About 2 years ago I came across the idea of building 12 startups in 12 months. I was immediately intrigued, but unable to act on it. Today, after some delay, I am acting on it.

In my next post, I will detail my first month’s venture. In this post I will describe the concept.

What is 12 startups in 12 months?

12 startups in 12 months is a challenge whereby you build 1 business (or startup) per month for 12 months. The idea was first introduced by Pieter Levels. At the time, he realized he was having trouble finishing and launching products. He needed a better approach, so that less time was wasted and the chances of success were increased.

The problems I face

The concept originated to solve some of the issues aspiring entrepreneurs (or even people in general) commonly face when working on a side project. And while I can’t speak for others, I certainly am aware of the issues I face:

  • I doubt myself. The world is full of such talented people, how could I possibly launch a successful business? Or even just make a difference?
  • I am a perfectionist, I hate delivering work that is less than stellar.
  • Often, I don’t even know whether I like what I am doing, why put in the effort?
  • Ironically, I somewhat fear success, and the new pressures that come with it.

Linger on these issues for too long and before you know it you will have wasted precious time and energy. The reality is, many of the world’s succesful business owners think less and do more. Think too much and you will end up running circles in your mind with little to show for it. Doing breaks the cycle, it allows you to learn along the way, have something to show for your work, and most importantly build up an intuition–a wisdom, which is just as, if not more, valuable than knowledge. In the age of data-driven work, feeling your way through a problem is an underestimated skill.

It reminded me of an exerpt I came across online, from the book Art & Fear about a ceramics class:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Addressing the problems

By doing this challenge and limiting develop time to 1 month per startup many issues are addressed.

  • Self-doubt? No time for that now, failure is not just expected, it is part of the challenge. Likewise, any failures now will be small in terms of time wasted (or time spent learning).
  • Perfectionism? No time for that either, if it can’t be done in 1 month, it is not to be done.
  • Not liking what you are doing? It is only 1 month, in the past I have had to bear with things I didn’t like for longer.
  • Fear of success? This is the odd one of the lot, but by growing gradually 1 month at a time hopefully I will able to process any percieved success as it comes. Or realize the irrationality of the fear all together.

The immediate benefits

Within this challenge you are creating artificial hackathon-like conditions with deadlines that must be met. The pressures aren’t external, they’re based on your own will power. I believe this allows for a sense of clarity wherein productivity takes precedence over other nonsense. A deadline also helps, because it acts as a filter for making decisions fast.

The concept also synergises well with MVP (minimum viable prodict), whereby the goal is to make a product with the minimum amount of features needed for it to be usable, and thus allowing for customer feedback and early sales.

The approach allows make you launch 12 startups, the key takeaway being 12 is more than 1. If most businesses fail within one year of launching, this approach counters that by diversifying your risk, in the hope that at least 1 of the 12 startups will catch on and become succesful. It is 12 oppportunities to learn, build new things, to meet people, find your passion, and if nothing else, at least have fun. It gives merit to the idea: you can fail many times, but only need to succeed once.

Each business you start should help you to grow and learn more about starting a business. You are thereby exercising you entrepreneurial muscle. By starting over and over again you are getting better each time thereby increasing chances of success.

Finally, you don’t have to launch 12 startups. The goals isn’t to have 12 startups, it is to find 1 that works for you. If you are able to obtain sustainable sales with startups 1, 2, or X, then you have succeeded in your task.