Resolution 2024 (and beyond!)

TLDR: Resolution doesn’t make enough money to allow me to make Resolution better — which is a problem I need to figure out. However, Resolution also doesn’t lose very much money, so it’s not going anywhere, and you should continue to use it and tell all your friends and co-workers about it.

I’ve been working on Resolution full time for a while now. I started with nothing in 2022, and now we have… all of this! When I first quit my job to focus on this thing, there was a LOT to do. I had literally no bits at all — just a couple drawings and a lot of ideas in my head, plus a certain amount of money saved up for development. For the next year and a half, I spent it building the thing you have today with a bunch of extremely talented people. I very specifically made a bunch of decisions about Resolution designed to insulate it from the (very likely) possibility that it wouldn’t generate very much money, and sure enough, that’s exactly what has happened. But I’m not made of money, and at some point the cool-but-unfinished application I have today is going to need additional dollars and hours to get any better.

So, since last summer I’ve been kicking the tires on getting a job. I’ve done a bunch of freelance work, interviewed a couple places, and basically started to do the stuff I need to start making money again. I have mixed feelings about the whole thing because on the one hand, this is the opposite of working on Resolution, but on the other, it’s sort of the obvious next step towards making Resolution better, which is really all I care about when it comes to this enterprise (other than actually helping my wife keep a roof over our head, etc.).

What did I learn?

I’ve learned A LOT through the process of standing up Resolution. Some of the things I learned are pretty typical entrepreneurial things, and some are a little outside the mainstream, but here are the big ones.

1. Resolution is not really a startup

I have worked at a lot of startups over the last twenty years, and I can tell you with a high degree of certainty that Resolution is… not really one of them, for a bunch of reasons. Most importantly, I never really put any kind of countdown timer on it. Resolution didn’t raise any money, and Resolution doesn’t burn enough money to justify shutting it down. None of this is an accident. I spent a lot of time at other companies working on fundraising and found the whole process not only incredibly stupid, but at the root of many of our dumbest, anti-product decisions. I also spent a lot of time at other companies spending a ton of money to try to make success happen faster. Money on employees, consultants, systems, advertising, etc. — money that created “burn rates” that would eventually kill us if we didn’t continue to succeed. This is both kind of insane and actually pretty motivating.

Whether it was fatigue from being eternally hunted by financial ruin at work, or just garden-variety fear of failure, this element of “grow or die” is completely missing from Resolution. I didn’t mortgage my house to start my big idea — I waited until I was 40 years old with a significant financial cushion before doing this at all. Then, not only did I not raise any additional money (money for things like, you know, advertising or additional product development), but I didn’t even try, despite lacking the ability to do many of these things myself.

Many times over the last couple of years I’ve been faced with a decision to go for home run, or play it safe. In a traditional venture backed startup, the decision would have been easy, because playing it “safe” would have meant death. With Resolution, it didn’t, so I often chose to play it safe. The best example of this is during my last development sprint, when instead of frantically trying to add value to Resolution, I spent out time and money on essentially making it production-ready — supporting full account management, payments, and other useful long-term stuff. Trust me, there are much more exciting ideas in the hopper, and it kills me every day that they aren’t built. If you’re about to go out of business, cutting your losses and building out infrastructure would make no sense. But if you can’t go out of business because of your cost structure, the decision is trickier and a lot more personal.

2. Customer development is interesting, but not what I want to do

Like all 42 year old white guys from a major metropolitan area, I have read The Lean Startup. It’s a cool book, and while parts of it drive me bananas, I’ve used a lot of its lessons everyday at — as I mentioned — a pretty wild variety of early stage companies. One of the core ideas of the book is the concept of “customer development”, which I won’t try to describe in detail here (just read the book), but involves using the input of your first potential customers to figure out what to build and how to build it.

Don’t get me wrong — we talked to users and prospective users quite a bit, and many of them had interesting, useful things to say. But in general, the very non-startup ethos of Resolution is not about figuring out how people would like to solve a problem (or figuring out what the problem is). It’s way more personal (egotistical, even) than that. I have this problem. Worse than that, my problem is actually that other people have this problem, and it adversely affects me. So when you get feedback that your desired target customers don’t want to solve the problem, or at least aren’t particularly motivated to do so, customer development logic would dictate that you pivot pretty aggressively. If the proverbial fish aren’t biting, you move the boat.

That’s customer development. Then, there’s customer development with me, at Resolution, as shown below.

This is obviously a corollary of “this is not a startup”, but the main problem is that, in words of my daughter, “I always listen to the other kids’ ideas, but they are bad and mine are better”.

The entire point of Resolution is to force people to make decisions and face realities they often refuse to admit or acknowledge. No one wants to do this until they experience the benefits of doing it, which makes the fundamental value proposition of my application inherently user-hostile. If I had a million dollars, I could probably make this go away (or at least mitigate it significantly) with piles and piles of fun, animated surprise and delight, but I don’t, so for the most part the first two hours of using Resolution can be a pretty joyless slog until it suddenly clicks and you think “hey, maybe the way I was doing this before really IS stupid!”

I don’t want to give up on this, but obviously people are not obligated to fund the continued development of my character-building, “eat your vegetables” web application to the tune of $65 a year. I get it! But on the other hand, Facebook gave you everything you wanted, based on data, and now you all hate it. I’m giving you nothing you want at all, and as a result, eventually you’re going to love it. Makes sense, right?

