I’m shipping, and I’m scared about it

You probably haven’t heard about freckle, unless you follow me on twitter. This is because this year is the year that Amy learned that the more she talks about something, the less likely she is to do it. My theory used to be that if I publicly committed myself, the external pressure would help. Turns out I was completely wrong.

Thomas and I, together with our wonderful friends Dieter and Phillip of abloom, have built an entirely new thing.

slash7 freckle: Dashboard

slash7 freckle: Dashboard

slash7 freckle: Dashboard

slash7 freckle: Dashboard

This is freckle. Well, this is a tantalizingly small and suitably vague portion of freckle.

freckle? Wait. What?

This thing I haven’t mentioned even once on this blog.

We’re shipping it on Monday.

No ifs, ands, or buts about it. No catastrophe will stand in our way.

There are only two ways I can describe the way I feel about this:

exhilarated & triumphant

and

terrified

I guess the exhilarated & triumphant part makes sense. But on another level, despite the fact that I believe we’ve done an incredible job, I’m riddled with doubt.

Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt – Amy-style

If you know me, you know that doubt is just not something I really… do. I imagine that this comes across in my writing, but most (sane) people must assume that that’s just a writer’s pose, the voice, the persona. But no, that’s me. I often wonder, I often do not know the answers to questions, I am ready to admit I’m wrong on individual facts or interpretations, but when I do know something about big things, my life, my career, what I should be doing… I just KNOW. In big, bold, capital letters.

I’m not the asshole that this makes me sound like. Although if you don’t know me, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Right?

But the long and the short of it is, I’ve spent the majority of my design career working on things that never saw the light of day as I imagined them. The sad fact of consulting is that unless you pick your clients with a CIA-level of scrutiny, you will often work on projects that fail, for one reason or another.

Freckle has none of those issues. If it fails, it’s all on us. Or should I say, it’s all on me. Everybody on our team is critical and it would have been impossible to build and ship freckle without every single one of us working in concert.

But—and I’m sure you heard this but coming—the direction of freckle is my doing. If people don’t like it because it’s new and weird, that’s my fault. If people don’t like it because they love their current software, that’s my fault, too.

I haven’t really shipped pudding before.

And aside from small things—except for things like this blog, cheat sheets, Twistori, and presentations, all of which are either small or ephemeral—I’ve never really shipped anything for public consumption without the interference of a client or company that I was working for.

I’ve never run a major web application before. By some quirk of my career, I’ve never had a major project ship and remained seriously involved in it afterwards. Never. Not even for the three major products where I was involved as a key person at my previous employers.

I’m not a lightning rod of doom or anything (although I was doing work for Bear Stearns last fall). Sometimes—and especially in the early years—it was my fault. But most of the time it’s just normal corporate entropy, That Stuff Which Happens To Projects.

And yet.

Breakdown (á la En Vogue, not Dr Phil)

I’m scared that freckle will be a total flop and people will hate it and this time there’ll be no option to say “Dude, that bouncy logo? Not my fucking idea. Blame the guy who hired me.”

I’m afraid people won’t like this pudding that I have, in some way or another, been waiting my entire career to make. This pudding made from my experience, my frustration, my curated stable of ideas, my best-loved theories.

I’m also scared that it will be a success, and I’ll be right again, and then what will I do with myself?

I’m not actually looking for free therapy, but…

So, I’m exhilarated. And I’m scared. And I’m OK with that. I didn’t write this for sympathy or to fish for compliments. Being scared doesn’t stop me, it just keeps me awake at night sometimes.

It’s just that this is a side you don’t often hear and I wanted to tell it. I tried to explain this at failcampback in July—especially the bit about being afraid of success—and people just stared at me. They were with me when they thought I was talking about fear of failure only. Then as I continued, their faces held more and more disbelief. “What—you mean you’re scared of success, too? Woman, this is not a problem.” Like I was crazy.

I KNOW I’m not crazy. And I doubt I’m alone.

To me, this is so much more than just the launch of yet another web 2.0 service (blech!). And I know I’m not the only one feeling this way about something seemingly so trivial. It seemed worth writing about.

So thanks for listening.

15 Comments

  1. carl fyffe says:

    I know what you mean! Doubt doesn’t plague my thinking either and I am more afraid of success than failure. Hopefully one day I will have the pleasure of launching "my product" too. Keep fighting the good fight. We are all cheering for you!

  2. Cristi Balan says:

    You’re not alone. Most of the things I’ve been working on have ended up not really where I would have wanted them to, even tho the client loved my requested, and unrequested, contributions.

    I think most of them are doing fine, and only seem to fail, to us, because we’re too over the top on our expectations. There’s always that someone else that decides something you don’t agree with (and of course we know what we’re saying) and you feel that it will ruin everything! And, sometimes, maybe that’s partially true, heh. But most of the times they have their reasons, they care more about shipping something, paying back debt, whatever while we care too much about doing it just so perfectly right :). Well, at least that’s me.

    Related to being afraid of failing or success, I keep hearing that you just get better at it after a few times. I haven tried yet :).

    Anyway, good luck with the launch and all that fame and money it’ll bring.

  3. You’re definitely not crazy nor are you alone. Fear of success is a sign that you are rational: failure is more common and thus there should be less to fear from it (as we talked about at failcamp).

    The most important thing, as you said above, is that you’re not letting it stop you. With that kind of attitude, you will definitely be learning and getting better regardless of any one project’s success or failure.

