The Idea That Wasn’t Meant To Be

Two summers ago I had a brilliant idea. College kids hate spending money. Books for classes cost money. Wouldn’t it be great if you knew whether or not you needed the book for class? That way, you could save money!

“Should I Get The Book?” was born out of this thought process. I worked hard on getting the coding part out of the way. It took about 4 weeks to get functional, working every day after work for 3 hours. After the coding was out of the way, I tried to make the site as nice as I could. I was a bit lazy with this though, and essentially “borrowed” a WordPress template and let ‘er rip.

I added schools, added subjects, added classes, and even seeded some reviews. Nobody came. I submitted my site for review to Hacker News, and they basically told me the idea was great, but the site wasn’t usable. In my infinite wisdom, I trudged ahead. I thought, if I advertise enough, people will surely come and leave reviews.

I ended up trying a few different advertising campaigns (Adwords, Facebook), and all brought some traffic, but nobody returned. It turns out that the site was fairly hard to use (which I’d been told by HN) and that without some kind of incentive nobody was going to leave reviews. There was also the part about nobody wanting to leave reviews because there weren’t any reviews there already (chicken & and egg problem?).

After unsuccessfully marketing my product for a few months and trying to get people to seed reviews, I gave up on the original and started on my redesign. The redesign was going to be grand! A huge ajaxy call to action form field in the middle of the screen just begging to be used, a karma system for people who seed reviews, special status for moderators, and incentives to invite your friends. The overall design also allowed people to discern the site’s purpose without reading a single word. Unfortunately, life has a way of putting a damper on even the best laid plans.

I quit grad school in January just as I was starting to make progress on the re-design. When I secured a real job, I found it became much harder to balance work, the fiance, side projects, and free time. I made the choice to sit on Should I Get the Book until the winter when I would have a bit more free time to work on it. Bad choice.

My fiance informed me today that Rate My Professor now has functionality that mimics Should I Get The Book. They implemented it better, already have a user base, and have the money and time to make it happen.

Does this make me sad? Sure it does. But I also feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. For so long I thought Should I Get The Book would be my salvation from the life of a salary man, but as it turns out, it was only holding me back from other ideas that are probably better anyways.

Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe I didn’t put enough money into it. Or maybe I didn’t sacrifice enough. It could be any of these things, but I tend to think that this idea just wasn’t meant to be.


Grad School Crisis

“The grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had somewhat of a crisis with grad school.  I’ve found that I hate 1 of my classes, despise C++ (which is required for compilers), and just simply don’t have enough time to breath.  This pretty much describes a typical computer science student’s life, however, I was pushed over the edge 2 weeks ago.

Two weeks ago, I was hit really hard, all at once.  I had 3 exams in one week, and 2 programs due.  If you’ve ever tried to write a compiler or a remote procedure program and tried to study for a test at the same time, you’ll know what I mean.  To make matters worse, CMU told me I own them $2350.  This is all because they over refunded me earlier in the semester, yet failed to realize it until 2 months later.  Not only that, but I had 150 papers to grade.

It all stacked up, and made me realize that I don’t really enjoy grad school all that much.  So, I started applying for jobs.  So far I have been rather successful with getting call backs, but, CMU has decided that they may be willing to work with me.

The grass is always greener on the other side.  If I quit grad school, I’ll wish I didn’t.  If I don’t quit grad school, I’ll wish I had.