What are we going to build: The Idea

It’s day 3 of 80, and the decision on what to build as a startup in the remaining 77 days has been made! As we summarized here, it will be a web app (SaaS), and it’s going to be a… brace yourselves… to-do list app. Haha, yes, well, kinda.

Building apps for tasks and notes sound like a cliché at this point. The last internet census counted 68,482 to-do apps. It’s even become the “Hello World” example for web framework tutorials. So perhaps it’s only fitting to build this as the ultimate example of how to build a startup! We’re planning to build a real product though. And as we outlined yesterday, we only think an idea works if it has a “first”. So we want do try a new approach in this category:

We’re going to build an editor/IDE1. Except it’s a text editor specifically designed for tasks, planning, and thoughts; for makers to manage creative work.

Using an editor interface for managing tasks and planning feels like a much more logical fit to us than the existing categories, the classic to-do lists and kanban boards.

The most obvious symptom of the problem with the existing apps to us is a “todo.txt” on our hard drive. We know we’re not the only ones who keep falling back to just jotting down notes in a text file or (virtual) stickies. With text, you can write down tasks or thoughts as fast as you can type, indent as much you want, collapse/expand sections, select, copy/paste or move a bunch of text somewhere else, add whitespace… format it any way you like. All these features are essential for organizing thoughts.

Having to decide what needs to be a project vs a task vs a subtask when you’re just typing out thoughts, having to click buttons, using an interface that gets slow when you enter more than a 100 items… it’s just too much friction and disrupts the creative flow. So it’s great to have all these fancy apps, but in the end, we end up with a todo.txt, again. And although a text file works, there’s no way to visually organize things, add any structure or links, collaborate in teams, drag things around, filter or schedule things. It’s just plain text, after all. So we can never find anything back and after a while declare text file bankruptcy and start over.

We want to have the best of both worlds. And we think that looks like an IDE. When you think about it, IDEs have similar features you need in a todo app built-in: things like syntax highlighting, collapsing indented blocks, keyboard command palettes, and plugins. Instead, our “IDE” will be for anything related to organizing creative work: commands, auto-complete and highlighting for things like dates and priorities. With support for scheduling, references, split-panel views, and being able to drag things around. And like an IDE, “hack-ability” in terms of plugins is a big thing too, because good tools should adapt to how you like to work.

We could talk a lot more about other cool properties this kind of system would have but that’s the idea at its core.

In the next post we’ll recap why we think this might work as a startup to build in 80 days.

[1] For non-coders: Integrated Development Environment, fast and powerful editors and related tools for programmers

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