"An entrepreneur is someone with the soul of an artist whose means of expression happens to be business."
Bernie Goldhirsh (Founder of Inc. Magazine)
In 2022, I will create 12 projects from start to finish. One project each month.
In 2022, I created 16 projects from January through May. In June, I decided to go all-in on climate tech.
✅ ✅ ️✅ ️✅ ✅ 🔋
This post covers:
- Why: The inspiration behind building my creative studio
- What: The structure and output of my studio approach
- How: The constraints of the game
Let's get started.
Inspiration Strikes: Why Would I Create a Studio?
In December 2020 I quit my full-time job to do a year-long sabbatical.
My goal for 2021 was to have a single month where the course would generate $1,000+/month. I didn't achieve that but it is trending in the right direction.
My main takeaways from 2021:
- ☝️ Solo Creation Works: It is possible to create and distribute a revenue-generating product as a solo creator/founder.
- 🤖 Automated Products Rock: It is possible to deliver and capture value in an automated way. The email-based course runs on its own through a combination of Notion/Super, Zapier, Stripe Payment Links, and MailerLite.
- 🧠 Must Learn Faster: I took too long to ship the email-based course. It took me ~5 months to write the course. I have the feeling that a more aggressive deadline would have yielded the same result.
I really enjoyed building and want to continue with solo/indie creation in 2022.
My guess is that a more structured approach would be a fun experiment → enter the Studio Approach
Building on the Shoulders of Giants: Who Am I Stealing From?
“Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”
OG Solo Creator: Pieter Levels
In 2021 I eventually learned about the poster boy of the Creator Economy: Pieter Levels
Pieter has been a solo creator since 2013 and first popularized the idea of building 12 Startups in 12 Months where the goal was to ship more frequently and identify what works and what doesn't.
Delivering a new product is the easy part, growing it fast is the hard part. And if there’s no market fit after launching an MVP, it becomes even tougher. My plan is to see if I can get market fit in one month, and if it doesn’t show any signs of being somewhat in demand, I consider it failed.
Fast-forward to 2021 and his solo businesses are generating more than $3.5M per year. Think about that for a second 🤯
The interesting thing is that some of his most-valuable businesses (NomadList and RemoteOK) were started during his 12 Startups in 12 Months experiment.
Super creative. Go follow him, it's fun to follow along.
From Solo to Boostrap Startup: Jon Yongfook
Jon Yongfook replicated the same experiment in 2018.
One of the projects eventually became the basis for his bootstrapped startup Bannerbear.
Just like Pieter, he runs the business as an open startup (i.e. all numbers are public). Check for yourself 👇
Two things I really admire about Jon's take:
- Killer Documentation: His write-ups and debriefs are AAA 🤌
- Fun: Jon optimized his projects to be exciting and fun for himself.
"Spending a year of experimenting, building, shipping and learning from customers or users sounds like a year well spent. It's like an anti-MBA where instead of sitting in a classroom learning theory, you get out of the building, ship in rapid succession and learn lessons directly."
The Bootstrap MBA: Jakob Greenfeld
Most recently Jakob Greenfeld flipped the idea of continuous shipping and decided to pursue a Bootstrap MBA - which is his way of saying "learning about cool shit and creating products along the way".
My goal is not to become a billionaire. Instead, my dream is modest financial independence. And I’m convinced that the best way to achieve it in a way that is in agreement with my values is by bootstrapping businesses. I want to build things that I believe should exist and that others find useful.
I love the line "a way that is in agreement with my values". You don't hear this frequently.
He shares his progress on Twitter. A great person to follow.
My Studio Approach: What Does It Actually Mean?
Borrowing from the best, I think I found a way to make it work for myself.
Alignment with Personal Values: Freedom From And Freedom To
In 2021, I started working with a coach.
Triggered by curiosity, I found that it helped me to have an external brain to riff on ideas and call me out on my bullshit. The first exercise we did was to distill my personal values.
Here's what made it into my personal value checklist 👇
Having this checklist helped me to say no to:
- Consulting Gigs
- Co-Founder Positions at Startups
- Early Team Positions at High-Growth Companies
All of those were misaligned in one way or another with my current values.
On the other hand, working on my own projects is perfectly aligned with my values.
Projects vs. Startups: What's the Difference?
'Startups' is too narrow in scope for me since I want to also have the freedom to explore creative projects in music and visual arts.
That's why I'm calling it 12 projects instead 12 startups.
