In my life I’ve made a bunch of things. I’ve created and released a four iOS apps. I wrote, produced and directed a 12 minute documentary on Rosewood, an abandoned insane asylum in Owings Mills, Maryland. My intention with this paragraph is not to boast about the things I’ve done but to talk about how I see each of these in relation to creating things from my heart.
In my first semester of college, the professor of my Intro to Computer Science class gave us a very open-ended final assignment: create something useful with the concepts from this semester. We could make what we wanted with any language or technology.
I thought about the problems in my life and since I was an out of state student, I took the bus a lot from Boulder to Denver for concerts and from Boulder to DIA to fly home. This was Fall 2008, there were no iPhone apps or web apps for the bus system in Colorado, called RTD. So my final project was a simple one: six gigantic PDFs that I stitched together from smaller PDFs that I crammed into an iPhone app. The app was called RTD Mobile Bus times and showed me the schedules for just two bus routes. I made the app purely for myself because it solved my own problem. That summer, I released it to the public, selling it for 99 cents with resounding feedback, “Why are there only two buses in here?”
I took that feedback and went back to the drawing board, releasing Beeline RTD the next summer and Beeline RTD 2 the summer after that. I love those apps. I know they’ll never be the next Angry Birds but I made them because I wanted them and it turned out that a bunch of other people did too. The first time I held a build of Beeline RTD in my hand, after getting it from my developers, I literally jumped up and down at the though that this app had come out of my head and I could now put it in my pocket and use it whenever I wanted. One of the most rewarding feelings I’ve found.
When I was 18, my senior project in high school was again, a completely open-ended one. I had to create a group of students and make something. Some kids went to Hawaii and did a report on the surf there, some kids worked in museums and wrote about their experiences. I made a documentary about Rosewood with my friend Zack.
Zack and I had been fascinated with Rosewood for years. We’d snuck around inside of its buildings late at night on weekends with other groups of curious 16-year-olds. We were obsessed with its architecture, its history, its soul. So we made a documentary from start to finish and to this day, it’s one of the things I’m most proud of.
We made the documentary because we wanted it to exist, not because we cared what anyone else though of our idea. We loved those buildings and haunting ideas of ghost stories and things that went bump in the night. So while other kids used their senior projects to go on vacation, we ran through abandoned buildings with a camera, bringing what we wanted into the world.
And what I’ve come to realize is that each of these things that I create that I’m most proud of - it really comes from my heart; it comes from a piece of me which I think the general public would say is “weird.” Apps for readers or public transit riders. A documentary about an abandoned insane asylum. These aren’t mainstream things.
Ben Huh touched on this in his post, Here’s to the weirdos:
And when I say “weirdos”…I’m talking about those who believe passionately in the world you want to build for them.
Choosing your audience limits the pool that sees your work, but it also sets you free. You know who you’re going after now as much as you know who you aren’t going after. Being comfortable that someone isn’t going to like your post or your software is part of the game.
You know that thing that you want? Build it. Create it. Make it happen. Because even if you want some of your work to be incredibly popular, your audience has to start with a group of weirds who, like you, believe in the exact same thing and support you as you make it happen.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Continue this discussion over on the thread on Hacker News.
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