Inactivity is not the goal. Doing what excites you is.

As I’ve been reading my notes from the 4 hour workweek book, I found this interesting note: Inactivity is not the goal. Doing what excites you is. This reminded me of the multiple conversations I had with people wanting to start their own business to “be able to work whenever they want”.

My next question is always: what will you do with the free time? Do you have something planned? I rarely get an answer for this. Or some generic answers like: “I want to travel”, “I want to pursue painting full-time”…

Sure, we all want to travel and pursue our hobbies full-time, but what’s the goal here? How can you track your progress in life? Waking up every day somewhere isn’t an answer. There is more to that.

I believe having a lot of free, unstructured time, is bad. We should all spend time thinking about this question: If money wasn’t a problem, how will you spend your days?

Why software engineers fail at building online businesses

I enjoy being a software developer. I can open my laptop, write some lines of code, and turn my ideas into reality. I feel that I can do anything I want, without much involvement from outsiders.

That’s why I’ve been trying to build online businesses, just like a big chunk of software engineers. I built countless apps/projects hoping I can profit from them, or maybe, turn them into a cash cow.

None of them worked as you have guessed. So even if I can turn ideas into reality, there was something missing from the equation. Maybe it was marketing? Sales? Or maybe the idea itself isn’t good?

I believe marketing and sales can help you if you have some traction first. Want to move from 100 customers to 1000? Definitely marketing. If you struggle to get your first 10 customers, I don’t think marketing or sales will help. So I decided to give my ideas a second thought.

This is when I tried something new. I changed how I select ideas to work on, and how I treat my software engineering knowledge. Both these changes helped me launch a product that made money before even launching. After launch, it made more than all my past projects, combined.

Here’s the full story on what I changed:

The problem with us, software engineers, is the process we use to come up with online businesses is fundamentally wrong. From the beginning, we are starting with the wrong approach. Let me explain.

This is how software engineers approach starting an online business:

  1. I build software at my current company full time
  2. Oh wow, people are paying for this software
  3. What! I can build it on my own and sell it directly to customers
  4. Let’s do that. I’ll build an app for something

This is how I used to come up with ideas to work on, and it didn’t work ALL THE TIME. The problem with this logic is the idea of building something comes first. Then trying to find customers (what they call “market-fit” nowadays), comes afterward.

You probably heard multiple times that this is wrong, and that, you should start first with the customer. So I’ll just save you from hearing it another time. But there is something else I wanted to add.

A few months ago, I made a promise that I’ll not start a project before learning more about customers. It wasn’t easy as we do this more as a hobby than a full-time job. So I was in a continuous struggle until I controlled my impulses.

I stopped myself from starting apps multiple times. I noted them in a note and moved to something else. I stopped myself from touching code until it was really necessary for a project… And I started thinking like an entrepreneur instead.

This is how entrepreneurs think:

  1. Looks like people are having a problem with this. Is this a problem worth solving for money? I should probably learn more about it.
  2. After learning, I see that people are already paying for this… Interesting
  3. I’m a software engineer, can I use my knowledge here to help me make a better solution for customers? If no, how can I make a better solution then?
  4. Okay, let’s help those people.

Being a software engineer is only an advantage in your entrepreneur journey. Even if you’re a software engineer, you may end up not using your knowledge for a specific project, and you should be okay with that.

If you see that people in your area are struggling to find a company to clean their windows, that’s a business idea. Will you use your software engineering skills in this? Probably not. Or at least, not the way you hope. But is this still a business? Yes, there is a need, and people are ready to pay for it.

Here’s my example, or how I used this process to make money before even launching:

Before starting the work on the Make it Legal ebook, I started writing on remote.ma, a blog for people working remotely from Morocco. One of the topics I wrote about is the legal stuff when working remotely. Things like creating your company, taxation, and stuff like that.

Those articles ended up being the most visited ones in the blog. A lot of the readers started reaching out to ask for details… This is when the idea of “Is this a problem worth solving?” started to pop up.

I continued listening to my visitors and I started taking notes of the questions I heard multiple times. People were already paying for accountants or are ready to pay to learn more about this. And what makes it harder for them, is there is no online information to help.

At that time, I knew I could sell an ebook about this. I created a landing page, shared it on my blog, and started getting pre-orders. I started writing it a month after announcing it with a few pre-orders already in.

Part of the questions I got is about the calculation. It’s hard for people to keep track of percentages, the different taxes, what comes first, and all those crazy tax details. I wanted something where you can put some inputs (salary, expenses…) and get the taxes and everything sorted out for you. So I started thinking about possible solutions.

I asked the question: “I’m a software engineer, can I use my knowledge here to help me make a better solution?”. Well, I could build an app for it, that’s what software engineers do, right?

On the other hand, my entrepreneur mind advised me to go with an Excel sheet. It has a lower barrier to entry and customers don’t need one extra app. Is building an app here will make a better solution? No. Is it a superior user experience? No. Does an Excel sheet provide the value I’m expecting? Yes. Is it better than the competition? Yes.

So I ended up not using my software engineer advantage in this project. And even without that, I still have an online business. And better, it took me less time to finish than building an app, while providing the same output.

