Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

I am Starting the ‘12 Start-ups in 12 Months Challenge’ (What, Why, How)

Last week I lost the part-time, remote gig that I had. As you can probably tell, right now — heading into the Christmas break and with the pandemic raging across the northern hemisphere — is not the best time to be looking for a new job.

In the face of adversity, when all doors seem to close around you, you can either change the rules of the game or change yourself (doing nothing is not an option).

I’ve decided to do both by embarking on a journey of growth and personal development by doing the 12 Startups in 12 Months Challenge as pioneered by Pieter Levels in 2014.

It sounds crazy, I know. But once we break down the what (what counts as a startup for the challenge) why (what problem are you trying to solve by doing such an insane challenge) and define the how (the not-so-secret sauce of No-Code tools) then it all makes sense.

It is a brilliant opportunity to tackle a range of desired outcomes.

Let’s jump into each one in more detail.

The Problem (Why)

There are many reasons why I am choosing to do this challenge. It is worth noting that while the challenge is not new and has been attempted by many people before me, the reasons for doing it and the desired outcome may differ slightly for each person.

Personal: Career in Flux

Finding a job during the current labour market is only part of the challenge. I would be fooling myself if I used the on-going crisis to pretend I don’t have challenges as well that I am solely responsible for.

Being qualified as a lawyer, with (less than) average grades and limited legal work experience, the former founder of a failed startup, and a keen go-getter who has been involved in one too many things while trying to transition properly into the world of tech makes it harder. As one HR person put it to me kindly earlier in the year “Your CV is a mess, I honestly don’t know what to make of you…”

General: Daydreaming of Unicorns

Building a Start-up is hard. Intuitively we all know this but is only hits you hard once you actually start doing the work and keep bumping into walls. As a result, most of us tend to grasp on to the label or identity of an Entrepreneur but are hesitant to leap. Some common pitfalls which can be addressed with ’12 Startups in 12 Months Challenge’ are:

  • Thinking about an idea, or range of ideas, forever without ever starting to work on them.
  • Sometimes an idea seems so simple to justify dedicating the time required to build it, as you already have other professional or full-time commitments and won’t be making a living for your side project.
  • Sometimes an idea seems too complicated, so you put off until you can clear up enough time in your calendar to dedicate to it.
  • Sometimes the idea seems so good, and we know it will be so hard, we just hold on to it and the warm, fuzzy feeling it creates (we are creative problem solvers!) avoiding getting punched in the face by the reality of putting in the work.
  • Start working on a project, or multiple projects, and never launching.
  • Perfectionism. Things can always be improved. Task expands to meet the time allocated to it. Without a timeline, we always find a reason to delay the launch.
  • Lack of focus on any one project.
  • Working on a project for a lot longer. Kill it.
  • Murdering babies is hard. Stabbing your own creatures is harder. Shifting goalposts sometimes means we work on the same project way past the point it is clear there is no product-market fit, no iteration will save it.

The Solution

The 12 Startups in 12 Months Challenge due to its Building in Public and time-boxing features provides you with an innovation framework that forces you to build and ship!

Rules of the Challenge.

The rules are fairly simple: to work and launch a new Startup every month.

The definition of a Startup is deliberately quite broad and for this challenge, it includes any idea, project, product, service or anything that would help me achieve the objectives of the challenge. Could it include building a personal brand and creating a portfolio of digital media assets? I think so; if the work involved in creating high-quality content across multiple channels, growing an audience and even monetising it is significant, then it would probably count.

Secret Sauce: No-Code Tools (How)

When people think of starting and launching a Startup the immediate assumption is that it requires a significant amount of time and resources (including, but not limited, to money and expertise in various fields).

While it is true that engineering resources are scarce and expensive, the reality is that the modern landscape has shifted dramatically. With the rise and proliferation of SaaS products, and in particular No-Code tools, there has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur.

I will be relying heavily on the wide range of tools available that allow you to build professional-looking, functional applications without the need to write (much) code in a reasonably short amount of time.

