Why I'm Building Navigoals
I recently left a Silicon Valley senior software engineer so I could focus my efforts full-time on a side-project that’s very near and dear to my heart - Navigoals.
I wanted a first blog post to anchor my thoughts and motivations as to why Navigoals is such a special and important project to me. I need “one blog post to rule them all” that will establish my root motivation for all the work that will follow. At first glance, Navigoals might seem like just another habit tracker, and in some sense it is. But I also believe it’s a lot more than that, and I believe that in time, I can show that to others as well.
I’m building Navigoals for four main reasons:
- It’s solving an important problem
- It solves that problem with a unique and novel approach
- I’m the right person to build it
- It’s the right time to build it
Let me dig into each of those topics one by one.
It’s solving an important problem
Today, more than ever we face problems with distractions, depression, anxiety, and addiction. The internet has become both more engaging and less substantial. It connects us to the entire world, and their associated judgement, while removing us from the human connection found from being in the same room and breaking bread together. You can try to avoid the internet, but it’s increasingly becoming a critical part of participating in today’s economy.
The rising popularity of remote work has offered many wonderful things like removing commutes, moving to the areas we want to live in, and dispersing opportunity from a few hubs to across the country and the world. At the same time, it’s exacerbated many of the problems we generally face with the internet. Working alone in your office makes it easier than ever to get lost in an endless scrolling of Instagram, Reddit, Twitter, pornography, etc.
Even tools like email and slack can contribute to our “always on” feeling, mess with our dopamine level when we constantly get urges to check for new updates and pings, and lead us to feelings of anxiety when we wonder how our permanent text communication might be judged by others around us. Video calls solve some of these problems but themselves feel unnatural and an unsatisfying simulacrum of true human interaction.
Some may be tempted to disavow social media or even the internet entirely as a result. But the internet has also given us many wonderful things - exposure to near infinite new ideas and knowledge, collaboration opportunities with people across the globe, and genuinely new forms of entertainment that are appropriate in moderation. Many of us don’t want to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.
Navigoals is a tool that’s built to help individuals manage their life, their time, and their energy so they can extract the good parts from the internet while avoiding the bad. Of course, an internet software product can’t fix all of the problems I’ve described. Only a human being making choices to change their lifestyle can do that. But I strongly believe the right tool can make those lifestyle choices easier and more likely to succeed. Why do I believe this? Because I’ve experienced it myself.
It solves that problem with a unique approach
There’s many habit, goal, and time tracker apps already on the market. I’ve used many of them myself and can find near infinite more with a quick search on Google or in the iOS App Store. I know I have an hugely uphill battle in front of me in terms of differentiating Navigoals from other products.
In an attempt to encourage me, one fellow “indie hacker” told me about a friend who made a habit tracker and got it to “ramen profitability”. The secret, I was told, was to focus on two core ideas:
- Simplicity and feature set minimalism
- Strong visual design and craftsmanship
For better or worse, I plan to focus on neither of these priorities. It’s very possible I find out the hard way that I should have listened. I also fully understand why this advice is important.
Simplicity helps with both the ability for a builder to actually ship a high quality product by reducing the amount of time spent, and makes it easier for the user how to learn the app. I’ve personally seen “feature creep” set back many ambitious projects at full time jobs I’ve worked at.
Visual design is the first thing users see when they decide whether or not to use your product. Humans are visual creatures and good design makes them feel good and want to use your product more. So often, the better looking product beats the superior product on the market.
Given these strong arguments for these priorities, why am I suggesting they're not my top priority? The basic answer is that everything is a tradeoff, and while I value simplicity, minimalism, and visual design, with Navigoals, there’s other tradeoffs I’d rather pursue.
Instead of feature minimalism, I want to build out a feature set that maximizes my odds of improving my life. If I have to learn some extra features to do that, I want to. As Einstein said, “everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler”.
The “keep things as simple as possible” ideology could be taken to extreme conclusions, such as deciding that there’s no need for any more advanced note taking apps than Apple Notes. Notion wouldn’t exist. But Notion does exist, and I’ve spent time learning many of its advanced feature to great effect. I’ve watched hours of Youtube videos to learn the product better. Given Notion’s 11-figure valuation, it seems I’m far from alone.
