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Twelve Things in Twelve Months

Like the startup challenge, but with just any old thing
March 12, 2019

We’ve all heard about the 12 startups in 12 months challenge, right? For the uninitiated: lmgtfy.

Basically, it’s a pledge to ship 12 different software startups in 12 months. It was first popularized by Pieter Levels in 2014 and has since been repeated by a list of indie devs so long there’s at least one github repo dedicated to tracking them all.

The idea is appealing for a slew of reasons. It’s a good way to keep yourself shipping, it gives you an opportunity to explore a bunch of markets, and if a startup is like a lottery ticket then it should increase your odds of building a hit by a factor of twelve! Plus it’s pretty great clickbait.

Wonka bars Who wouldn't want to open as many as possible?

But if you’ve followed the trend at all then you’ve probably also read the slew of ‘cons’ that quickly appear in the comments section whenever a new 12 in 12 challenge post makes the rounds. The most prominent among them is usually that a month isn’t realistically enough time to make an interesting or profitable startup, which is a pretty good point. The internet is full of naysayers, but there’s a graveyard’s worth of dead links and abandoned challenge blogs to back them up on this one.

So, it’s been five years, the trend has gone from trendy, to cliche, to hacker culture satire. Why am I writing about it now?

Well, I have about 12 months of indie dev ahead of me that could use some structure, and I’ve never been one to let entirely missing the boat daunt me! So I’ve decided to give this challenge a try, with a bit of a twist.

A calendar showing hustling scheduled everyday Not that this wasn't also a great way to structure my time

Plenty of devs have already tried tweaking the quantity and duration of the challenge - let’s have a brief moment of silence for all the 52 in 52 weeks challenges - and there’s debate on whether the challenge should properly be phrased as ‘12 startups’ or ‘12 products’ or ‘12 projects’ and the implications and merits of each variation. For my year, I’d like to open the format up even further, to simply ‘12 Things’.

What’s a Thing? In my mind a Thing is any accomplishment that makes me feel like my month was well spent. For example, a Thing might be shipping a software product, or it might be hitting a mastery milestone with a new skill, or (one I particularly hope to hit this year) running a half marathon. A Thing can be any discrete, completed accomplishment that has value to me. Simply put, it’s anything I’d feel comfortable bragging about!

If it sounds like the focus here is drifting away from 24/7 hustling indie maker territory and into self care territory, that’s because it is! The motivation for this goal isn’t to maximize my income for the year - if that was my goal I would definitely have stayed at Google. Instead, it’s motivated by the same impulse that’s at the heart of why I left Google and what I hope to get out of my time as an indie dev: maximizing my sense of purpose.

During my last year or so at Google I found myself in the position of having bounced between a handful of projects that were either never launched, never going to launch, or in maintenance limbo. This is an occupational hazard at any big software company, and over time it can become a real motivation sink. After a couple halves of churning code into what felt like a void, you can imagine how enticing the idea of 12 accomplishments in 12 months felt (a sentiment that might have something to do with the trends original popularity).

A hole The view from the massive pit I was shoveling all my code into

As you know, in the end I decided I could make better use of my time than Google was, and here I am! So this challenge is a way to try to stay true to that goal and to track what things of value I’m getting out of it. One accomplishment a month is a bit arbitrary, but it passes the sniff test - I developed Kakuro Endless largely in a month, and it’s roughly the scale of accomplishment I’m targeting.

I’ll be posting updates on my progress here over time. Those of you keeping track might note I’m already about 2 months into my period of indie dev. I’m considering MyThingsMap my first Thing, and I’ve recently released a real time strategy game/horror narrative on Itch called Unthinkable which I’m calling my second.

That’s two months of Things down, ten to go! If you’re interested to hear what’s coming next month, follow me on Twitter or sign up for email updates below!

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