Write Your Own Story

Every milestone is an opportunity to attract attention to your startup because you have a piece of “news” — a new piece of noteworthy information that no one else but you has.

When you have something to announce, conventional wisdom says to go to the press and blogs with your story because they (1) have distribution and (2) are expert in crafting a story.  In the past, we’ve offered nuggets of news to journalists as exclusives, and we’ve gotten written up by Betabeat and The Next Web this way.

However, we’ve recently experimented with writing our own story on our own blog, telling a narrative that’s personal and shows how we work behind the scenes, harnessing the power of social news for distribution — and that has resulted in our all-time one-day high for traffic and 1,000+ signups, more than double the signups resulting from our press coverage.  Through that experience, we’ve learned the importance of writing your own story and turning transparency and narrative into a competitive advantage.

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iDoneThis on Lifehacker!


We’re in Lifehacker today!

iDoneThis is a new webapp that takes your goals and habits you want to build, reminds you to work towards them daily or weekly (you can choose), and puts you on a virtual team of people with similar goals so you can work together, support each other, and know you’re not alone.

Ameliorating the Human Condition with iDoneThis Memory

A few months ago, we started to occasionally send your old daily dones to you as a reminder of just how much progress you’d made.  Some of you told us that you loved it. For you, we made iDoneThis Memory.

Every morning, we’ll email you and remind you what you did on that day either 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, or 1 year ago.  To turn it on, just go your Email Settings and check the box which reads, “Send me memories”.

In the words of the 20th century Italian poet Cesare Pavese — “The richness of life lies in memories we have forgotten.”  Thanks to modern technology, we can shrug off some of the human condition’s more unfortunate features.  iDoneThis Memory brings life’s evanescence into your inbox every morning, turning email into an affirmation of immanent existence.

You should turn it on here.

A Stupid Idea, One Year Later

iDoneThis had the humblest of beginnings, and in a year’s time, we’ve gone from a stupid idea to having helped people get over 500,000 things done.  It’s been an incredible year.

On December 17, 2010, Rodrigo wrote me the following email.  The title of the email was “stupid idea”.

A daily “what did you achieve today?” email. We send the email and expect a response.

Y’know there is this:

http://lifehacker.com/281626/jerry-seinfelds-productivity-secret  (he gets a big calendar and marks an  X on every day that he’s written jokes, the long chains of Xs get him to write more jokes)

Based on the emails that people send, we’d have some kind of graph/calendar like Seinfeld’s.

When we don’t hear from people we send them an angry email and show them their calendar with their string of Xs broken the next day.

I can likely put some rudimentary version of this together in a couple of days.

We called it “Attain Chain”.  And then we changed it because that’s a horrible name. Here’s one of the lists we kicked around.

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Search Your Dones

iDoneThis: You do not yet realize your importance. You’ve only begun to discover your power! Join me, and I will complete your training! With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict, and bring order to the galaxy.
You: I’ll never join you!
iDoneThis: If only you knew the power of the Daily Done. Dundee never told you what happened to your father.
You: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
iDoneThis: No, I am your father.
You: No. No! That’s not true! That’s impossible!
iDoneThis: Search your dones, you know it to be true!
You: Oh, huh, I didn’t know I could do that.
iDoneThis: Yeah, we just added that feature a few weeks ago. Just login and go to your calendar — there’s a search box up top.
You: Cool.
iDoneThis: Cool.

How We Got Our First 10,000 Users

Passing 10,000 users felt awesome and we did it with three dead simple techniques that anyone can execute.

1.  Custom narratives for influential communities.  I wrote in April how we made it to 5,000 users by constructing custom narratives for Hacker News, Reddit, and Lifehacker.  We described iDoneThis to a community as both (a) a solution to the problems specific to that community with (b) an emotional hook that the community could relate to while (c) giving signals that reflect that we’re members of the community.

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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.

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Crowdsourcing Product Positioning

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.

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Anatomy of Three Writeups

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 startupLifehacker, 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.

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Schmoozing for Introverts

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.

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