Growing Ideas

How do you improve upon your idea to gain more traction? What are the next steps in building out your vision for your idea?

Quality over quantity

As you build out your project, you may be tempted you try out a bunch of different things with good intentions being to market your idea or bring as many people in as you can. However, try to focus on delivering high quality output to maintain a strong sense of trust and reliability.

If you're not focusing on quality, the amount of short-term followers you garner isn't necessarily validation of your success.

If you're a data-driven person, you may be tempted to validate your project's success through numbers of followers and users. But, it's also important to understand why people are using or enjoying your project in the first place. If you can pin-point the main reasons why someone is interacting with your project, you can focus on making that experience even better. When you try to garner a lot of traction, you might push out many different efforts without realizing you're moving away from your vision or initial goals. Quality is just as important for growth as the quantity of initiatives you start to implement.

In order for you to understand the perception of your project's quality to others, ask them! Solicit feedback by having people answer the following:

  • On a scale from 1-10, how helpful / valuable / resourceful is my project to you?

  • On a scale from 1-10, how likely would you recommend my project to someone?

  • Describe my project in a sentence.

By asking for whether or not people would recommend your project or even to describe your project concisely, you'll get a better sense of the quality and potential for growth your project has given how it's been resonating with people.

“In the context of growth, it depends on your objective. A high quality design might not mean that it's perfectly polished, but rather that it has enough polish to get you to the next phase. If the objective is just to learn but not to ship [launch], then that’s the bar you have to clear. After you’ve shipped something, the standard is different. Then it’s about ‘How can we make it better? What might best look like? How do we squeeze all of the juice out of the lemon?’ Many traditional design teams over-engineer and over-design, while a growth designer knows that they may be looking for something more simple.” – Angel Steger, Director of Growth Design at Dropbox

When thinking about quality growth, the following are great to keep in mind:

Quality of humans

  • Discovering new people: how are you promoting your project to reach new people?

  • Getting new people: how are you showing new people the value proposition of your project and why they should get involved / recommend it to others?

  • Keeping people: how are you measuring retention of people who interact and enjoy engaging with your project?

Quality of work

"You should set aggressive but borderline achievable goals and review progress every month. Celebrate wins! Talk internally about strategy all the time, tell everyone what you’re hearing from customers, etc. The more information you share internally—good and bad—the better you’ll be." – Sam Altman, YC

  • Commitment: how much time are you devoting to developing your project? Start by thinking week by week – how much sit-down focused time do you spend working on it?

  • Creativity: how unique are your new ideas for growing the project? What new initiatives are you trying to do and how are you measuring its success?

  • Charisma / Engagement: how enthusiastic are you when building out new initiatives for your project? Do you feel genuinely satisfied or dissatisfied with your progress?

Quality of platform

Don't worry so much about getting state-of-the-art tooling for your project's growth. Limit your consumption to only 2-3 tools that help you streamline your workflow. Our personal favorites are Dropbox Paper, Notion, Github, and Typeform.

  • Tools: what existing tools could be helpful in advancing the progress of your project? how helpful are the tools you're using currently?

  • Resources: how are you utilizing existing resources whether it be through a network of people, professionals, alumni, faculty or online tutorials, demos, repositories, publications.

  • Productivity: how necessary is your current workflow to the growth of the project? how productive are you in achieving your daily, weekly, and monthly tasks?

Quality of feedback

  • Frequency: how often are you asking for feedback about your project? Are you asking for feedback immediately when you try something new or wait to elicit more general feedback?

  • People: who are you asking feedback from? Are there members of your audience, mentors, or friends? Who do you think could be the most valuable and in-tune with your project's mission to give you feedback?

  • Method: how are you asking for feedback? Are you using surveys, in-person conversations, meetings? How is the method impacting the amount and/or quality of feedback you're getting?

Marketing

One of the strongest ways to grow your project is through promoting your vision and value of your project with friends, friends of friends, co-workers, students – really any one who you might think would be interested in what you are doing or know someone who might be.

One of the best ways to promote a project is through social media, publications, events, and organizations.

Social Media

  • Gaining traction: if you're planning on creating social media accounts for your project, leverage your own personal network to establish a strong following.

