Last night I had the pleasure of presenting on my recent Kickstarter success at the New Work City member Show and Tell. I got asked an excellent question from the audience afterwards. In my presentation I had shown that I did my homework about what works: price points, network effect etc but, some one asked “Did you look at any failed projects to see what went wrong?” I answered with my typical response when I don’t know the immediate answer “That’s a great question.” In those brief seconds I had to think of a response, I actually experienced dread.
I imagined myself preparing to launch my Kickstarter filling my head with all these stories of failure and negativity. I thought about what Chris Gillbeau (author of the $100Startup) said in the same space just two weeks before. Some one in the audience questioned his focus on successful entrepreneurs. To paraphrase Mr. Guillebeau, “failure is overrated. Don’t get my wrong. Failure is a good thing to experience because it gives you a learning opportunity.” The important thing is to iterate. Some have the tendency to emphasize the problem over the solution. This can lead to inaction.
Happstr is an example of vindication for the optimist.
It’s been less than 3 months since I stood up at 5 am on a bus leaving New York City and said something like, “Have you ever been fucking depressed? Like, go through moments of darkness? I want to build an app that encourages happiness. You tap a button and your happiness gets mapped out for others to see and get inspired by. If you aren’t feeling happy you can search a map and go to where people are happy.” After three all nighters and a whirlwind tour through the south, five amazing, wonderful people built that very app. We called it Happstr. The app continues to gain steam, has almost double my Twitter followers despite still being a prototype and not ever being officially launched. It was recently nominated for an award for humanizing technology (a personal victory since I teach technology to humans).
Happstr is an example of vindication for the optimist. I’m not always overly optimistic. Like everyone I experience periods of doubt and regret but I try not to project that to others — especially those I first meet. My job is to teach beginners about tech and too often people outside the world view it as closed off and inaccessible. They’re afraid of making mistakes. I don’t blame them. I have a lot of friends who build apps and websites for a living and it’s not uncommon to hear “That’s a dumb idea” or something close to it. The tech world venerates lean, fresh, new and most important ridiculously high-performing products. There is no second place. If you don’t have the hottest, newest exclusive technology you shouldn’t even bother.
From years of teaching people technology, however, I know that the trouble for most beginners is overcoming their fear of mistakes. Giving a beginner enough room to try it out themselves and mess something up leads to high quality learning and the most likely road for their personal success. Guess what? Getting frustrated every time it takes someone 30 seconds to do something it takes you 10 seconds to do, doesn’t exactly help them.
I see students all the time who’ve started and ended their personal web projects prematurely because they saw other people’s sites or they were convinced by someone else that some other technology would be easier or better. Too much posturing again leads to inaction. I often tell my students who ask me what’s the best way to start getting into web development learn any language. I find the people who get that action is more important than talk — like Girl DevelopIt and Mike Caprio who organized the NYC StartupBus make up the quiet majority while the haters; the get out of town if your idea isn’t the next Facebook are the loud minority.
That’s why I’m personally honored (while not presuming full-credit for its success) that Happstr is nominated for a humanizing technology award. It’s not perfect (It’s not even finished). But it’s an app that proves that being optimistic in the tech world doesn’t represent a naiveté but rather a choice and an inspiration for others.