Personal Objectives (KPIs)

As I am going to commit a significant amount of time and resources to this challenge, it was necessary to think of a mental model or framework to get me through. How will I know if I have succeeded?

I’ve come up with the following outcomes I would like to achieve:

Learning

By the way that some people express themselves when they refer about entrepreneurial ventures, in particular those of others, it seems like there is a belief that the innovation process can be turned on and off at the flick of a switch and that all the knowledge required to complete the task is either somehow already present or is readily available for purchase (at an insignificant price) to be deployed immediately (just like magic!).

This could not be further from the truth. Especially in my case, as I am transitioning into the tech industry.

At this stage, I don’t even know what I don’t know. And there is so much to learn one could easily spend a lifetime absorbing books, online courses, podcasts, etc.

So I’ll be trialling a kind of pro-active, pragmatic, reverse engineering approach. Learning by doing, but learning as required to do the particular task. Start with the idea and explore each area in more detail as I get closer to launch.

I expect to become proficient in the various No-Code tools to the point where I can spin up an MVP quick and cheaply. The next milestone would be to be able to identify their shortcoming, understand what the next tier of technical requirement would be, and learn that. I’ve already made a start with Python and APIs.

Show Your Work

The portfolio of projects I work on through this challenge will live way past the 12 months timeline as a personal, living CV. As an example of the type of work that I can do, of the type of things that I am interested in, among many other things that may catch the eye of future employers, business partners or investor.

In particular, I would like the portfolio to capture an ability to learn new skills and improve over time. I feel like most people are full of potential, but it is quite hard for them to convey that to employers as their experience is limited to whatever work scope of work of their previous role, which hardly ever will cover a person’s full range of interests and capabilities.

In some ways I guess I am creating for myself a series of jobs to be able to prove the skills and experience required for the type of job I would like to apply to in the future, all while working on my ideas!

Build an Audience

The power of multiples is real. Up until now, I have always been quite hesitant about writing blog posts or sharing about my projects, fear of not being qualified or successful enough being a big part of it. Now I have decided to embrace that beginner, migrant mindset and share openly my journey. By making it clear this is an experiment, that I am on a journey to becoming the best version of myself, I would like to attract a community of like-minded people to share with and learn from.

The network effects of being a valuable, trusted, active members of a community also have some significant computing effects. Each launch should be easier, each question that I have should draw better answers from more people, my next co-founder or employer is only one or two connections away…

Wonderful Unicorns #Winning

Final, but not least important, is the very real possibility that at least one of the projects will gain some traction and grow into a real, ongoing venture.

While I am approaching this as an experiment with a growth mindset, I am also going to be working overtime on some of my precious ideas and initiatives that have been bouncing around in my brain for a bit. I am treating each project with the respect and seriousness it requires; give each a proper chance to succeed as they enter the world in a primitive form.

FAQ: Are you really going to work on 12 Startups?!

Most likely not. I am quite happy to admit that 12 Startups in 12 Months is a humble, ambitious aim, but most certainly more marketing stunt than strategic planning.

I am committing to work on 12 projects, for 12 Months OR:

  • Until I run out of money (Monetisation should be an important aspect to consider for each project).
  • One of the ideas gains significant traction and I decide to double down and focus all my efforts on it. This would be a fantastic problem to have.
  • A remarkable opportunity manifested itself.

What’s Next? Come join me on this Journey.

The next 12 months are going to be wild. This could be a big success or a dramatic failure. What is almost certainly guaranteed is that it will be a lot of fun and that there will be a ton of lessons and insights which I will be sharing along the way. Subscribe to my email newsletter to stay up to date with the latest!

Website: alejandrovb.me

Twitter: @alejandrovbeta1

Instagram: @alejandrovbeta1

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Alejandro V. Betancourt

Alejandro V. Betancourt

Building 12 Startups in 12 Months . Melbourne, Australia