Mario Cardinal

"The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" – Marcel Proust

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Make ‘To-Do Studio’ Works and the 80-20 Rule

For those who follow this blog and my entrepreneurial journey, you know that for several years now, I have been building a SaaS called To-Do Studio. To-Do Studio’s mission is to provide a collaboration platform that drives everyone to get involved.

For several months now, my only focus has been to make to-Do Studio works (which is why I haven’t published much on this blog lately). Day after day, month after month, with my business partner Erik, we fine-tune our software to accurately deliver what it promises.

The challenge is twofold, not only must the software be a viable solution that drives everyone to get involved, but also the product must be simple and easy to understand so that team leaders can easily adopt it.

Software Development and 80-20 Rule

Last summer, we thought we were close to the launch. We had an 80% advanced version, ready to start testing with real users. Unfortunately, finishing the last 20% was difficult. We’ve learned the hard way that in terms of the volume of work, getting the product to work “for real” and validating that it delivers on the expected promise is usually the most time-consuming and labor-intensive task. In our case, it will have taken us almost a year.

It’s difficult because the complexity grows exponentially. Each new line of code (whether to supplement or rewrite a feature) must fit together and mesh consistently with existing code. In addition, more often than not, the code must be adjusted to stay up to date with developments in external components and libraries. This slows down the velocity. The more we advance, the more the efforts increase. This is why the last 20% remaining often represents more than 80% of the total effort.

80-20The 80-20 rule is known as the Pareto principle. Pareto principle is an adage which asserts that 80% of outcomes (or outputs) result from 20% of all causes (or inputs) for any given event. In general, a goal of the 80-20 rule is to identify inputs that are potentially the most productive and make them the priority (80% of results come from 20% of effort).

More generally, the Pareto principle is the observation that most things in life are not distributed evenly. In our case, the distribution is reversed because we are interested in 80% of the effort required to achieve the remaining 20% (20% of remaining results come from 80% of effort).

Diet and 80-20 Rule

We can apply the 80-20 rule in several situations. For example, since several months now, I have been following a diet that applies the 80-20 rule. It is based upon the old Confucian practice called hara hachi bu: Stop Eating When You’re 80% Full. Instead of consuming more than 2500 calories as I used to do, now I consume between 2000 and 2100 calories per day (I am allowed to eat more the day I exercise). It works. I lose an average of 1 pound per week. Soon, I will achieve my goal of regaining my healthy weight.

Energy Principle and 80-20 Rule

Justin Jackson, co-founder of wrote about 80-20 rule lately in this blog post entitled The 80% Energy Principle. He applies the 80-20 rule not only to the diet but to all areas of his life, seeking to consume no more than 80% of his energy.

I totally agree with Justin. Now that I am getting older and looking for balance, I try to stay at a level of 80% full in every areas of my life: work, home, family, community, finance or personal well-being.

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Aim for a market where customers are currently spending money

For those of you who are following my entrepreneurial journey, you know that we are now in the process of programming the first version of our task management software. I have written in the past that every step brings a lot of challenges and that the work is always longer and more difficult than expected. For example, even if we did not finish developing all the basic features, we recently managed to integrate a first implementation. This first integration is an important milestone because it allowed us to evaluate the work done in a real context of use. In return, it also allowed us to quickly discover several things that are wrong and need to be reworked. So, even before we finished all the basic features, we had to reprogram some components.

My close ones, who are unfamiliar with software development, are always surprised at the slow progress and delays caused by the work that often need to be redone. They are afraid that delays will give competitors the chance to improve their products and that we lose our competitive advantage. They are fearful that the task management software market will evolve to now offer the ability for teammates to work in tandem with an automated assistant.

In my opinion, it is a minimal risk. And if this ever happens it will not be dramatic because our implementation will be different. In addition, it will not be the end of our product because, in my opinion, the task management software market is large enough for hundreds of competitors.

I do not want to downplay the importance of having a competitive advantage but, in my opinion, when a startup tries to validate its Product/Market fit, the choice of the market is much more important than anything else.

