09 Sep 2020
Now that I have quit my job to build a business, I have lined up the first two projects I will bring into the world.
They are failproof projects.
Bringing back bestiaries by cutting scope
I have always loved bestiaries. A bestiary is a book of beasts that catalogues real and imaginary animals. It describes the animals and includes stories about them that often embed a moral lesson. You might be more familiar with the more modern form: The Monster Manual for Dungeons and Dragons. Bestiaries were popular in Europe in the Middle Ages. Lately, they have fallen out of style. I’m bringing them back.
Last summer, while on paternity leave, I wanted to start a new side project. I thought to myself: What would a modern take on a bestiary look like? Could I catalogue every known imaginary creature from both ancient and modern sources? How would I even organize such a collection? The idea compelled me but there was a serious problem. The vision was so BIG. As a full-time employed father of 3, how was I going to catalogue all those creatures?
I began looking for a way to slash scope while preserving the most important parts of the idea. I made the decision to launch the project as a newsletter that would release 1 new creature per week. This would allow me to make progress on the idea, one creature at a time. As I went I would satisfy my curiosity about mythology. It was a commitment I believed I could keep. I built the website in 1 day and started asking people to subscribe. (I also explain these origins in a YouTube video if you prefer that format.)
I call the project Novus Bestiary, which is latin for “the new bestiary”. It is my first taste of a failproof project. I am fulfilled if no one ever signed up. I would go on writing these stories for myself, one entry at a time.
As it turns out, people did sign up. This spring I made the decision to evolve it from a newsletter into a full-featured website. The new website will launch in a few weeks when the final cover illustrations are ready.
You meet at an inn…
To introduce my second project, I’ll rewind the clock a little further.
There is an old project of mine that has lived on in my heart for years. It was the first thing I ever built by myself as a web developer. Here Be Taverns generates random fantasy taverns. When you are running a game of Dungeons & Dragons and your players walk off the scripted path, kick open the door of a building you just invented on the spot and demand the name of the owner: you need an answer.
I wrote about it in 2015, around the time I released it. Looking back on that post now is cringe-worthy. It is a window into a much less competent version of myself. But, even today, that project has managed to continue teaching me lessons. Sometimes, when you are stuck on what to do with your future, you can examine your past to find meaning.
When I got stuck on what to build next, I tried looking back at what I had built before. I searched my memories for the ones that brought the most emotional resonance. Your body reveals the truth – you want to find the thoughts that give you goosebumps. What I found was that so many of my most treasured memories revolved around fantasy books. I found something important in myself that I want to bring out and share with the world.
I also focused on action. Where did I actually spend time in the past? Here Be Taverns stood out. It was the only time I had ever brought a side project to the finish line. Something about it compelled me.
…which was procedurally generated
What other treasures await in my past?
I have had an interest in Procedural Content Generation for years. It is a technique that allows you to generate infinite amounts of random content based on a small set of programmatic rules. Games like Minecraft use this to generate beautiful landscapes. This is an area of interest that I have been following from the sidelines but never acted on.
It strikes me that Here Be Taverns is a perfect opportunity to explore this topic. And so I have the second failproof project. After I ship Novus Bestiary, I will begin building Here Be Taverns: V2. I already have some initial customer research and a set of features planned out.
A business plan
My goal is to launch these two projects by the end of this year. You can hold me accountable to that deadline. Besides the benefits outlined above, they will give me a concrete way to learn more about marketing. I will also get a chance to connect with an audience I want to serve.
The plan is to build up these two assets, grow traffic to both sites, and grow my audience. After that, I will decide on a third project. I will address it to the same audience to continue the compounding effect. I will use the first two projects as paths that point people towards the next thing. If the third project offers enough value, I will charge money for it. In this way, I will attempt my first entrepreneurial goal: Make $1 on the internet.
How can this plan fail?
If there is little response to these projects, I will not have failed, I will have learned something. I will have developed skills I need. I will have learned more about what people like. I will have developed relationships with my audience. In every future I will continue to learn and build.
These are failproof projects.
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