out.
You were an organizer of the Quantified Self Conference 2011. What did you learn?
I actually wrote a blog post the detailed my take-aways from the Quantified Self Conference here.
Briefly here are the big things I took away.
1) Building a environment that supports and encourages positivity is essential for succes. Never have I been to a conference, and I’ve been to a lot, where so many people were so positive. It made the entire event enjoyable and I believe that positivity helped to foster the intellectual sharing that is crucial for growing the Quantified Self movement.
2) Helping people should be the number one priority. Sure, doing cool research is fun, but Users want systems that let them use them as they want so that they can make decisions and changes as they see it. It is about building a user experience on top of a device platform that empowers users - that helps them take control of their lives and make real change.
How did you build your treadmill desk?
The ActiveDesk was built over many years and gallons of blood, sweat and tears. Well, not really. It was actually pretty easy.
I found a used treadmill on craigslist for $100 and bought a height adjustable desk from IKEA. From there it was just some simple work to disassemble the control panel, hacksaw the support posts, roll the treadmill under the desk and reattach the control panel to the desk. I’ll be the first to admit that this is only one way to hack together your own treadmill desk, but it’s worked for me for 2.5 years, 600+ miles, and over 62,000 calories burned while working.
Meet Brianna Roux, young scientist, college student, and amateur knitter. Brianna uses iDoneThis to track school projects, check-in on her knitting progress, and advance medical science.
I am currently a senior Biomedical Engineering major at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, with a minor in biochemistry/molecular biology. After I graduate, I plan to continue my education and get a Ph.D in Biomedical Engineering. I also work at Rose-Hulman’s Homework Hotline, which is a free service for students in grades 6-12 to call in and get math and science homework help. In my free time, I enjoy knitting and woodturning.
Location: Collinsville, IL
How do you use iDoneThis?
I use iDoneThis to track my progress on my school projects, homework assignments, and school-related activities. I also use it to track progress on my knitting projects and what I’ve made on the lathe, and pretty much anything else. It’s a really great way to take a couple of minutes to reflect on what I’ve accomplished today, both small and large, and think about what I have left to do in the days ahead. The email format is quick and easy to use, which is especially important while I’m busy at school - I don’t have to remember to go to a website.
You have an awesome 100-day long streak (and running) on iDoneThis. What stuff have you gotten done during your streak?
The last ten weeks of school, I was working on my Junior Design project with a classmate. We designed a device to allow our client (a paraplegic woman) to be able to play the pedals of a piano again without interrupting her normal piano playing. There was no building involved, but there were several large milestones (including a 58-page Preliminary Design Document), and it felt great to be able to type in that I completed it in iDoneThis. I’ve also done several other school and knitting projects, and I’m currently finding it useful to list the progress I’ve made in my summer research to glance at before my weekly meetings.
You’re doing a research program for college undergraduates this summer. Tell us about your research and areas of interest.
This summer I am working at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the Biomedical Engineering Summer Research Program. My research is focused on testing artificial heart valves (particularly those designed for children) in a left heart simulator and analyzing their fatigue profile. I’m interested in several areas of biomedical engineering research, especially the improvement of artificial heart valves, but also tissue engineering and orthopedic implants. I’m hoping to do a tissue engineering based research project in graduate school, but my interests seem to widen after every elective class I take.
Meet Cheryl Yeoh, first-time entrepreneur, co-founder of CityPockets and recently named one of 25 women driving NY’s tech scene. Using iDoneThis every day, Cheryl traces the footsteps of her rising startup and already has a couple of major milestones logged into the calendar.
I co-founded CityPockets, a daily deal digital wallet with a secondary deals marketplace that’s based in NYC. I was born and bred in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and braved the American soil in 2002 on a full scholarship to study engineering at Cornell University. Since then, I’ve educated people about labyrinths, founded a Toastmasters Club at my first job, and worked as a management consultant before ditching Michelin starred restaurants for quinoa and kale to start CityPockets. The journey of my startup has been an incredibly winding road so far, but ultimately rewarding.
Location: New York, NY (Chelsea)
How do you use iDoneThis?