    In any case, congratulations on the big step and I’m looking forward to seeing freckle in action :)

  4. Shane says:

    Sorry …. when I read/skim through your post and get no real indication what Freckle is … then all I can really think is … "clever marketing post" … a one sentence summation could have been somewhere. But hey, nice way to get me to click the Freckle link ;-)

  5. Amy says:

    Thanks for the kind words, guys. We’ll see how it goes. :)

    Shane, I really don’t understand your comment. Cynicism – ok, sure. But do you think that if I were going to try to be sly – when, I have to say, everything I’ve ever done on this blog points otherwise – do you think that I’d believe that posting a long meandering rant about me* and not *the product on Thanksgiving Day would be the thing to do? I know you’re from New Zealand, but 300 mil of the Americans – almost the entirety of our market, I believe – are off at their families’, stuffing themselves on turkey. They are not online.

    Please. I am the best kind of marketer. I know that it’s about making an awesome product, not about goofy traffic tactics.

    What’s more, I don’t want it to blow up next week because I want time to get feedback and make adjustments. I don’t want to get digged. I want a few early adopters to sign up and that’s all. Why do you think I haven’t been talking it up while we were building it?

  6. Shane says:

    Amy, all I was saying was that, for me anyways, if you had added a one line description about Freckle it would have removed this nagging question "what is Freckle" from the back of my mind as I was reading the rest of your post. At the end of reading I was left with wondering if this was more about marketing. It was just my "two bits’ meant to be genuine feedback. But hey … fair point … I did not seek to understand before being understood … and so my apologies if I offended … was not my intent.

    And … what are you doing online today! Go eat some turkey or something ;-) Thanksgiving is one holiday I think NZ should be racing to adopt!! Happy Holiday.

  7. Amy says:

    Criticism taken, Shane – and no offense. :)

    Ironically, I thought people would assume it wasn’t marketing because I didn’t really talk about the product ;)

    But when I’m marketing, you’ll know it! ;)

  8. random8r says:

    So what is freckle?

  9. piet0r says:

    Dear Shane,

    I can’t say I’ve read slash7.com ever since it was born, but over the months, I appreciate this blog for what it means to me: One Woman’s Mind. And it’s one helluva mind, I can tell you that. But don’t take my word for it, go through some of the archives.

    So sure, I didn’t get the gist of freckle either, but surprisingly, I didn’t know that I didn’t "get" freckle until you wrote about it. Somehow, Amy’s sharing of her fears and hopes just seemed more interesting.

    Could be that I relate a lot to the "shipping" process. I too am afraid of success. I’ve shipped about a month ago, and my user base is slowly growing, having just crossed 3 digits. Right now I’m procrastinating about the "charging" process: how to make users fork over (ugh!) money.

    I wonder if Amy thinks money is filthy?

  10. Amy says:

    Thanks, piet0r, for saying such nice things about me :)

    I don’t think money is filthy. I like money and want to have it! But I think the reckless pursuit of money is filthy. For example, I’d feel dirty if I were selling people a substandard product – and by that I mean something that isn’t right up there with the best of what I can do. So I just don’t do it. And I absolutely do not work with clients whose industries / practices violate my values.

    If you’re doing great work, and it adds value, taking money is really a good thing. It means your users can help ensure you have enough time to keep doing what they want you to: making the thing that they like. This is good for everyone, no? You are happy doing what makes you happy, and making money off it to live and do what you want to do. Your users are happy because the thing they like sticks around.

    You just have to look at the fallout around the closing of iwantsandy to see that taking money is not a bad thing. Rael Dornfest doesn’t want to keep running the free service iwantsandy, period, after taking a job with Twitter – but his (soon-to-be former) users are begging him to take money so iwantsandy doesn’t go away. And bitching him out because he won’t.

    I really can’t stand people who think that commerce is essentially the sole purpose of life, and the sole means of human expression. But that’s a different matter entirely to saying that commerce is not a valuable means of human expression.

    Anybody else think I should write a self-help blog? ;)

  11. Liz says:

    Man, this post was awesome and just what I needed to read right abotu now. I am supposed to ship a web app tomorrow, and it’s probably NOT going to happen, for many different reasons. I definitely feel like you do (afraid of success) a lot of my waking hours. Actually, every waking hour, lol. But I am coping with it as much as possible.

    Anyway, I really do appreciate you writing about this, especially because I look up to you (even tho u don’t know me and vice versa) and it’s good to know that people I admire have their days just like everyone else.

  12. Fear of success is very common. Take indy rock bands afraid of becoming mainstream as an example. Or kids that are afraid to do their best work in school because it will set them apart from their peers.

    And managing success is much harder than managing failure, because most of us have such little practice at it. :-)

  13. nap says:

    Wow great post Amy. I’ve been thinking a lot about this sort of thing lately, and about devoting a more significant chunk of time towards working on my own self-directed projects.

    It’s frustrating when a client project I’ve worked so hard on fails. I like to get paid but I also like for my work to see the light of day (and that, ultimately, is usually more important IMO). On the other hand, it’s also somewhat relieving to know that I delivered my part, that it works as described, and that the ultimate success or failure of it depends on a larger pool of people, ideas, and their execution.

    There are definitely both good and bad things about being your own client; probably the scariest thing is having no one to blame but yourself if it isn’t well received. But hey, that’s life, right? Succeed or fail, there’s no doubt you’ll learn something important from the experience. And that’s worth at least as much as the billable hours involved.

    Best of luck with Freckle! I’m looking forward to seeing it.

  14. Gordon says:

    And all things considered – you shipped something! that’s super awesome in and of itself. That one fact alone puts you miles ahead of most of us, who "never quite get it together". Shipping something is also a pre-condition to the very best kind of failure – just by shipping, you’ve evaded a whole host of other kinds of much less dignified failure…

    Personally – I think it will be grand! Freckle sounds to me like the very best kind of pudding :)

  15. Absolutely awesome app. Congrats for keeping your vision, keeping it quiet, and launching it.

    Both usable and graphically flashy. Is that allowed?

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