How creating my own sticker helped me revisit product basics

I couldn’t think of a better title. Yes, it’s true I created a sticker—all artsy and nice. It’s also true that it was related to Carnatic music (and my little project, The Karnatik Kaapi) and it wasn’t remotely in the area of tech. But the process of making this sticker helped me recollect and re-learn the journey of building, launching, and distributing a product (and brand). And, I decided to jot them down as tiny lessons, so there’s even better clarity and reasoning in recounting them. 

Never sink into the waters of planning 

Planning is definitely the start of any work. Anything from a mental framework to a handwritten list is a form of preparing oneself to accomplish a task. But the problem only arises when there’s too much planning and no subsequent execution. One thought from the many nuggets of James Clear that struck me the most is:

“When preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change something. You don’t want to be merely planning. You want to be practising.”

It’s not in planning that one fails to do the job. It’s only in not starting to execute and spending that time into over-planning. When I sat down to evaluate the idea of creating a sticker for The Karnatik Kaapi, I spent the initial days thinking what themes I should address. But, I eventually understood that mere writing down and researching wouldn’t help—so I went on to the playful ground of making up some designs. Of course, I can add on a lot of thoughts, but I need to start somewhere. My rest of the planning came while I was already doing, a perfect sync that I could ask for. 

Same goes into the products that we build—it’s not in the roadmap or specs that your execution lies. Sure, it does depend on the plans, but planning continues in parallel to execution, and for that you gotta start somewhere. That somewhere better be early.

Seek value when it addresses a problem

Yes, it began with a personal challenge aka problem—I wanted a laptop sticker. And, I wanted something related to Carnatic Music. A personal no-results-found search led me into thinking why not design my own sticker because I had both the resource (knowing how to design) as well as some potential (understanding what it takes) in the space. What started as a means to address my own problem soon became a shared problem—I had people pinging me to say that they were looking out for these stickers too and were happy to get them from me. 

This also reminds me of Greg Isenberg’s story of how he kick-started ‘You probably need a haircut’ brand. He was tired from not being able to find a salon for a haircut during the peak pandemic times of 2020 (all salons were shut) and not knowing how to cut his own hair. His girlfriend faced the same problem too. That’s when an idea hit Greg—he connected virtually with stylists and took some coaching from them to get adept at haircuts. He also ended up launching this as a service via the brand, that helps people across the world learn the cutting as well as find good connections for styling. He quotes, 

“Before an idea, just think about yourself. Think about who you are and think about all the things that make you who you are and what you love to talk about.”

I’ve heard most founders quote how they start for building for an audience of one before they go out to get that one million. Sometimes, dog-fooding and finding your own itch to build on eventually lets you find the ten and thousand others who think the same things as you. All you need to know is whether you got the right resources and potential to start.

Don’t judge demand before you produce 

This is a human thing—we always try to figure out the value of our work, even before we think it’s ready to be evaluated. This pretty much is related to the first challenge of getting stuck in forever planning. Similar to falling in love with planning to procrastinate work, one also tries to constantly fine-tune the work just to ensure it fits the world. Because we’ve been taught that demand balances supply. The problem starts only when we focus on demand well before it has to be done.

While making the sticker, I did have second-thoughts on whether I’m making this only for myself or whether this particular design would look good on the output. I also somewhere felt that it’ll be great if others like me who love music could get to use this for their purpose. But, would they like this design? So while these questions kept fiddling with my work, I realized that I can worry about demand only when I have something tangible and solid, however raw it may seem. One base design or some samples of designs (iterative process for sure) before I start to wonder if I need feedback for better designs. 

I remembered how much similar this is to building products. Often when we’re lost in the thoughts of judging whether something is addressing a customer problem, we’re tempted to immediately seek feedback, but what we fail to observe is that we need to have a working version of something before we focus deep into the hundred questions of whether this would be successful or profitable. 

Build an audience and rely on trusted networks 

Of course, you’d not be surprised seeing this point. Almost all of us have heard about the benefits of having a community or following for brands. In my case, having a small set of audience who follow my project on Instagram came handy. These are folks I have befriended online, who share a similar interest in Carnatic music. While I was working on creating a sticker for myself, I was happy to see many who replied to me seeing the output. I happily shipped these stickers and before I knew it, this became another leg in my side project, with so many good reviews and referrals. In fact, after completing some designs, I was fortunate enough to get some suggestions and feedback from my own trusted network with friends and extended followers. Definitely something I didn’t anticipate when I set out to work on this. 

So, yes, it indeed is true when products have virality via word of mouth (still works like a charm!) and referrals, the brand reputation builds faster. As much as you put effort into building a tool that solves a problem, building an audience in parallel could do the right honor in terms of better distribution. 

Be open to serendipitous observations 

This is the best part of creating anything—a note, product, sticker, or even a meal. As much as we plan to stay focused and tick those tasks in the list, leaving some room for the magic to take its place is underrated. It happened in the past in terms of writing about random topics out of impromptu observations (you’re reading one such, already!). It happened in the case of my sticker side project too. 

People from the community wrote to me about things that interested them about Carnatic music, fond memories of going to music classes, and the sad plight of not finding usable merch around the Carnatic music concept (everyday stuff like bookmarks and stickers). A music teacher who has been supporting my Instagram page even shared some suggestions and requested me to create a few motivational stuff for her class students. So many ideas and a peek into others’ minds and their most-prized thoughts—I kept my goals and work very open so I was able to completely bask in all of this spontaneity. 

In product teams, it’s more common to stick to schedules and scope and lose sight of the way the world is changing around. While it doesn’t mean that one has to constantly revisit the roadmap, it also means that they should invest in finding those little observations that could be profitable in the long-run. It could be a user review on the app store, a shift in the category your product belongs to, or anything. Be ready to discover stories you didn’t know existed. 

And, yes, hereby I successfully finish my journal note on sticker creation and how everything roots back to the product basics. It’s all in the mindset, right?