I was initially using iDoneThis to log what I’ve personally accomplished in a day to keep track of my daily productivity. It’s amazing how much more aware I’ve become of how efficiently (or not) I’m working, so I’ve been a huge fan of this product. I’ve been giving a lot of good feedback to the iDoneThis team to create a team productivity tracker so that my team at CityPockets can log what they’ve accomplished at the end of the day so far, and we’d see a dashboard of that during our daily stand up meetings the next day. Hope to see this out soon!
You have pluck and drive in spades. Where does your drive come from?
I’ve always had a lot of drive, even as a little kid because I was encouraged by my parents to challenge the status quo. I always think that everything can be done better, faster, simpler, cheaper or more efficiently. There’s usually a way around something seemingly tough. I also have this habit of wanting to prove people wrong; I’m the kinda gal who’d root for the underdogs. I get frustrated at people who are overly critical or who underestimate others. At the end of the day passion and persistence wins out. Most startups fail not because the product isn’t good enough or the market timing isn’t right, but because they give up too soon. Starting a company is one of the toughest thing to do in the world because you face a lot of harsh rejections, so you need to brush it off and keep going until you “get lucky.” In any case, I trust the journey because I know that everything happens for a good reason. I’ve always learned something from even the worse of situations. And that has made me stronger as a person.
What’s the best daily deal on the internet right now?
I went online to search for daily deals available today but none of them seem as interesting as what I found in the CityPockets marketplace, which is this deal for a Strip and a “Strip”! The original deal from The Thrillist was sold for $50 ($109 value) but is now only going for $40. I see 2 of such vouchers in our marketplace so if you’re looking to have a fun night out in the city, you should jump on it! ;)
Meet Hari Palaiyanur, newly minted Ph.D, NBA fanatic, and eater of vegetables. Hari used iDoneThis to motivate him to make progress on his dissertation every day, until he had his degree in hand.
I was born in India and have grown up in the US for most of my life. At some point in college, I became addicted to basketball. I’ve lived in the Bay Area since graduating college and am planning to move to the East Coast this summer.
Location: Berkeley, CA
How do you use iDoneThis?
I keep a log of the work I do during the day and occasionally track exercise. It has been really helpful for maintaining motivation because everything that gets accomplished today is something that doesn’t have to be done tomorrow, even if it’s something small and boring.
How’s your Ph.D dissertation coming?
It’s now (as in last week) done! It was the largest project I had ever undertaken and it seemed so daunting at the beginning. I did a bit of planning to figure out all the material I wanted to put in it and (slowly) wrote the sections and chapters over 5 months. I used idonethis mostly as a motivational tool to make sure I did something everyday.
Who’s your pick to win the NBA Finals this year?
Of course I get asked this during one of the most wide open years in the NBA! In my dream scenario, it would be the Dallas Mavericks. But I think Miami is the most likely to win.
Why did you start eating more vegetables over the years?
Because I realized that ‘variety is the spice of life’ is not something people say only to make themselves sound wise. Although, that’s probably part of it. And that’s why I said it.
Meet Andrew Zarick, digital media expert and hip hop enthusiast. Using iDoneThis every day, Andrew has discovered that he gets more done than he otherwise gave himself credit for.
I’ve lived in Brooklyn for almost 8 years. I started my professional career as Digital Strategist for DUMBO-based interactive marketing agency, The JAR Group. I recently founded a marketing agency called AZBK, specializing in performance and acquisition marketing through paid search, social and display channels. While in DUMBO, I co-founded Digital DUMBO - a community of New York’s brightest digital thought leaders. The organization has quickly grown into one of the city’s largest digital communities with over 4,000 members. When not helping companies acquire new users or grow revenues with online advertising, I manage 100BestRapSongs.com - a hiphop music aggregator. When not working, I enjoy trying new restaurants, playing soccer, meeting interesting people and trying to see the world.
Location: Brooklyn, NY (Clinton Hill)
How do you use iDoneThis?
As a digital media strategist, I spend most of my time researching and testing the best ways to drive targeted traffic to either client websites or affiliate offers. This may involve keyword research, writing ad copy, developing creative assets, and then deploying the campaigns to platforms such as AdWords, AdCenter, Facebook and other popular (and not so popular) ad networks. Lately I’ve been using iDoneThis to log my daily activity to serve as a quick snapshot of my daily, weekly and monthly productivity. By using iDoneThis, I’ve actually started noticing that more often than not I’ve accomplished more than I was previously giving myself credit for.