My Studio Approach: Splitting Eggs Across Different Baskets 🥚
I would loosely define the studio 'as a space to explore projects'.
I am sure this definition will evolve over time.
These are my associations when I think of the word 'studio':
- 🙏 Virgil Abloh: Virgil was a master in not giving a fuck. He was a total outsider to fashion and still managed to become the Head of Men's Fashion at Louis Vuitton. His ability to re-contextualize and the variety of projects across fashion, art, and music make him a real role model for my studio approach. RIP.
- 🚀 Startup Studios: In 2012 I joined HitFox Group - a Berlin-based "company builder". At its core, they were a venture fund that incubated their own business ideas (primarily in AdTech, FinTech, and HealthTech). HitFox would have a staff of analysts to evaluate business ideas, then they would hire former consultants or bankers to become co-founders of the business, and then of they go. They would incubate between 4-10 new businesses every year. I am convinced the same model works as a solo founder - instead of startups you incubate projects.
- 💻 Daniel Vassallo: Daniel is a former AWS developer who left a highly-paying job to optimize for a healthy lifestyle. Now he splits his time between being a fractional Product Lead at Gumraod, creating a successful portfolio of info products, and doing woodwork. He calls this approach "Building a Portfolio of Small Bets".
The similarity I see in the examples above is the optionality to have multiple projects in development. If you see that something works better than the rest you can double down.
Rules of the Game: How to Play the Studio Approach?
I will follow a simple rule:
On the first of every month, I must start working on a new project.
Buckets of Projects
In order to give some constraints I will pick projects from the following buckets:
- 🤕 Own Problems: Solving my own pain points.
- 🏝 Problems for Remote-First Companies: I plan to use customer feedback and questions from my existing remote-focused product to inform new problems to tackle.
- 🎶 Creative Exploration: Taking the next step as a musician and aiming to play a live set and release new music through another label. This is more of a passion project.
Prioritization of Projects
I'm starting out with a rudimentary idea bank (free download link) - a database where I'm adding project ideas.
Ideally, the projects check the following boxes:
✅ Self-sustainable: Once the project is deployed it should be able to provide value without additional effort from my side
✅ Solves clear problem: The project is based on an existing pain point that I can solve
✅ Capital-efficient: It should be relatively* cheap to maintain and operate
*relatively = relative to its return. I'm happy to pay $100/month in SaaS fees if the project can generate more than that on a regular basis.
If you want to follow along or get in touch, please reach me on Twitter. DMs open.
Thanks for reading 🙌
Month #5 was focused on beer 🍻
- Becoming a certified Beer Sommelier (Trained at the world's leading institute for food & beverage technology)
- Starting a German-speaking podcast about beer
Month #4 is fully focused on energy 🔋
This is particularly triggered by the Ukraine War and Europe's (caugh... Germany.... caugh) slow political response.
- Stromberg Mindset (I developed a mental framework describing Germany's geopolitical delusion)
- Flight Tracking Workshop (Completed an OSINT training with Bellingcat)
Month #3 is focused on the Ukraine War 🇺🇦
- Ukraina Guide (Helpful resources for refugees of the Ukraine War)
- Systems Thinking Series (Collection of Blog Posts)
Month #2 is focused on writing.
- e-Residency Series (Collection of Blog Posts)
- Consulting Services - especially Marketing Consulting
- Branding Essentials (Free Email Course)
- Affiliate Project
- Oklou - god's chariots (Art Lapinsch Club Remix)
January 2022: Brain Dump
I used month #1 to generate quick wins.
The best I could think of was to productize some of my knowledge and turn it into templates or mini-courses.
- Content Marketing Engine (Notion + Super Content Marketing Template)
- The 80/20 of Notion Organization (Free Video Course)
- Draft Crony (Free Ideation Tool)
- Idea Bank: Notion Database for Business Ideas (Notion Template)
- Name Storming (Creativity Technique Course + Google Sheets Template)
- I'm Launching 12 Startups in 12 Months (Pieter Levels | Levels.io)
- 12 Startups in 12 Months (Jon Yongfook)
- I've decided to pursue a Bootstrap MBA (Jakob Greenfeld)
- Virgil Abloh, Menswear’s Biggest Star (Doreen St. Félix | The New Yorker)
- Curation of Creativity Masterclass: Finn Bohn🤞 (Art Lapinsch)
- Micro-SaaS Guide: Build a Profitable Business in 2021 (Preetam Nath)