“My software engineer mind would tell me to write an app for it. My entrepreneur mind advised me to go with an Excel file.”

At the end of my story, if you want to build an online business as a software engineer, here are two things to take with you from this post:

  1. Stop thinking like a software engineer, then an entrepreneur. Start thinking like an entrepreneur, then a software engineer
  2. Accept the fact that you may not use your software engineering skills in your online business

The ability to make software and sell it online doesn’t make you an entrepreneur. It’s just an advantage.

Articles I read at least once a month

In my post about recurring Todoist tasks, I shared that I have a list of articles I read at least once every month. Well, here they are:

The ladders of wealth creation – Nathan Barry

This is my all time favorite article about wealth creation. I recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about wealth. Really good stuff!

How to make a product that sells itself – Jordan O’Connor

This is a good article about pricing and how to easily sell a product. You can summarize this article in one sentence: “Save several hours of time everyday, for $1 a day”.

50 ideas that changed my life – David Perell

A lot of good ideas in this article. My favorites are: Inversion (1), Competition is for losers (9), Table Selection (21), Hickam’s Dictum (30), Personal Monopoly (38), Via Negativa (46).

Launching an online product – David Perell

Summary is: Give a ton of free stuff away to build trust. Then charge for something afterwards.

From one company to a portfolio of companies – Andrew Wilkinson

A good story about scaling businesses (going from one business to a portfolio of companies)

How to start a business or a product from scratch – Tim Ferriss

I like this video given it introduces a lot of good concepts, like creating a category, clear objectives, scratch your own itch…

Some of David Perell Tweets around consistency

B+ content and A+ consistency is the winning formula for email newsletters. – – Most of the value comes from consistency, not content.

Create consistently. Essays, podcasts, drawings, videos, music. You pick. Your work will become a magnet for people from every corner of the planet. People who like your work will reach to you and create opportunities you never expected.

My recurring Todoist tasks

I bet you already know that I use Todoist for everything, it’s my personal assistant. If not, give it a try! I hope you’ll like it as I do.

One of the best usages of Todoist is recurring tasks. I use daily, weekly, monthly, and sometimes yearly recurring tasks to stay up-to-date with what’s happening.

Today, I wanted to share with you my list of recurring tasks. I tried to keep tasks not divulging personal information, but there are other tasks related to health/doctor appointments etc…

Personal tasks

  • Call home – every day
  • Zakatyearly

Home tasks

  • Laundry day – weekly
  • Fridge check – weekly

Company management

  • Pay IR – monthly
  • Pay CNSS – monthly
  • Check letters – monthly
  • Pay TVA – quarterly

Retrospective

  • Weekly retrospective and planning next week – weekly
  • Daily manifestodaily

Workouts

  • Full body workout – weekly on Mon and Thu
  • Abs & flexibility workout – weekly on Wed

Motivation

A list of articles I read once in a month. Will be part of a separate post.

Co-working in Casablanca

Since I started working remotely, I didn’t consider joining a co-working space. In fact, I was always thinking of co-working spaces as a noisy place where I can’t get things done.

With COVID-19, I spent so much time at home and felt I lost that human touch and connection with people. So, I decided to give it a try at the beginning of this year.

4 months in, I think this was a good decision! I enjoyed joining the Commons co-working space and got to know awesome folks working on different exciting projects.

Such connections and discussions made me a better individual and more optimistic about the future and opportunities in Morocco. I prefer to hang out with people thinking they can make it in Morocco, than people cursing it day and night.

Spread the good vibes. Spread entrepreneurship.

Trying new apps

There are so many apps out there and I always get tempted to try them! Especially those fixing one small thing that’s been itching me for some time. The latest one of those apps is Linear. It looks like a good app for project management, especially given I have a lot of side projects, and I can really see it fit my use case.

However, I didn’t make the jump. Whenever I feel I’m adding another app, it looks like opening a pandora’s box.

Any tool I add to my toolbox means a new dependency. I need to figure out how to connect it to the other tools I use, make it part of my daily/weekly routine… And in general, invest so much time in it.

That’s why I try to use the apps already in my toolbox to the fullest. The project management stuff is already covered by Todoist, especially their Boards view. It’s not the best app for this, but it works fine. And this means one less app I should add to my toolbox.

I don’t have a problem trying new apps. I enjoy the process of onboarding, the UX… It inspires me and keeps me in the loop of what’s happening around. The only difference is I only commit to a few.

A non-growing to-do list

We all know what’s the problem with to-do lists: They grow bigger and bigger every day. Few months in, and you’ll end up with a long list you may never complete in your lifetime.

Seeing such a list every day will be exhausting for you and your mental health. That’s why I deliberately keep my to-do list as small as possible. At the time of writing this, my work to-do list is 20 tasks, with 5 recurring tasks. My personal to-do list is 39 tasks, with 25 recurring tasks. My work list never goes beyond 25 tasks and my personal list never beyond 50 tasks (usually when doing groceries). Knowing these limits keeps me at ease whenever I open my to-do app.