You’re a digital media expert, so you must have a busy email inbox. How do you manage it?
I’m guilty of always wanting to have inbox zero, so I catch myself opening and reading emails that I know for a fact don’t need my immediate attention. In other words, I’m horrible at managing my email inbox. I’m the wrong dude to speak with for advice on email productivity. Next question!
What’s the greatest rap song ever?
Pete Rock & CL Smooth - They Reminisce Over You. This song has the dopest samples!
Technology provides the basis for this two-man team to run a web service that has handled nearly 30,000 email entries. But going from about 600 registered users in late March to over 5,000 in mid-April not only required us to scale our technology, it forced us to find a scalable solution to customer service as we saw our support emails explode from 23 total requests between January and late March to about 300 over a two-week stretch at the beginning of April.
Great customer service is a highly personal process, but, of course, nothing says great customer service like a fantastic product. In the words of 37signals, “Copywriting is interface design” and “good writing is good design”. Here are 4 lessons that we learned as we knocked our support email volume down from as high as 16 per 100 new users to zero by becoming better writers.
- Explain your service using the fewest possible words — every piece of detail is an opportunity for confusion.
iDoneThis is an email-based productivity log. At the end of every day, we email our users and ask them what they did that day. To make an entry, they just respond to our email.
From the start, we included a line in our email which we used to split the original message from the user’s input. Our daily emails used to look like this.
————————————i done this—————————————
Howdy! Take 30 seconds to write out what you got done today.
Today is day zero. Clean slate.
But remember the ancient wisdom — a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single email.
Put each thing you did on its own line
Everything you write above the dotted line gets saved.
We kept a calendar for you.
To unsubscribe from the daily email reminder, please email us at email@example.com
To our surprise, the dotted line instruction confused our users. Many of them didn’t know what the dotted line was, especially because email clients insert dashed lines into reply text. Other users didn’t know what to do with the dotted line. A few copied the dotted line, deleted the reply text, pasted the dotted line, and wrote above it. Others wrote their entries directly above the dotted line but below the envelope information for the original message. That worked, but resulted in a far bulkier UI than we’d intended.
It became clear to us that reference to the dotted line alone confused users because it led them to believe that they should do something other than simply reply to our email. On April 5, we got rid of reference to the line completely, but we wanted to make sure that users wrote their replies above the dotted line, lest they check their calendars later and find empty entries. We instructed users to “[w]rite [their] reply above our message.” The judgment on our new language came back swift and hard.
Hi I did get an e-mail but, but could not type in the———————-space help!
I can’t figure out where to enter my what I did info. You say above your message,but that’s not working.And I guess ya can’t write in the calendar square. Help,please.
I am unable to write in you e-mail.
I wuill have to unsubscribe from your service.
Good luck to you.
I like this idea…just don’t know how to see what I’m typing. Please, help!
I am a new subscriber. I use Firefox 4.0 for my mail. I am unable to get a cursor to appear above the ——i did this—-line. I’ve tried the arrows, select all, tried to erase the ——i did this——- line, etc. What should I try now?
no where on/above your message am i allowed to type anything. what gives?
The next day, we changed the language to read: “Just reply to our email to make an entry.” We’ve had 0 support emails since.
- Use help documentation to handle corner cases.
In early April, one user wrote to us, “[L]ove the interface you have. Simple, uncluttered, and just what’s needed. Heck, you don’t even have a FAQ [iDoneThis] is so easy [to use]!” A day later we had to write a Help section to stave off early-onset carpal tunnel.
Explaining your service in the fewest possible words means handling the corner cases with copywriting outside of the main user interface flow. For instance, it’s a corner case that a user will write his reply below the original message — the vast majority of people write their replies above the original message — so it should be left out of the primary set of instructions. But if you don’t handle corner cases somewhere, you’ll either continue to receive support queries or lose users for unknown reasons.
After we changed our copy to instruct the user to just reply to our email, we did see a small uptick in queries about entries appearing blank. We handled that issue in our Help documentation and that issue disappeared.
- Users won’t read most of the words you write—understand how context shapes meaning.
We had a major usability issue in onboarding our users: after the user signs up, there’s nothing for the user to do until the evening when she receives the first daily email. Initially, after signing up, the user went straight to her calendar with a message at the top that said to wait until the evening.