  • Planning ahead: getting high visibility on IG and FB means posting almost every day (multiple times). To get ahead, create a monthly "grid" to plan out photos, features, links, etc. that you might want to include to develop your online brand. This can also help by seeing how your social media account might look in terms of colors and images to set it apart from others.

Publications

  • Gain visibility: if you're a college student, odds are there are many budding journalists in your community looking for their next story. Reach out to them! Pitch them your project and how you have worked to grow it and tell your story of why you started it. Features in local newspapers and publications can help you gain more visibility among diverse audiences.

Events

  • Promote your project in-person: try and see if there are any conferences, events, workshops, or meet-ups that might be interesting for you to attend. Pitching your project in person is always more effective than cold-emailing your network for feedback and contributions.

Organizations

  • Involve existing orgs: if you're part of existing organizations on campus and outside campus, try to involve them in the growth of your project by promoting your idea on listservs, attending their events to talk to other students, or potentially asking for collaboration opportunities.

Recruiting / Collaboration

You often hear people say "an idea is only as the team behind it." If you're trying to grow your project and have limited bandwidth to achieve your goals, try to delegate some work to someone who might be interested. When bringing on a team, keep in mind the following:

  • Commitment: how much time does the person have to dedicate to the growth of the project?

  • Passion: is the person deeply passionate about your mission and wants to contribute to the vision you have?

  • Delegation: how can you delegate specific tasks to the person without decreasing the quality?

  • Collaboration: how easy is it for you to work with this team or person? Do you feel your values align?

It's also great to loop people in for specific collaborative campaigns for growing out your project. Collaborations are everywhere and are really effective in marketing your idea as well as bringing people in on your vision. Here are some examples:

Shiro partnering with Alcove to present illustrations on career and personal development.

Funding

If you're looking to grow your project in terms of funding, there are several different ways to go about it:

  • Campus resources: if your school has an entrepreneurship program, they most likely have competitions and grants you can apply for. If you're a Cornell student, check out Cornell Resources.

  • Student-run VC Firms: there are firms like Dorm Room Fund, Rough Draft Ventures, and Contrary Capital that aim to fund the next generation of student entrepreneurs.

  • Alumni and professional network: there might be people who you may or may not know that may be interested in helping you build out the idea. Pitch your idea on listservs and email people through alumni directories and LinkedIn.

  • Corporations / Sponsorships: some companies have specific grants or sponsorship ability to help fund independent or team projects. See what companies are already sponsoring student groups on campus and try to reach out to recruiters to set up a call with someone who might be interested in helping out.

  • Fellowships: there are fellowships targeted towards student leaders and most often they give you funding and a network of students working on projects. Some include Kairos Fellows, Thiel Fellowship, Clinton Global Initiative, RTR Project Entrepreneur.

Personal Growth

One of the biggest reasons why people take on side projects is to grow their personal and professional skills and step out of their comfort zone to build something from the ground up. As you're involving yourself in your project daily, it's important to self-reflect on how you're growing as your project is growing.

When you're growing a side project, your progress is all on your own timeline. So, treat it as you would a job or a course you're taking. Usually in courses or professions, we have a set time in the middle of the semester of quarter to do a self-check in or evaluation. It's important to do this as well during your project's development. Schedule a bi-weekly or monthly check-in with yourself, members of your team, or a mentor of your project to talk about how it's going and how emotionally engaged you feel with the project's progress.

It's also incredibly important to be open about your failures. If your project isn't going as expected, don't give up or get disappointed. Think about what went wrong, how to do better, and how to take it as a lesson to strengthen your emotional intelligence in being able to overcome future challenges. It's also helpful to talk to others about it – even the people who you might think have it all together. It's 100% likely they have failures they'd share with you as well.

“I believe that almost everyone can benefit from sharing and hearing another perspective,” said Tasha Eurich, a Denver-based organizational psychologist. “It’s healthy to ask about what went wrong in a meeting. You have to engage other people in that process of learning.”

"You can’t work on a problem you don’t understand. A critical component of emotional intelligence is self-awareness — this is the ability to recognize and stay cognizant of behaviors in the moment. Whether you engage in a 360 assessment or simply ask a few people what they observe, this step is critical in heightening your sense of what you do or don’t do."

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