Mario Cardinal

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


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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.


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Subscribe to my Newsletter

Since a few months I publish a newsletter for my family and friends. One of the objectives of this newsletter is to share my entrepreneurial journey. It contains the latest news about To-Do Studio, the startup I founded with Erik Renaud. Our company designs and markets a software service that allows leaders to empower others to take initiative. The newsletter is intended to offer a privileged look at the path of a startup company.

newsletterEncouraged by the positive comments I receive, I decided to give access to the newsletter to readers of this blog. That’s why I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter.

Here is the link to subscribe: Destination To-Do Studio

The newsletter is free. It is published every 2 months, 6 times a year. The subscription does not require any obligation on your part. The only information you must provide to register is your email address (it will never be shared with third parties). You can unsubscribe at any time. If you wish to preview the content of the newsletter, I invite you to read the first issue here.

PS. Following registration, if you do not receive quickly a confirmation email, check your Junk Email inbox.


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For five years we have been searching for the right Product/Market Fit

Often, I summarize the To-Do Studio journey saying that it took us five years of research and development (R&D) to find a simple and elegant solution to the following problem: How to allow teammates to complete a common to-do list? The reality is much more complex.

What I describe as R&D is rather a long quest to find the right Product/Market Fit. Of everything I discovered applying the Lean Startup practices, Product/Market Fit is the concept that remains the most inspiring for me. Compared to some other concepts such as MVP that I first discovered through reading The Lean Startup, Product/Market Fit is much less famous outside of the startup scene.

Product/Market Fit means that the solution (the product) is well suited to its target problem (the market who experienced the problem). Startups that achieve Product/Market Fit create a sustainable future for their businesses, with products that can grow and generate profits long after the initial launch. The life of any startup can be divided into two parts — ’before’ Product/Market Fit and ‘after’ Product/Market Fit. Obviously, to this day, To-Do Studio is in the ‘before’ part. Our goal in 2019 is to move into the ‘after’ part.

Over the last five years, using ongoing build-measure-learn cycles, we have progressed toward validated learning. Every day we had new assumptions for building the product, new measures to check results, and new learning opportunities that brought us closer to Product/Market Fit.

On the other hand, on three occasions, we abandoned perseverance and opted instead for a pivot. Pivoting is what you should consider when you conclude that you’re not making any progress (or not enough) toward Product/Market Fit. A pivot is a radical course correction, going in a new direction, with a new strategic hypothesis regarding the problem or solution space. In pivot mode, the unit of progress is creative destruction.

Here is a summary that presents the radical course correction of each pivot:

Problem Space Solution Space
Launch
April 2013
New market

For teammates who want to improve outcomes from shared accountability and aligns individual responsibility with team workflow

New product

Boards that guides collaboration between teammates using sticky notes to represent work items and columns to represent each stage of the workflow

Pivot 1
May 2014
New market

For individuals who want to schedule commitments and get a unified view of their “daily” commitments

New product

Daily planner that organize work by pairing a daily calendar with a list of to-do items. It keeps track which to-dos remain to be started, which are in progress and which are done.

Pivot 2
Sept 2016
New market

For people adopting work-life fusion who want to split their workload with their close ones

Product Evolution

Collective workspace that expands on our previous product by allowing to team up with others through a common list of to-do items, synchronized among teammates

Pivot 3
Jan 2018
New market

For leaders who need to empower others to get things done and want to avoid the hassle of follow-ups and tough talks that occur when pushing and pulling others to take initiative

Product Evolution

Collective workspace that expands on our previous product by providing each teammate with an automated assistant (personal coach)

A first interesting observation is the elapse of several years between each pivot. This can be explained by the following reasons:

  • The discovery process requires time. Making the right assumptions and finding out why they are not working is hard and time consuming;
  • For entrepreneurs, deciding to persevere against pitfalls is always the first choice. It takes a long period of thinking and many failures to agree to pivot;
  • In bootstrapping mode, since entrepreneurs divide their efforts on two fronts, the discovery process is much longer. They must complete the contracts that finance the business while continuing to pursuit the Product/Market Fit.

A second interesting observation is that each pivot involves a creative destruction of the target market. It seems that entrepreneurs are poorly equipped to define the problem space. As a convergent thinker, an entrepreneur is much more likely to focus on the solution than the problem.

The good news is that correctly identifying a problem space is a knowledge that can be learned. In our case, it was in December 2017 when I discovered the “Job to be Done” innovation approach. This acquisition of new know-how led us to our most recent pivot.

“Job to be Done” innovation approach presents a product not as a set of functionality but rather as a solution that a customer hires to get a job done.

Here are two blog posts I wrote following my discovery of the approach. It describes the positive impact it has on our quest to discover a better Product/Market Fit:


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Explore during 20% of your work time

In this post, I explain why an entrepreneur should spend up to 20% of his valuable time working on related projects that are not essential compared to its short-term goals.

To increase the dissemination of ideas, the famous TED Conference has created a program called TEDx. TEDx promotes events organized independently at the local level, to get people to share a similar experience to that of TED.

Today, TEDx HEC Montreal published the presentation my ex-wife Nathalie Provost did during this local event.

She explained 23 years later, how she recovered from the massacre that happened in 1989  when she was student at the École Polytechnique. Nathalie was shot by Marc Lépine after he entered a classroom and separated the men and women. She courageously tried to reason with the gunman but took four bullets anyway. Despite the Polytechnique, Nathalie profoundly love life and profoundly love mankind. She have faith in humanity despite everything. And during this presentation, she offer people a little hope, all the better: You can overcome difficult things, personally and as a group also.

In another vein, much more rational and less emotional, while taking a look at the other presentations, I discover a great talk by Louis-Philippe Maurice. “The difference that 20% of your time can make”.

Since a very young age, I have always spent nearly 20% of my time working on related projects not essential compared to my short-term goals. Often letting myself be guided only by my curiosity and my passions. I think the 20% rule is fundamental to remain a free thinker.

Too often, we believe that the key to reach success for a startup is to keep the focus. I think the key is to remain open for extension but closed for modification of the fundamentals. This is the “Open Close Principle” applied for startup. The fulfillment of the startup mission should be done in a way that new customers should be acquired only with minimum changes regarding the values ​​of the founders.  The goal is not to add complexity but rather to eliminate what is superfluous. To do this we must give ourselves the freedom to explore. It is by spending time on what seems not important that we free our mind.