Unused to having nothing to do after signing up for a website, users told us that the site was broken because they didn’t have a way to input their entries directly into the calendar or by email. “I don’t understand how this site works,” two users echoed.
We unabashedly looked to OhLife to solve the problem. OhLife is an email-based diary with a gorgeous and simple interface which had a similar usability pattern. (Users get a daily email asking them to write a diary entry for that day.) They have a welcome page that explained how to use the product and sent the new user their first email soliciting the first diary entry immediately upon signup.
We split the baby in the worst possible way — we welcomed the user with a welcome email which instructed him NOT to respond but wait until the evening for the first email to which he could respond, and in the browser, the user was taken to his blank calendar page which again included the directions to wait until tonight to do anything.
Our new users told us this was dumb — by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with what they had done that day. My own mother did this. We failed to onboard 6 out of every 100 new users in this way. The flow didn’t make sense: Sign up -> empty calendar page with the instruction to respond to the evening email -> and then an email from us shows up in the inbox.
This showed us the power of context in circumscribing the effectiveness of copywriting. We changed around the words in the welcome email to make it more clear that the user should not respond to that email. But while the words in the welcome email were clear, their context strongly suggested a different action. We repeatedly told our users to expect an email from us to which they should respond, and then an email showed in up their inbox.
The support emails continued to flow in until we nixed the welcome email and replaced it with a welcome web page. The semantics made sense — web pages said that they weren’t editable, and they weren’t editable; emails said to respond, and they were respond-able.
- Include help text on every single page.
Users don’t read most of the copy, so it’s a good rule of thumb to repeat yourself and include help text on every single page. On our main page and our welcome page, we tell the user that iDoneThis is email based, but we still received 6 emails per 100 new users asking us how to make entries via the browser. We added a paragraph to our Help section again explaining that entries could not be made through the browser and we still received support emails.
Finally, we added help text to the calendar page itself — an obvious solution, really, but one we initially perceived as inelegant — and the support queries went from 6 per 100 new users to zero.
Today. The number of support emails we receive per 100 new users has dropped to nearly zero.
The lower volume means that we can give great customer service to those that do request it. The support emails that arrive in our inbox these days are for known and unknown bug fixes, not usability questions. That frees us to focus on the most important aspect of customer service — building a great product.
Meet Willem Bult, world traveler, entrepreneur, and software developer. Willem uses iDoneThis to build fine internet products by reflecting every day on his step-by-step progress towards his goals.
I write code and travel the world. I’ve lived in Europe, SE-Asia and the US. I’ve always been interested both in software development as in entrepreneurship. At age 15, I was selling my first “real” application. While pursuing my B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees I started four high tech companies. Software I created has taught children in the slums of Delhi how to speak English, and a company I founded makes people smile every day when they receive our personalized game products.
Location: New York, NY
How do you use iDoneThis?
Every night after I finish my day of coding I track the functionality I implemented that day. It helps me reflect on my day and see how effective I’ve been. It’s easy to spend an entire day writing a bunch of code, but it’s very useful to see if that work actually brought you closer to your goal.
It’s also really cool to be able to easily look back through what I’ve been working on in the (recent) past. Sometimes I don’t even remember at the end of the day what I started off with, let alone two weeks from now. iDoneThis helps me track all that stuff.
You’re a hard worker. Aside from iDoneThis, how do you keep yourself motivated?
My main motivation comes from building stuff I’m excited about. Envisioning products I’m building being used by lots of happy users is a motivator like no other. That’s what keeps me in the office until 2 AM on a Sunday.
Another thing that works well for me is variation. It may seem counter-intuitive, but small side projects help me stay focused. Of course there’s always the risk of too much distraction, so it’s a matter of balance, as with anything.
Then there’s other stuff I do like setting goals that can be realistically achieved in one day. Delivering on these set goals gives you the motivating feeling of accomplishment, while they are also forcing you to stay until the task is completed.
What’s the most exciting part of being a software developer?
The most exciting thing is being able to create something that has the potential to affect lots of people. Software you write has the potential audience of the entire world, while it can take as little as one person to develop an application. It’s a very efficient way of making a difference.
On a more technical angle I’m a sucker for elegancy. I can get very excited about neatly architected software with clearly defined responsibilities and reusable components. Like most software engineers I’m kind of a perfectionist, so I often find myself on the edge of getting too caught up in architectural aesthetics, but I pride myself in delivering quality, robust, software. Handing off code that I know other engineers are going to be able to work well with is exciting to me.
