The Fine Art of “Flintstoning”

Ever given up on a personal project or product cuz it just got way too freakin’ complicated?

You start with a brilliant little kernel of an idea but every time you touch it, it doubles in size and reach. It sprouts heads, plural. It mutates. At the end, you face not a rational to-do list, but an infinite and invincible Cthulhu of creativity. And by then it’s too late: Your soul is forfeit.

🐉 PN’NGLUI MGLW’NAFH Cthulhu R’lyeh WGAH’NAGL FHTAGN! 🐉

Yeah, been there, done that, got the old god sucker scars to prove it.

For 6 years, I told myself I should start an app business. For 6 long — LOOOOOOOOOONG — years, I worked on SaaS app plans. And never shipped any of them. I never even began to build them, beyond the falsest starts. I overwhelmed myself so utterly that I gave up, every time.

If my failed projects were children, I would have had a pack of first graders! It was ludicrous.

In spring 2008, I hit my absolute limit. I resolved: NO MORE. No more hard drive full of incredibly detailed, never-realized plans. No more pointless explosion of ideating. No more talking.

Hold onto your tentacles, Amy’s gonna just fucking ship.

How?

I decided to take a hard look at what I usually did… and do the opposite.

Sounds stupid, but it worked. Ha!

Just six months after my revelation, we shipped Freckle, our very first subscription web app. We built it in just 3 months of part-time work. People loved it. And it made money! Neither of those things could have happened if we hadn’t shipped it.

And we would never have managed to ship it, if we hadn’t flintstoned.

There are lots of productivity/discipline/mindset/strategy things I deployed to ship Freckle, and everything I’ve shipped since. (Hey, I wrote a book about this!)

Of all these tools, flintstoning is both the easiest and most neglected.

What is flintstoning?

Well, obviously it comes from the cartoon, where Fred and his annoying pack of prehistoric buddies get around in a vehicle like so:

flintstone gif

Get it? It’s a car. But it’s not a car. Hell, the Flintstones live in the time of dinosaurs, they don’t have combustion engines! Fred’s cheating. It looks like a car, it functions like a car (sort of), but it’s powered by feet. Furiously paddling feet.

Flintstoning is when your app, product, or business itself lacks a feature… buuuuuuuuut, you can make up for it manually.

For example, as our deadline loomed, there was no way for us to finish Freckle as spec’d. But there was no way in hell I was going to miss our launch date. So we dropped features. But not entirely.

We flintstoned them:

  • Password reset? Nope. If you lost your password, email us — we’ll reset it for you. (Manually, in the MySQL terminal. Those were the days.)
  • Delete or archive users to kick them out of your system? Nope… email us.
  • Export or import data? You guessed it… email us. It would involve the MySQL terminal again.
  • Absolutely any other kind of “app admin” type stuff we needed to do? MySQL. Terminal. Or maybe IRB. Or both. What I’m saying is: By hand. (Not live on production, though; we’re not animals.)

And my personal fave…

  • Shut off an account after a credit card failure? Hahaha, this one’s a trick! When we launched Freckle, our code wasn’t even done for regular billing — and as for re-billing and lockout, we didn’t automate that for six months.

If you’re not a developer and some of the above terms have you scratching your head, don’t. The technical specifics don’t matter at all. The key thing is:

We shipped without a BUNCH of “critical” features — but we could still deliver the results to our users (and our bottom line), it just took a little more hands-on work.

This applies to books, courses, services — both the stuff the customer gets, and the stuff you use to power your business.

So don’t let your launchline slip.

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