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Resist false productivity signals

Rob Drilea
Rob Drilea
3 min read
Resist false productivity signals

Buying a domain name does not a business make.

(Unless your business is to buy and sell domain names.)

I tend to disagree instinctively, because good domain names are difficult to come by, and if you've had a great idea, AND the domain name is available at registration fee, you really probably should just buy it.

The ~$10 cost isn't so much an investment at that point, as it is a hedge against the likely possibility that tomorrow, or next week, or next time you remember the idea you just had and then decide to act on it, the domain will have been taken.

But - don't consider buying a domain name a box to check in your "start a project" task list.

I should know. I've spent a good part of the last couple of years ideating, getting excited about ideas, discarding most of those ideas, and occasionally deciding to pursue one. My pursuit usually involved going through the following motions:

  • think up a name or two
  • find a good domain name for it
  • research trademark conflicts for the name
  • buy the domain name
  • set up Cloudflare for DNS forwarding to Carrd and my GSuite email alias.
  • get a logo (usually, make a logo quickly with Namecheap's free logo tool)
  • put together a landing page (usually repurpose a template on Carrd.co)
  • make up some copy

Occasionally, I would go beyond the above, and maybe define some rough pricing options for my imagined offering, and, if I'm really excited about it, even put together a promo video.

I would spend anywhere between a couple of hours to a couple of days on an idea this way. And then?

Heard that saying - if you build it, they will come?

No, they didn't.

What invariably ended up happening next was I would move on to the next shiny idea, and go through the motions once again.

I did this on and off for a couple of years, in between freelancing and jobs and unemployment. I would repeatedly squander my time doing things that made me feel productive, even though at the end of the day, things looked the same with every new project - zero revenue, zero customers, nothing to show for my efforts.

After doing this often enough, I figured out how to do it faster and faster, how to spin up a new decent-looking landing page with a fresh brand that looked like it belonged to a real business. I got so good that I even thought that should be a business: spin up brands from scratch for a reasonable flat fee. But I would always fall short of promoting, or pushing my projects out into the world, reaching out to get that first customer.

Why? The most obvious reason is, of course, that I wasn't truly excited about any of what I was building. Did I want to run a podcast editing service? Did I really have the skills to build websites for coaches? Of course not. Should I not have known this before I even got started building?

The less obvious reason is: all of the things I was doing were false progress signals.

Ticking those boxes, especially after doing it so many times that it became second nature, always gave me a dopamine rush and made me feel like I was accomplishing something. Naming your project, getting a logo, deciding on visuals, absolutely are parts of shipping a project into the world.

They just shouldn't necessarily happen before you validate your idea, before you get a paying customer.

Better yet, not before you have a project you're certain you want to be working on.

Rob Drilea

On creativity & work