Celebrate — this week we got our 5,000th user! This is the most users either of us (Rodrigo and I) have ever had for any web project of ours. In the past, we’ve taken the “build it and they will come” attitude towards web development … and they never came! Here’s the story of how we did it by constructing custom narratives for influential communities.
Hacker News. At 9am PST on January 3rd, we posted a “Show HN” article on Hacker News with the hook that we built the site to keep our New Year’s Resolutions.
Note that our Show HN post was made as an external link to idonethis.com and we made a comment on that post that described the project. We decided to do that instead of submitting a text story to HN with the first comment as a clickable link. We had anecdotally observed that posts without external links were not making the front page too often after HN added “Ask”, and some of our friends had observed this also.
The Next Web. That afternoon, Courtney Boyd Myers at The Next Web picked up the story from Hacker News and wrote a short blurb about us.
Throughout this process I began to notice just how deeply enmeshed Hacker News is in the startup and tech media network. I didn’t realize that journalists lurk HN for stories, and in fact, now, HN is so big that there’s entire media built on top of it like The Startup Foundry and Hacker Monthly. @hackernewsbot tweets out top stories from HN and has almost 9,000 followers, including influencers like Chris Dixon. Early adopters write short blog posts about discovering your product and taking it out for a test spin.
Our simple post on HN reached the bottom of the front page for only three to four hours, but resulted in approximately 2,300 visitors over the next month and a half. The majority of traffic directly from HN and TNW, some 1,400 visitors, came on the first day and dried up within a few days, but visitors continued to trickle in from other sources such as Twitter for over a month. Our launch day saw 150 signups, but our user count continued to increase by over 50% over the next month and a half.
Reddit. At the end of February, we cross-posted the article to three relevant subreddits, /r/GetMotivated, /r/Productivity, and /r/StopSmoking. We made sure to address Reddit in the title of the submission with “Hey [Subreddit]” and include in the title a statement of purpose for iDoneThis relevant to the subreddit. And we engaged the Redditors who checked out the site in the comments to the submission.
How to get on the Reddit Homepage — The Oatmeal
Those three subreddits were possibly the optimal size — about 16,000 subscribers in total, so that we got a good number of eyeballs on our site, but the subreddits weren’t so huge that all we got was a traffic spike that came and went. Our posts remained at the top of those subreddits for two to three days and generated over 50 comments worth of discussion.
Around this time, someone happened to post the Jerry Seinfeld Productivity Secret article from Lifehacker on HN. That article was actually a source of inspiration for iDoneThis, and I happened to catch the news item before it floated to the very top of HN. I wrote a short narrative relating concepts in the article to iDoneThis and the community at HN.
Coincidentally, fellow HNers rguzman, peng and I recently built a simple web app which was inspired by this article.
It’s called http://idonethis.com.
We email you on a daily basis asking you what you got done today. We put your email response into a calendar and check off the day. Look at your calendar to see your streak from yesterday to motivate you today.
We posted the site on HN back in January and got some great feedback which we incorporated (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2064038) along with some nice press coverage (http://thenextweb.com/lifehacks/2011/01/03/idonethis-have-yo…). We’re at a few hundred users, a good proportion of whom email us on a daily basis and tell us that that the site is helping their productivity, helping them quit smoking, reminding them to exercise & diet, etc.
My comment on that article stayed near the top during the article’s run at #1 on HN and drove considerable traffic to our site. To my surprise, our high-karma comment on a top news item fared better than a news item that makes it onto the front page (albeit only for a few hours). We got about 25% more traffic from our comment versus our submission.
In total, we got about 400 signups from 3,000 new visitors which tripled our user base. Characteristic of Redditors and HN’ers, the folks that joined up with us were engaged and savvy. They blogged and tweeted about us, and even offered to make screencasts and build web applications on top of our service.
Lifehacker. This was the big one.
Is that a hockey stick in your pocket?
A month prior to getting written up by Lifehacker, I had cold-emailed them along with other life-hacking sites to pitch iDoneThis and nothing came of it.
I’ve built iDoneThis which is an email-based productivity log. Our users include a few prominent startup founders. One user called our service a “subtle yet powerful motivator.”
