Progress, Delays, and Learning to Cope with the Stress

In December (2014), I posted an update to my Kickstarter project  explaining that I was hopeful, though it would be tight, that I might be able to begin processing orders for custom dice by Christmas. Several weeks later, on February 4, 2015, at about 1:30 am, I added the final pieces of code and database updates required for KS backers to place orders. Even now, I’m taking a break from putting together instructions for it to write this.

So what happened?  A number of things… some of them harder to explain than others, but I will try to explain some of the key causes. Many of them are personal issues and in a perfect world, my backers and other customers would not have to be bothered by them.

Not long after posting that update, I caught a nasty stomach virus. Something had been going around, and probably my immune system was already down due to stress and lack of sleep.  Suffice it to say, for a few days, it seemed like I spent as much time running from my office to the restroom as I did doing anything else. If I had been smart, I probably would have taken a couple days to rest and gotten over it faster. Instead, I proved myself to be stubborn. Because I was working slower, I worked even longer hours. I still hoped to get this thing up by Christmas.

A few days before Christmas, the stress on my body caused a debilitating muscle spasm in my lower back. Waking up that morning, and not being physically capable of climbing the stairs to my office (or even moving my torso without intense pain), finally convinced me to to take a bit of time off for the holiday.

The point of this post though, is not so much to talk about health problems as it is to realize that through a combination of factors surrounding this project,  I had gotten to a point where I was so stressed that I have had more health problems crop up in the past 3 months than I had in the previous year.

One of the biggest factors, which will be obvious to anyone who has been reading my previous updates, is some missteps made in planning which caused me to get behind in the first place.  I tried to add some cushion into my initial estimates, but due to inexperience did not add enough. When it became clear that certain things weren’t going to be delivered when I had been told they would or other parts of the process weren’t working as expected, I made what I believed were fairly drastic changes to my plans.  But they weren’t drastic enough to keep things moving as quickly as they needed to be to keep pace with my goal timeline.

Simply being behind in the first place, is a huge source of the stress. I can’t stop kicking myself for missing the time commitment. Though I realize it was only an “estimate” in the first place, I still hate that I missed it.

Being late also adds financial stress as I had hoped and expected this business to be accepting new orders months ago now. Ultimately, the goal of the Kickstarter project was not simply to make a bunch of people custom dice one time, but to set up a business doing it long term – a way to support my family while helping people create a really cool custom product. That part of the plan can’t happen until I’m actually producing and sending out dice – and even then KS backers get priority over any new orders.

Being late also adds to stress in interacting with my backers. While most backers of this project have been VERY understanding, there are a number who have been less so. I assume this is because there have been so many Kickstarter projects that have not delivered on their commitments in the past, some have almost come to expect that as the norm. In the extreme, I had received at least one or two emails accusing me of scamming before the project had even been over long enough for me to have the money in my bank. Those were fairly easy to laugh off because they were clearly based on any rational reasoning.

With each update that I post, I get a new wave of these emails. Prior to my estimated delivery date, they mostly consisted of the same irrational emails – some going as far as accusing me of making up having a baby or a dying uncle.  Again, most of these were fairly easy to shrug off without feeling too hurt or defensive. Starting in November (the month of the “estimated delivery” date) though, two things happened.  I began getting even more of the irrational name-calling emails. In higher volume even these got harder to shrug off and the negativity began to drag me down emotionally.  Harder than that, was the fact that I began getting some that were more well thought out and didn’t include all the name calling and bold accusations of fraud.

I was beginning to lose the confidence of even some of my more rational backers. Many of these had stories of previous times they’d been burned by previous Kickstarter projects and having missed my delivery estimate with many previous updates talking about delays in the plan, they were ready to add me to the list of failures. I can’t really say I blame any of those backers for their doubts, but I wasn’t prepared for the impact that had on me.  Initially, I was reading these and responding when applicable.  But it didn’t take long before the doubt in these emails translated into self-doubt and the negativity made it harder to stay positive about my work. Reading one would put me into a negative mindset for a long period of time even after I had long since closed the email and made it hard to be productive during that time.  Even the less rational emails became harder to shrug off.

I thought my previous experience with customer service jobs would help with this, but at least for me, it turned out that someone expressing doubt in my and my project was way different than listening to an angry customer rail against some faceless corporation.

I wish I could say, at that point, I learned to flip a switch in my mind, take things less personally and stay positive. That’s definitely something I need to learn. Over time, I am sure I will develop a thicker skin for this sort of thing. Unfortunately I don’t know how to learn that overnight.

This had become so debilitating, that the only real solution I could come up with to keep forward progress from coming to a standstill was to drastically cut back on my email time. At this point I am reading very few emails, though they are still coming.  I don’t like this solution, but it is the best I could come up with for now.

While I am somewhat ashamed by the extent to which these things have impacted this project, I want to be open about it. Openness is important to me because all of my backers are a part of this process and deserve to know what is going on behind the scenes.  I am also hopeful that my experiences will be helpful to others who may be in a similar situation.

All along the way (aside from brief periods of self-doubt), I have been, and still am, confident that I can bring this project to completion – and as a business continue well beyond that.

However, I absolutely realize I have made mistakes along the way. It’s easy to point at things that were relatively out of my control as being the major causes of late delivery.  But I also see points where I made decisions which could have sped up the process and kept the project closer to it’s deliver goal.

One big one is that I should have began the process of hiring someone else to code the website as soon as I found out that the laser was going to be late and push the R&D time for the project into the time I had set aside for learning how to be a father (and forgetting how to sleep through the night). I was convinced that I could still get it done in a reasonable amount of time even though I would be significantly slower programming with the extra distraction.  Had that been the only factor, it probably would have still been true – but I should not have expected it to be the only factor.  As other mentally/emotionally taxing or otherwise stressful things crept in, it caused my programming speed to drop dramatically.

Hiring someone else to program would have meant they were essentially unencumbered by whatever stressful event or situation I was working through. Unfortunately, by the time I fully realized this, I was in deep enough that hiring someone else and getting them up to speed probably would’ve taken at least as long if not longer.

For that matter, my initial budget and timeline should have involved bringing someone on – at least a virtual assistant or something similar – to handle emails and other customer service so they could respond to most concerns while forwarding only emails that I really needed to be a part of on to me.

If I had done those two things we would likely have been able to get set up closer to my estimated delivery date even with the delays that were less in my control and without a larger cushion in the timeline.

So to my backers, I apologize for not handling these situations better. I have learned a lot both about myself and about the process of starting and running a business in the past several months. There is a lot of work ahead as I enter the production phase and as more features are added to the website. I am sure these are not the last mistakes I will make, but I am fully committed to following through with this project. You are a big part of the process of bringing this business into existence. And when we get to the end of this road, I want you not just to get some cool dice out of it. I also want you to feel like you were a part of the journey.

If you own a business or are thinking of starting one, learn from my mistakes (trust me, it’ll be less painful for you that way and it’ll help me feel better too…). Look for tasks in your business that could be done by someone else and try to set your budget to account for that to happen so you can focus on running the business itself and making sure things are rolling ahead smoothly.