I simply believe there’s a lot more that can be done with habit trackers and goal trackers than the basics. Many people want something simple, others are ok with a learning curve to unlock something powerful. Adobe Photoshop is not simple but many prefer it to MS Paint. Many helpful features in a habit tracker require complexity which is why I'm ok with complex features in Navigoals.
As far as visual design, this is an area that’s important but it’s simply not my greatest strength. Long term, the visual design will be important, but short term, I want to focus on building the right set of tools to improve my own life instead of prioritizing looks. However, I highly value the talent of a good designer. If you’re a talented designer looking to sell freelancer services interested in working on Navigoals, please get in touch.
I’m the right person to build it
If you haven’t guessed this is a topic that I’m extremely passionate about. And what you’ve seen so far is only the tip of the iceberg.
I also have been coding apps since I was a child. I got a degree in Computer Science and have programmer for money for over 15 years. I’ve done so at tiny startups and at top tech companies. The goal tracker I’m building is not about feature minimalism - it will actually involve coding up some fairly complex logic, synchronized across many devices, with some extensive data architecture challenges. Even if a designer with ok coding skills can make a prettier habit tracker app than me, I doubt they can make one as powerful as what I’m building with Navigoals (without the thousands of hours of software engineering and architecture experience that I have).
Software engineering will not be the only challenge. As I’ve already alluded to, I expect most people will initially dismiss my work as “yet another habit tracker”. I know that there is extensive marketing and customer development work ahead of me. It’s going to take someone who’s passionate about topics like content marketing, social marketing on platforms like Twitter and Reddit, and SEO to reach Navigoal’s target audience. Fortunately, those are all huge interests of mine. If anything, one of my major gripes with my software engineering career, and one of the reasons I’m doing something new, is precisely because I have a more broad range of interests in software product development and don’t appreciate being pigeonholed into “just engineering.”
Finally, and most importantly, I’m the most diehard and ardent user of Navigoals. I use it all day, everyday. I’ve personally have serious struggles with mental health, and it’s probably the biggest thing that’s held me back. Many rush to psychiatric meds as the only answer, but if you dig into the science, there’s a lot of evidence, growing every day, that lifestyle changes are not only a possible answer to mental health issues but probably the best answer. Habit trackers can help a lot with that - I know because the ones that inspired Navigoals pulled me out of some dark places. I’m indebted to the developers of those apps, and now I plan to pay it forward by building something even more powerful for the people out there who need it.
It’s the right time to build it
Finally, it’s the right time to build Navigoals. There’s the simple explanation - the time is now. But there’s a bit more to it than that.
For one thing, I couldn’t have built Navigoals earlier in my life. I wouldn’t have understood the value proposition of what I was building. That would leave me unmotivated to do the massive amount of work in front of me, and unable to even know what to build. I also wouldn’t have as sophisticated software engineering skills to build it to the professionalism it needs, nor the understanding of online marketing to get started with distribution.
For another thing, the world needs Navigoals now more than ever. The challenges with addictions grow every day. Almost everyone is addicted to something, and we live in a capitalist world where there’s no shortages of new unhealthy compulsions optimized to tempt us that are put in front of us every day.
Finally, there’s fundamental technology emerging that will take Navigoals to the next level. While my initial prototype will focus mostly on the web app, I’ve already begun working on an accompanying app for the Apple Watch. In terms of addressing the internet addiction and compulsion issues I opened this post with , the Apple Watch is one of the best pieces of technology ever created to help address it. It offers a huge amount of the utility of the smart phone - texting, phone calls, quick information look up, note taking - while virtually none of the addictive components like social media. While I’m new as a developer to the iOS ecosystem, I’m absolutely in love with the Swift language and I can’t wait to dive back into my Watch app and show people the full potential of the platform.
In conclusion, I expect skepticism of all sorts. I know that people won’t think the market is very big, that trackers don’t offer much value, that people don’t need habit trackers, that people won’t consistently use them, that people don’t want to use them too often, that Navigoals doesn’t look good enough, that Navigoals is too complicated, that there’s too much competition, that as a solo dev I can’t compete with more established companies, etc etc.
I welcome that skepticism and intend to prove it wrong. I can’t do that with a blog post. I can only do it with a lot of hard word, focus, and sustained effort - something I know I’ll find best by using Navigoals.