We email you everyday and ask, “What’d you get done today?” Your email responses go into a calendar. Look at your previous days’ accomplishments to motivate you today.
Unlike other tools whose usefulness is counterbalanced by their obtrusiveness, iDoneThis is email-based which adds zero overhead.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions here or by phone at XXX-XXX-XXXX.
iDoneThis had begun to stagnate and we were staying just about even in terms users trickling in and heading out. Rodrigo and I weren’t dedicating much time to building the site more or promoting it, but then we talked to our users by sending out a little survey and the feedback was overwhelming. A bunch of people expressed a deep appreciation for the product, and that convinced us that many more people might benefit from the site. We decided to make another push for users.
In trying to pitch iDoneThis to bloggers the second time around, I went after a smaller fish. I came across the perfect news item: a Lifehacker article that described the same process the author implemented by hand that iDoneThis automated. The article had actually played a prominent role in the conception of iDoneThis along with the Seinfeld Productivity Secret article, and it was syndicated from How-To Geek, a smaller site. I wove a short narrative more prominently around the former article and sent an email out to How-To Geek.
Hi there, How-To Geek, I came across your daily productivity log post on Lifehacker awhile back (http://lifehacker.com/#!5582372/use-a-daily-log-to-keep-yourself-focused-on-productivity). I started to use the system and it worked great for me. I was inspired to create a web application to make this process work best for me.
What I ended up with is iDoneThis.com, an email-based daily productivity log. At the end of every day, the site emails you and asks, “What’d you get done today?” All you have to do is write an email back in response. Your response will go into a calendar for that day with a check mark. Look over your previous accomplishments to inspire you today.
Our users include techies, lawyers, and female bodybuilders, among others. This is what they’ve said:
“One of my favorite apps.” - Naveen Selvadurai, co-founder of Foursquare.
“I love iDoneThis. It’s probably my favorite webapp that I regularly use.”
“I really like it — simple and easy… . It’s great!”
“Loving the service. I’m surprised by this, but it’s actually a pretty subtle, yet powerful motivator.”
It’s a dead simple way to implement your productivity method, and I’d love it if you shared it with your readers.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
On March 30th, our article made it on to How-To Geek and it featured the storyline that I presented to them. The next day, Lowell Heddings of How-To Geek emailed us, unsolicited, to say that iDoneThis might appear on Lifehacker the following day. We hadn’t asked How-To Geek to push our story to Lifehacker, so this was a pleasant surprise. Sure enough, on April 1st, iDoneThis was on Lifehacker.
All told, we got 25,000 new visitors and around 4,500 signups. The higher conversion rate was surprising but it speaks to the value in getting promoted by sites whose audience is co-extensive with the one you’re trying to reach.
Lifehacker traffic is still coming in as the iDoneThis article was serially released in Australia and then Japan. Also, the users that have come in through Lifehacker have stuck around. Out of the 5,000 registered users we have, 4,000 of them are active. About one-fifth of our users email us just about every single day.
Conclusion. Our experience speaks to the power of constructing tailored narratives for influential audiences, the value in talking with your users for encouragement and to evangelize your product, and the benefits of having some good luck.
This is the first in an ongoing series profiling iDoneThis users. Meet Alex, denizen of New York City, and active food logger. Alex uses iDoneThis to write down every single thing he eats every day.
New York City native. Tried caviar at age 7 and loved it. Not a superstitious person outside of sport. I enjoy looking for things and ultimately finding them.
Location: New York, NY
Contact: ajz8 AT cornell DOT edu
How do you use iDoneThis?
I use the site to keep a daily food log. I started logging my meals about 7 months ago and had been emailing myself the time and content of each meal. While I was generally good about keeping it current I reached the limit of Gmail’s conversation view twice (it’s 100) and found it tedious to review multiple email chains. iDoneThis is easy to look at and easy to update.
Why do you keep a food log?
It’s definitely not about counting calories. If anything I’m trying to eat more and feel that being conscious and mindful of everything I eat helps me organize myself. I’m happy to say it motivated me to get back into the kitchen and I haven’t turned back since.
What’s the best bite you’ve had recently?
I organized a taco crawl in East Harlem about a month ago and would have to go with a hand rolled Quesadilla de Huitlacoche that I got from a food stand on 117th and 3rd!