Inventing a method to invent
“The greatest invention of the 19th century was the invention of the method of invention.” - Alfred North Whitehead
I’ve spent some time this month thinking about my own process of “invention”. Where does it come from and how might it be replicated, either by myself or by someone else?
Over the weekend I thought I’d take one of my ideas & launch it whilst documenting the process along the way. The below is by no means the only method of invention, but it is mine. It certainly comes with no guarantee of success. It’s a worthwhile exercise, if only for my own benefit to better understand whether a method to invention could or does exist & if so, is it in anyway, reproducible?
Here goes …
What is it?
crsp (getcrsp.com). An identity & notifications protocol designed for you.
Ah, ok … wtf is that?
Yes, that’s a pretty abstract tagline & likely won’t make the cut if this graduates from an idea into a company however, as you read through my process of how I got to this point, you’ll hopefully have a better understanding & maybe even a suggestion for a more succinct tagline.
Where do ideas come from?
Like Jude, Akahu & Dolla, all my ideas originate out of wanting to solve a particular problem in own my life. I’m not sure I’d either be interested or have the necessary skills & experience if this wasn’t the case. In other words, I’m confident operating from within my Circle of Competence.
I fully expect to personally utilise the products of my companies. If I wouldn’t use them, then how could I expect anyone else to?
That last line is a pretty decent test that is unfortunately not always applied over the last few years by founders and/or investors of some recent companies.
Generally what I’ll do with an idea is just let it sit in my head for at least a month noticing whether it keeps grabbing my attention or not. In the mean time, if the idea is grounded in a field I don’t particularly have any real knowledge in, I’ll read as many books as I can which helps to determine quickly whether I can master the fundamentals of the field & provides invaluable context around the history, previous successes, failures & personalities relating to the idea. Assuming after a month or so the idea still seems interesting to me, I’ll move onto figuring out what I could do about it.
So what’s the idea behind crsp?
If you study the history of wildly successful people in or across most disciplines, almost without question they are all fiercely protective of their time & very deliberate about what, how & who has access to it.
For a number of years now, I’ve made the conscious choice to cut out everything that I deemed wasn’t either important or productive. I’m not on any social media (garbage in, garbage out), have a very limited number of apps on my phone (those that remain mostly have notifications disabled) & very rarely either reply or agree to “meet for a coffee” with some random person who found my email address on the internet.
Not so long ago, access to information & networks was considered a luxury that was utilised by individuals, companies & governments to further their own respective agendas. Increasingly, freedom from information & the indulgence to simply sit still & think is becoming reserved for the “wealthy”, however you choose to define that word.
So fundamentally, the idea behind crsp is to provide a digital moat with personalised bridges, gates & barriers between information, people & me.
My current scorched earth approach to information inflows has undoubtedly been successful for me (at least in comparison to what I was doing) however, crsp represents what I think could be the best of both worlds; controlled, defined protocols for incoming information, ideas & people.
How did we end up here?
If you think about the fundamental infrastructure or building blocks of the modern internet, it was largely designed & evolved on top of two main protocols; HTTP/web + SMTP/email, information & communication respectively.
The word ‘protocol’ in relation to computing is commonly defined as;
A set of rules governing the exchange or transmission of data between devices.
That all sounds logical & has allowed the web to flourish beyond anyones wildest dreams. As the web has evolved however, we’ve largely allowed a tiny majority to disproportionately influence & cement the literally definition of the word ‘protocol’, somewhat passive to the perspective that on the other end of “data transmission between devices” is a human.
Hence my current abstract tagline for crsp; “An identity & notifications protocol designed for you.”
Ok. So what can I do about it?
The second part of invention is being able to take an idea & do something with it in order to bring it to life. This part is hard & something that’s almost impossible to teach. It’s really only something (at least from my own perspective) you have to experience & continue to learn from.
I made so many mistakes when starting out with Jude, slightly less with Akahu & slightly less again with Dolla. Mostly they relate to my tendency towards “perfection being the enemy of done”.
So on Friday night I decided to write some code to achieve the absolute minimum possible to bring this idea to life & in the process, move it forward just enough to either kill it or dedicate some more time to it. There’s nothing worse than having an idea stuck in your head that isn’t moving forward … either do something with it or get rid of it.
SMTP/email has been & continues to be a remarkably resilient medium for communication (see the “Lindy effect”) hence the crsp MVP is built upon email initially. Email “re-invention” seems to come & go with companies like Google, Superhuman & HEY all having recent failures and/or successes.
Personally, I’m not a fan of trying a new email client as I’m not sure that is where the root cause of the problem lies. To me, the problem with email is the imbalance of power between participants & a lack of rules & defined protocols as to who or what can send me an email & as a consequence, take up some of my time.
So what I built over the weekend is this;
Anyone can email me via email@example.com - I’m happy to publish this address for all to see on the public internet. That’s the “identity” part of the protocol.
I’ve set some generic rules, protocols & processes that must be followed before an email can actually reach by inbox. This solves for the “imbalance of power” I mentioned above. Your email must be plain text, have a concise subject line and be less than 280 words, otherwise, it will be returned to you explaining the rules. Why 280 words? Twitter is 280 characters, 280 words feels about right for this medium. No point in overthinking it.
If it does pass my rules, then it will simply be forwarded onto my underlying inbox (currently Gmail) but it would be trivial to send it to different locations based on other rules I might choose to set up.
MVP 2.0 could add more context around who I am & what interests I have so the person receiving the bounce back could better tailor their message or decide to drop it altogether. It would also kill any spam. Essentially, if you’re emailing me for the first time, you should do the work, not me.
The great thing about email is its ubiquity. Everyone has access & it’s (mostly) free. Anyone can reach me via firstname.lastname@example.org & therefore crsp itself could also represent an opportunity to re-think a network style closed platform like LinkedIn. But that’s not for now. Given I have a basic MVP working, the next aspect to invention is trying your best to “kill it”.
How can I kill this idea?
Trying to kill an idea the minute it’s created might seem counter-intuitive but I believe it’s super important & rarely practised by first time founders.
There’s a million ideas in my head I could be pursuing. What’s to say this one is any better than the last or the next?
So in order to kill crsp, I’m going to do two things;
Not work on any further product ideas & only make sure the current functionality works. E.g. fix the odd bug.
Anyone interested is going to pay for it from day one, including me. It’s US$4.99 a month. It’s all setup on Stripe now, follow this link to start your subscription to crsp.
I have zero expectations that anyone will subscribe but if they do, what I will do is work personally with them to sharpen the idea further.
Where to from here?
At the moment it’s still largely just an idea, albeit now with an intangible product attached to it. I’ve done enough to figure out whether the final aspect of invention is even worthwhile pursuing. That part involves “selling” it, both to users & investors.
Through-out the weekend I gained a better understanding of both the idea, the process behind the idea & some tangible experience with Stripe’s products that I can use to help both Akahu & Dolla become better products themselves.
If nothing else, a worthwhile way to spend some of my time on a rainy weekend.
If you know someone who might be interested, share a link to this post with them.