3. 75% of starting a product business is actually just about bothering people

I am demonstrably good at product marketing — that’s why people keep asking me to do it for them! I’m not saying I’m some kind of genius (lots of people are good at product marketing), but unlike playing guitar, I have done lots of product marketing work for lots of real companies, and driven real success with it that resulted in people giving my employers lots of money. I am proud of this!

Zero to one product marketing, specifically, is hard. But I don’t think it’s outside my ability to do well. However, it does require making some choices (especially if you have no money), and you could make a reasonable argument that when it comes to making those choices with early stage Resolution, I chose poorly. Of course, it’s all unprovable — you go to market with the plan you have, and if you fail, in hindsight every plan looks better because it can’t be disproven as long as its different. But you could tell me the home page of this fine web application is either perfect, or completely wrong, and maybe be right.

One thing you can NOT argue is that I have done a great job getting eyeballs on this thing, because I have absolutely failed to do so. I’ve put in what feels like a tremendous amount of social energy into Zoom calls, introductions, emails, Loom videos, and everything else, along with even more energy into the organic marketing aspect of this — making tons of search accessible content, product content, comparison pages, and a mix of useful and batshit crazy YouTube/LinkedIn videos. But it’s not 2010. People don’t explore the open web the way they used to — things are put in front of them. Some of that is organic, but modern SEO has made that “organic” in the loosest sense of the term, and you’re basically just figuring out how to force yourself in front of people without paying for it.

I mean, I tried. I made a Reddit account. I got banned from r/Startups in a couple weeks (for life!) for trying to operate in good faith, because Reddit is dumb and so are a lot of moderators. I made an account on IndieHackers and posted a couple things literally no one ever read. Did I comment on hundreds of posts? Did I inject myself into every conceivable conversation? Did I follow up multiple times with people who clearly had limited interest in what I was working on? No, no, and no. And these things matter. They are the little things we tell 23 year old SDRs to do not because we enjoy making the lives of junior employees miserable, but because in the aggregate these things actually matter! Resolution is proof of that — I did not do these things at scale because whenever I did them, they had no impact, but from a business perspective, that’s a silly, selfish reason to not do them. Which, again, is a good reminder that I have never treated Resolution as a real business, and that’s why I should get a job if I want this thing to get better, which I do.

What did I NOT learn (yet)?

Is Resolution good enough?

I am a product person and a problem solver, so my product person brain says “absolutely not”. I’ve got a vision in my head, and while today’s Resolution illustrates certain parts of it very clearly, on the whole, this ain’t it. There’s a bunch of polish and shine I want to add, of course, but the main thing is that Resolution models shouldn’t have to be a tree.

This way, you could have all of your expenses on one side of the model, broken down by category, and all of your revenue, also broken down by category, on the other. It’s pretty Resolution nerdy, but I can’t express how freaking cool this would be, and how many useful scenarios I could render this way.

That’s an example of a fundamental operating principle, and there are a few of those that are needed for this thing to reach its true potential. However, there are tons of “features” that belong in here as well — we have probably 50 of these scoped out and they run the gamut from formatting and usability improvements, to different visualization and reporting options, but they are all things that frankly don’t belong in an MVP, so we didn’t build them. I don’t really have any regrets on prioritization, if I’m being honest.

Lastly, there’s the entire “onboarding” process, which I think of more as simply “how is this concept presented to you in the product”. I do a lot of explaining with walkthroughs, videos, and stuff like that, but you’re asking a lot of the user in an era where anything that doesn’t make sense in 5 seconds is usually thrown out the window. It’s certainly not the first thing I’d build in a non-startup scenario (i.e., if you think of Resolution as a long term usefulness project and not a customer acquisition device), but I do think there’s a cool way to bring people into this concept step by step where each step is inherently entertaining and educational at the same time. We don’t have that today, and it’s a big part of why I’ve been so hesitant to pay for eyeballs — I’m not sure they’d stick around to deal with what we have at the moment.

Are people willing to put in the work?

Resolution is better than a spreadsheet in a bunch of interesting ways, but realistically it’s not for people who are actually awesome at spreadsheets and willing to spend all day making and managing tons of them. I know those people are willing to do an incredible amount of work to understand the numbers of their business, because they already do an incredible amount of work. What I’m not as sure of is whether Resolution’s intended audience — people who have slightly less quantitative literacy and would benefit from having a better numerical grip on things — are actually willing to get their hands dirty in the way that learning really requires. If you get a Salesforce report with a number, and you don’t know where it came from and/or can’t defend how it’s calculated, does that bother you even if you’re not very good at using formulas? It bothers me, and when I explained it people I worked with, it bothered them as well. But that’s all talk. When push comes to shove, if you really want to know, you’ll battle with Resolution even in its current form, as my current users do, and get excited by what you see when you do it.

Again, with a bunch of money, I can make a lot of the work go away, or become easier. Computers and really good designers are good at that. But I can’t get rid of it completely, and if people are satisfied just getting numbers handed to them in dashboards or even in someone else’s spreadsheet, I don’t think they’re going to want to go through the necessary intellectual exercise that is at the heart of why Resolution makes you smarter.

But I guess we’ll find out! Because all of this aside, Resolution is humming along as we speak, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. As I continue to “raise funds” (aka, “work”), eventually I’ll get to a point where I can get back to work on development, and we’ll see some of these things make it into Resolution. So continue to spread the word, and help me overcome both my lack of dedicated promotional money AND my internal distaste of bothering people.