How do I do it? Two steps:

  1. Review the list weekly (usually Sunday before sleep)
  2. Heartless deletion

The first part is easy to explain. Every week, I go over my to-do list and see if I need to update something. That’s why it’s good to have a small list so you can go over it quickly.

But the second part is what really makes this process worth it. Don’t get attached to your tasks. If the task doesn’t make sense anymore, delete it. If you’re not excited about it, delete it. If no date is attached to it, delete it. If you are not sure about it, spend some time thinking about it, and then either delete it or commit to it. Keep your list small at all costs.

My to-do list is sacred. Unlike a calendar where anyone can add anything, and at any time. I’m the only person adding stuff to my to-do list.

The incorrect idea of hustling

I’ve seen there is a new generation of people who think hustling is just summarizing other people’s work, post a Twitter thread, pray it goes viral, and then brag about the new followers count.

So I wanted to summarize how the Internet looks right now, for those in the entrepreneurship cycle:

  • Category 1: The makers. They are people doing stuff. Building things, creating value…
  • Category 2: People talking about category 1 via Twitter threads, YouTube videos, blog posts…
  • Category 3: People summarizing what category 2 said. Also via Twitter threads, YouTube videos, blog posts…
  • Category 4: People doing meta summaries about summaries from category 3 using the same mediums
  • etc

The makers from category 1 don’t go viral in general. They rarely write Twitter threads that go viral, YouTube videos with millions of views, or something in between. They are too busy working and hustling. People from other categories, however, enjoy fame from their viral threads and posts.

Why? People are attracted to ideas like “40 things Elon Musk does to be successful”, “6 lessons from the last X acquisition”, “How X made millions online”, etc. Most of them think they can replicate the success by following those lessons/ideas while others consume this content for entertainment.

This idea of going viral, having multiple likes, millions of views… is an illusion trap. People doing this think they are “hustling” and need attention as those in category 1. In reality, they are only entertainers.

There is nothing wrong in being an entertainer. But I’m sure this is not what they had in mind while doing so. Posting online and going viral will definitely help you get more followers, but does it help you achieve your goal? Is your goal to always write viral tweets? Because that’s the audience you’re attracting – those who like viral tweets -.

Getting new followers and making viral tweets is not hustling. Building something is.

Daily manifesto

For me, life is a never-ending process of trying to be better than yesterday and a lot of people agree with this.

Where people start to disagree is the meaning of “being better”. Should I read every day to feel I’m better? Am I a bad person if I skip a day? What about the weekends?

It may sound crazy, but that’s how the personal development “gurus” present it: Read every day. Meditate every day. Journal every day… They present it in a way that if you miss one of these things, you’ll feel terrible about yourself.

This is terrible advice.

For me, being better doesn’t mean it only involves you. Helping your community, being nice to others, remembering your loved one’s birthdays, are all types of being better. When you keep personal development only personal, you turn into a fanatic. You start thinking you’re better than others, or you’re inches away from being the next Naval. Both destructive ideas.

I have a daily manifesto of 4 areas I want to improve at every day. I have a daily task in my tasks manager named “Daily Manifesto”. I consider it done when I achieve something in one of those areas, not one in each area, I leave that for the fanatics.

Wiser

I want to keep my mind working. I want to read, write, and learn new things. I consider this done if I: Read something, learn something new, doing a DIY project, develop a new skill or write.

Healthier

We only have one body and we should keep it working properly. I consider this done if: I cook a healthy meal, do a workout or take one of my stupid walks.

Happier

This is something that’s different between folks as the definition of “happy” isn’t the same for everyone. But there are sources linking happiness with being around people you love. And I believe that’s true for me too. I consider happiness to be tied to the quality of my human relations. I consider this done if: I spend time with family, getting a coffee with a friend, do a call with a distant friend, helping someone, or giving advice when requested.

Wealthier

Being wealthy is something I’ve been pursuing for a long time and is my ultimate goal. I consider this done if: I post on the blog, work on side projects, work on ideas, or connecting with like-minded people.


Each day, I’m either wiser, healthier, happier, or wealthier. And that’s all I need.

Stupid walk

One of the most rewarding things I’ve been doing lately is walking.

I don’t do it for a specific reason. I walk, for walking. I don’t want to reach a specific destination, have a pre-defined route in mind, or do it to conserve steps streak on a health app. I just walk. And when I feel tired, I go back home. That’s it.

I call it a stupid walk, and you’ll usually hear me saying “I need to take my stupid walk”. If I spend too much time without it, I feel I need to take one to recharge.

Walking is the activity that engages my brain the least. I don’t need to think about how I’m going to walk. My feet move on their own. It’s a repetitive task that I actually enjoy and I don’t mind doing it each day. I put music on my ears and begin moving.

My brain starts thinking about different things. Sometimes dancing to the music. Other times thinking about the future. Reflecting about the past. Enjoying the moment. Or simply analyzing my surrounding.

I get most of my ideas from my stupid walks. I don’t know why, but it works for me.

There is however something I still don’t understand. Even if my brain works during the whole walk, I feel rested and energized after it. I have no idea why. But as long as it’s a good thing, I don’t want to know why.