Remember that, according to our market positioning statement, the To-Do Studio customer is a modern leader searching for a task management software that guides and directs teamwork (throughout the process). Is this a good market for a new entrant? It depends on the amounts currently spent by actual

According to analysts, for the year 2019, the worldwide size of the market for task management software is equivalent to 2 billion USD ($ 2,000,000,000). Plus, it’s a growing market. According to Reportlinker, the size of the global task management software market is expected to reach 4.33 billion USD in 2023, with an annual growth rate of 13.7 percent. Another source, Transparency Market Research, estimates that the market will reach 6.68 billion USD in 2026. This is a huge market that is perfect for a new entrant like us. There are many customers already looking for, trying and buying solutions that fulfill a function like the one we plan to offer.

Delays are inherent in software development. We must accept them with serenity. The important thing is to move forward each day, step by step, towards the right target, a market where customers are currently spending money on a similar but less innovative solution than yours.

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Enjoying the journey

It’s been eight (8) months since I left my job to focus all my efforts on developing To-Do Studio. Fortunately for me (and my sanity), I really appreciate my entrepreneurial journey. Having fun to pursue your business project is a necessity for any entrepreneur. This is the only option to persevere in the face of adversity. And adversity, there is. At each stage there are issues that make the work longer and more difficult than expected.

planandrealitiesFor example, recently, the programming of multiple identity support (OAuth 2.0 authentication) was much more complex than we had planned. Since it is very common for an individual to have multiple e-mail addresses, whether for personal needs or work, our service had to provide the ability for users to associate multiple identities to their unique account. This support allows a user to find all the workspaces to which he collaborates, regardless of the identity with which he is known by teammates (personal email or email from the employer). This is important because To-Do Studio wants to provide a global view that includes all facets of your life. We want to avoid multiple ‘sign in’ and ‘sign out’ repeatedly between different accounts. Multiple identities within a single account is a feature not much found in competing products such as email, calendar, to-do list, kanban board, or Excel spreadsheet. One of the reasons for this absence is surely the fact that it is not easy to implement.

With my business partner Erik Renaud, we managed to overcome this complexity by constraining ourselves to complete one goal at a time and setting a measurable goal with a short deadline.

The importance of completing one goal at a time

For several months, my work has come down to front-end programming with the Vue framework and Vuetify design system. It is a long-term job that requires many hours of programming. Every week, I work around fifty hours to advance my entrepreneurial project. Choosing your weekly goal is very important. I make sure I work on only one goal at a time and I do not start working on a new goal until the previous one is completed.

Very rarely, I manage to complete my weekly goal. Fortunately, almost always, I managed to complete this goal in the course of the following week. At some point, in the process of realization, I had to split a goal which proved to be too complex.

Every day, I identify the three (3) important tasks that I must complete. I usually have two tasks related to personal goals such as fitness or taking care of my family and a third task that aims to advance my entrepreneurial To-Do Studio project. Again, I do not start a new task until the previous one is complete.

The importance of setting a measurable goal with a short deadline

touching-the-voidRecently, I was reading the book “Touching the Void” written by Mountaineer Joe Simpson. He recounts the disastrous climb he made with Simon Yates of Siula Grande, a mountain of over 6000 meters in the Peruvian Andes. After reaching the summit, the expedition unfortunately turns into a tragedy when Joe Simpson fractures his right leg after a heavy fall against a wall. This situation is usually fatal for a mountaineer. Thus, during the descent, despite the help of his colleague Yates, unable to brake on such steep walls, Simpson ended up sliding over a cliff and was then suspended in the emptiness above a deep crevice. Seeing no other choice, Yates eventually cut the rope to save his own life, with Simpson falling into the crevasse. The book tells how, at the cost of superhuman efforts, Simpson will still manage to come out alive from the mountain after more than 3 days to crawl to base camp.

One of the important things I remember from the book is that, despite the pain and adversity, Simpson has managed to continue his journey by setting measurable goals with a short deadline. By crawling on the ground, he progresses by fixing a visible objective located less than a hundred meters in front of him, and, each time, giving himself less than 30 minutes to reach this target. Thus, firing with the strength of his arms and uninjured leg, for more than 10 kilometers, target after target, measuring his progress with the clock of his watch, slowly, he moves forward. This allowed him to keep the focus despite the suffering and delirium that inhabited him.

In any case, I cannot compare my entrepreneurial journey to what Simpson experienced. In my case, there is no suffering, no pain and the journey is pure happiness. However, I must recognize a similarity in the importance of setting measurable goals with a short deadline.